Amilcar Cabral (en)

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Samir AMIN Book for Cabral (Firoze); complete

Amilcar Cabral belongs to the pantheon of African freedom fighters. Leading a liberation struggle was only one of his achievements. He also had the best ideas for the construction of a modern, democratic, peoples’state which would deliver on real and sustainable development.

Cabral’s thesis : the ‘suicide of the petite boutgeoisie’ and the national question in Cape Verde and Guinea Bissao.

When France, Britian and Belgium accepted the principle of political decolonisation in 1960, Portugal refused to go along. National liberation movements had no other alternative other than to wage an armed struggle. War always opens up real possibilities for the radicalisation of politics, but by the same token also lends itself to romantic illusions. A good many of the supporters of such movements in Africa and outside Africa (especially amongst Western ‘third-worlders’) encouraged such illusions.

Although Cabral did share some of these illusions, I think his position needs to be seen in the light of the challenges faced by African peoples as they sought to shed the huge burden of colonialism. I will expand on that after first discussing Cabral’s views in the context of ulterior developments in the countries concerned, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, but also other former Portugese colonies. The validity of some of Cabral’s theories can be put into question today.




One of Cabral s theories that needs to be reexamined is that of the ‘suicide of the petite bourgeoisie as a class.’ Certainly, the conditions thrown up by war often facilitate the display of the finer qualities of human nature of which even the ‘petit bourgeois’ are not exempt by their ‘ very nature’. Courage, solidarity and permanent contact with the peasant masses can help erase previous prejudice and ignorance. But I am remain unconvinced that once independence has been gained, social realities – that is the advantages to be procured from positions of leadership, inevitably reserved for a minority even if this group includes cadres drawn from the grassroots – would change in the direction of an end to inequality. The fight for socialism, in my opinion, is a very long war; the uncontestably progressive historic role of national liberation movements notwithstanding, the signs were already there in the hierarchies created and the maneovring that went on at the very heart of these groups. The Soviet CP model adopted by these groups also cemented these attitudes. How many militants, even the most courageous could behave like unconditional or even fawning believers towards a leader or local leaders? Some of the people I knew to be amongst the best militants, the most sincere towards the people, the most courageous on the military front, were sent to the front line – to a certain death in some cases – while the ‘chiefs’ remained safe from risk. I saw then that ‘the petite bourgeoisie was not ready to commit suicide.’

The second question concerned the Guinea Bissao-Cape Verde issue. I do not think the people of these two colonies constituted ‘one nation’. Guinea Bissau is part of West Africa similar to other nations, a multi-ethnic African countryl. Cape Verde is totally different. It was in the Cape Verde islands which the Portugese inhabited from the moment they discovered them that the latter perfected the formula which they would use to build America – a slavery driven plantation colony that was part of the euro-atlantic mercantile system. The formula was in fact defined to the last details by the founders of the Portugese (and later Spanish, British and French) colonisation of the Americas – slave trade, colonisation, creolisation of the colony and administrative structures. Cape Verde is the ancestor of the Antilles and Brasil.

The electoral defeat suffered by the PAICV at the hands of the Creole petite bourgeoisie – and bourgeoisie – which had not participated in the liberation struggles, calls for a reinterpretation of what this society really is. This is certainly sad because whatever its limits and the errors of government, it is to the PAICV that Cape Verde owes its very existence. It was the PAICV that gave its starving and barefoot people land and education. So why was it defeated? For one, it underestimated the role of the church. But there was also the arrogance in the daily behaviour of former brave fighters who had joined the administrative service. This was the explanation given to me by Pedro Pires himself, the PAICV general secretary. Yet, the PAICV had several remarkable cadres it could count on, many more than in other African countries. I would say the same about the ‘leftist opponents’ within the PAICV, who having adopted the Maoist line, were disliked by the PAICV leadership to the point that many of them were forced to flee into exile in Portugal, before returning to the country. A page needs to be turned on these quarrels. What is important is to reconstitute a broad leftist front united around a minimal programme but retaining their diversity and on the basis of mutual respect of the various groups involved. I do not hesitate to say that this broad democratic front could include some elements who contributed to the victory of the right either through pique or constrained because of the PAICV’s triumphant sectarianism.

Independent Guinea Bissau quickly became like other countries in the region dubbed ‘less developed’ by Western agencies, that is, extremely dependent on foreign ‘aid’ for the survival of their miserable state apparatus having given up on the project launched by Cabral and the armed resistance.

Angola and Mozambique

Though Cabral was not chiefly responsibile for what happened in Angola and Mozambique, he does share the responsibility with the collective of the first generation of leaders of liberation movements in Lusophone Africa, all of whom shared his idea of the ‘suicide of the petite bourgeoisie’.

Angola was as problematic as Guinea Bissau, albeit in a different manner.

The MPLA was well implanted in the capital and especially in the educated classes, often metisse, a fact that the anti-white, anti-metisse nationalist demagogues didn’t hesitate to exploit. The MPLA was also convinced that only a socialist path would meet the demands of the people and included several militants who had been politically trained in the Portugese communist party. The FLNA and UNITA were only tribal organisations built around a demagogic chief with absolute power and no political programme. Obviously, they were anti-communist but were also ready to make any and every compromise with Washington, Mobutu and even the PIDE (the Portuguese political police) who in turn saw these groups as useful pawns against the MPLA. Later, when the elections pitted the MPLA against UNITA (the FLNA had disappeared in the unrest), voters said they preferred the ‘thieves’ (MPLA) to the ‘assasins’ (UNITA). It was true that during fifteen years in power in Luanda, the MPLA had changed and corruption was generalised. However, UNITA fighters continued their murderous tactics in the zones they controlled. This didn’t prevent western media from spewing their ire on MPLA leaders, not very democratic it is true) while eulogising Savimbi, the leader of the assasins (was he then a democrat?). Bu the FLNA and UNITA existed, and UNITA is still around.

