Sub-Saharian Africa

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Since it was integrated into neoliberal globalization, sub-Saharan Africa has been going through a serious structural crisis. The sub-continent has neither stumbled into modernity nor taken over responsibility for its own destiny. Moreover, current globalization paralyzes the development of forces aiming at radical change. However, in spite of neoliberalism’s ideological influence and capacity for action, the peoples of Africa are resisting and organizing alternatives, some of them postliberal, others postcapitalist. Here we make a brief round-up of this crisis and some of the examples of African resistance, particularly in civil society and the social movements.

The crisis of sub-Saharan Africa

The nature of the crisis and its evolution

Sub-Saharan Africa is suffering from a deep structural crisis because it has not adapted its structures to the world economic order imposed by the triangular system of commerce. During the slave trade period, the coastal states organized themselves in function of their role in the prevailing system. Well equipped with arms, they devastated their hinterland in search of slaves to sell for labour in the world market, becoming a veritable transmission belt for the system. The abolition of the slave trade in the 19th century sounded the death knell of these states. None of them survived the system of which they had been an essential link and still less had they constituted themselves into a modern state. As a consequence, ethnicity has become consolidated.

Unlike the preceding period, colonialism was an all-embracing phenomenon that shattered the societies of Africa which, on a massive scale, supplied the commodities required by the European market, both industrial (copper, iron, manganese, gold, diamonds, aluminium, etc.) and agricultural (timber, coffee, cocoa, bananas, cotton, etc.). During this period three types of economic exploitation predominated: the slave economy (which incorporated small peasants into the world market for tropical products, keeping them under the control of oligopolies, particularly as concerns their wages); the reserve economy (organized around mining and based on cheap labour); and the plunder economy (peasants being despoiled of their products without compensation from the concessionary companies).

The challenge facing the liberation and national independence movements was huge. It involved problems such as the taking over of sovereignty, building up of self-reliant economies, legitimizing power through social progress and universal suffrage, etc. Elaboration of a project for society valid for the whole continent was not facilitated by the different viewpoints of those leaders who demanded recognition of the Negro culture and its contribution to universal civilization [L. Senghor, 1977] and the partisans of political independence as a prerequisite for cultural emancipation [A.Cabral, 1975].

When Independence came, the continent was divided between two visions of society, but neither of them integrated democracy. The radical leaders or those pushing for sovereignty saw their project unfolding in three phases: first, sovereignty and then the construction of modern States founded on the continent’s abundant natural and human resources - which explains their support for African unity. The economy came in third place only because it was not an objective in itself, but seen as a means of reinforcing sovereignty and consolidating social progress.

At the same time a neocolonial vision was developing of the modernization of the State through the balkanization inherited from colonialism. This view saw the economy as a sector that followed its own internal laws and it justified the pursuit of the colonial model of technical, commercial and financial dependence which benefited more from the political rather than the economic support of the old colonial powers and the United States.

The two orientations developed in the context of the Cold War and neither of them was completely achieved. The question of democracy was not carefully analyzed. Nkrumah believed in a democratic State that included the kingdoms and chieftaincies inherited from pre-colonial Africa, but which had been refurbished by indirect colonial rule. [N.Kwame, 2001] Other African leaders, like Nyerere for example emphasized the social dimension of the new State, believing in the compatibility of European social democracy with African socialism (Ujamaa). In both projects of society, the public sector involved the over-exploitation of the peasantry. The failure of the “sovereignty model”, mainly because of indebtedness, ushered in the neoliberal model.

Critique of the neoliberal model

Neoliberalism proposes, for Africa, a State that is quantitatively less important that the developmentalist State, but a more effective one in which individual energies will be liberated thanks to the market economy. Needless to say there are serious consequences for such a project, from the economic and political viewpoint, as well as the social. It should be noted that the management of the debt has been the vital lever in forcing the African leaders to accept the neoliberal economic globalization policies, imposed by the G7 according to the Washington Consensus or Structural Adjustment Programmes. Debt has served as a spearhead in the struggle against building modern States.

