Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Economic Crisis Unfolds in Africa

Economic Crisis Unfolds in Africa

Unrest spreads throughout continent in Malawi, Senegal, South Africa and Somalia

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

As the United States Congress and the White House continue the political theater surrounding the debate over the raising of the national debt ceiling, both Europe and Africa are experiencing heightened economic woos that have prompted political struggle. Events in the U.S. have spread concern throughout Europe as countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Britain undergo major cuts in public sector services, pensions and educational benefits.

The impact of the world economic crisis of capitalist overproduction on the continent has been revealed through various forms of protest actions and social instability. In Somalia, the worst drought in six decades has prompted mass migration and further pressure on the Al-Shabab movement which controls large section of the central and south of the Horn of Africa nation.

Corporate and governmental media outlets in the U.S. and Europe have claimed that Al-Shabab has barred major humanitarian aid organizations from entering sections of the country where their forces are dominant. Al-Shabab has responded that the situation involving food deficits in the country are being exaggerated in order open the way for western intervention in the country which has largely been without an internationally recognized government for two decades.

At present the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is being heavily supported by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which has at least 8,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops in the capital of Mogadishu. Although there has been tremendous migration into neighboring Kenya from Somalia as a result of the drought, there are also many people who are returning to the capital in search of food and shelter.

In West Africa, the pro-western President of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, is seeking to run for office again amid protest from youth and workers throughout the country. On July 23 there were rival demonstrations in the capital of Dakar both for and against Wade seeking another term which the opposition says would be a violation of the country’s constitution.

There were demonstrations in Senegal last month when offices of the national electricity company were burned. People often complain of the poor economic conditions that result in high unemployment, poverty, frequent electricity outages and the rising price for food.

Also the West African state of Nigeria, the continent’s most populous, a national strike was narrowly averted when the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) reached agreement with the federal government to raise the minimum wage. Nigeria is a large oil-producing state, however, the workers have not benefitted from the foreign exchange revenue generated by the export of petroleum from the country.

Unrest and Labor Activity Spread From South Africa to Malawi

The Southern African nation of Malawi has been the center of unrest since the week of July 18. According to the Associated Press, “Malawian activists who helped organize last week’s protests threatened Monday (July 25) to hold more demonstrations unless the president addresses their grievances.” (AP, July 25)

One protest leader, Rafiq Hajat, said that President Bingu wa Mutharika should meet the demands of the people by August 16. The demands of the demonstrations are related to the rising prices of food and fuel, the worsening shortages of foreign exchange and allegations of corruption by the president and other political officials.

In three major cities unrest resulted in the deaths of 19 people. President Mutharika has taken a firm position against the demonstrations while reshuffling the leadership with in the military.

Although the military is no longer maintaining a strong presence in the cities, police are continuing to patrol the streets where shops and businesses were looted and burned. Activists have presented a petition to the president with their demands for economic and political reforms.

South Africa is the largest economy on the continent and has the most organized working class. A series of strikes have erupted over the last few weeks in broad sectors of the labor force including industrial, chemicals, fuel and now mining. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the country’s biggest union, along with the United Association of South Africa (UASA) and Solidarity are demanding between 12 and 14 percent wage increases.

As a result of the strike, Anglo American Plc’s thermal coal mining production has grounded to a halt. Hulisani Rasivhaga, an Anglo American spokesperson, said that production has “stopped completely at all our operations. We have kept essential services running, such as water monitoring and ventilation.” (Bloomberg, July 25)

Anglo American produced 59 million metric tons of thermal coal during 2010 in South Africa. At another firm, Xstrata Plc, the workers from UASA may join the other miners on strike by July 28 if their demands are not met. Xstrata produced 17.7 tons of thermal coal last year.

South Africa is the fifth largest thermal coal exporter with 66 million tons being shipped out in 2009.

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