A stormy meeting erupted at the OAU at the end of 1974 when it was time to recognise the national liberation movement as the representative of the Angolan government. But first, I observed the noisy interference from the Soviets, present in great numbers in OAU corridors. They and a few allied African states declared that since the MPLA was the sole force on the ground, only it had the right to form the legal government of the country. In my opinion, this position created more problems than it solved. Moreover, it was wrong and everyone knew it. The USA was more subtle and allowed this point to be made by its allies. Then it was China’s turn to meddle, not wanting to allow only the Soviets and Americans to have a say in the matter. The Chinese proposals – very unofficial and in my opinion initially reasonable – called for a coalition government of all three organisations in order to avoid a civil war. I myself heard the Chinese ambassador say: if the MPLA is really that strong, it will take on board the others and lead them; if it is not, a coalition government appears even more crucial. However soon after, China’s anti-soviet feelings began to drastically colour its approach.

Since there was an MPLA government in Luanda even if it did not control the entire country and had reconciled itself to the perspective of war to finish UNITA off and since it received Soviet military aid (Cuban’s troops came in later), China decided to continue to back UNITA (as it had done before 1972 supposedly in order not to allow the pro-Soviet MPLA sole domination) and found itself on the same side as the USA and South Africa who had spared neither financial nor military support to the murderer Savimbi. Mario de Andrade told me much later that the coalition government solution had been the best but he wasn’t sure whether it would have been possible. Washington was intent on sabotaging the idea, which i think is true. Nonetheless, had such a compromise been possible, it would have prevented 17 years of useless war. Because at the end of this tragedy, the Soviet Union no longer existed, Cuba had pulled back (after handing out a resounding defeat to the South Africans, which was truly magnificent), apartheid had also disappeared and the MPLA no longer troubled Washington (although the USA never forgave them and still harbours illwill to all those who dared to resist it), Savimbi’s heirs were also still around, so there was no other option other than to accept to negotiate and even a coalition government. What a sad ending.

Things appeared much simpler in Mozambique. Frelimo was the only national liberation movement. The problems appeared later, after liberation. I had frequent meetings in Dar es Salaam with the future Vice President Marcelino dos Santos along with Aquino da Braganca (who died in the plane accident that killed President Samora Machel) and the party ideologue Sergio Vieira.

The excesses came after liberation. Since Frelimo was essentially a northern based group, it was ill prepared to control the situation in Maputo, to absord the influx of petits bourgeois who had not participated in the war but had provided a mass of cadres who were rapidly promoted to replace the exodus of the Portugese. One ‘leftist excess’ was the party’s response to its authority being challenged – unpopular measures such as collectivisation. Hard on the heels of this came the new war started by the South African backed Renamo. While it was evident that the ‘partisans’ of this party, acclaimed by Western ‘democrats’ were nothing but vulgar assasins without any programme whatsoever, their very existence was because of the mistakes made by Frelimo. The capitulation which followed the Nkomati accords (1987) with South Africa and the opening of negotiations with Renamo along with the adoption of multiparty politics had a predictably catastrophic effect – collapse. The huge damage caused by the triumphant ideology of ‘NGOs as representatives of civil society’ has been forcefully denounced by the Swede Abramson. It is obvious that these NGOs were for the most part a supplementary tool in the arsenal of foreign reactionary forces (the promoters of the ‘new neo-liberal world order’ – without government!), created and manipulated by them and supported by the local corrupt bourgeoisie - they hardly represent the authentic voice of the people.

Angola and Mozambique have become ‘ordinary African countries’, members of the regional grouping called SADC. They are now firmly within the orbit of South Africa, which although free of the noxious apartheid nonetheless has an expansionist agenda in southern Africa to the benefit of Anglo-american capital, as has been well documented by Hein Marais.

This analysis of the internal policies of the countries concerned – whose margin of manoeuvre was reduced to zero by their alignment with the demands of imperialist globalisation – necessarily includes a discussion of the kinds of regional groupings that were formed and which far from supporting the elaboration of an authentic and independent development project, were in fact content to serve as transmitters of imperialist domination.

The political economy of Africa in the global system

1. It is usually said that Africa is « marginalised ». The phrase suggests that the continent – or at least most of it south of the Sahara, except perhaps South Africa – is « out » of the global system, or at best integrated into it only superficially. It is suggested also that the poverty of African people precisely is the result of their economies being not sufficiently integrated into the global system. I wish to challenge these views.

Let us consider first some facts which are hardly mentionned by the incense – bearers of current globalisation. In 1990 the ratio of extra regional trade to GDP was for Africa 45,6 % while it was only 12,8 % for Europe ; 13,2 % for North America ; 23,7 % for Latin america and 15,2 % for Asia. These ratios were not significantly different throughout the XXth century. The average for the world was 14,9 % in 1928 and 16,1 % in 1990 (Source : Serge Cordelier, La mondialisation au delà des mythes, La Découverte, Paris 1997, p. 141 figures from WTO 1995).

