Reflections on African Political Economy - ROAPE
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Reflections on African Political Economy

Reflections on African Political Economy

By Femi Aborisade and Andy Wynne

‘Whither Africa in the Global South? Lessons of Bandung and Pan-Africanism’ by Issa Shivji [Keynote address to the International Seminar on the Global South – From Bandung to the XXI Century (September 28-30, 2015), Universidade Federal Sāo Paulo].

Professor Issa Shivji is a long-time Marxist who cut his teeth criticising the nationalism of Julius Nyerere in the early 1970s and is still going strong. But he appears to unnecessarily accommodate nationalism and pan-Africanism in his paper titled ‘Whither Africa in the Global South? Lessons of Bandung and Pan-Africanism.’  He asks, ‘Can a refurbished pan-Africanism, integrating the agendas of both national liberation and social emancipation, provide such an ideology?’  The answer from the experience of post-colonial Africa appears to be a resounding ‘No!’,  it does not appear to us that there is any nationalist short-cut.  The organised working class can unite with wider layers of the impoverished popular classes around a clear agenda of equality, redistribution of wealth and anti-corruption.  This has been demonstrated many times, for a recent example the uprising across Nigeria in January 2012 illustrates this clearly, this was organised around a general strike against removal of fuel subsidies.  However, nationalism and any accommodation with the local bosses appears fraught with danger and results, at best, with the trade unions giving into the interests of the local ruling class of corrupt bosses and politicians.  Nkrumah, Nyerere and Sankara all claimed to be socialists, but ended up attacking the trade unions.

Shivji also appears to accept too uncritically Samir Amin’s division of the world into the centre and the periphery and the wish to develop auto-centric centres of capital accumulation.  Though the implication may not be consciously intended,  we believe that this argument is a nationalist dream, shared by sections of the local capitalist class to develop their own areas where they can exploit ‘their own’ workers without interference or competition from the industrial countries. So Shivji says that the movement of history over the last five centuries has been determined by the relationship between the northern centre and the periphery of the Global South.  This appears to contrast sharply with Marx’s claim in the Communist Manifesto that ‘The [written] history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.’  This suggests there is struggle within the Global South against the local ruling classes and, of course, against the northern imperialists. In other words, there is a contradiction, not just between the developed exploiter capitalist countries of the world and the exploited underdeveloped countries, there is also class struggle between the capitalist and the working classes within the Global South and the northern imperialists. The interests of the working masses lie in building international solidarity against imperialism, which is an international economic system.

The division of the world into the centre and the periphery also appears to be contradicted by the growth of China as an ‘autonomous centre of capital accumulation.’  The last thirty years of neoliberalism has also seen a huge growth of inequality.  There are now areas of abject poverty in the US (as demonstrated, for example, by the differential impacts of Hurricane Katrina on different communities of New Orleans) and areas of obscene wealth in at least the capital cities of most of the countries of the Global South. Thus Aliko Dangote of Nigeria is rated as being the richest man in Africa and the 49th/50th or so in the entire world.

Shivji also accepts Amin’s division of the ruling class in the Global South into the nationalists and comprador.  In reality, the local ruling classes of the Global South have always made alliances with the imperialists, not in the interest of ‘the nation’ but in their own interests.  For hundreds of years, African leaders gained huge power and influence by trading slaves for guns.  More recently, the ruling classes of the Global South have gained huge wealth and capital by adopting and promoting neoliberalism, whilst simultaneously blaming the ‘imperialists’ for any disadvantageous aspects.  The real divisions in the world remain between the 1% of the ruling class (global and local) and the 99% (north and south). We have to remember that it was Reagan (US), Thatcher (Britain) and Deng Xiaoping (China) who ushered in the era of neoliberalism.  Deng as a leader from the Global South is conveniently forgotten by Shivji.

There are, of course, divisions between the general level of salaries in the Global South and those in the industrialised countries.  But these are not due to exploitation of Africa by Europe.  They are mainly due to a political economy in which a regime of low wages is imposed, helped by growing massive unemployment, a labour force that is dominated by unskilled hands and outdated technology, all of which feed into wide differences in productivity between the South and the North. How can African capital compete globally when their public infrastructure and, for example, public electricity supply is so poor? In addition, the social value of labour in much of the Global South is being undermined by unemployment continually fed by migration from the rural hinterlands.  The bosses in the Global South and the North maintain these divisions by imposing immigration controls.  The salaries of the workers in the industrial countries are undermined by the threat of moving production to areas which have more flexible and lower paid labour. Northern workers suffer, they are not beneficiaries of low wages in the Global South. Thus, in the end, the capitalists in the North and South benefit from promoting divisions between workers in the two worlds; workers in the Global South feel threatened by the influx of expatriates and immigration controls are used to justify restricting mass exodus to the North, for economic, and lately, security reasons.

