||Introduction: Evidence of exploitation
What is the case for progressives to use social power to seize state power in African countries? What programmatic options are under debate? Will the World Social Forum or other transnational vehicles for progressive activists assist the process?
To begin, a case needs to be made that contemporary global elites and local compradors require overthrow. Historically, the argument for overthrow of ruling African elites who collaborate with imperial powers dates back many centuries, to the point at which value transfers began via appropriation of slave labour, antiquities, precious metals and raw materials. Unfair terms of trade were soon amplified by colonial and neocolonial relations. These processes often amounted to a kind of ‘primitive accumulation’, by which capital of Northern countries grew by virtue of looting Africa.
But this was not a once-off set of problems, solved by the 1950s-90s independence struggles. In recent decades, wealth extraction through imperialist relations has intensified, and some of the same kinds of primitive looting tactics are now once again evident. Moreover, key causes of Africa’s underdevelopment since the early 1980s can also be identified within the framework of neoliberal (free market) policies adopted nearly universally across the continent and indeed the world, in part thanks to the emergence of local allies of the North within African states.
The mainstream impression – e.g., Tony Blair’s Africa Commission – is mistaken when citing what appears as a vast inflow of aid, for ‘phantom aid’ should be taken into consideration. Instead of a sustainable level of debt service payments, as claimed by those supporting the elites’ limited debt relief schemes, Africa’s net financial accounts went negative during the 1990s. And although remittances from the African Diaspora now fund a limited amount of capital accumulation, capital flight is far greater. At more than $10 billion/year since the early 1970s, collectively, the citizens of Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, the DRC, Angola and Zambia have been especially vulnerable to the overseas drain of their national wealth. In addition to the lifting of exchange controls, a major factor during the late
1990s was financial deregulation. In South Africa, for example, financial liberalization included the relisting of the primary share-issuing residence of the largest South African firms: from Johannesburg to London.
Likewise, trade liberalization has, according to hristian Aid, cost Sub- aharan Africa $272 billion ince the early 1980s. Trade is especially difficult to rely upon for growth, given that agricultural subsidies accruing to Northern farmers rose from the late 1980s to 2004 by 15%, to $279 billion, mainly benefiting large agro-corporate producers. Flows of people – a veritable brain drain – have also been formidable, but the value of wealth lost to the process is incalculable, given that more than 15% of Africa’s best-educated professionals now live abroad.
Non-financial investment flows are driven less by policy – although
liberalization has also been important – and more by accumulation opportunities. Foreign Direct Investment to Sub-Saharan began rising in the late 1990s after two decades of stagnation. But the vast bulk of investments were accounted for in two major processes: South African capital’s changed domicile, and resurgent oil investments (especially in Angola and Nigeria).
In the latter cases, a report by the World Bank (Where is the Wealth of Nations?) acknowledges stagnant and net negative ‘genuine savings’ in countries with high resource dependence and low capital accumulation. These include Nigeria, Zambia, Mauritania, Gabon, Congo, Algeria and South Africa. Worst of all, Gabon’s people lost $2,241 each in 2000 due to oil company depletion of the country’s tangible wealth, followed by the Republic of the Congo (-$727), Nigeria (-$210), Cameroon (-$152), Mauritania (-$147) and Cote d’Ivoire (-$100). A few countries do benefit under this broader definition (the Seychelles, Botswana and Namibia). But the vast majority of African countries saw their wealth depleted. Even industrialized South Africa lost $2 drop per capita wealth in 2000 and the genuine savings rate was reduced to just 6.9% of national income once a variety of other factors associated with ‘natural capital’ are included.