How can we explain this curiosity that Africa is apparently even more integrated in the world system than any other developed or developing region? Of course the levels of development, as measured by per capita GDP, are highly unequally distributed, and, from that point of view, Africa is the poorest region in the modern world system, its GDP per capita amounting only to

21 % of the the world average and 6 % of that of the developed centres. Therefore the high proportion of Africa’s extra regional trade with respect to its GDP would reflect the small size of the denominator of the ratio. Simultaneously the exports (as well as the imports) of Africa represent only a minute proportion of the world’s trade. And this, is exactly the reason for which Africa is considered as being « marginal » in the world system, i.e. having little importance (« the world could live easily without Africa ») That concept, according to which a country, or a region is qualified « marginalised » if its quantitative weight in the global economy is small, assumes implicitely that the logic of the expansion of the global capitalist economy pursue the maximisation of production (and therefore also of trade). This assumption is uterly wrong. In fact it matters little that Africa’s exports have represented only a minute part of world trade yesterday and to day. Capitalism is not a system which sets out to maximize production and productivity, but one which chooses the volumes and conditions of production which maximize the profit rate of capital. The so called marginalised countries are, in fact, the super exploited in brutal manners and therefore, impoverished countries, not countries located « at the margin » of the system.

The analysis needs therefore to be completed on other grounds. The relatively modest ratio for the developed areas – North America (USA and Canada) and Western-central Europe (the European Union, Switzerland and Norway) is associated not only to the highest levels of development but also with a qualitative characteristics that ought to be spelled out : all developed countries have been built historically as autocentered economies. I introduce here that essential concept which is ignored by conventional economics. Autocentered is synonymous to « basically inward looking », not to « autarcic » (« closed »). That means that the process of capitalist accumulation in those countries which have become the centers of the world system has always been – and I submit continues and will continue to be so in the visible future – simultaneously inward looking and open, even in most cases agressively open (« imperialist »). That means therefore that the global system has an asymetric structure: the centers are inward looking auto centered and simultaneously integrated in the global system in an active way (they shape the global structure) ; the peripheries are not inward looking (not autocentered) and therefore integrated in the global system in a passive way (they « adjust » to the system, without playing any significant role in shaping it). That vision of the real world system is totally different from the one offered by conventional thought which describes superfically the world as a « pyramid » constructed of unequally wealthly countries ranking from the lowest levels of GDP per capita to the highest ones.

My conclusion from this conceptualisation is that all the regions of the world (including Africa) are equally integrated in the global system, but they are integrated into it in different ways. The concept of marginalisation is a false concept which hides the real question, which is not « to which degree the various regions are integrated » but  « in which way they are integrated ».

Additionally, the figures refered to above indicate that the degree of integration in the world system has not dramatically changed throughout the whole XXth century, as is being suggested by the dominant fashion discourse on globalisation. There have been ups and down but the trend which reflects the progress of the degree of integration has been continuous and rather slow, not even accelerating throughout the last decades. That does not exclude the fact that globalisation – which is an old story – has developed through successive phases that should be identified as qualitatively different, focusing on the specificities of each of them, in relation to the changes commanded by the evolution of the centers of the system, i.e. dominant global capital.

2. On the basis of the methodology which I suggested here we can now look into the various phases of Africa’s integration in the global system and identify the specific ways in which operated that integration for each of the successive phases analysed.

Africa was integrated into the global system from the very start of the building of that system, in the mercantilist phase of early capitalism (the XVIth, XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries). The major periphery of that time was the colonial Americas where an outward looking export economy was established, dominated by European Atlantic merchant capitalist interests. In its turn that export economy, focused on sugar and cotton, was based on slave labour. Therefore, through the slave trade, large parts of Africa South of the Sahara were integrated into the global system in this most destructive way. A good part of the later « backwardness » of the continent is due to that form of « integration » which lead to a decrease in population to the extent that it is only now that Africa has recovered the proportion of the global population of the world it had probably around 1 500 AD. It has led also to the dismantling of earlier larger state organisations to which were substituted small military brutal systems and permanent war between them.

In America itself the mercantilist form of integration in the world system destroyed the potential for further development in many devastated regions. During that phase of early capitalism the highest rates of growth were achieved in areas such as the Carribean, Nordeste of Brasil, the Southern north American british colonies. An expert of the World Bank, if he had visited those areas at that time, would have written about their « miracle » (the value of Saint Domingue’s exports of sugar was, at a time, larger than the total exports of England !) and concluded that New England, which was building an autocentered economy, was on the wrong track. To day Saint Domingue is Haïti and New England has become the USA !

The second wave of integration of Africa in the global system was that of the colonial period, roughly from 1880 to 1960. Once conquered, it was necessary to « develop » the Africa in question. At this juncture come in both the reasonings of world capitalism – what natural resources do the various regions of the continent possess ? and those of the previous history of African societies. It seemed to me that, in this context we would understand what each of the three models of colonization operated in Africa was : the trading economy incorporating a small peasantry into the world tropical products market by subjecting it to authority of a market of controlled oligopolies making it possible to reduce the rewards for peasant labour to the minimum and to waste land ; the economy of Southern Africa’s reserves organised around mining, supplied with cheap labour by forced migration coming precisely from the inadequate « reserves » to enhance the perpetuation of traditional rural subsistence ; the economy of pillage which the concessionary companies embarked upon by taxing without the counterpart of a farthing products of picking elsewhere, where neither the local social conditions permitted the establishment of « trading », nor the mineral resources justified the organisation of reserves intended to furnish abundant manpower. The conventional Congo basin belonged to this third category in the main.

The results of this mode of insertion into world capitalism were going to prove also catastrophic for Africans. First it delayed – by a century – any commencement of an agricultural revolution. A surplus could here be extracted from the labour of the peasants and from the wealth offered by nature without investments of modernisation (no machines or fertilizer), without genuinely paying for the labour (reproducing itself in the framework of the traditional self-sufficiency), without even guaranteeing the maintenance of the natural conditions of reproduction of wealth (pillage of the agrarian soils and the forest). Simultaneously, this mode of development of natural resources tapped in the framework of the unequal international division of labour of the time, excluded the formation of any local middle class. On the contrary, each time that the latter started the process of its formation, the colonial authorities hastened to suppress it.