Between 1980 and 1996, the external debt has tripled, from 84.3 billion dollars to 235 billion dollars. Each year, in order to service the debt, sub-Saharan Africa transfers an amount equivalent to four times its social budget. In spite of these huge transfers, overdue payments continue to increase the debt. The sub-continent seems to be imprisoned in a system of perpetual indebtedness, which is maintained through various mechanisms, ranging from the theoretical understanding of the debt to techniques helping to calculate it, not to mention a whole bundle of ideological and political constraints. Suffice to mention: people’s incapacity to distinguish between outrageous, doubtful and legitimate debt, their poor grasp of African economic problems, the placing of debtor states under supervision, the delegitimization of local authorities, deliberate statistical mystification, a preference for ideological discourse over facts, etc.

The collapse of the State under the weight of liberal globalization has facilitated the free circulation of capital, but has above all reinforced the plundering logic characteristic of the relationships between the world economy and Africa from the 16th century onwards. We can see this from the behaviour of the war lords who unscrupulously appropriated the mines in the zones under their control, entered into partnership with arms merchants and drug barons, as well as with offshore banks and mining transnationals in order to promote their foreign economic and strategic interests. This phenemenon has taken on alarming proportions, for example, in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As in colonial times, post-colonial Africa is not an example of democracy. Well before the G7 introduced the idea of good governance and the need for political pluralism, the African people had already demonstrated a number of times to demand an end to single party regimes, the opening up of democratic debate and an end to political clientelism. These struggles made themselves felt in various forums, the most important of which are civil society and the social movements. How important are these now on the African continent? How do they express the present pauperization of the African people and experience the constraints imposed by neoliberal globalization?

Civil society and social movements

Civil society

Civil society in sub-Saharan Africa is seen as referring to non-political and non-ideological associations. Religious associations, for example, are excluded as theoretically they pursue ideological objectives. Such a concept of civil society however ignores the forms of expression and organization used by the popular classes to fight for the transformation of social relationships. It reduces civil society to a collection of powerless associations, as they have renounced changing the world in order to adjust to the dominant system’s requirements for reproducing itself.

In this context the main actors of civil society are the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which can be classified according to their fields of activity. The first group is responsible for activities taken over from the State in a democracy with social tendencies, in fields such as education, health and social services. These associations see their action programmes in terms of fighting poverty. The second group includes organizations linked to specific development projects and represents about 15 per cent of the registered associations in the ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) countries. As for the third group, it brings together the organizations engaged in defending peoples’ rights: those of human beings in general and, in particular, those of workers and women’s rights and demands. This category of NGO is mainly concerned with analyzing the neoliberal system and its shortcomings in the Third World.

The first two groups receive some 85 per cent of the budget allocated to NGOs, while the third barely manages to pick up the remainder. The external dependence of many of these organizations strongly conditions their commitment. Their dependence is not only financial: it also influences their ideological orientation. Even if they are not convinced, many of these NGOs are forced to adopt the viewpoints of the donors or powerful nations at summits and other important world conferences.

Local governments and donor countries are constantly on guard against the politicization of NGOs in Africa. Both distrust the activities of NGOs whose declared aim is to show up the dead-end of the neoliberal system and one way of neutralizing them is to deprive them of grants for their operations. Donors also create parallel NGOs who become prosperous and close to power.

Nevertheless the teleological difference between political and apolitical NGOs is not particularly appropriate in the present situation in Africa. Living conditions have deteriorated so greatly that people are above all concerned with the immediate necessities of life and for the moment do not worry about the long term. The political conscience aiming to change social relations, as well as the rigorous approach that such a struggle implies too often gives way to necessity. Furthermore, it must also be recognized that while it is easy, theoretically, to distinguish the political and apolitical nature of the different NGOs, in practical terms it is quite a challenge.

The African trade union movement

Trade unionism came to Africa in the 1930s and 1940s, inspired and supported by Western trade unions. It expanded and consolidated during the post-war period until the eve of African independence. Not only was there strong support from African peasants and intellectuals, but great efforts were made to emancipate themselves from foreign domination and make commitments on different fronts, including the struggle for independence and the quest for African unity. This explains the political and trade union action of African leaders such as Ahmed Sekou Touré, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Patrice Eméry Lumumba and Nkwameh Nkrumah. [1] Union struggle and political militancy seemed to coincide: worker and peasant demands combined with demands for achieving nationalist and pan-Africanist ideals.

