Sunday, February 11, 2007

Some Aspects of the Politics of Contemporary Africa in the Era of Continuing Imperialism

Some Aspects of the Politics of Contemporary Africa in the Era of Continuing Imperialism

A review of developments in Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe and the role of the African Union and the Pan-African Parliament

By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire
Editor's Note: The following address was delivered at a Workers World public meeting in Detroit on Saturday, February 10, 2007. The talk was dedicated to the memory of the late Mama Adelaide Tambo, the African National Congress Women's League leader and widow of the late Oliver R. Tambo, the longtime Acting President of the ANC while Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa. Adelaide Tambo's funeral was held on the same day in South Africa.

Since the middle of the 15th century the African continent has been pivotal in the rise of western capitalism and imperialism. The nations of Spain and Portugal began to conduct expeditionary operations in west Africa resulting in the beginning of the slave trade. The trafficking in Africans as slaves resulted in tens of thousands of people being transported to Europe.

With the advent of Columbus who was commissioned by the monarchy in Spain, Europeans began to seek mineral resources and trade routes in the areas that became known as the western hemisphere.

Columbus landed in the Caribbean in 1492, setting off an historical process that would last for over five centuries. The indigenous peoples of the Caribbean were negatively effected by this process of European exploration in their search for gold and other natural resources. By the 16th century a genocidal campaign against the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean was well underway. The Spanish colonialists enslaved the inhabitants of these islands, working many to death while millions would perish from infectious diseases brought from western Europe. Others, who were not able to escape the slavemasters, took their own lives rather than live under such deplorable conditions.

As a result of the deaths of millions of Caribbean Indians, tremendous labor shortages existed in the colonial outposts that spread into the South American and North American continents. Consequently, the Spanish and later Portuguese, French, Dutch and English monarchies began to intensify the capture and export of slaves from Africa. Forts were established on the African coasts to facilitate the growing trade in human beings. Haiti, originally known by the colonialists as Hispanola, and Brazil in South America, became two of the most prosperous colonial outposts in the hemisphere. Both colonies required the importation of millions of African slaves to work the sugar plantations.

In North America, the Spanish, French and British colonialists competed vigorously for control of the land originally occupied by the Native Americans. From the latter part of the 16th century under Spain through the 17th and 18th century under the British and the French, millions of Africans were brought into the continent as slaves while the Native Americans were driven off their land systematically resulting in the worst genocidal onslaught in recorded human history.

It has been well documented that the profits accrued from the Atlantic slave trade spawned the rise of the industrial age in England and North America. This was illustrated clearly in the works of historians such as CLR James (The Black Jacobins and A History of Negro Revolt, 1938), WEB Dubois (Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, 1935), Eric Williams (Capitalism and Slavery, 1944), Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (Slavery and the French Revolutionist, 1926), William Alpheus Hunton (Decision in Africa, 1957), Kwame Nkrumah (Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, 1965) and Walter Rodney (How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1972).

With the rise of industrial production and shipping in England and the United States, a fierce struggle arose over the future of what form of economic organization would dominate these mercantile and imperialist states. As a result of this divergence of interests between fuedal states that dominated the colonies and the burgeoning industrialists, it became necessary to eliminate chattel slavery as the dominate mode of production in favor of mass production which required a more free movement of labor.

Consequently, slavery was eliminated in England in 1776 and the trade was outlawed in 1806. In the British colonies it was ostensibly abolished in 1833 leading to a period of apprenticeship. In the United States a bloody civil war was fought between 1861-1865 leading to the abolition of slavery after decades of slave revolts. At the time of the beginning of the civil war approximately four million Africans were in bondage in the United States with another 500,000 that were technically free. Some 176,000 Africans fought in the civil war to end slavery, with 68,000 losing their lives.

However, in other parts of the hemisphere, slavery did not end until years later. In Cuba, slavery did not end until 1878, some thirteen years after it concluded in the United States. In Brazil, where millions of slaves were taken by the Portuguese, their captivity did not end until 1888-89, after the collapse of the monarchy in this South American nation.