As a result today most so called « less developed countries » are, as everybody knows, located in Africa. The countries which today make up this « fourth world » are, for large part, countries destroyed by the intensity of their integration in an earlier phase of the global expansion of capitalism. Bangladesh, for example, the successor state of Bengal which was the jewel of British colonisation in India. Others have been – or still are – peripheries of peripheries. Burkina Faso, for example, which has supplied most of its active labour force to Côte d’Ivoire. If one had taken into consideration the two countries as, in fact, constituting a single region of the capitalist system of the epoch, the characteristic rates of the « Ivory Coast miracle » would have had to be divided by two. Emigration impoversihes the regions which feed its flow and thus support the costs of bringing up youth who are lost at the moment when they become potentially active, as well as the costs of supporting the old after their return. These costs, much greater than the « money orders » sent to the families by the active emigrants, are almost always forgotten in the calculations of our economists. There are only few countries which are « poor » and non integrated or little integrated in the global system. Perhaps, yesterday still the North Yemen or Afghanistan. Their integration which is underway to date, like that of others yesterday, produces nothing more than a « modernisation of poverty » - the shantytowns taking on the landless peasants. The weaknesses of the national liberation movement and of the inheritor states of colonisation date back to this colonial fashioning. They are therefore not the products of the pristine precolonial Africa, which disappeared in the storm, as the ideology of global capitalism endeavours to derive its legitimacy from it, by holding forth its usual racist discourse. The « criticisms » of independent Africa, of its corrupt political middle classes, of the lack of economic direction, of the tenacity of rural community structures forget that these features of contemporary Africa were forged between 1880 and 1960.

No wonder then that neo colonialism has perpetuated these features. The form that this failure took is quite fully defined by the limits of these famous Lome Agreements which have linked subsaharan Africa to Europe of the E.E.C. These agreements have indeed perpetuated the old division of labour - relegating independent Africa to the production of raw materials, at the very time when – during the Bandung period (from 1955 to 1975) – the third world was embarking elsewhere on the industrial revolution. They have made Africa lose about thirty years at a decisive moment of historic change. Undoubtedly, African ruling classes were here partly responsible for what was going to start the involution of the continent, particularly when they joined the neo colonial camp against the aspirations of their own people, whose weaknesses they exploited. The collusion between African ruling classes and the global strategies of imperialism is therefore, definitely, the ultimate cause of the failure.

3. Yet, having reconquered their political independance the peoples of Africa embarqued as of 1960 in development projects the main objectives of which were more or less identical to those pursued in Asia and Latin America despite the differences of ideological discourses which accompanied them here and there. This common denominator is easily understood, if we simply recall that in 1945 practically all Asian countries (excluding Japan) Africa (including South Africa) and – although with a few nuances – Latin America were still bereft of every industry worth this name – except mining here and there – largely rural by the composition of their population, governed by archaic regimes, land-owning oligarchies or colonial (Africa, India, South East Asia). Beyond their great diversity, all the national liberation movements had the same objectives of political independence, modernisation of the State, industrialisation of the economy.

There is today a great temptation to read this history as that of a stage of the expansion of world capitalism, which was said to have performed, more or less certain functions attached to primitive national accumulation, thereby creating the conditions for the next stage, which we are now supposed to be entering in marked by the opening out to the world market and competition in this field. I will not suggest that we should yield to this temptation. The dominant forces in world capitalism have not « spontaneously » created the model(s) of development. This « development » was imposed on them. It was the product of the national liberation movement of the contemporary third world. The reading which I propose therefore stresses the contradiction between the spontaneous and immediate trends of the capitalist system, which are always guided only by the short-term financial gain that characterises this mode of social management, and the longer-term visions which guide the rising political forces, in conflict for that very reason, with the former. This conflicts is certainly not always radical, capitalism adjusts itself to it, even profitably. But it only adjusts to it, it does not generate its movement.

All liberation movements in Africa shared this modernist vision, which for that very reason I qualify capitalist. Capitalist by its concept of modernisation, expected to produce the relationships of production and the social relationships basic and peculiar to capitalism : the wage relationship, business management, urbanisation, patterns of education, the concept of national citizenship. No doubt other values, characteristic of advanced capitalism, like that of political democracy, were woefully lacking, and this was justified by the exigencies of prior initial development. All countries of the region – radicals and moderates – chose by the same formula of the single party, farcical elections and leaderfounder of the Nation etc. Yet, in the absence of a middle-class of businessmen, the State – and its technocrats – was expected to substitute itself. But sometimes also, in so far as the emergence of the middle-class was held in suspicion on account of the priority that the latter would give to its immediate interests over the longer-term ones under construction. Suspicion became, in the radical wing of the national liberation movement, synonymous with exclusion. This radical wing then believed naturally that its project was that of the « building of socialism ». It then took up the Soviet ideology.

If we adopt the criterion of national liberation movements that is «national construction» the results are on the whole arguable. The reason is that whereas the development of capitalism in earlier times supported national integration, the globalisation operating in the peripheries of the system, on the contrary, breaks up societies. However, the ideology of national movement ignored this contradiction, having been enclosed in the bourgeois concept of « making up for a historic backwardness », and conceiving this catching up by passive participation in the international division of labour (and not trying to modify it by delinking). No doubt, according to the specific characters of pre-capitalist precolonial societies, this disintegration impact was more or less dramatic. In Africa, whose artificial colonial demarcation did not respect the previous history of its peoples, the disintegration wrought by capitalist peripherisation made it possible for ethnicism to survive, despite the efforts of the ruling class following national liberation to get rid of its manifestations. When crisis came, destroying ssuddenly the increase in the surplus which had enhanced the financing of trans-ethnic policies of the new state, the ruling class itself broke up into fragments which, having lost every legitimacy based on the achivements of « development », try to create for themselves new bases often associated with ethnic retreat.

