Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, speaking at a national conference in New York City on Nov. 13, 2010. Azikiwe has published articles in numerous journals throughout the world., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
World Economic Crisis Hits Africa: Decline in Capitalist States Reverberate Internationally
Famine looms in East Africa while worker actions spread in Nigeria and South Africa
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
As the economic crisis in the leading capitalist countries accelerates, the escalation of food deficits, poverty and imperialist militarism has prompted dislocation and unrest throughout the African continent. Africa has been subordinated to the fluctuations of the prices for raw materials and agricultural commodities sold to the West while increasing social unrest has prompted the intervention of the Pentagon and NATO into the internal affairs of various former colonial states.
Inside Europe and the United States, the huge budget deficits brought on by overproduction and financial speculation has threatened the stability of the both the Euro zone and the dollar. Greece, where the trade union movement and the youth have fought back with industrial action and rebellion against the imposition of austerity, is still facing the possibility of default despite the imposition draconian cuts to salaries and social benefits.
In Britain, Spain, Portugal, France and Ireland, the governments have implemented extreme measures to reduce salaries and slash social services and pensions. In Britain recently, a two-day general strike brought hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets.
The United States is facing the potential of a catastrophic default on government obligations due to the burgeoning national deficit reported to be over $14 trillion. Throughout the country, state, county and municipal governments as well as local school boards have enacted massive layoffs and service cuts to meet the demands of the bankers who drain the coffers of these entities through debt-service payments and the lowering of bond ratings.
Famine Looms in East Africa Despite U.S. Military Involvement
With the continuing strangulation of Africa and other oppressed nations by the financial institutions of the capitalist states and their military forces, the impact of these policies can be seen in the current situation in East Africa. The Horn of Africa and other surrounding nations are facing the potential of the worst drought in six decades.
Although the major corporate media outlets do not draw the link between climate change and the drought, African specialists on this phenomenon say that the increase in disasters such as floods, lack of rainfall and consequent crop failures can be attributed to the industrial policies of the so-called developed countries. Nonetheless, drought does not necessarily translate into famine, the inability of large sections of a population group to feed itself adequately. Famine in the modern world in largely derived from the unequal distribution of food and water resulting from underdevelopment brought on by capitalist relations of production.
Most of the affected countries in East Africa that are facing large-scale dislocation and starvation, have governments which are politically and economically dominated by world imperialism, led by the U.S. In Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, the U.S. supports the regimes that are now in power and provide them with assistance in the areas of military and security affairs.
In Somalia, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is subsidized by U.S. assistance to the tune of hundreds of millions per year. The TFG is propped-up militarily by the pro-U.S. regimes in Burundi and Uganda, which have 8,000 troops occupying the country to prevent the Al-Shabab Islamic resistance movement from seizing power.
The Meles Zenawi government in neighboring Ethiopia is largely subsidized militarily by the U.S. which has used the regime to occupy Somalia on its behalf. Ethiopia is one of the hardest hit areas in regard to the drought yet the U.S. partnership and assistance has not resulted in much success in feeding its population and maintaining stability.
According to the East African published in Kenya, “Perhaps no country in the region is as badly affected as Somalia. The Somalia Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) estimates that 2.85 million people—a third of the population—are now in humanitarian crisis and in need of urgent assistance, an increase of 42.5 percent over the figure in December 2010.” (East African, July 10)
The Manila Bulletin noted that “Two successive failed rains have left approximately 11 million people living in remote areas across Southern Ethiopia, Northern Kenya, and Somalia facing famine because of food shortages. The lack of pasture water has led to deaths of cattle on a large scale, leaving families unable to cope with the loss of food and livelihood, according to Oxfam.” (MB, July 11)
Another article published in the Financial Times indicated that “Livestock mortality has risen dramatically at a time when staple cereal prices have also increased sharply. The price of maize on the wholesale market in Kenya has risen 160 percent since July last year and the retail price of red sorghum has jumped 169 percent, exceeding the peaks of the 2007-08 food crises.” (FT, July 5)
Labor Actions Erupt in Nigeria and South Africa
Since December 2010, various countries in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula have erupted with mass uprisings and labor unrest. In Tunisia during December, the dire economic situation prompted by high unemployment, low wages and poverty among workers and youth, sparked unprecedented demonstrations and general strikes resulting in the toppling of longtime western-backed dictator President Ben Ali.
In neighboring Egypt beginning on Jan. 25, the workers, youth and professional groups launched similar actions in response to the rising price of basic foodstuffs and commodities. On Feb. 11, the military staged a coup and overthrew the three-decade rule of President Mubarak.
Other states including Yemen and Bahrain saw similar unrest that spread rapidly throughout their respective countries. In Libya, the imperialist intervened in an effort to engineer regime change and seize control of Africa’s largest reserves of oil.
In the last few weeks other regions of the continent have seen outbreaks of labor actions. In Nigeria, the trade unions have demanded the implementation of an agreed upon increase in the national minimum wage in a country where the per capita income is very low considering it is one of the largest exporters of crude oil to the West.
According to the Tribune newspaper, “The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) has vowed that all the ports in the country will be shut to all forms of activity during the planned nationwide strike by organized labor over the delay in the implementation of the N18,000 national minimum wage by the federal, state and local governments.” (Nigerian Tribune, July 11)
This article continues by noting that “The union has, therefore, warned operators and other ports users in the country to conclude all business transactions before the planned nationwide strike, which could commence after the expiration of the two-week ultimatum given by the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) on July 14.
In South Africa, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) has been involved in a strike since July 4. The industrial action has idled 200,000 workers across the country and has brought allegations of violence and intimidation by the bosses.
These strike actions are being followed by another 70,000 workers in the chemical, pulp and related industries which joined the NUMSA strike on July 11. The Vice-President of the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU) Peter Rapoo said that “If the strike goes on past next week, we could have petrol shortages.” (South Africa Business Day, July 11)
The workers in the metal industry are demanding a 13 percent pay hike and other amenities related to the notions of a living and social wage. Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, said the current atmosphere created by the employers will result in the “mother of all battles” carried out by workers seeking a living wage.
The economic crisis in South Africa has also resulted in high unemployment as in other regions of the continent as well as inside the western industrial countries. It is estimated that joblessness in the formal sector of the economy is as high as 25 percent.
At the same time a news publication in South Africa reported that strike activity has risen sharply in the last several months. According to a timeslive.co.za article, the index measuring industrial actions “predicted a marked increase in strike activity during 2011 by 22 percent compared to last year.” (July 11)
Global Crisis Warrants International Solidarity
Consequently, the actions by labor within the two largest economies in Africa are a reflection of the vagaries of the crisis of capitalism during the present period. Workers all over the world are facing rising unemployment and attacks on the social wage paid for their labor.
These developments, although posing monumental challenges for workers, provide greater opportunities for international solidarity and joint actions aimed at reversing the conditions imposed by capitalism and imperialism resulting in austerity and greater repression. The social conditions prevailing in East Africa region portends much as it relates to the potential for catastrophic social conditions on a global scale.
Workers inside the industrialized countries must develop means to work with and provide solidarity to the proletariat and farmers in the post-colonial states. It will be these methods of solidarity that will turn the tide in the global class struggle against austerity and super-exploitation.