From Socialist Voice, July 2005

A new dawn—or a new scramble for Africa?

When the G8 countries met in Scotland in early July their recently agreed commitment to cancel $40 billion worth of the debt of the eighteen most indebted African countries was trumpeted as its biggest success and the harbinger of a new dawn for Africa—though everyone knows that this debt, like most of the debt owed by countries of the majority world, is unpayable anyway. It is estimated that this will cost the developed capitalist countries about $1.2 billion a year for the next three years.
    Debt relief of itself is not enough. What is needed is more aid, and more shifts in wealth from the developed capitalist countries to poor countries. It is estimated that Africa alone needs in the region of an additional $25 billion per year in aid. The US government has agreed to pay between $700 and $950 million more to the World Bank over the next three years. This is a drop in the ocean compared with what it spends every day in its occupation of Iraq. Hidden in the small print is the fact that this debt package will come out of existing aid budgets. No new money so far has come forward.
    The G8 countries agreed to top up their regular payments to the international Development Agency—the lending arm of the World Bank. These regular replenishments are not fixed; an example of their duplicity is the fact that America’s share of contributions to the IDA fell from near 20 per cent to around 13 per cent over the last three years. The EU countries offer no better. They have made commitments to substantially increase aid in the coming years; but they have been saying the same thing for the last three decades. It is also hedged in with budgetary conditions and the possibility of an airline ticket tax. Of course the idea of a Tobin tax was given short shrift.
    Aid is increasingly used as a means of extracting political and economic concessions, such as opening up the poorer countries’ markets to competition from foreign—that is, US and EU—competition. The privatisation of natural resources, such as water, is demanded. Countries will in future be closely monitored to make sure they don’t veer away from the political conditions imposed on them.
    This has little or nothing to do with corruption: we know from our own country, and the majority of developed capitalist countries, that widespread corruption is built in to the system. Many African countries are run by military regimes or corrupt governments, working hand in glove with western governments, global corporations, and western banks. Who created and sustained these corrupt governments but the very transnational corporations and western governments in the first place! This is the legacy of colonialism. It is not in imperialism’s interests to have strong, democratic states in Africa.
    What is needed is massive investment in Africa, in health, education, and social infrastructure. There is a need for massive land reform to benefit the mass of the people. This investment must be part of the reparations for the massive plunder of Africa and other colonised regions. Our life-style, the beautiful parks, boulevards and grand palaces of the European capitals, were built on the back of slavery and the savage exploitation of colonised people.
    The ideas put forward by the likes of John O’Shea are nothing more than old-fashioned empire; his talk of “sharing the burden of Africa” is straight out of the nineteenth century. The people of Africa owe us nothing; we owe them everything.
    Uganda—one of the eighteen countries earmarked to benefit from debt cancellation—pays back $120 million a year to service its debts. Another country that will receive debt relief, Tanzania, has already received debt service relief estimated to be worth $2 billion under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. It has been forced to borrow new money and now has debts of $8.1 million. It is costing the country 12 per cent of its national budget to service this new debt. The average income of Ugandans is around $250 a year, and the numbers living on less than $1 per day had increased to 38 per cent in 2003 (from 34 per cent in 2000).
    The developed capitalist countries could afford to cancel all outstanding debts of the majority world countries; but they won’t allow fair trade. It is against their interest to allow fair trade, because unequal trade relations were and are the hallmark of both colonialism and imperialism (or “globalisation”). Unequal trade relations means that the dominant cosmopolitan countries are able to maintain their political and economic dominance and to secure subservient clientele states in most of the developing countries.
    What is behind all this talk of a new deal for Africa is that the continent is rich in natural resources. It has vast reserves of oil and gas, diamonds, iron ore, timber, titanium ore, bauxite, and many more valuable metals. This is the real reason for this new scramble for Africa, and it will intensify the differences and tensions between the European Union, the United States, China, and Japan. The conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan is tied up with the fact that it is a region rich in oil, and the European Union and the United States are in competition with China over control of these resources.
    The one thing you can be sure of is that by the time you have finished reading this article, half a dozen African children will have died from curable diseases, hunger, or AIDS-related illness. In the global scheme of things, people don’t count, only the “bottom line” of what is exploitable. If Africa had nothing of value, they wouldn’t give a damn.
    Cancel the debt of all indebted nations, and let European imperialist countries and the United States begin to pay reparations for centuries of colonialism.

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