New scramble for Africa?

Fifty years after African colonies began to win formal independence from the imperialists Nick Rogers looks at the continent's political and economic significance today

A month ago the west African state of Ghana celebrated 50 years of independence. Ghana (known under British rule as the Gold Coast) was the first sub-Saharan country to break free from colonial rule after a campaign led by Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention Peoples Party. In the decade after March 6 1957 most of the colonial possessions of Britain, France and Belgium followed suit. By the time South Africa held its first 'one-person, one-vote' elections in 1994, the Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau, along with Zimbabwe and Namibia, were independent.1 Africa has not fared well in the international competition between countries that characterises capitalism as an international political and economic system. A statistic often bandied around compares the economic performance of Ghana since independence with another British colony, Malaysia, and with South Korea, which in 1957 was just emerging from the destruction of the Korean War. In 1957 all three suffered the same low levels of per capita GDP. Today Ghana is left far behind the two Asian economies. Other African states have experienced similar economic fates. Broadly the story of Africa over the last half century is the transformation of the continent in the 1960s and 70s from a site of struggle by capitalist transnational companies for Africa's economic resources and equally fierce struggles between cold war rivals to a state of economic and political marginalisation in the 1980s and 90s. Statistics reveal something of how Africa was excluded from the main currents of global economic life after the 1970s. Africa's share of world GDP fell from approximately 4% in 1980 to just 2% in 2000. Its share of world exports fell from 4.1% in 1980 to 1.6% in 2000. It was Africa's potential as an enormous reservoir of strategic and precious minerals and a bountiful source of agricultural cash crops that, after the Berlin conference of 1884-85, had inspired the colonial 'scramble for Africa'. Over the following hundred years the dreams of colonialists were amply rewarded - at enormous cost to the continent's workers and peasants. Underlying Africa's declining weight in global economic exchange was the drop in interest on the part of the world's main capitalist powers and corporations in its mineral and agricultural wealth. Africa's share of world primary commodity exports fell from 8% in 1980 to 4.4% in 2000. The flows of capital exports to Africa followed much the same path. Global foreign direct investments in Africa in the 1970s had generally been high. Africa received 9.5% of global foreign direct investment (FDI) in 1970. For much of the subsequent seven years it hovered between 6% and 7.5%. In 1980, however, Africa received just 1% of global FDI and over the next 20 years its share in global capitalist investment flows rarely rose above 2%. Of course, Africa was not entirely absent from world consciousness during the last two decades of the 20th century. But apart from the struggle against apartheid and the role of some north African countries - for instance, Egypt as a loyal United States ally and Libya as a 'rogue state' - Africa's main part in the media-view of the world, 'compassion fatigue' or not, was as the target of the charitable works of celebrities. However, over the last few years international interest in what Africa can do for the rest of the world has began to revive. China's expanding presence on the continent, in particular, signals the beginning of what some are calling a "new scramble for Africa". China has begun to earn increasingly strident rebukes from the leaders of international financial institutions and of the traditional imperialist powers. International mining companies are beginning to circle, as opportunities open up to exploit rich mineral seams that were abandoned to war and civil strife. Above all, Africa in the early 21st century features on the radar screens of all those who are concerned with control of the world's number one primary commodity, oil. China extends its reach Over the last decade China's political leaders and its state and private companies have been paying ever closer attention to the economic potential of Africa. In 2006 Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, president Hu Jintao and foreign minister Li Zhaoxing each toured the continent, visiting 15 different countries altogether. And in November last year Africa's political leaders returned the compliment, when 48 heads of state or government flew to Beijing for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. Already in 2007 Hu Jintao has made another multi-state tour of the continent. Indicative of the extent of China's economic intervention is the fact that trade between China and Africa leapt from just $3 billion in 1995 to $50 billion last year. China has overtaken Britain to become Africa's third largest trading partner - behind only the US and France. China currently receives some 10% of sub-Saharan Africa's exports. For some individual countries the proportion of exports going to China rises to as high as 70%. China expects its trade with the continent to double again by 2010, overtaking both France and the US in the process. Chinese economic growth has led to sharp rises in international prices for raw materials - reversing, at least temporarily, a long-term decline in the terms of trade for this category of commodities, compared to the prices of manufactured goods. It is not difficult to see why when you consider that in 2005 China's