Africa, neo-liberalism and anarchism
central africa |
opinion / analysis
Thursday June 30, 2005 21:49 by Chekov - WSM
While neo-liberal reforms have certainly affected workers in the West, it is in Africa where they have had most impact. Neo-liberal policies seek to reduce state control over the national economy in favour of private capitalists - the so-called 'free market'. These policies have been most widely applied in Africa for the simple reason that they are the policies promoted by the International financial institutions (IFI's), the World Bank, IMF and WTO
Africa, neo-liberalism and anarchism.
While neo-liberal reforms have certainly affected workers in the
West, it is in Africa where they have had most impact. Neo-liberal
policies seek to reduce state control over the national economy in
favour of private capitalists - the so-called 'free market'. These
policies have been most widely applied in Africa for the simple
reason that they are the policies promoted by the International
financial institutions (IFI's), the World Bank, IMF and WTO. Many
African countries are chronically broke. They must regularly borrow
money to finance the public sector and to service their existing
debt. The IMF is willing to provide loans but with a series of
'conditionalities' attached. These are neo-liberal reforms which must
be carried out under the terms of the loan. The IMF deals are known
as Structural Adjustment Programs and are very rarely welcomed by the
government which implements them, never mind the ordinary people who
are affected by them. Even where they have been rigorously enforced
the SAP's have generally failed to show the predicted benefits such
as increased foreign investment - Uganda being a good example.
The SAP's often impose harsh conditions which cause huge suffering
amongst the poor and include changes that would never be accepted by
the ruling class in the powerful countries since the reforms cause
sudden, large changes for the worse in many people's lives. This
sudden deterioration of standards of living often leads to
instability and violence borne out of the desperation of the masses.
Tellingly an SAP was one of the elements which contributed to the
increased tension in the lead up to the Rwandan genocide.
[A shorter edited version of this article was published in
Workers Solidarity No 62]
The IFI's also contribute to the unequal system of trade between
rich and poor countries by reinforcing the colonial division of
enterprise. Africa is meant to be an exporter of raw materials so
industrialisation will not be financed. In practice much of the raw
materials exported from Africa such as coffee, cocoa and copper are
bought by huge Western monopolies which have the power to set prices.
Thus African exports of raw materials have over the years bought ever
fewer manufactured imports from the West. By supporting this
continued exploitation the IFI's reveal their imperialist nature.
Neo-liberalism in 5 steps.
In concrete terms the neo-liberal policies which have been widely
implemented in Africa over the last 2 decades are:
*Removal of state control over prices and money. This
has meant that subsidies on basic goods such as food and fuel have
been removed. In some countries even the most basic foodstuffs have
become too expensive for the poor. Food riots against SAP measures
have occured all over the continent, notably in Zimbabwe. In Nigeria
in June 2000, an IMF-driven increase in the price of fuel provoked a
week long general strike and mass resistance. [The liberalisation of
currency regulations allows capital to invest and disinvest in the
country much more easily. This creates the possibility of capital
flight and speculative attacks on the currency. Significantly Uganda
and Ghana who have been model citizens in implementing IMF reforms
both suffer from rampant devaluation of their currency causing
inflation of prices and other economic problems.]
*Large cuts in public spending. This has had several drastic
effects. Firstly there have been massive layoffs of public sector
workers in many countries. Hundreds of thousands of workers have been
retrenched in places like Senegal, Zambia and Tanzania as a result of
SAP's. Other cutbacks in public spending have seen reduced social
programs and increased charges. Current Structural Adjustment demands
for Mozambique include a fivefold increase in health charges.
*Privatisations of state owned corporations such as electricity,
water and transport. These privatisations have often merely replaced
a state monopoly with a private monopoly which has generally led to
price rises and the effective barring of the services to vast numbers
of the poor. In South Africa, electricity and water cut offs have
become common in the townships of Soweto as part of the ANC's
neo-liberal GEAR policy.
*Policies to promote a 'flexible' workforce. This essentially
means the large scale subcontracting of labour and a reduction in
workers rights, wages and conditions. Workers at Wits University in
Johannesberg recently saw their salaries cut by almost 70% and lost
all of their benefits under a restructuring plan.
*Policies to promote competitiveness. This involves reducing
tarrif barriers and reducing taxes on businesses and the rich to
attract investment. As a result of this, local industries can be
undermined by cheap imports as happened to the South African textile
industry over the last few years causing massive job losses. Sales
taxes (VAT) are introduced as alternatives to company and income tax.
This causes increases in prices of goods for workers and big
increases in profits for bosses. [In countries like Uganda and South
Africa the introduction of VAT has faced considerable resistance.]
There has been considerable opposition to many of the neo-liberal
reforms in Africa. This opposition has normally come from community
groups or independant trade unions. African anarchists have formed
part of this resistance. In Nigeria the anarcho-syndicalist Awareness
League was involved in the general strike against fuel price rises
which succeeded in forcing the government to reduce the price
significantly. Nigerian anarchists have also been establishing a
small radio station to promote their ideas.
In South Africa anarchists have actively opposed the government's
neo-liberal GEAR plan since its introduction in 1996. Most recently
anarchists have been working in the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF).
The APF is an alliance of left wing activists, some radical unions
and mass-based community groups such as the Soweto Electricity Crisis
Committee whose constituency is numbered in millions. It was
established to campaign against the privatisation of services in the
government's IGOLI 2002 plan for privatising Johannesberg's municipal
services. South African anarchists are committed to fighting
privatisation every step of the way in the APF. They also write,
publish and distribute anarchist literature through Zabalaza books
and Bikisha media collective.