From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sun Sep 11 2011 - 18:18:02 EDT
A war on Africa
Touted as part of a war of liberation, NATOs intervention in Libya aims to
stymie moves to strengthen African unity and independence, writes Dan
Glazebrook from London
8 - 14 September 2011
Africa the key to global economic growth: this was a refreshingly honest
recent headline from the Washington Post, but hardly one that qualifies as
news. African labour and resources, as any decent economic historian will
tell you, have been the key to global economic growth for centuries.
When the Europeans discovered America 500 years ago, their economic system
went viral. Increasingly, European powers realised that the balance of power
at home would be dictated by the strength they were able to draw from their
colonies abroad. Imperialism (aka capitalism) has been the fundamental
hallmark of the worlds economic structure ever since.
For Africa, this has meant non-stop subjection to an increasingly systematic
plunder of people and resources that has been unrelenting to this day. First
was the brutal kidnapping of tens of millions of Africans to replace the
indigenous American workforce that had been wiped out by the Europeans. The
slave trade was devastating for African economies, which were rarely able to
withstand the population collapse; but the capital it created for plantation
owners in the Caribbean laid the foundations for Europes industrial
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, as more and more precious raw
materials were found in Africa (especially tin, rubber, gold and silver),
the theft of land and resources ultimately resulted in the so-called
Scramble for Africa of the 1870s, when, over the course of a few years,
Europeans divided up the entire continent (with the exception of Ethiopia)
amongst themselves. By this point, the worlds economy was increasingly
becoming an integrated whole, with Africa continuing to provide the basis
for European industrial development as Africans were stripped of their land
and forced down gold mines and onto rubber plantations.
After World War II, the European powers, weakened by years of unremitting
industrial slaughter of each other, contrived to adapt colonialism to the
new conditions in which they found themselves. As national liberation
movements grew in strength, the European powers confronted a new economic
reality the cost of subduing the restless natives was starting to near the
level of wealth they were able to extract from them.
Their favoured solution was what former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah
termed neo-colonialism handing over the formal attributes of political
sovereignty to a trusted bunch of hand-picked cronies who would allow the
economic exploitation of their countries to continue unabated. In other
words, the idea was to adapt colonialism so that Africans themselves would
be forced to shoulder the burden and cost of policing their own populations.
In practice, it wasnt that simple. All across Asia, Africa and Latin
America, mass movements began to demand control of their own resources, and
in many places these movements managed to gain power sometimes through
guerrilla struggle, sometimes through the ballot box. This led to vicious
wars by the European powers now under the leadership of their upstart
protégé, the USA to destroy such movements. This struggle, not the so-
called Cold War, is what defined the history of post-war international
So far, neo-colonialism has largely been a successful project for the
Europeans and the US. Africas role as a provider of cheap, often slave,
labour and minerals has largely continued unabated. Poverty and disunity
have been the essential ingredients that have allowed this exploitation to
continue. However, both are now under serious threat.
Chinese investment in Africa over the past ten years has been building up
African industry and infrastructure in a way that may begin to tackle the
continents poverty. In China, these policies have brought about
unprecedented reductions in poverty and have helped to lift the country into
the position it will shortly hold as the worlds leading economic power. If
Africa follows this model, or anything like it, the Wests 500-year plunder
of Africas wealth may be nearing a close.
To prevent this threat of African development, the Europeans and the USA
have responded in the only way they know how militarily. Four years ago, the
US set up a new command and control centre for the military subjugation of
Africa, called AFRICOM. The problem for the US was that no African country
wanted to host them; indeed, until very recently, Africa was unique in being
the only continent in the world without a US military base. And this fact is
in no small part thanks to the efforts of the Libyan government.
Before Gaddafis revolution deposed the British-backed King Idris in 1969,
Libya had hosted one of the worlds biggest US airbases, the Wheelus Air
Base; but within a year of the revolution, it had been closed down and all
foreign military personnel expelled.
More recently, Gaddafi had been actively working to scupper AFRICOM. African
governments that were offered money by the US to host a base were typically
offered double by Gaddafi to refuse it, and in 2008 this ad hoc opposition
crystallised in a formal rejection of AFRICOM by the African Union (AU).
Perhaps even more worrying for US and European domination of the continent
were the huge resources that Gaddafi was channelling into African
development. The Libyan government was by far the largest investor in
Africas first-ever satellite, launched in 2007, which freed Africa from $500
million per year in payments to European satellite companies.
Even worse for the colonial powers, Libya had allocated $30 billion for the
African Unions three big financial projects, aimed at ending African
dependence on western finance. The African Investment Bank, with its
headquarters in Libya, was to invest in African development without charging
interest, which would have seriously threatened the International Monetary
Funds domination of Africa a crucial pillar for keeping Africa in its
Gaddafi was also leading the AUs development of a new gold-backed African
currency, which would have cut yet another of the strings that keep Africa
at the mercy of the West, with $42 billion already allocated to this project
again, much of it by Libya.
NATOs war is aimed at ending Libyas trajectory as a socialist, anti-
imperialist, pan-Africanist nation in the forefront of moves to strengthen
African unity and independence. The rebels have made clear their virulent
racism from the very start of their insurrection, rounding up or executing
thousands of black African workers and students. All the African development
funds for the projects described above have been frozen by the NATO
countries and are to be handed over to their hand-picked buddies in the
rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) to spend instead on weapons to
facilitate their war.
For Africa, the war is far from over. The African continent must recognise
that NATOs lashing out is a sign of desperation, of impotence, of its
inability to stop the inevitable rise of Africa onto the world stage. Africa
must learn lessons from Libya, continue the drive towards pan-African unity,
and continue to resist AFRICOM. Plenty of Libyans will still be with them
when they do so.
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