share in world consumption of tin and coal was 33%, for steel it was 32%, for iron ore and zinc, 29%, for lead 26% and for aluminium 23%. When it comes to oil, China may only account for 7% of world consumption, but it still stands as the world's second largest oil importer behind the US. Oil and gas comprise 62% of sub-Saharan Africa's exports to China, ores and metals 17%, and agricultural raw materials 7%. China has not been prepared to sit back and source its supplies of these on the world's commodity exchanges. China's companies - often state-owned - have been sent out to scour the world for businesses, assets and rights that can be bought out as an insurance policy against future global insecurity and the manoeuvres of geo-political rivals. In 2005 the Chinese oil company CNOOC attempted to take over the California-based Unocal. Its $18.5 billion bid unravelled when US congressmen blocked it on the basis that the "oil grab" was subsidised by the Chinese government. In Asia and Latin America, as well as Africa, China's efforts to exert its economic muscle have met with greater success than in the US. China is pursuing supplies of a range of African resources: copper, cobalt, platinum, iron ore, timber, cotton and, above all, oil. China receives a third of its oil imports from Africa and is determined that its own companies should be pumping as much of these supplies as possible. But as the director of its National Economics Research Institute, Fan Gang, puts it: ""¦ there are few choices about where to get oil, because most of the oil-producing countries have been stitched up long ago by the US and other western countries."2 China's efforts to secure the assets it needs to guarantee supplies of essential resources have been accompanied by a plethora of soft loans and agreements to invest in infrastructure projects from which western companies have fought shy. Chinese companies are estimated to be involved in 900 investment projects in Africa. There are parallels with the diplomatic offensive China pursued in Africa in the 1960s and 70s in competition with both western and Soviet interests. The railway linking Zambia's copper belt with the Tanzanian port of Dar-es-Salaam, built entirely with Chinese resources and completed in 1976, is one of the most striking examples. This time, however, many features of China's involvement with Africa smack of the raw capitalism that marks China's domestic economy. China's economic efforts overseas are supported and encouraged by two key government agencies. The China Development Bank, with assets bigger than the World Bank and Asian Development Bank combined, is able to arrange the kind of loans that can open up markets that were previously out of reach. The China Export-Import Bank - the official government export credit agency created in 1994 - reduces the risk of overseas trading for Chinese companies. Angola recently overtook Saudi Arabia as China's largest single oil supplier. In Angola China's Sinopec oil company has a stake in a BP-operated block and last year bought stakes in three offshore oil areas alongside Angola's state-owned Sonangol group. In conjunction with these purchases, China has made a $3 billion credit line available to the Angolan government. In March 2006 Chinese engineers started work on renovating the Benguela railway that had been repeatedly sabotaged by Jonas Savimbi's Unita and South Africa during the country's civil war. China is spending $500 million on building bridges and stations for the railway. It has offered $1.5 billion for other Angolan infrastructure projects. Nigeria has long been the preserve of US and European oil companies. Even here China's economic and diplomatic offensive is producing results. In 2005 Nigeria agreed to provide 30,000 barrels of oil a day to PetroChina in a $800 million deal. CNOOC has recently paid $2.7 billion for a 45% stake in a Nigerian oil block. And China National Petroleum (CNPC) recently bought four oil exploration blocks - two in the Niger Delta and two in the largely unexplored Lake Chad basin. China has proposed $4 billion of additional investments in Nigeria, including $1 billion on its railways, repairing old lines and installing new rolling stock and equipment - all funded by a soft loan. In the case of Sudan, China is a key trading partner, particularly in relation to oil. Chevron first explored for oil reserves in the 1970s, but these are mostly in southern Sudan and the 21-year civil war put paid to the US company's hopes. In the event Sudan first started pumping oil in 1999. China has built a 1,506-kilometre pipeline to Port Sudan. CNPC has stakes in six oil blocks. The World Bank predicts that China is poised to become Africa's biggest lender. Something in the order of $8 billion was pledged by China in 2006. This includes $600 million for a hydroelectric dam in northern Ghana, which is designed to boost that country's gold and iron ore industries; $2.6 billion for a hydroelectric dam in Mozambique; an investment in Zambia of $200 million for a smelter to produce 150,000 tonnes of copper; and a $3 billion iron ore deal for Gabon with a Chinese consortium that will also build a railway and a container port. In Algeria two Chinese companies beat off European and US rivals to clinch a deal to build half of a 754-mile highway. China's involvement in Africa has not been unreservedly welcomed, of course. Exports of Chinese textiles and shoes threaten to destroy industries that had been making some headway while they enjoyed a degree of preferential access to European and north American markets. The end of the multi-fibre agreement in 2005 has allowed cheap Chinese goods to enter markets unrestricted, despite protest by local