Article from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI

Africa - A continent enslaved by poverty

Philip Stott, International Socialists, CWI - Scotland

GORDON BROWN and Tony Blair are trying to portray themselves as champions of debt relief for Africa. Brown and Blair used the recent Africa Commission report to support the "doubling of foreign aid to Africa and making fighting Aids a priority." They even set a goal for "100% debt cancellation" and urged rich nations to drop trade barriers that hurt poorer countries. But even a doubling of aid to $50 billion would fall well short of what is required.

Gordon Brown admitted at the launch of the Africa Commission report that the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) drawn up in 2000, which aimed to halve African poverty by 2015, would not be met. Neither would targets to reduce infant and maternal mortality by 50% by 2015. In fact, it would take more than 150 years at current rates to achieve such goals. Against the background of the four million children in Africa who die before the age of five this literally means that hundreds of millions of lives would be lost.

As it is, the G8 has only promised to write of $100 billion of the $375 billion debt of the world's 52 poorest countries. That was five years ago. To date less than half of that debt has been written off. In all, 88% of the 52 poorest countries' debt, most of them in Africa, is still being paid back. That's 30 million a day or 11 billion every year that flows into the coffers of capitalist governments and the world's financial institutions. For every $2 in aid Africa receives $1 is paid back in interest payments. Sub-saharan Africa pays back in debt repayments 100% of the aid it receives each year.

Malawi spends more on servicing its debt than it spends on health. This is at a time when 20% of Malawians are HIV positive. Capitalism thrives on the indebtedness of Africa and other poor nations. No wonder they are so reluctant to genuinely tackle the problem.

The aid rip-off

Thirty five years ago the United Nations set a target for all industrialised nations to pay 0.7% of their GDP in aid to the "developing" world. Only five countries have achieved that target. The USA pays only 0.15% of its GDP in aid. In total, high-income countries pay only 0.25% in aid. Almost all of that is in loans that poorer countries can barely afford to pay back the interest on. It means an ever-spiralling debt burden.

Scandalously, "high income" countries that agree to write-off debt to poorer countries can have that counted towards their 0.7% target.

This is supported by Brown and Blair as is "economic conditions" on imposing countries before they would qualify for debt write-off. This effectively means agreeing cuts in public spending and the opening up of their economies to foreign multinationals.

The UN estimates that 195 billion a year in aid is needed to halve world poverty within ten years, which would still leave more than 500 million people in extreme poverty. Only 20 billion a year is pledged at present. 40 billion would provide clean water, sanitation, adequate food and basic health care for those who require it. The richest 1,000 people in the world have a combined wealth of $2.2 trillion.

Africa in chains

Almost the entire African continent has been a colony of one or other of the imperialist powers at some time. They consciously prevented African countries from developing their own industries, making them totally reliant on imports from the West. To make matters worse, those products produced in African countries have their prices determined by the richer nations and multinationals who drive down prices in order to increase their own profits. At the same time, they force those same countries to buy imported goods from the West at a price determined by the West. This led to neo-colonial countries having to take out loans from the same capitalist powers that held a vice-like grip on their economies. Of course the West set the interest rates. The local African elites and corrupt governments have stolen much of the aid while unloading the burden of debt onto the backs of the poor masses. The IMF and other organisations demanded cuts in health, education and the privatisation of industries in order to qualify for loans in the first place.

Even debt relief and rescheduling has been dependent on countries agreeing to open up their economies to privatisation from multinationals in the West and agreeing to carry out neo-liberal policies. For example in Angola, water, which was free, now has to be paid for, which has led to disconnections and a subsequent increase in dysentery, cholera etc. While in Malawi the World Bank advised the government to sell off its surplus grain as part of a debt restructuring deal, despite widespread starvation in the country. Military spending however has increased in Africa with Western arms companies finding lucrative markets in both Africa and other neo-colonial countries.

Only by ending the domination of the African continent by multinational companies and the abolition of institutions like the IMF and the World Bank can Africa develop its real potential. That would require the nationalisation of the multinationals under democratic working class control and management to lay the basis for a socialist planned economy in the West. This is turn would be linked to a mass movement of the African working class and poor masses to overthrow the corrupt capitalist and feudal regimes throughout the continent. This would allow the 1 billion strong African people, one-half of whom exist on less than $1 a day, to be free from poverty, hunger and disease.

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