While a number of countries in Asia and Latin America did embark during those « decades of development » of the second half of the XXth century in a process of industrialisation which turned in some cases to be competitive on global markets, « successful development » (in fact growth without development) remained in Africa within the old division of labour, i.e. providing raw materials. Oil countries are typical, since other major mineral resources, such as copper, suffer a long structural demand crisis, but also some « tropical agricultural », as Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Malawi. These were shown as « brilliant successes ». In fact they have no future; they belonged to the past from the very start of their prosperity. Therefore most of those experiences turned to be unsuccessful growth even within those limits of the old division of labour. This is the case of most of subsaharan Africa. These difficulties were not necessarily the product of « bad policies », but of objective conditions. For instance, that this type of development had already been achieved in the colonial times and reached its ceiling by 1960. This is the case of Ghana: the Ivory Coast miracle was just a matter of « catching up » with colonial West African coast achievements!

4. What followed the erosion of the national development projects of the 60s and 70s is well documented.

The starting point was the brutal reversal in the balances of social forces, to the benefit of capital, which occured in the 80s. Dominant capital, as represented by the TNCs, moved into the offensive, operating in Africa through the so called « structural adjustment programmes » enforced throughout the continent since the mid 80s. I say so called because in fact those programmes are more conjunctural than structral, their real and exclusive target being the subordination of the economies of Africa to the constraint of servicing the high external debt, which in its turn, is to a large extend the very product of the stagnation which started appearing in the LDCs along with the deepening crisis of the global system.

During the two last decades of the century average rates of growth of GDP have fallen to roughly half of what they had been in the previous two decades, for all regions of the world, Africa included, except for Eastern Asia. It is during that period of structural crisis that the external debt of third world countries (and Eastern Europe) started growing dangerously. The global crisis is indeed – as usual – characterised by growing unequality in the distribution of income, high rates of profits, and therefore a growing surplus of capital which cannot find an outlet in the expansion of the productive systems. Financial alternative outlets have to be created in order to avoid a brutal devalorisation of capital. The US deficit, the external debt of third world countries are responses to that financiarisation of the system. The burden has reached now unsustainable levels. How could a poor African country earmark half or more of its exports simply to pay the interests of such a debt, and simultaneously be requested to be « more efficient » and « adjust » ? Let us remember that, after world war I, the payment of German’s reparations did represent only 7 % of the exports of that industrialised powerful country. And yet most economists at that time considered the level too high and the « adjustment » of Germany to it impossible ! Germany could not adjust to a loss of 7 % of its export potential, but Tanzania is supposed to be able to adjust to a loss of 60 % of it !!!

The devastating results of these policies are known : economic regression, social disaster, growing unstabity and even sometimes total disruption of whole societies (as in Rwanda, Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone). During the whole 90s Africa’s rate of growth of GDP per capita has been negative (- 0,2 %) Africa being alone in that case. As a result Africa’s share of global trade decreased. That fact is precisely what is being qualified as « marginalisation ». Instead one should speak here of a dramatic mal-integration in the global system. Conventional neo-liberal economists pretend that this is only a « hard transition » towards a better future ! But how could it be ? The destruction of the social tissues, growing poverty, the regression of education and health cannot prepare a better future, cannot help African producers to become « more competitive » as requested from them. Quite the opposite.

This neo colonial plan for Africa is indeed the worst pattern of integration in the global system. It cannot produce but further decline of the capacity of African societies to meet the challenges of modern time. These challenges are surely to a certain extent new, relating to the long run possible effects of the ongoing technological revolution (informatics) and through them, on the organisation of labour, its productivity and new patterns of the international division of labour. What ought to be said in this respect is that all of these challenges are operating in the real world through conflicts of strategies. For the time being the dominant segment of global capital – the TNCs – appears to dictate what is favourable to the progress of its particular strategies. African peoples and governments have not yet developed counter strategies of their own similar perhaps to what Eastern Asian countries are trying to push ahead. In that frame globalisation does not offer to Africa any solution to any of its problems. Foreign direct private investments in Africa are, as everybody knowns, negligible and exclusively concentrated on mineral and other natural resources. In other words the strategy of TNCs does not help Africa moving beyond a pattern of international division of labour belonging to the remote past. The alternative, from an African point of view, needs to combine the building of autocentered economies and societies and participating to the global system. This general law is valid for Africa today as it has been throughout modern history for all the regions of the world.

It is still too early to know if the African peoples are moving towards that goal. There are talks today of an « African Renaissance ». No doubt that the victory of the African people in South Africa, i.e. the breakdown of the apartheid system, has created positive hopes not only in that country but throughout large parts of the continent. But there are not yet visible signals of these hopes cristallising into alternative strategies. That would need dramatic changes at various national levels, going far beyond what is generally suggested under the labels of « good governance » and « political multiparty democracy », as well as at regional and global levels. Another pattern of globalisation would therefore gradually emerge from those changes making possible the correction of the mal integration of Africa into the global system.

Africa in the international context

From 1960 to 1964, independent Africa was divided into two camps: the Casablanca camp (Egypt, Morocco, Guinea, Ghana and Mali) considered that the independence “granted” had not resolved the question of national liberation. They thought that the Monrovia camp (all the other countries satisfied with the situation) were neo-colonial states. But they came together within the OAU, set up in 1963. All of independent Africa also belonged to the Movement of Non-aligned States, created in Bandung in 1955 and whose spirit found strong echos not only amongst the people but also within ruling classes and governments.