After Independence, the union movement underwent a profound change, reflecting the new political concerns of the time. Quite apart from the East-West conflict, all African countries were preoccupied with the idea of building national unity, seen as a prerequisite for development, which was understood as modernization. In the name of national unity, the control of power, the single party - to which the union movement was subordinated - was imposed on the African people. Ideological, religious or regional differences were erased. Public interest and development requirements were presented as criteria to which all particularities had to succumb. Thus, trade unionism as a movement to express demands was transformed, becoming a means of controlling people and stimulating them to greater productivity. Its traditional methods of action, such as strikes, were ignored by the new constitutions or, at best, substituted by moral pep talks and civic education aimed at workers.

During this period, trade unionism as an opposition movement and a countervailing power was circumscribed by the very forces that had created it. A model of unionism was then developed which, ignoring the hostilities and aspirations of the people, drew its legitimacy from its submission to power, that is the single party from which it not only received its instructions but also its funding. Thus it is not so surprising to see trade union leaders accepting political mandates, occupying posts in ministerial cabinets or unreservedly supporting governmental initiatives. While in Senegal the Confédération nationale des travailleurs sénégalais (CNTS), following the formula of “responsible trade unionism”, operated as a section of the Socialist party [Bernard Founou-Tchuigoua, 2001, p.21], in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ex-Zaïre), the Union nationale des travailleurs zaïrois was purely and simply absorbed by the single party, the Mouvement populaire de la révolution (MPR), whose orders it faithfully carried out for more than three decades. In Niger, the Union démocratique nigérienne having established itself as a single party, not only dragooned the unions but also absorbed them so that the Union nationale des travailleurs du Niger was transformed into a transmission belt between the authorities and workers [Mamoudou Gazibo, 1997, p.127].

The winds of democratization which blew through the continent at the beginning of the 1990s gave a new impetus to the union movement. Among the host of criticisms and demands expressed at the sovereign national conferences and during the constitutional revisions that took place in most African countries, the trade unions made their voice heard, demanding multi-party politics and the need for political change through free and transparent elections. As for social and economic demands, they rejected structural adjustment programmes and emphasized the need to improve the general situation of workers, particularly through increased pay, better working conditions and the recognition of basic union rights, which had been trampled upon for many years on the pretext of social peace and development. It was no mere rhetorical exercise, for these demands were followed up with concrete action by trade union organizations: they participated in demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience, [2] and in the setting up of committees for democratic struggle to oppose the political manipulations of the leaders and to reinforce the gains made by greater democratic awareness.

Most of the African unions went through a similar process. However, the South African union experience was sui generis because of the long, tragic history of racial discrimination (apartheid) and also due to its economic power and current prestige on the African scene.

In South Africa the union movement is undeniably a social and political force. Trade unionism made its appearance with the discovery of the mines but it was not really recognized until about 1924. At this time the South African Trade and Labour Council extended its action to include non-skilled labourers - independent of their race - through the introduction of mixed racial unions or union organizations for each racial community. The radicalization of racial discrimination after the war upset this evolution. Apartheid prohibited mixed unions while the black workers were generally unaware of their right to union participation, their associations considered as having only educational objectives.

Following much pressure, internal and international, in 1979 the system made concessions and theoretically abolished its double standards policy. Although it stuck to the idea of apolitical unions, the rights of black workers to be unionized were recognized, as were mixed unions. In January 1980 the first black union was set up, the African Transport Workers’ Union (ATWU). Since then, the creation of union movements has accelerated, combining the country’s different variables: racial (White, Coloured, Black and mixed) [3] and the classic variable of relationships between workers and owners, employees and their employers. [4]

The South African trade union movement is not however free from internal conflict and contradictions. Difficulties arose about the proposal for the investment of pension funds and of the national insurance of members of COSATU in the business sector. For leaders of the groups of affiliated unions, this is justified because of its economic benefits and the social and political efficiency that result; [5] but it does raise some fundamental questions about South African capitalism and the nature of trade unionism in that country. By investing in the private sector, is COSATU not injecting into the union movement commercial principles that are contrary to the collective action that has always been the strength of unionism? How will it react when there is conflict between the workers and the company in which it has invested? In what ways will it solve the current constraints of neoliberal globalization which is basically characterized by the sacking of workers, the reduction of wages and industrial delocalization? We come back to the question of whether, in the social and political management of social movements, the end justifies the means.