companies and unions in South Africa and Nigeria. In last year's presidential election in Zambia losing candidate Michael Sata railed against the poor working conditions and pay of Zambians employed by the Chinese. In July last year six workers at the Chinese-owned Chambishi mine were shot and wounded in a protest over wages. An explosion at another Chinese-owned mine in 2005 that killed 46 people raised concerns over safety. The National Union of Mining and Allied Workers blamed the employment of cheap casual workers for compromising safety. The general secretary of Sata's political party said: "I think China's relationship is very imperialistic and that the attitude of western donors is also very imperialistic."3 China's ambassador threatened to break links with Zambia if Sata won the election. Thabo Mbeki insists that he welcomes China's involvement in South Africa and across the continent, but in an interview he fairly clearly warned off the Chinese from trying to acquire any South Africa companies.4 However, South African mining businesses have expressed interest in forming joint partnerships with Chinese companies to exploit African mining opportunities. US militarisation While China is deploying the lure of its recently acquired financial resources and the skills of its diplomats to prise open the doors to African supplies and markets, the United States is making clear that it has the option of a more robust response. The US may not have $1,000 billion of foreign exchange reserves, as do the Chinese, but it is the most powerful military power on the planet. The US's strategic policy-makers have taken this into account. In February 2007 a new Pentagon command covering Africa (excluding Egypt, which remains part of the Middle East command) was created. The US department of defence would have us believe that the key objective of Africom is overseeing "capacity-building" programmes - the collection and collation of Somali folk tales is cited as an example. The recent air and sea support for the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in order to remove the Islamic Courts Union from power in Mogadishu probably paints a more accurate picture of US strategic intentions. Mogadishu and the rest of Somalia have subsequently returned to the chaos of warlordism with Ethiopian and African Union forces caught in a quagmire that mirrors the position of US and British forces in Iraq. Salim Lone, former spokesperson for the UN mission in Iraq, has commented: "Africom will instead militarise American relations with Africa and militarise numerous African countries. It will also tilt those countries' policies towards the use of force ... The command's establishment will also provide the US with new bases from which to project force into the oil-providing Middle East."5 The latest move by the US military has been several years in the making. In late 2002 800 US special operations forces moved into Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, ready to conduct 'counter-terrorism' operations in the Horn of Africa. Shortly afterwards, the Pan-Sahel Initiative was launched to police the wide-open frontiers of the Sahara. Concern was focused particularly on the actions of the Algerian islamist GSPC (Group for Preaching and Combat). Its leader is Abderrezak Lamari, widely known as El Para because of the time he had reportedly spent in the Algerian paratroopers. In 2003 GSPC was reported as being responsible for a spate of hostage-taking of westerners. Nothing is clear in the murky world of Algeria's civil war, which exploded after the military cancelled parliamentary elections scheduled for 1992 that islamist parties were set to win. The Algerian military and security services have been implicated in massacres faked to look like islamist attacks. Some have speculated that the arrival of the GSPC on the scene very conveniently serves the purposes of both the Algerian and US military establishments.6 The Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI) kicked off with US special forces moving into Mauritania and Mali. Later smaller teams took up position in Niger and Chad (where El Para was reported to be "held" by anti-government forces). A total of 1,000 US special forces, marines and contractors took part. In March 2004 the PSI was renamed the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative. It has been allocated an annual budget of $100 million for the years 2007-11. Currently, US efforts are focused on training the local military and intelligence-gathering. The Sahara region has long been a French sphere of influence, with French military bases across the former colonies of French west and central Africa. A couple of years ago the French had no qualms about destroying the entire Cote d'Ivoire air force when its government threatened French interests. It will be interesting to observe how far US military incursions into the region will intensify the US-French rivalry that is seen in other aspects of international policy. Oil If the US has been projecting its military influence in the Horn of Africa and the Sahara region, the oil-producing arc of the Gulf of Guinea from west to southern Africa is likely to be crucial in coming years. Reports in the US press suggest that discussions in the Pentagon over moving the command of most of Africa from Stuttgart to Africom began in 2003 in response to the growing instability in Nigeria's Niger delta, the home of Africa's largest oil reserves. There are suggestions that US involvement in the Sahara region is ultimately aimed at preventing the spread of islamist influence amongst Nigeria's large muslim population. The Cheney report on the energy needs of the US, published in May 2001 (before