The Rise of Colonialism in Africa

After four centuries of the slave trade in Africa, the stage was set for widespread colonization of the continent. Although the Portuguese had colonies in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe since the 16th century and the Dutch had settled in South Africa beginning in 1652, large sections of Africa remained outside the complete control of colonization. The slave trade had so weakened African societies that colonialism became inevitable. By the 1870s, the Belgians had moved into Congo in order to secure rubber and other mineral resources. In 1884-85, the Berlin Conference was held in Germany to divide the continent into spheres of economic and political influence.

Colonialism in Africa involved the settlement of more Europeans who ruled the continent as political outposts of various nation-states. The most successful colonies were operated by Britain, France, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Spain and Italy. However, World War I resulted in the loss of colonies by Germany, which had controlled Namibia, Tangayika and Togoland. These outposts were taken over by Britain (Namibia where the Union of South Africa took control) and France (Togo).

Somalia: Division, Independence and Occupation

Prior to the advent of European colonialism the center of world economic activity heavily centered around the so-called Indian Ocean basin. It was the necessity of Europe to break out of this isolation that provided incentives for the expeditions and the slave trade. Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, was a major link in the Indian Ocean basin. This area was connected through trade, culture and transport with Mombasa, Beira, Aden, leading into Asia Minor, China, Malaysia and Japan.

During the colonial era in Somalia, the people resisted the onslaught of several western European powers. The people of Somalia were eventually divided into five different nations: Italian Somaliland, British Somaliland, French Somaliland, Kenya, which was colonized by the British and Ethiopia as a result of the expansion of the Abyssinian monarchy. When the country gained its independence in 1960, it resulted in the unification of the sections that had been controlled by Britain and Italy. However, the areas controlled by the French eventually became Djibouti as an independent nation. Somalis living in Ethiopia and Kenya remained under the control of these states despite a longing for total re-unification.

In 1969, a group of military officers responding to popular pressure seized control of the government in Mogadishu. Their politics were left leaning in an effort to break with the legacy of colonialism that was imposed by the British and the Italians. By 1974, a Mogadishu Declaration was issued pledging to pursue a non-capitalist path and expressing solidarity with the overall struggle against imperialism and neo-colonialism in Africa and the world.

Meanwhile in neighboring Ethiopia a general strike beginning in early 1974, led to the eventual collapse of the monarchy under His Imperial Majesty (H.I.M.) Haile Selassie. A group of young military officers called the "Dergue" seized power in the absence of a well-developed nationalist or socialist political party that was capable of taking control of the state. By 1977, the Dergue had declared itself socialist and moved towards an alliance with the Soviet Union and Cuba. The government sent students into the country side to engage in a literary and development program. A military base controlled by the United States in Ethiopia was abandoned as the country brought in advisers from Cuba to help build up its security.

Unfortunately, when Jimmy Carter became President of the United States in 1977 a concerted campaign was launched to bring Somalia back into the western sphere of influence. The government of Siad Barre was armed by the Carter administration and encouraged to attack Ethiopia in the Ogaden region, purportedly in support of ethnic Somalis suffering national oppression inside Ethiopia.

In the early months of 1978, the Ethiopian military along with Cuban internationalists forces, entered the Ogaden region and put down the rebellion as well as defeating the Somalian military troops who had crossed over into Ethiopian territory. Despite promises by the US to intervene on behalf of Somalia, they did not dare do so remembering the tremendous defeats during 1975 in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as well as Angola. By the early 1980s, famine had swept through large sections of Somalia. In 1991, the government of Siad Barre fled leaving the country stateless.

When the administration of George H.W. Bush invaded Somalia in December of 1992, this appeared to many as an effort to exert American imperialist influence in the Horn of Africa. When Bill Clinton inherited this occupation under the guise of providing humanitarian assistance from United Nations coordinated sources, the stakes became greater due to efforts aimed at disarming political factions hostile to America's desire to establish permanent bases in this region of the continent. After the United States military massacred over 50 Somali elders holding a meeting in Mogadishu on July of 1993, the Americans were on a collision course with large sections of the population. A clash on October 3, 1993 in Mogadishu resulting in the deaths of many US soldiers sent shockwaves through the country and lead eventually to an American withdrawal from Somalia in 1994.