Women’s organizations

Concern to improve the situation of women and promote equality between the sexes has, over the last thirty years, won a general consensus among governmental institutions, international organizations and NGOs. Sub-Saharan Africa is no exception. In spite of having an image of an almost visceral attachment to the demands of tradition and culture, there are increasingly fewer institutions and individuals in this region that are still intractable on these two issues. The springing up of organizations campaigning for the cause of women, the growing involvement of African women in international meetings and promoting political change in their countries bear witness to this evolution. [6]

While the problematique of women became more visible from the 1970s onwards, also thanks to the action of the United Nations, [7] theoretical research dates from further back. We should remember that the traditional or welfare approach, which went uncontested until about forty years ago, restricted women to their domestic and reproductive role. [8] They are described as vulnerable, poor and passive human beings that have an absolute need of male assistance and social and community protection. In 1970 Esther Boserup published her famous book in which she stressed the mainly productive role of women and specified some of the problems. She showed how women’s work was concealed, allocated and exploited, at the same time denouncing the specialization of gender-based agricultural activities. This analysis served as a departure point for a new approach to the problem of women, the integration of women in development (WID).

The thinking behind WID involved three successive concerns: equity, the struggle against poverty and the search for efficiency. The equity approach sought to involve women in development activities in the same way as men had been involved, but overlooked the power relationships between the two social categories. As for the anti-poverty approach, it was based on the idea that in order to get rid of women’s poverty it was necessary to increase their productivity. This did not take into consideration the constraints created by the different roles and status of women in African society. The efficiency approach envisaged technical and financial support for women’s productive activities as an appropriate means of global development.

The general philosophy of the WID has been greatly criticized. It relativizes the biological differences betweeen the sexes in favour of a certain social determinism. Considering the productive activities of women as an adequate response to their problems of poverty and under-development, it does not call into question the social structures that generate inequality. Woman is reduced to the status of an instrument of production. Seemingly generous, the WID theory has proved a trap for women, in the sense that the integration into development that it preaches strongly resembles a rejuvenated form of the traditional exploitation of which they were the object.

For several years a new approach tried to replace the analyses of WID. This posed the problematique of women in their relationships with power (the empowerment approach). The question of women is seen according to the assymetrical model of the North/South relationships - in other words, in terms of an inequality which is explained in terms of power and domination. According to this way of thinking, the improvement of women’s situation and promotion of equality between the sexes is intimately linked to the whole question of power. It involves the reinforcement of political power, economic autonomy and the capacity to exercise legal rights. It is thus not only a question of justice, but it also provides an effective means of struggling against the marginalization of African women.

Taken all together, these approaches provide the background to the activities of women’s organizations in Africa. Developing in different conditions (public versus private space, urban versus rural, social categories, level of education, income and age of members, etc.), women’s action goes beyond the theoretical confines described above, covering a multitude of fields and adopting various approaches, including the political involvement of women. However this commitment is very limited. [9]

In fact, until a few years ago, the African political arena was dominated exclusively by men. Women were kept out of the public sphere, either through institutional mechanisms or in the name of tradition. According to United Nations statistics, only 8 per cent of African women took part in the political decision-making bodies at the higher echelons of the State [Adjamagbo-Johnson Kafui, 1997, p. 62]. However this figure is deceptive as concerns the involvement of the African women in the political world. They operate in two ways: by participating in spontaneous actions, often one-off, localized campaigns and also by making systematic efforts with long-term objectives. As an example of the former, it was the women who were in the forefront of the popular uprisings that struggled against African dictatorships:

They were the first to take to the streets; they defied, quite spectacularly, the repression apparatus in Mali, Togo and Niger and they succeeded in carrying the rest of the population with them. Their actions contributed decisively to the fall of the regime in Mali and to the holding of sovereign national conferences to draw up a balance sheet on the management of those in power, defining the new political institutions in various countries.” (Adjamago-Johnson Kafui, 1997, p.68)

This type of action does not aim at taking power or at making radical structural transformation. But it does require a change at the top of existing institutions. As so often happens, as soon as the euphoria evaporates, people are totally demobilized. In this respect, the absence of a “common project” which could be a catalyzer in these struggles has been deplored [Kwame A. Ninsin, 2001, p. 222]. It is a limitation that is quite common in the evolution of these different African social movements.

Examples of systematic actions with long-term objectives are, among others, associations like the Collectif des associations de femmes in Togo (CAF) and the Yewwu Yewwi (YY) in Senegal. The task of the former has been to ensure the implementation of the popular demands for democracy, while the latter carries out its struggle, in an egalitarian perspective, to obtain the same rights for everyone, but particularly for women. To do this it is involved in consciousness-raising on gender problems and the recognition of certain institutional rights that are favourable to women, in Senegal and other countries in Western Africa. [Bernard Founou-Tchuigoua, 2001,p.18]

Like other African social movements, women’s organizations come up against the same forces of inertia that condition the development of the African continent, such as current neoliberalism, the economic and social consequences of its structural adjustment measures, the weight of traditions and religious constraints, financial dependency vis-a-vis the State, as well as the international financial institutions. The combination of these factors raises the question of their ability to transform the prevailing social structures with alternative perspectives on the relationships between men and women, but also between North and South. Nevertheless, a new conscience has been born: the development or the liberation of Africa cannot be envisaged without the women’s movements.

The African student movement

Most student organizations date back to colonial times, particularly in the post-war period. They very soon became politically active. For the students at the metropolitan universities, the struggle against colonialism and imperialism was seen as their main battle, followed by the idea of pan-Africanism and the reconstruction of the continent. Personalities like Nkrumah, Cabral and other African leaders of that time fascinated the young and inspired them to action. In this context, student organizations like the Fédération des étudiants africains en France (FEANF), the Association des étudiants du rassemblement démocratique africain (AERDA) and the Groupement africain de recherches économiques et politiques (GAREP) came into being.

As for the movements that started up on African soil, as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, apart from the struggle for Independence, there were problems of organization and the need to make the republican institutions effective. At various times university staff and students were invited, not only to participate in negotiations on the political future of the country, but also to fill the vacuum in governmental and educational institutions. The students, motivated by a genuine national conscience, showed their willingness to support the political powers in order to promote the well-being of the population.

Unfortunately, the generosity of the students did not long resist the ambitions and pressures of those in power. On the pretext of constructing national unity, the African leaders soon transformed the student organizations into sounding boards for their own political ideas and, in the worst of cases, dissolved the organizations altogether. Many university demands have been repressed with bloodshed. [10] Africa is one of the regions in the world with the highest rate of closures in academic and university institutions for political reasons.

Given this insecurity, destitution and repression, many of the student leaders preferred to go into exile (brain drain) or to collaborate with the current regime. The latter, through a subtle mechanism of co-optation, managed to create a kind of “objective alliance” between the university graduates and the political class. Through a gradual process of assimilation, academic institutions became sounding boards for political rhetoric and the organizational enthusiasm of student movements also adjusted to the requirements of the political authorities.

Nevertheless there were, here and there, some sudden uprushes of radical or corporatist student demands. The advent of democracy, at the beginning of the 1990s, marked the awakening or rebirth of the student movement of a new kind, confronted as it was by new problems: globalization, ecology, equity, immigration, brain drain, educational reform, etc. In this context, the opposition of Nigerien university students to structural adjustment policies is encouraging [Bernard Founou-Tchuigoua, 2001, p.19]. Similarly, the participation of Senegalese student movements in the Tobin Tax project of ATTAC seems to portend a new conscience about the issues and struggles that are under way.