Shivji is right to say that the ‘national question in Africa remains unresolved. The agrarian and social questions in much of the periphery [sic] remain unresolved.’  However, these questions also remain unresolved in the US and Britain.  Britain still has the unelected House of Lords as the second chamber of its Parliament. Scotland appears to be moving towards independence and the national question is very much alive in Northern Ireland.  All these issues are part of the myriad problems of capitalism and are unlikely to be resolved while it still exists.

Towards the end of his paper Shivji aptly recognises that Africa’s ruling classes are ‘incapable of providing leadership’ to make another world possible. He quite correctly states that, ‘The leadership and the agency of the post-neo-liberal phase of struggle in the periphery have to be reclaimed by the working people and the popular classes.’ However, he then goes on to suggest that a refurbished African nationalism could be a suitable ideology to guide these struggles. Nationalism is the ideology of the capitalist class meant to hoodwink and defect the struggles of workers and the poor; nationalism is not the ideology of the working class.

He ends with the following rallying call, ‘History thus beckons the working people and nations of the South to the rendezvous of revolution on the long road to socialism.’ However, this is a long way from the finale of the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels which calls on the workers of the world, not just of a geographic unit, to unite against the global class of the employers and exploiters. In case we need to be reminded the Communist Manifesto reads, ‘The workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of all countries, unite!’

Though it is recognised that inevitably struggles are primarily commenced on the local levels, the perspective of internationalising working class struggles should not be lost. We have to be clear that the local ruling classes of the Global South, including sub-Saharan Africa, bosses and politicians, are members of the global ruling class.  These are not the, ‘despised, the insulted, the hurt, the dispossessed – in short, the underdogs of the human race’ who Issa claims met in Bandung in 1955. Aliko Dangote, for example, is now richer than any British boss and easily one of the 100 most wealthy and powerful individuals in the world. African presidents, especially Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mbeki of South Africa developed and launched the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) in 2001. This was used to further impose neoliberalism across sub-Saharan Africa largely to the benefit of the local ruling class and their imperialist masters but at great cost to the continent’s real poor and downtrodden.  The immediate class enemies of the poor of the Global South are their own ruling classes who act in conspiracy with the imperialists of the North. These are the people that the popular masses of Africa face in their day to day struggles and are the people they will have to rise up against if their desire for a decent life for themselves and their children are to be realised. Nationalism of any form – from ethnic to pan-African nationalism – undermines the struggles of the working class and the poor and needs to be argued against on a sustained basis. This is one of the greatest challenges that still confronts progressive movements on the continent.

New capitalist domination and imperialism in Africa‘ by Jean Nanga (October, 2015)

Nanga is originally from the Congo and is the African correspondent of Inprecor.  In his article titled ‘New capitalist domination and imperialism in Africa’, he provides an overview of the impact of imperialism on Africa.  The ‘new’ capitalist domination being the growth of interest by China and the other BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), but also by the indigenous African bosses led by Dangote.

Whilst much of the paper is dominated by the role of the traditional imperialist powers, Nanga notes that the number of dollar billionaires in Africa increased from eight in 2009 to 55 in 2014 (relying on Venture Africa).  These capitalist bosses are now junior members, at least, of the global ruling class. As such, they have benefited hugely from the spread of neoliberalism, privatisation, deregulation and free trade over the last three decades.  In only a year from 2013 to 2014, their global wealth increased by over 12% (the thieving politicians are not counted here). This has, of course, been helped by vulnerable poorly paid jobs and the virtual absence of environmental protection as a norm to flexible labour markets to encourage ‘foreign direct investment.’

The IMF and World Bank may have started the process in the 1980s with their ‘structural adjustment programs’ (SAPs), but these ideas were internalised and adopted as ‘home grown’ ideas by African rulers, for example, through the enthusiastic development of NEPAD by Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Obasanjo of Nigeria. The end of Apartheid allowed South African capital to spread its tentacles across the continent. MTN and Shoprite are just two examples and are backed up by the South African state. The Nigerian, and to a lesser extent, the Angolan states play a similar role in making Africa safe for their respective capitals.

Of course, on a much bigger scale, the US and the states of the European Union play a similar role in protecting and promoting the companies from their own countries. Similarly, Chinese capital has also joined the scramble for African raw materials. Nanga recognises that although China claims to play up its role in south to south solidarity, in essence, its role in Africa is no different to the US or European companies and states.  He quotes the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, as saying, ‘China takes our raw materials and provides us with manufactured goods. This was also the essence of colonialism […] Africa has willingly opened up now to a new form of imperialism.’