Severely weakened by the legacy of colonialism, the new Africa was fragile and African societies faced a serious threat of disintegration. The dominant discourse blamed this on the “lack of maturity” of these countries, with the implicit assumption that independence had been given prematurely. The real reason for the crisis was glossed over: namely, the market. On its own, the market functions like a centrifugal force, one that disintegrates. It only ceases to do so when it is controlled by the State. In economies such as those in Africa, fragile both because of colonialism and before that the slave trade, this disintegrating effect was even more devastating than elsewhere. There was no system of production worth the name and the market doesn’t create it. It is incumbent on the State – an instrument of society and the result of social compromises that determine its character at any given time of its evolution, even if it was capitalist in nature – to create a system of production in line with its ideology. If this is not present, market forces simply exploit the disparate segments of a system, which because it doesn’t really exist, cannot put up any resistance. “Compradorisation” is the social, political and ideological form that takes shape when there is no “State”. Africa doesn’t suffer from too much government, it has only had bad comprador rule.

Neocolonialism can only operate where there is permanent crisis. This is why it met with successive waves of nationalist and populist revolts. The first, represented by Nkrumah’s Ghana, Modibo’s Mali, Guinea and Congo, had barely died down when it was the turn of uprisings in West Africa, in Benin, then in Burkina Faso and then once again in Ghana and Mali as well as in Tanzania and Ethiopia in East Africa, in Madagascar and then in southern Africa.

This is not Africa’s failure; it is capitalism that has failed to offer anything remotely acceptable to Africa. Today, the Bandung page has definitively been turned and the impasse has never been as dramatic. The front assault on the peasantry, the cornerstone of the WTO’s liberalisation policies, has accelerated the transformation of the continent into desolate countryside and urban slums. The migratory pressures that have ensued (the new boat people) is an inevitable consequence. But the European refrain remains stubborn- that the only way African states can cooperate is to police their own frontiers.

The imperialist management of post colonial Africa

Regionalisation in Africa is mere window-dressing

The principal aim of the Organisation of African Unity which became the African Union was political. To support on the one hand the liberation struggles in Lusophone Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, and on the other hand, to contain and resolve inter-government conflicts. In this respect, the OAU was a weak substitute for panafricanism.

During the “development decades” (1960 and 1970), the OAU’s duties were relatively easy because at the time most governments had some popular legitimacy. The fruits of development strengthened the legitimacy of the former national and transethnic liberation movements which had now become ruling parties. The development of political parties was also in tandem with the emergence of a nascent middle class (product of the progress of education) who soon developed a vast clientele in the lower classes.

The political situation today is tragically different. The erosion of people-centred development models and the diktat of liberal globalisation have brutally delegitimized the majority of African states and the so-called democracies or facades of democracy which have followed in the wake of autocratic nationalist and populist rulers have been unable to restore the legitimacy of governments, simply incapable of providing their people with any kind of social progress. Africa has entered a phase of involution characterised by what one wrongly calls ‘internal tribal wars’. These are not conflicts whose real origins lie in ethnic hostility, but conflicts fabricated by warlords who want to get their hands on the country’s resources (petrol, diamonds) and therefore deliberately stoke ethnic tensions. Called to the rescue, the OAU, or even the UN, have proved themselves to be totally impotent in such situations – witness the disastrous results of the intervention of ECOMOG in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Under such conditions, the very idea of regionalisation is a non sense.

There are several organisations of subregional cooperation of which the leading ones are ECOWAS in West Africa, SADC (which replaced SADCC) and COMESA (which followed the PTA) in southern and east Africa, CEAO-UMOA and UDEAC in the franc zone countries, SACU and CMA in the rand zone. There were also the branches of the big global institutions (such as BAD, a quasi branch of the World Bank) and other more minor institutions (the Mano River Union, the Community of the Great Lakes, the Inter-government committee for Sahel etc). It is worthwhile noting that the strongest seemingly regional institutions are those that are linked to either France or South Africa (before and after apartheid).

Immediately after the independence of its African colonies, France made sure that they remained within the franc zone structure whose rigid rules excluded any autonomy in the area of financial management. This is a colonial vestige doomed to extinction under the triple onslaught of the replacement of the franc by the Euro, liberal globalisation and African involutions. But if the system were to collapse, there is nothing that could replace it effectively, neither at the level of the countries concerned nor of the regions they are part of.

In southern Africa, the conventions that govern customs and monetary union between South Africa on the one hand, Lesotho and Swaziland on the other cannot be classified as regional cooperation because the imbalance between the dominant partner and the countries mentioned is so flagrant. SADCC which had been set up in the apartheid era to enable southern African countries to free themselves of their dependence on Pretoria, was itself transformed after the fall of apartheid into a new organisation (SADC) which now incorporates South Africa. But this new South Africa intends to pursue the same policies towards its neighbours over whom it has a huge industrial advantage. The question is will theys accept this unequal partnership indefinitely?

The results achieved by these African sub regional organisations of cooperation/integration are meagre to say the least. Trade has remained negligible and the intra-regional movement of capital inexistent. The latter adhesion of African countries to the principles of free trade espoused by the new WTO can only aggravate the deceptive spinoffs of “opening up trade”. The OAU’s economic role was diluted by virtue of Africa’s active participation (in the Non Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 at the UN), the establishment of a ‘common front’ representing the demands of the South as opposed to those of the North in the global economic order. Nonetheless, the OAU tried to convince member states to adopt development plans that would favour regional integration and industrialisation.