Peasant organizations

René Dumont used to say that “the Rwandan peasant is both the issue and the key to the development of Rwanda”. This statement could also be applied to the whole African continent, which is not an industrialized region (apart from South Africa). A large part of the African population is of rural or peasant origin. Many African countries, poorly endowed with mineral resources, rely mainly on agriculture for their development. Even when this is not the case, countries would be wrong to overlook the contribution of peasant production to the national product. The problematique of peasant organization and its dynamism cannot be avoided in discussions on the future of Africa.

In colonial times, peasants were among the most oppressed and exploited sectors of the population. They were often forced to abandon their best land to the colonizers and their profits, withdrawing to inhospitable and unproductive regions. Not only did they have to sell their labour for a derisory wage, they were also forced to grow export crops that made no contribution to their daily subsistence. The anti-colonial struggle in the post-war period had filled them with hope for a resistance that was built on efficient organizational structures. [11] The creation, in 1944, of the African agricultural trade union (SAA) by Houphouët-Boigny was designed along these lines. Concerned with the manifest interests of the African planters, this organization successfully struggled for the abolition of forced labour. For many years it preferred the countryside to the town, seemingly always concerned for the peasant movements.

The post-independence period brought with it new difficulties for the African peasantry. As in other sectors, monolithic politics prohibited the existence of any peasant organization that was not part of the single party. Apart from official associations, no rival organization was tolerated. The peasant movement as a whole emerged much weakened and divided from this experience. Hounded by State authoritarianism, crushed by financial constraints (the irregularity and the tendency for world markets to decline, tax expenses) and upset by the arbitrariness of the land tenure legislation, the African peasantry was, to cite René Dumont once again, “ruined, betrayed and divided”.

Burkina Faso and Senegal softened this trend in the 1970s following the evident incapacity of the State services to manage the crisis created by the drought [Ousseyni Ouedraogo, 2001, p.5]. The winds of democratic change of the 1990s accelerated this opening up process to the social movements - including the peasant organizations - so they became more visible and able to take initiatives. Unfortunately, for a number of these organizations, this so-called “wind of democracy” proved to be a violent tempest of neoliberalism which, through structural adjustment measures and the requirement for competitiveness, aggravated their situation and rendered difficult any possibility of harmonious co-operation.

It must be emphasized that the peasant organizations in Africa are going through a critical period when even certain internal factors seem to be acting against the creation of stable structures that are able to confront the neoliberal offensive. For example, migration and rural exodus have robbed these organizations of their most dynamic elements. Furthermore, wars are ravaging a large number of African countries, making it difficult, if not impossible for peasant organizations to make social and economic demands. Political manipulation, the spirit of the times and the ethnic discrimination and cleansing going on in sub-Saharan Africa all contribute to the dismantling of peasant organizations. And, apart from their obvious economic weakness, there is an absolute lack of training in leadership and the preparation of cadres.

All in all, it would seem that the power relationships are not very favourable to radical social movements. It is a critical situation, but not a desperate one and it calls for new thinking about the strategies for struggle and the bases for such struggle. This requires the identification of initiatives combining the diversities of local concerns with macroeconomic factors.


* Bernard Founou-Tchuigoua and Albert Kasanda. This article is a synthesis of the discussions at a seminar on the social movements in sub-Saharan Africa, which was organized in 2001 in Dakar by Samir Amin and Bernard Founou-Tchuigoua of the Third World Forum. Participants included Demba Moussa Dembélé, Amady Aly Dieng, Makhtar Diouf, Mbaya Kankwenda, Hein Marias, Abdourahmane Ndiaye, Kwame A. Ninsin, Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Fatou Sarr, Sams Dine Sy.