Today the Americans have intervened once again in Somalia. They are using the pretext of the involvement of al-Qaeda or other Islamic so-called "terrorists" as the cause of their involvement in Somalia. As anti-imperialists and organizers within the anti-war movement we realize that any statement of cause for American military involvement must be held to strict scrutiny on the basis of the many falsehoods utilized to justify invasions and occupations. This is why the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) has raised the question of American involvement in Somalia right alongside the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the role of the US in the overthrow of the Aristide government in Haiti in February of 2004.

Sudan: The Legacy of British Colonialism and US Interference

This nation was also colonized by Britain during the late 19th century. The imperialist's methodology of divide and conquer was employed where the peoples of the south, north and west were taught that they were separate entities. Some of the earliest nationalist movements on the continent took place in Sudan with rebellions after the conclusion of World War I extending through the early 1920s.

Some of the elements within the nationalist movement pushed for a unification plan with Egypt. Others sought a solution to the colonial problem through the breaking down of the barriers erected by British colonialism. On the eve of independence, which took place in 1956, the people in the south mutined within the para-military colonial forces hampering the potential for a national identity in the country. The conflict with the southern region of the country lasted from 1955 through 1972 when a negotiated settlement was reached.

However, a decade later, the conflict re-emerged in 1983 and lasted for twenty years until a peace agreement was reached in 2003. The Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army led the southern rebellion under John Garang. A government of national unity was established with the understanding that the people in southern Sudan would eventually vote whether the people would remain in the unity government or establish an autonomous region in the south. It was after the agreement between Khartoum and the SPLA was reached that the conflict in the Darfur region erupted. Two rebel groups surfaced: the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) that had links with the National Islamic Front (NIF) that became an opposition force in northern politics. The NIF initially played a pivotal role in the Omar al-Bashir government inside the country. However, a split occured placing the NIF in opposition to the president.

Also the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) that appeared to be independent of northern influences. Since 2003, the Darfur rebel movement has further fragmented with splits inside the SLM/A largely over a peace agreement with Khartoum.

The imperialist nations and their allied press agencies have sought to portray the conflict in Darfur as an African/Arab conflagration with fundamental racial dimensions. Nonetheless, Darfur is predominately Islamic like the population in the north. There is no pronounced racial difference between the peoples of the country. It is the legacy of British imperialism and US interference that is at the root cause of the current conflict. These divisions are politicized in an effort to provide a rationale for possible military intervention. Consequently, anti-imperialists should look at the struggle in Darfur in light of American and British imperialists' aims in the region.

China has stepped-up its economic investments in Sudan. The country is rich in oil and consequently provides the American government with an incentive to seek dominance over the resources. The only true and lasting solution to the Darfur crisis lies within the Sudanese people themselves and does not require a military occupation by the west.

Zimbabwe: Land Redistribution and Western Sanctions

Britain was also the nation that colonized Zimbabwe during the last decade of the 19th century. Mutapa was an ancient kingdom in Zimbabwe which has been traced back to the 15th century. By the 19th century the Kingdoms of Matebeleland and Mashonaland ruled most of what is known today as Zimbabwe. There were strong efforts aimed at anti-colonial resistance led by Lobengula of Matebeleland and Nehanda and Kagubi of the Mashonas. However, the use of superior weapons by the British resulted in the consolidation of a vicious colonial system in what became known as Rhodesia (named after Cecil Rhodes).

Beginning in the mid-1960s, the people of Zimbabwe launched an armed struggle to overturn the settler-colonial system. The British settlers ostensibly broke with the mother country and proclaimed an Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965. The act of defiance angered the pan-africanist and anti-imperialist government of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, who broke diplomatic relations with Britain over its refusal to put down the rebellion in Rhodesia. Nkrumah was overthrown in a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) backed coup in February of 1966 after he had taken such a strong position over the Rhodesia question.

Prior to the granting of national independence to Zimbabwe in 1980, both the United Kingdom and the United States had agreed to provide monetary assistance for a major land redistribution program in Zimbabwe. The debate over land reform would intensify in Zimbabwe during the 1990s after no assistance from the western nations was materializing. In 1998, when the government of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriot Front (ZANU-PF) under President Robert Mugabe made it clear that there would be radical land re-distribution sooner than later inside the country, a series of political attacks were launched against this southern African nation.