The role of globalisation has included freeing up Africa from its old colonial rulers of Britain, France and Portugal.  This has allowed the entry of US capital and more recently growing Chinese interests. The stock of Chinese capital investment in Africa is less than the US or Europe (it is only half the level of the US, Britain or France), but its investment each year is much higher and so China is catching up with the older imperialists.

In the case of Portugal, at least, there is also the growth of ‘reverse’ imperialism with Angolan capital now having a significant influence in its old imperial centre. More generally, with interest, debt re-payment and capital flight (much from corrupt politicians) Africa has been a net source of capital to Europe and the US for the last few decades.  Over 5% of African GDP has been exported in the twenty first century – a much higher rate for South Africa (partly due to investment in other parts of Africa).

Unfortunately, Nanga still tends to use the nationalistic terminology of ‘dependence’ and makes the centre/periphery distinction which recent changes further invalidate.  It is not clear why demand for African oil, for example, makes African countries more dependent on Europe or China.  It is also clear that there is a pecking order across the world with the US by far the strongest power (at least militarily) and other countries like Britain are prepared to become willing allies to the extent that some consider it to be the fifty first state of the US.

There are also limits to this dependence as in the case of the European Union’s Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) which some African governments have resisted for at least a dozen years. Nanga may underestimate the level of collective class struggle which is taking place in Nigeria, South Africa and other African countries, but he does correctly end by writing, ‘Without building and consolidating popular solidarity and convergences in the struggles against the various tentacles of the capitalist octopus in Africa, in other words a pan-African anti-capitalist dynamic, there will be no emancipation of the exploited and oppressed people of Africa and no participation by them in the construction of a humanity where people will live well.’

Femi Aborisade is a socialist, writer and lawyer from Nigeria. Andy Wynne is a Senior Lecturer in Public Financial Management at the University of Leicester and a consultant who works extensively in West Africa. 

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3 Comments
  • Tokunbo Oke
    Posted at 15:32h, 17 February Reply

    I do not disagree with the author’s critique of the rigid division of the world economy into centre and periphery. But I do take issue with their large scale dismissal of Pan-Africanism as a form of Nationalism. I have always understood Pan-Africanism to be a movement with divergent tendencies ranging from the cultural nationalism of the African diaspora in Europe and America to the attempts to overcome the balkanisation of the African continent in the wake of colonialism which created nonviable nations with little or no potential for any form of autonomous development. As Zanzibari revolutionary Abdulrahman Mohammed Babu once noted “in the diaspora, Pan-Africanism takes a cultural turn, whereas on the African continent it cannot but be political.”

    The Pan-African movement has a Marxist wing/tendency that unfortunately is very weak, a reflection of the weakness of and defeats suffered by the genuine left forces all over the African continent. It was somewhat represented in the past by the Union of the People’s of the Cameroon (UPC), the party formerly led by Reuben Um Nyobe that fought against French colonialism and also against the French imposed government of Ahmadu Ahidjo / Paul Biya in Cameroons. One of its leading lights, Elenga Mbuiyinga wrote the seminal tract “Pan Africanism or Neo-Colonialism: The Bankruptcy of the OAU.”

    The Marxist wing of the Pan-Africanist movement has always seen its task as the debalkanization of the African continent and sees the agency of this task being the working and toiling people of Africa. Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution explains that in the underdeveloped nations of the world where the native bourgeoisie, because of its late arrival on the historical scene is unable solve any of the pressing problems facing the nation, cedes this task to the working and toiling people. The working and toiling people whilst solving both the bourgeois and socialist tasks of the nation through struggle will be forced to take this revolutionary process beyond the boundaries of the nation, making the process international. The problems of capitalism in Africa can only be solved/abolished on a continental basis

    It is this tendency within the Pan-African movement that I subscribe to and that has to be fought for.

  • Benedict WACHIRA
    Posted at 11:40h, 03 March Reply

    Even though it is not appropriate to comment on this article without first reading the paper by Issa Shivji that is being critiqued, I would like to point out a few issues;

    First, Panafricanism is the working towards the unity of the African people and the African states under Socialism, and against any form of domination (essentially anti-imperialist).
    Panafricanism is neither geographical, nor racial.
    One of the implications of Panafricanism is that people can move, work and settle freely.

    So is there a role for Panafricanism in the struggle against capitalism in the world today?

    In answering this, we must first look at how Neoliberalism works on a global level today.