September 11, obviously) warned that US dependence on oil imports would increase as its consumption rose and the proportion of US oil requirements met by domestic production fell from 50% to 30%. Sub-Saharan Africa may only have 4% of global oil reserves, but it already supplies 14% of US imports. The Cheney report anticipated that this would rise to 25% by 2015. West African oil is described as "sweet" (low in sulphur) and "light" (easy to pump and refine), closely meeting the needs of refineries in the US. It is also relatively close to US eastern markets and particularly the main US crude terminal, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port. At the moment, Nigeria is the fifth largest overseas supplier of oil to the US. It is also the recipient of $10 billion of US investments. Nigerian looms large among sub-Saharan African oil producers, producing a total of 2.4 million barrels a day. Angola is the next largest producer, with 1 million barrels a day flowing from its wells. Lagging far behind are Sudan and Equatorial Guinea, with production levels of 300,000 barrels a day. Other countries are currently even smaller producers, but the likes of Chad, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville and the offshore deposits between Nigeria and Sao Tome and Principe offer the prospect of substantial new flows of oil in the decades to come. Walter Kansteiner, US assistant secretary of state for Africa, stated soon after the publication of the Cheney report that "African oil is of strategic national interest to us ... It will increase and become more important as we go forward." The largest chunks of US aid to sub-Saharan Africa are going to Nigeria and Angola. Total US 'security aid' to these two countries in 2002-04 amounted to $300 million. US military spending in Africa is pretty small fry compared to the tens of billions that Iraq is consuming or the billions in military aid that go to Egypt and Israel. But in the context of the much smaller military expenditures that the economies of Africa sustain, $300 million is not insignificant. Despite its foothold in Djibouti and the long-standing US naval facility at Mombasa, the US is not constructing a swathe of bases across Africa. However, it is putting in place an infrastructure to support future US interventions. Known as 'lily-pad' bases (allowing the US to jump lightly from one to the other), basic communications facilities and a couple of warehouses or aircraft hangers have been established at Entebbe airport, Uganda; at Bamako in Mali; Dakar in Senegal; and in Gabon, Morocco and Tunisia. And since 2003 the US has been granted rights to use the airfield at Tamanrasset in southern Algeria for US P-3 Orion aerial surveillance aircraft. The presence of US naval power in the Gulf of Guinea has been more overt. In May 2003, Nato supreme commander general James Jones, commenting on the Mediterranean-based forces under his command, said: "I bet they will spend half the time going down the west coast of Africa." And, as he predicted, in the last three or four years numerous joint-naval operations have been conducted between the US navy and the naval forces of the countries of Africa's western sea-board. And there have been site visits and discussions about the possibility of establishing a US military base on the island of Sao Tome and Principe at the heart of the greatest concentration of oil production in sub-Saharan Africa. The US and China are not yet in direct conflict in Africa. Some of China's investments complement the objectives of US companies. For instance, the investment in the Ghanaian hydro-electric dam is designed to ease power cuts afflicting the gold mining industry, where US and South African companies are the biggest players. Similarly, at an international level, China's economic growth is powered by exports to the US. The United States can only sustain its trading deficit because China maintains a large proportion of its huge foreign exchange reserves in US dollars. But, just as international flash points could disrupt the delicate relationship between China and the US, China's role in Africa clearly has the potential to clash with perceived US (and other major power) interests. The leaders of western financial institutions and development agencies have complained with increasing vociferousness that Chinese loans and investments are undermining their efforts to impose "good governance" and "transparency" conditions on their own loans. China's loan to Angola has allowed the country to opt out of negotiations with the IMF. If China begins to win too many African drilling and mining rights at the expense of US companies, there is little doubt that the US will consider its national (ie, imperialist) interests to be challenged. Minerals Africa's fabulous mineral wealth is also increasingly returning to centre place in the thinking of the great mining corporations - not to mention the strategists of the great and emerging powers. The significance of South Africa never dimmed, but the wealth, for instance, of the Congo basin has been lost to conventional capitalist exploitation, while war and civil instability raged. In the last 10-15 years the diamonds, gold, copper and cobalt of Zaire and then the Democratic Republic of Congo have reached world markets, thanks principally to artisanal miners working small private mines and prospecting plots. Most have been smuggled to neighbouring countries. The Congo war was in effect the first pan-African war, with intervention by Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia to prop up Laurent Kabila, and subsequently his son, Joseph Kabila, after Rwanda and Uganda took control of the east of the country and