These dangers were quickly recognised by the World Bank – the famous Berg report (1981) was an immediate response to the Lagos Plan and has since become the bible of the World Bank, international cooperation institutions and governments. The only alternative offered by the Berg report was to continue the kind of “specialised development” based on Africa’s ‘natural’advantages, in other words to remain within the old formula of agro-mining. The weakness of the OAU’s proposal was their ignorance that its implementation required an active role of the state. However, the rent-owners who became the ruling classes in the African states concerned have neither the means nor probably the will to go down any other path other than the agro-mining sector from which they draw their wealth. ‘Regionalisation’in this condition is not at the centre of their concerns nor is it at that of the dominant forces in the global system. It is mere window dressing.

The European Union/ACP (Africa, the Carribean, and the Pacific countries)

The EEC-ACP grouping may occupy a minor positon on a global scale, but it has real importance when it comes to the analysis of the place of Africa in the world system.

From the outset, the aim of the Lome accords was not to use external relations to effect an economic, political and cultural transformation to the benefit of the African people but to reinforce Europe’s position in the world order, on the economic as well as geopolitical stage. In other words, the ‘development’ aspect was only secondary, less important than the political aspect. The goal above all was to support ‘’moderate’’governments and to encourage such tendencies elsewhere. This meant in effect to subvert nationalist aspirations which might have been tempted to use Cold War rivalry to their advantage.

In the neo-liberal era, the reorganisation of Euro-African relations has taken place within the framework of the WTO, thus consolidating the monopolies exercised by the power centres in crucial areas including the access to natural resources, the creation of new technologies as well as the monetary and financial system. From this perspective, the only use of regional associations is their capacity to provide the most profitable returns for multinational oligopolies. Resistance to this kind of thinking could develop in Africa for the following reasons: i) the regions and those countries unlikely to provide dividends are automatically excluded from the potential benefits of regionalisation, (ii) the growing polarisation and exclusion will generate further migrations which will be even more difficult to manage because neoliberalism bans the free circulation of workers, (iii) this plan implicitly integrates military alliances which makes recalcitrant countries from the South vulnerable. The way it has been conceived, the regionalisation of Euro-African relations is perfectly compatible with the management of internal conflicts that erupt in an Africa that has been marginalised by social disintegration.

It was clear that during the 1960s and 70s that the underlying thread beneath the various cooperation conventions between the EEC and African nations was the European concern to maintain its supply of tropical agricultural produce as well as mining and petroleum resources. In tune with the WTO rhetoric, Europe threw its weight behind the structural adjustment panacea that was being proclaimed as the universal economic cure. Local authorities sometimes tried to resist, because these policies were alienating much of their base, thereby undermining their legitimacy. However, the external debt burden and government corruption further reduced their capacity to fight back and to implement any corrective measures thus forcing them to submit to the daily orders from international institutions tasked with dealing with the crisis. The so-called “initiative for severely indebted poor nations” formulated by the World Bank and enforced by the European Union is part of the plan to recolonise the continent.

The fruits of this association are not sweet. The gap between per capita GDP in sub-Saharan Africa and that in other developing countries has been steadily increasing. Add to this the flight of capital from Africa abroad (the North, especially European) which overtook the amount of capital coming in, both public and private. Moreover, instead of the much vaunted redistribution of income, i.e. the trickle down effect, there was only more inequality which in turn resulted in a huge wastage of investments (because priority was given to expensive investments destined for the privileged classes).

The marginalisation of Africa in international investments is the final nail in the coffin – even though the European Union provides half the external financial needs of ACP countries, the proportion of aid could only be maintained by increasing the amount of public aid, while at the same time the opening up of African economies resulted in the disinvestment of private capital. Finally, the European Union doesn’t seem to have an environmental policy which takes into account the destruction of the environment in Africa. In the current negotiations between the European Union and ACP countries under the aegis of the Cotonou convention, ACP formulated the directives but the mandate was set down by the European Commission. According to a study commissioned by the Cotonou Monitoring Group conducted by the European Research Office, there are quite a few differences between the two sides but not on substantial issues. The negotiations focus on the modalities of the implementation of free trade zones with Europe from 2008, which presupposes an accelerated rate of intra-African economic integration. There is growing resistance to these projects (called APER) and which are so reminiscent of the colonial equation between Europe and Africa and voices are being raised with authority and resonance at African social forums and at the assemblies of peoples’ movements. This resistance has also echoed with some governments, especially Nigeria.

A defining characteristic of our times is the way agriculture is being transferred by the mounting penetration of international and local capitalism. In Africa, this pressure translates into dispossessing the majority of the continent’s farmers who still benefit, albeit in dramatic conditions, from access to land. The agrarian question (in the sense of access to land by all farmers) is at the heart of the challenge to marry democratisation and social progress. Imperialist capitalism is incapable of providing a solution to this crucial problem for societies in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The aim of the “land privatisation” model proposed or rather imposed is to maximise profits for transnational agro businesses such as Monsanto as well as more recently arrived local capitalist farmers. International “cooperation” encourages all initiatives that are geared to this objective and discourages any attempts to express the resistance of the farming majority.

This offensive to globalise agriculture marched in tandem with that of the WTO with fake promises that the markets of both the North and South would be opened up for trade of food and agricultural products. At the centre of the dispute between Northern countries (the USA and Europe are in total agreement over this despite some minor disputes) and the Global South is the issue of agricultural subsidies. Small wonder the WTO was at a total impasse in Doha. The sharp rise in prices of food products highlights the gravity of the underlying institutional drama.

