With the musical monstrosity that is Band Aid 30 in the charts, the image of Africa as a helpless victim saved only by the kindly condescension of the West is back again.
Different words, same old tune.
The portrayal of the continent, with its rainbow of cultures and civilisations, as unavoidably ravaged by war and famine, incapable of self-government except in the most corrupt and dictatorial of forms, is one as old as colonialism itself. Africa’s salvation, we are led to believe, lies in the tough love of the Western powers.
The great virtue of this Communist Party pamphlet is its clear message that genuine and long-lasting solutions for Africa are in the hands of Africans themselves. It shows that the continent’s very real challenges of poverty and development, far from being the inevitable results of natural disasters, are intimately linked to centuries of colonial pillage and more modern methods of financial and resource exploitation imposed from outside.
Effectively a sequel to the previous CPB pamphlet Africa and British Imperialism Today, The New Scramble for Africa broadens out that internationalist perspective by analysing the role of ever-interventionist French imperialism, like Britain a junior partner to the US in these endeavours, and of course the US itself.
Produced by the party’s international commission, the writers have done a commendable job in exposing the myth of food insecurity by outlining the rapacious strategies of agribusiness spearheaded by US monopolies such as Monsanto which create economic and environmental threats to the region’s farming communities.
The pamphlet deals with the complexities of South Africa with admirable directness and detail, showing how the pro-business orientation of the ANC leadership under former president Thabo Mbeki laid the grounds both for grassroots disaffection with the ANC and the exploitation of its difficulties by superficial populism, highlighted by the clashes and killings at Marikana.
The pamphlet’s analysis of the multilayered character of the current South African situation is solid and avoids simplifications common elsewhere.
There’s a fascinating case study on the west African state of Sierra Leone and its mining industry, and also an overview of the place of central Africa and the Indian Ocean coastal regions in the strategies of the US.
China’s engagement with Africa, hugely controversial and misrepresented, is dealt with factually rather than dogmatically.
The pamphlet is a statistical treasure trove and we learn for example that, despite an official unemployment level of 9 per cent across the continent, only 28 per cent of all Africans have stable wage-paying jobs. The underlying cause is made clear — the deliberate process of deindustrialisation generated by structural adjustment programmes and similar schemes.
If there are criticisms of the pamphlet to be made, it is perhaps that it would have required a book rather than a pamphlet to do full justice to the topics and countries covered. Perhaps, in time, the authors should be encouraged to write just that.
In the meantime, and with all due respect to Saint Geldof and his disciples, solidarity not charity is truly the greatest gift. Read this pamphlet and find out why.