n Boserup, E., Women’s Role in Economic Development, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1970

n Cabral, A., L’arme de la théorie (ed. Mario Andrade), Paris: Maspero, 1975

n Founou-Tchuigoua, B., “Afrique subsaharienne: état des lieux, état des luttes”, Third World Forum document, 2001

n Gazibo, M., “Gloire et misère du mouvement syndical nigérien” in Politique africaine, No. 69, 1997, pp. 126-134

n Kafui, A., “La politique est aussi l’affaire des femmes” in Politique africaine, No. 65, 1997, pp. 62-74

n Martens, G., “Le long chemin vers l’unité syndicale africaine” in Genève Afrique, Vol XXIX, No. 1, 1991

n Ninsin, Kwame A. , « Social Movements for Alternatives in Africa : Achievements, Difficulties, Prospects and Conditions for Meaningful/Irreversible Success », paper presented at theThird World Forum Seminar, Régionalisation, mouvements sociaux et stratégies pour une alternative à la crise africaine, Dakar, 9-12 April 2001

n Ouedraogo, O., “Bilan et perspectives des mouvements paysans ouest-africain depuis les programmes d’ajustement structurel”, Third World Forum document, 2001

n Senghor, L., Libertés 3: Négritude et civilisation de l’universel, Paris: Seuil, 1977

By the same authors on the subject :

« Et si l’Afrique refusait le marché ? » Alternatives Sud, Vol. VIII (2001), No. 3

AMIN, S. et al., Afrique : Etat des lieux - Etat des luttes, Paris : L’Harmattan, 2002

[1] There were few African political leaders of the first generation who had not been union leaders. Most of them prepared the ground to serve as a spearhead for their conquest of power. This was the case of Sekou Touré (CGTAN), Houphouët-Boigny (SAA) and Lumumba (PTT).

[2] For example the general strikes organized against the government of Mobutu in Kinshasa and the successive strikes initiated by the teachers’ union of Niger in 1989-1990, 1992-1993 protesting against the effects on education of structural adjustment measures. See Mamoudou Gazibo, 1997, 128-129

[3] In 1983, there were 56 White trade unions, 35 Coloured, 23 Black and 80 mixed races.

[4] In the year 1982 there were 199 union organizations of worker origin and 262 that were employer-inspired. Among the groups of affiliated trade unions that have been created, some of the most important are: the Trade Union Council of South Africa (TUCSA), created in 1954, which includes 57 unions and has about half a million members; the South African Confederation of Labour (SACLA), which groups 12 unions and has some 110.000 members; and the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU), created in 1985, which includes about 34 mainly Black unions and has some 500.000 members.

[5] Among the justifications given for this stance are the following: Considerable possibilities for investment are offered to the workers of this country. It is the moment to invest in a manner that is socially responsible, which will contribute to influencing events, benefit the workers and the areas where they live and create a strategy of investment coordinated for those affiliated. We intend to invest in a large range of activities and sectors for we know that the process of participation of the Blacks will go nowhere unless we play our full role in the financial sector that controls the economy. We shall also invest in sectors such as health, construction and tourism, in which we can own part of the means of production, in order to respond to the priorities of the Programme of Reconstruction and Development.” Koch Eddie, 1997, quoted in Problémes politiques et sociaux, No. 810 (1997), p. 63.

[6] Reference is often made to the strong participation of African women in international meetings and their commitment in preparing them - not to mention their determined efforts during, for example, the conference on world population (held in Cairo in 1994) and the one entitled “Peace, equality and development” (held in Beijing in 1995).

[7] The year 1975 was designated “International Women’s Year”, while the period 1975-1985 was declared “Women’s Decade”. In this context, considerable funds were allocated by the United Nations to promote the cause of women.

[8] This approach unfortunately still prevails in most African societies. Worse still, independently of our cultural affiliations, its ghost haunts most of our discourses and everyday behaviour as far as women are concerned.

[9] We have deliberately left aside other visible fields in the African women’s movements. These include the professionals (jurists, doctors, pharmacists, traders, etc.) and the neighbourhood networks.

[10] As happened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ex-Zaïre), with the massacre of 4 June 1969, perpetrated by the military on instructions of the very political authorities whom the students had supported some years previously in an effort to rectify the situation in the country.

[11] African peasants did not wait for the anti-colonial struggle to resist the colonizers. Their resistance took different and sometimes unexpected forms : armed uprisings, economic creativity to provide subsistence, refusal of the modernization project, etc.