attempted to march on Kinshasa. The countries backing Kabila (or rather the military, political and business elites of those countries) were rewarded with mining rights. Since peace began to return to this huge central African state, sharp criticism has been voiced by a number of commissions and enquiries into the concession made - not just to African neighbours, but to international transnationals, which have walked away with undervalued contracts promising them enormous wealth. In Katanga in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in Mbuji-Mayi in the centre and Equateur province in the north, vast reserves of minerals (particularly copper and cobalt), gold and diamonds are the target of new investments. The annual African mining indaba held in Cape Town in February focussed heavily on the new 'opportunities' opening up in the Congo.7 South Africa itself is a power in its own right. Its economy accounts for a quarter of the GDP of the whole of Africa and the end of apartheid has allowed its corporations to increase their influence across the continent. The historic names represented by its mining companies - Anglo American, De Beers, Gold Fields - were able to spread their wings over the African stage. Before international capitalists (and even the Chinese) started to see the renewed prospects for putting in money, South Africa's banks, retailers and hotel chains were investing extensively and in a wide range of sectors. In 2001 one Kenyan MP complained: "They bulldoze their way around. It seems like they still have the attitudes of the old South Africa." In 2005 foreign direct investments in the DRC rose to $1.34 billion, from $15 million in 2004. The figures for 2006 are likely to be larger. For Africa as a whole FDI inflows rose by 78% in 2005 to reach $31 billion. Africa's share of global FDI flows is still much lower than its position in the 1970s, but at 3.5% may indicate the beginnings of a revival of capitalist interest in the continent.8 Africa and imperialism However, there is no certainty that Africa will be restored to its former position in the imperialist international division of labour as a supplier of raw materials to the rest of the world - let alone making the kind of breakthrough to a manufacturing powerhouse that some east Asian countries have achieved. The causes of the failures of the last two decades remain. Those countries which have emerged successfully onto the world capitalist market have confirmed the important role the state must play in protecting nascent industries and nurturing economic growth. Countries as widely differing in their political and social evolution as South Korea, Malaysia and China all exhibit features of what Lenin characterised as the "monopoly stage of capitalism" with close links between the state, the suppliers of financial resources and big capital. And, of course, the big corporations of the major capitalist powers are equally dependent on the state to protect their interests domestically and around the world. Africa suffers from a double bind. Direct colonial rule (imposed, never forget, at the end of guns wielded by foreign invaders) organised the economy of a whole continent in the interests of the imperialist powers. Colonies were made dependent on the export of a handful (and sometimes just one or two) of primary commodities. Infrastructure was put in place only to facilitate the export of those commodities - usually railways stretching from the interior to the coast with no attempt to encourage an integrated economy. Investment in education and health was minimal - at best only for a middle class minority. In other words, colonialism entailed heavy state involvement, but aimed at the extraction of surpluses from the colonial economies and resulted in conditions of dependency. Then post-independence the continent found itself fragmented into more than 50 states, none of which corresponded to traditional ethnic boundaries or social structures. So, having suffered the oppression and exploitation of military occupation by foreign powers, the continent inherited weak state structures that left Africa countries unable to defend their interests in a global economy dominated by a few powerful states, and still vulnerable to foreign intervention. Leaders who sought to stand against western interests were overthrown - Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, Nkrumah in Ghana and Milton Obote in Uganda, to mention just three. The flows out of Africa continued in the form of repatriated profits, the undervaluing of primary commodity exports, transfer pricing within multinational companies and debt servicing. What changed in the 1980s and led to Africa's partial eviction from even the inferior, dependent role in the world economy of previous decades were the actions of the international financial institutions, principally the IMF and World Bank, in directing the economies and very largely the political affairs of the countries that came under their tutelage. The demand that government expenditure be cut, even if it meant dramatic reductions in education and heath spending - two areas that in the 1960s and 70s most African countries had managed to expand after the underinvestment of the colonial period. The imposition of 'user fees' for public services. The insistence that state industries be privatised and import tariffs lowered. This raw, neoliberal prescription devastated industries and impoverished the people. Neoliberalism was never enforced in this devastating manner in the major capitalist powers. There the principal objective was to undermine the organisations of the working class. Not to destroy the basis for economic activity. In this way African countries may have