The aim of major capitalist countries has always been to gain exclusive control of the globe’s principal resources including petrol and uranium and to prevent their competitors (China in particular today) from the same. This concern is at the heart of the “cooperation” accords between Europe and Africa. Niger for example has been flooded with “aid” aimed primarily at corrupting the government (and not because it is one of the poorest countries on the continent!) and to prevent a nationalist party from taking over the country and its uranium mines (controlled by the French Commission on Atomic Energy) located in a region situated between Algeria, Libya and Nigeria.

The rhetorical packaging of the discourse on Euro-African cooperation

On the one hand there is the usual mantra of democracy, good governance, poverty reduction, humanitarian aid, and on the other hand, the reality which consists of double standards. This has to do with finding ways to manage conflicts (and not co-development) which are a result of the deliberate exclusion of Africa from the concert of nations. NEPAD did not produce any results either, just another kind of rhetoric.

The alternative: South South cooperation in the perspective of delinking

If the Global South wants to go on the offensive it has to destroy the monopolies which are the means used by imperialism to perpetuate itself.

For the oligopolists of the new financial plutocracy to remain in power, they have to maintain control of the financial weapons through which they exercise their monopoly, both internally (which allows them to rake in substantial profits) and internationally (in order to keep the periphery submissive). The compulsive need for capitalist centres to retain exclusive control of the planet’s natural resources is simply not viable. It is put into question by the development of the South. The WTO’s attempts to monopolise technologies and information by reinforcing the industrial and intellectual property rights will certainly end in failure, if only because many Southern countries have mastered these new technologies. The South is not the same place as it was during the Bandung era, when it was totally devoid of any means of autonomous development. Today, it can easily outstrip the North and develop new kinds of cooperation, including in trade and technology. Bandung 2, whatever the form it might take, is already in the works.

Defeating imperialism with its new “advantages” means choosing an auto-centred development, delinked from the global system. Once again I do not mean this in the sense of an absurd and completely closed economy, but in the way I have defined it as the reject of submission to the pressures of external relations thus prioritising internal development and social progress. This is a non-negotiable precondition. Delinking can only be possible when the party in power (as opposed to comprador governments) benefits from the support of a genuine social base. This is as true today as it was in the past. Certainly, delinking has evolved over the years. In the Bandung period, it was synonymous with industrialisation within a strictly national framework, even in modestly sized countries. While it can remain national for continent-sized countries, it requires now other forms of intense regional cooperation between partners, based on complementarity for smaller nations. This is not a “common market” model, but rather one of associative partnerships with an economic dimension (planned, in the sense that peoples’ demands are incorporated into government policies). Alba is perhaps the first example of this kind of association.

What conclusions should one draw from this discussion?

A close look at developments in the countries discussed, the achievements appear meagre and that the expectations of the glorious struggles waged by their people were not met. The petite bourgeoisie in none of these countries has committed suicide, but has instead become the backbone of a pathetic comprador government, devoid of a political programme and under imperialist, especially European domination. Cabral tried mightily to avoid such an outcome and for this he amply deserves to be called one of the most audacious leaders of the first generation of African freedom fighters.

Cabral didn’t just put forward a facile theory on the ‘suicide of the petite bourgeoisie’ – he spelt out the conditions. For Cabral, the decisive role played by the peasantry in the anti-colonial war would lead to a massive social bloc bringing together peasant leaders and intellectuals, thereby neutralising as it were the passive segments of the petite bourgeoisie. Cabral didn’t just theorise, he actually implemented it in the liberated regions of Guinea Bissao.

Similarly, I perfectly understand the impulsions behind Cabral’s espousal of the ‘Guinea-Cape Verde one nation’ idea. Colonisation has always divided peoples, pit one ethnic group against the other. All liberation movements took the opposite position, rightly affirming the unity of the people. In this sense, the peoples of Guinea and Cape Verde were related peoples, united against a common enemy, ‘one people’ almost. However, the quasi negation of the diversity inherent in the African peoples inevitably had negative consequences. Because once the euphoria of independence had subsided, the politicians who emerged from the petite bourgeoisie which did not commit suicide proceeded to restore their image and substituted the development process which had lost credibility with a new legitimacy based on diversity, ethnic and other kinds.

The history of contemporary Africa is that of the battle between progressive forces, who from 1960 to 1975/80 (the Bandung era) wanted to rebuild their countries and for this reason chose an independent, potentially socialist path (Mali, Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Benin, Congo Brazza, Burkina Faso etc) and those forces on the side of neo-colonialism, backed by foreign powers. The liberation movements in the Portuguese colonies and Cabral’s philosophy and actions were at the forefront of progressive forces during that period. I have written about this battle in ‘L Eveil du Sud’ and at this juncture would like to recall the reasons why those movements ran out of steam, creating in the process the conditions for the re-colonisation that is still prevalent. Imperialism today needs Africa for its natural resources and the peoples of Africa mere impediments in the exploitation of that wealth.

Africa has to begin the second wave of liberation which can only advance if it two-pronged:

a) To embark on an audacious campaign of industrialisation which barely took root during the Bandung era

b) Ensure that this industrialisation goes in tandem with the reconstruction of a peasant economy based on the access of all to land.

And on these two points, Cabral’s thought has never been as relevant.


Samir Amin, L'éveil du Sud, chap 2 ; Le Temps des Cerises, Paris 2008.

S. Amin et alii, Afrique: Renaissance ou exclusion programmée; Maisonneuve et Larose,

Paris, 2005

Samir Amin, Contemporary imperialism and the Agrarian issue; Agrarian South; Sage,

Inaugural issue, 2012.

Yash Tandon, Enfinir avec la dépendance à l’aide ; Cetim, Genève 2009

(English : Pambazuka 2008)

Hein Marais, South Africa, Limits to Change, Zed 1996


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