White land owners, who were citizens of Zimbabwe but at the same time held British passports, joined in with opponents of the Zimbabwe government to form the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). This organization saw the existence of the ZANU-PF government as the main problem in Zimbabwe. With funding from United States and Britain, the MDC embarked upon a disruption campaign aimed at derailing the land redistribution program. A series of strikes launched by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the MDC were designed to further weaken the country economically.

The United States, Britain and the European Union (EU) have imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe. After the country withstood two major attempts during election campaigns in 2000 and 2002 to overturn the ZANU-PF government, these western imperialist nations set out to isolate Zimbabwe. They pressured the government of President Thabo Mbeki in South Africa to place a blockade on Zimbabwe. The South African government under the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) refused to establish a blockade of Zimbabwe and instead extended the country a loan that prevented a further deepening of its economic problems.

Despite the attempts by the west to cripple Zimbabwe and topple the government of President Mugabe, the nation has survived. They have developed a "Look East" policy aimed at increasing trade with nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The land redistribution program in Zimbabwe has sparked vigorous debate in both South Africa and Namibia, where similiar situations exist with Europeans still controlling most of the arable and mineral rich land years after national independence.

The Role of the African Union and the Pan-African Parliament

The African Union was established in 2003 in an effort to implement the Nkrumaist vision of a unified African continent. The Organization of African Unity, which was formed in May of 1963, had agreed to dissolve in favor of a more effective continental organization that would move towards a continental assembly, a peacekeeping force, a single currency, transport and communications systems.

The African Union has been involved in the conflicts in the Horn of Africa between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Darfur conflict in Sudan, the situations in Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The current chair of the African Union, John Kufour, gained the seat because of the controversy in western circles surrounding the Darfur conflict prevented President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan from taking the seat for two years in a row. Consequently, the AU faces the same challenges as the former OAU with persistent interference by the United States in the internal affairs of African nations.

The Pan-African Parliament (PAP) based in Midrand, South Africa, was established by the African Union in 2004. Its ultimate aim is to become a continental-wide legislative body that will be elected by popular vote. The President of the Pan-African Parliament is Gertrude Ibengwe-Mongella of Tanzania. In order for both the AU and the PAP to become political forces in the international community, it will require an independent foreign policy on the part of significant numbers of African governments. Alliances with US imperialism have proven to be extremely detrimental to African states. The role of Ethiopia and Kenya in the US-backed invasion and occupation of Somalia will have long term implications for these east African nations.

Africa will become a greater focus for US imperialism

In an article released recently by the Guardian newspaper in London, it states that the Pentagon has established an African Commmand called "Africom." This is designed to intensify US military operations on the continent. Africa's role as an oil supplier to the US and other western imperialist nations will create potential conflict within African states. The formidable resistance in Iraq against the American occupation will be sparked in Africa at an even greater level if the Americans pursue their plans of re-colonizing the continent. Africa has a long tradition of waging successful popular and armed struggles against colonial forces including Portugal, France, Britain, the Boers in South Africa, Italy and the United States in Angola and Somalia.

The anti-war movement must be equipped politically to take on the challenges of United States foreign policy aims in Africa as well as other parts of the world including Latin America, North Korea, Iran, China and the Caribbean. A broader and deeper study of the ever increasing role of the United States in oil exploration and trade in Africa as well as the attempt to stifle independent political iniatives such as the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) movement in Somalia must be a main focus of attention. The $620 billion to $716 billion estimated annual defense budget in the United States, that is greater than all other nations combined, should be utilized to solve the problems of hunger, homelessness, health care, racism, education and senior services.

When people in the United States begin to focus their attention on solving the national and international crises of poverty and inequality, then perhaps the declining image of the world's most powerful imperialist nation will change. It is up to the people of this country and the world to fight against all attempts to reimpose colonialism and to reverse the course of history.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. He is a co-founder of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice (MECAWI). He can be heard on radio weekly on WDTW, 1310 AM on Sundays from 10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. in Detroit. In Toronto, he can be heard on Thursdays on CKLN, 88.1 FM from 9:30 p.m.-10:00 p.m. This broadcast can be heard online at

1 comment:

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