been taken out of the equation as posing any kind of potential commercial rivalry, but the problem for international capitalism was that the conditions necessary to exploit Africa's agricultural and mineral wealth were also threatened. UNCTAD's World Investment Report rather tautologically hints at the problem: "The decline in Africa's share in global FDI over the past two decades reflects its slow progress in increasing production capacity and diversification, and creating larger regional markets."9 The complaints of the corporations seeking to invest in the Congo are perhaps more to the point. War or civil strife and disorder make normal capitalist economic activity impossible. African 'failed states' are a result of both western support for plutocrats (so long as they professed anti-communism) and the depredations of neoliberalism and debt burdens in weakening their very basis. In the DRC this has left an infrastructure that the mining corporations must build themselves. In Katanga one company is building a road that will link its mining complex with the Zambian copper belt. Another is considering repairing a railway line heading to the Angolan coast. All are concerned with power cuts. The lack of reliable energy supplies is a complaint heard from across the continent - even, as we have seen, in politically stable Ghana. Most have long been obliged to build school and clinics for their employees and their families - serving in effect as mini-states within the state. The realisation that the policy impositions of the IMF and World Bank in the 1980s and into the 90s had devastated not just the conditions of life for Africa's people, but made profit-making exploitation of Africa's resources less tenable led to something of a change of tack. 'Poverty reduction strategies' replaced structural adjustment programmes. Whereas previously there were strict limits to what states were to spend on any component of the budget, now education and health were to be prioritised. In 2000 the UN set millennium development goals designed to see reductions in poverty and improvements in social provision by the target date of 2015. The Organisation of African Unity was replaced by the African Union. The goal of continental and regional economic and political integration was now supported by international institutions. In 2005 the Blair government orchestrated international commitments to reduce Africa's debt, increase aid to the continent and move to lower the barriers to trade. Geldof and Bono organised another concert for Africa, rather giving away their condescending game when they comprehensively excluded any African musicians. Africa's working class So far in Africa there is little to show for all the talk of poverty reduction. The UN's measure of poverty is those living on less than $1 a day. But, even using this pathetic figure as a target, progress has hardly been made. In 1990 44.6% of sub-Saharan Africa's people lived on less than $1 a day. In 2002 it was 44%, which, given the rise in population, meant there were actually around 140 million more Africans living below the UN threshold. Child and maternal mortality statistics show equally marginal improvements. Africans comprise 10% of the world's population, but 64% of those who are HIV-positive (6% of adults). There has, however, been a big increase (from 100,000 to 810,000 in the two years from 2003-05) in the number of Africans receiving antiretroviral drugs. Unfortunately, new tuberculosis cases have increased dramatically - from 148 per 100,000 in 1990 to 281 per 100,000 - among those who are not HIV-positive. Sanitation has barely spread: from 32% coverage in 1990 to 37% in 2004. And this at a time when Africa is experiencing the most rapid urbanisation of any region of the world. Almost all of the increase in Africa's city population has been in slums.10 The international capitalist institutions, the big transnationals, Africa's political and business elites, the development agencies - all have failed to meet the most elemental needs of Africa's people and even the targets they have set themselves for creating 'business-friendly' environments. There is one force that has repeatedly made its presence felt, but has yet to take a leading role in society - Africa's working class. From the struggle for independence to the struggle against apartheid, to various struggles for democracy on the continent, the organised working class has been the pivotal social force. This year in both Zimbabwe and Guinea strikes and protests by the trade unions are shaking the ruling political structures. In Guinea protests against corruption and calls for a change of government led by the trade union confederations have swept a large part of the urban population into its train. At least 120 people have been killed by president Lansana Conte's troops, but the protest have continued and a new prime minister has been appointed. Lansana Kouyate is a career diplomat and former UN official who apparently meets the requirement of many for a technocratic figure free from the taint of corruption. The working class of Guinea and the rest of Africa has demonstrated that it has the power to change governments. However, only when it is able to form its own government and to build its own pan-African unity will the working class be able to provide the answers to the appalling problems that the great and the good of international capitalism appear only to compound. Only then will Africa cease to be the target for one predatory 'scramble' after another for its resources. For the working class to rise to that challenge, it, of course, requires its own political party - a party that builds socialist and communist unity across the continent.