    Unlike what was expected in the past; that capital would cross boundaries of the world, and that workers of the world would also break these boundaries by following capital, Neoliberalism has brought about a scenario where capital has become global and has indeed broken the boundaries and can move freely, but the workers are prevented from moving freely into other countries/regions.

    For example, If Kenya creates a business environment that ensures for instance, the highest slave-labour pool, cheap (but environmentally) unsustainable energy etc, Dangote and his ilk would be welcomed into Kenya and be encouraged to move their industries and what have you to Kenya in the quest for ‘better’ exploitation and higher profits, while the same Kenyan state would not allow the Nigerian workers to relocate and work in Kenya.

    (Remember also that most of the wealth and even the products that these multinationals generate are accounted for in their mother countries and not where the wealth was created. Therefore the benefits of the capitalism are minimally or never experienced at all in the countries that the wealth is created from. This was also the case with Slavery and Colonialism where most the benefit went to the North—I would thus understand when Shivji brings in the sub-angle and states that “the movement of history over the last five centuries has been determined by the relationship between the northern centre and the periphery of the Global South”)

    Under Panafricanism, this problem would be mitigated since those Nigerian workers would be free to live, work and settle in Kenya. This would foster greater workers solidarity, instead of worker competition which actually reinforces nationalism through calls for ‘protection of our jobs’ as has been observed in Greece and other European countries.

    Secondly, it is important to also note that fifty years of independence from classical colonialism has actually (and unfortunately) fortified country nationalism in most African states. In this regard, Panafricanism must be seen as part of, and as a critical step towards internationalism, and not as a challenger to it. Working class solidarity between South Africa and Ivory Coast, is not less internationalist than that between Tanzania and Germany, or between China and the United States.

    The authors of this article admit that “Though it is recognised that inevitably struggles are primarily commenced on the local levels, the perspective of internationalising working class struggles should not be lost.” This then means that within the correct perspective, local level struggles supplement, and do not contradict the international struggles. That is the case with Panafricanism; It is part of, and it supplements rather than contradict international working class struggles.
    I suppose that this would be Issa Shivji’s position too.

    Just by sticking to this article, I feel that the authors have critiqued Shivji unfairly, by appearing to disagree with sections of what he presented, and then later agreeing with the same sections within the same paragraph. It would be important to know the context within which Shivji was presenting the paper among other considerations.

    For instance they write;
    “Shivji also appears to accept too uncritically Samir Amin’s division of the world into the centre and the periphery and the wish to develop auto-centric centres of capital accumulation. Though the implication may not be consciously intended, we believe that this argument is a nationalist dream, shared by sections of the local capitalist class to develop their own areas where they can exploit ‘their own’ workers without interference or competition from the industrial countries. So Shivji says that the movement of history over the last five centuries has been determined by the relationship between the northern centre and the periphery of the Global South. This appears to contrast sharply with Marx’s claim in the Communist Manifesto that ‘The [written] history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.’ This suggests there is struggle within the Global South against the local ruling classes and, of course, against the northern imperialists. In other words, there is a contradiction, not just between the developed exploiter capitalist countries of the world and the exploited underdeveloped countries, there is also class struggle between the capitalist and the working classes within the Global South and the northern imperialists. The interests of the working masses lie in building international solidarity against imperialism, which is an international economic system.”

    In the above paragraph, the authors agree with Shivji, but add the aspect the local class struggles. The fact that they quote him in the end as saying that “The leadership and the agency of the post-neo-liberal phase of struggle in the periphery have to be reclaimed by the working people and the popular classes” shows that Shivji is conscious of both the struggles against Imperialism, and the working class struggles against capitalism in the south. We only need to look at his other works to see if he limits these struggles to the South, or whether he goes beyond.

  • David Seddon
    Posted at 09:25h, 02 September Reply

    Femi Aborisade and Andy Wynne argue, in effect, that Shivji’s analysis focuses on what might best be termed ‘contradictions within the global capitalist class’ (ie between ‘centre’ and periphery’) and sees struggles against ‘the centre’ by associations or alliances of capitalists within ‘the periphery’ as somehow inherently progressive. This approach relies very much on the ‘dependency’ school of thought exemplified by such commentators as Samir Amin, Gunder Frank and others. While such contradictions undoubtedly exist (as indeed they have always existed in capitalism as a mode of production), and make their own contribution to the historically combined and uneven development of capital accumulation on a world scale, they are not necessarily progressive in a Marxist sense, even if they may result in a new and significant configuration of capital world-wide. A Marxist approach would suggest that we need rather to consider the actually-existing and possible future process of class formation and development within the subordinate classes under capitalism – in the context of class struggle (national, regional and global) – if we are to understand both the potential for radical transformation and the constraints on such transformation.

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