New scramble for Africa

US imperialism sees profit in Africa’s development

Imperialism’s new world order remains unchallenged. Ever since the ignoble collapse of the ‘socialist bloc’ - which supposedly inaugurated the final defeat of communism, if not the end of history itself - the United States feels free to spread its wings. It now greedily eyes up regions and areas once thought of as out of bounds, or at least not really worth the candle.

Africa was one such place. Previously, western imperialism had seen Africa as - essentially - a socio-politico-economic basket case. From the perspective of capital, this was an eminently rational and logical stance. Africa presented itself as a vast continent of writhing, chronic instability - endlessly prone to conflict, civil wars, military coups, etc. This hardly made Africa an attractive prospect for the bulk of capitalist investors and speculators. For the strategic planners sitting round the boardroom table, it made sense to put Africa right at the bottom of the list - if it appeared at all.

Confronted by backwardness (mass illiteracy, absence of infrastructure, endemic poverty and ill-health, etc.) and politico-military turmoil, capitalists balked at the sheer expense which would have been involved in righting such a mess. How would it be possible to make profits under these circumstances? Such an unfavourable environment only allowed space for a few ‘get rich quick’ speculators and robbers. The conditions for real capitalist exploitation were simply not there.

Some leftist - and black nationalist/pan-African - analyses attempt to portray the continent simply as a victim of rapacious capitalist development and investment, the implication being that if the world left Africa alone it would be able to prosper. At best, this is a very limited and one-sided approach. In many respects, Africa is marred by backwardness precisely because capitalism has stayed clear of it - left it to rot. For the most part, imperialism was relatively content to let Africa be pushed to the world’s margins.

Of course, imperialism’s cold war with the ‘socialist bloc’ help to occlude the real relationship between imperialism and Africa. In Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, etc., the cold war got quite hot during the 1970s and 80s. For government officials and military planners in the Pentagon, Africa was viewed merely as a proxy battlefield in its struggle against ‘global communism’. This period saw imperialism indiscriminately back military regimes and dictators purely on the basis of their anti-communist credentials. Thus we saw the 1965 CIA-supported and funded coup of Mobutu in the Congo. The best efforts of Ché Guevara and his then comrade-in-arm, Laurent Kabila, proved unable to dislodge this monstrous tyrant.

But not anymore. Clinton’s high-profile trip to sub-Saharan Africa - which included visits to Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa - is an indicator of the new strategic approach taken by the United States towards Africa. This massive continent is now being readied - very slowly, cautiously and gradually - for the global capitalist system of production. ‘Time to enter the club and get to learn the rules’, is the new imperialist message. Naturally, one of the first rules in this ‘post-Soviet’ world is a familiarity with democratic niceties and the ‘rule of law’. Kleptocracies like Mobutu’s regime had - and have - to go for ‘real’ or ‘normal’ capitalism to emerge and develop.  

In Uganda, a suitably contrite Clinton confessed to the sins of past imperialist policies. Visiting a dirt poor primary school, he stated: “A cold war rivalry with the Soviet Union has led the US to deal with African countries based on their superpower allegiances rather than how they stood in the struggle for their own people’s aspirations to live up to the fullest of their god-given abilities”. He added: “And, of course, going back to the time before we were even a nation, European-Americans received the fruits of the slave trade, and we were wrong in that as well”. 

South Africa is fundamental to the new turn. As commented on before in the Weekly Worker, US imperialism sees the new, democratic South Africa as a bridgehead into the continent as a whole. This was made clear during the Kabila-led insurgency against Mobutu. US imperialism switched sides and backed Kabila. Mandela acted as go-between effectively on behalf of the US which needed to get the war over and see a smooth transition. The US administration wanted Kabila to play the part of the new face of Africa - clean, uncorrupt, untainted by cronyism and gangsterism - and friendly to the US. Mandela was only too willing to assist in the search for democratic and civilian government.

At the very least imperialism now seeks stability. Hence Clinton’s warm words for the regime of Yoweri Museveni in Uganda - a country scarred by brutal civil war, where political parties are still banned.     

With this trip, Clinton became the first US president to visit South Africa. Addressing a joint sitting of parliament in Cape Town, he said that the US needed and was determined to build a strong South Africa. Terrible conflicts continue to tear the continent, warned Clinton: “But democracy is gaining strength, business is growing, peace is making progress. We are seeing what deputy president Thabo Mbeki has called an African renaissance”. 

Clinton also linked the fight against slavery in North America with that of the anti-apartheid struggle. Photo-shots of Clinton with Mandela on Robben Island also look good on the front page of US newspapers - especially with ‘Monicagate’ and ‘post-Monicagate’ still hanging over him.

But, for all that, Clinton’s intentions towards Africa are in one respect sincere. He wants Africa fully integrated into the new world order.

Paul Greenaway