Africa 2011: Year of mass upheaval, imperialist interventions Part I
Dec. 17 marks the anniversary of a year of uprisings, strikes, government resignations and regime change on the African continent. A resource-rich and strategically located geopolitical region, Africa has experienced numerous mass demonstrations, general strikes, rebellions and full-scale military assaults as part of a heightening global class struggle for control of the continent’s economic and political future.
In the North African state of Tunisia, 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on Dec. 17, 2010, after his vending business was shut down by the authorities in the city of Sidi Bouzid, purportedly because he did not have a license to sell on the street. This act of self-immolation led to mass demonstrations in the Western-backed state that eventually engulfed large sections of the country.
The demonstrations in Tunisia led to the resignation of longtime political leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14. President Ben Ali, who had headed the state for 24 years under the Rally for Constitutional Democracy ruling party, fled the country and is reported to have taken refuge in Saudi Arabia.
After continuing demonstrations and political debate, an election was held in late October. The majority of the votes went to the moderate Islamic party Ennahda, headed by Rachid Ghannouchi. Ghannouchi had lived in exile for many years and is considered a leading Islamic scholar in the region.
A Dec. 2 deadline has been set for the formation of a new government in Tunisia. The majority of the new ministries will be filled by members of the Ennahda and the secular center-left Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol parties. It is anticipated that the Ennahda secretary-general, Hamadi Jebali, will be the next prime minister.
According to Tunisia-live.net, “The key Ministries, namely those of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and that of Justice, are expected to be taken charge of by members of Ennahda. The moderate Islamic party actually insists that the Prime Minister be chosen among members of the party that disposes of the biggest number of seats — a request that has met vivid opposition among CPR and Ettakatol commissions.” (Nov. 27)
Left parties in Tunisia have participated in the new political situation by emerging as organizations that are allowed to operate openly. Most of the left organizations had been forced underground since the 1980s, when the Tunisian Communist Worker’s Party (PCOT) was formed.
At least a dozen other left formations have attempted to organize inside the country, and some of the groups have merged and formed coalitions to strengthen their ranks. The Revolutionary Communist Organization has reorganized itself as the Left Workers League (Ligue de la gauche ouvrière). Two Maoist groups, the Party of the Patriotic Democrats and the Movement of Patriotic Democrats, held a unification conference in April after the fall of Ben Ali.
PCOT is perhaps the most well-known of the left parties in Tunisia. Its leader, Hamma Hammami, spent years in prison under the RCD government. The PCOT won three seats in the new Constituent Assembly.
A center-left formation, the Progressive Democratic Party, led by the only significant woman in Tunisian politics, Maya Jribi, was expected to come in second in the national elections but instead landed in fourth place. Jribi said that the PDP would continue as an opposition party.
Tunisia’s trade union federation, the UGTT, played a significant role in the demonstrations that led to the fall of Ben Ali. However, its role in the future political dispensation of the country still remains to be seen.
Egypt erupts on eve of national elections
On Nov. 19, thousands of youth entered Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest the desire of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to remain in charge of the political transition process in the North African state of Egypt. Tahrir Square was the center of nationwide demonstrations that began on Jan. 25 and resulted in the resignation of longtime U.S.-backed dictator president, Hosni Mubarak.
Since the Mubarak government collapse, revolutionary democratic forces have held consistent demonstrations claiming that the struggle was being subverted by the role of the Supreme Military Council. The character of Egyptian foreign policy in relation to a peace treaty with the state of Israel has also been a major source of anger and frustration among broad sectors of the population.
Elections for parliamentary seats began on Nov. 28 with long lines in the capital of Cairo, where voters complained of delays of up to four hours. The SCAF insisted that the elections go forward despite eight days of mass demonstrations that preceded the elections and resulted in the deaths of more than 40 people.
Most political analysts predict that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party will win the majority of seats in the new parliament. The Brotherhood was split over participation in the recent demonstrations. However, despite the absence of the official parent body, youth members did play a leading role.
The New York Times reported, “At some polling places, teams of Brotherhood members wearing the insignia of the Freedom and Justice Party were on hand to help maintain security, and they could be seen performing services like escorting elderly women to specially designated lines.” Although large sections of the population appear to have gravitated to the election process amid mass demonstrations demanding the liquidation of ultimate political control by the SCAF, Field Marshal General Mohamed Hussein Tantawi declared on Nov. 27 that “the position of the armed forces will remain as it is — it will not change in any new constitution.” (Nov. 28)
Another North African state that experienced mass demonstrations over the last year, Morocco, recently held a nationwide election in which a moderate Islamist Party came out victoriously. The Justice and Development Party (PJD) won 107 seats out of 395. King Mohammed VI must therefore select the next prime minister from the ranks of the PJD.
The Istiqlal Party, a decades-long opponent of the monarchy, finished second with 60 seats won. The Socialist Union of Popular Forces had formed an alliance with the Party of Progress and Socialism, and consequently won 30 seats in the new parliament.
Economic crisis underlies political turmoil in North Africa
The political developments in North Africa are not taking place in a vacuum. The uprisings are a response to massive unemployment and poverty. In Tunisia and Egypt, unemployment is extremely high, and the neocolonialist relationship of both countries with the imperialist states has failed to provide any benefits for the majority of the population.
In Morocco, the situation is quite similar and will in all likelihood continue, in the face of the failure of the left to win a dominant position within the new political arrangements. At the same time, the role of the U.S. military in Egypt and Morocco will continue to be an impediment to the social development of the region.
With the overthrow of the Moammar Gadhafi government in Libya, the U.S.’s Africa Command (Africom) has been emboldened. The stage is set for greater exploitation of the resources of the region. Despite these changes, the situation will remain unstable and volatile.
Recently, the Tunisian government was forced to cancel flights to Libya due to threats posed by the armed “rebel” groups, which were sponsored by the U.S. and NATO in the toppling of the government in Tripoli. The capture and killing of Gadhafi and four of his sons will ensure the continuation of conflict inside of Libya, which has Africa’s largest known oil reserves.
Even the Wall Street Journal admitted, in relationship to Egypt, that “the turbulent protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak scared off tourists and foreign investors alike. And the new military leadership, which reversed many of the economic liberalization gains in favor of populist policies intended to boost social stability, did little to instill new confidence.” (Nov. 28)
The worsening of the economic crisis in numerous European countries and the U.S. will continue to send shock waves into North Africa and the Middle East. Only the popular organization of the masses of workers, youth and farmers and the formation of governments that serve their interests can provide the possibility of an economic reversal and foster genuine security, stability and development.
Africa 2011: Year of Mass Upheaval, Imperialist Interventions, Part II
World capitalist crisis at root of growing social unrest
Although the United States and its NATO allies have intensified their military operations on the African continent, the unequal distribution of wealth and economic power between the imperialist states and the oppressed post-colonial nations has continued to spark mass demonstrations and rebellions in various geo-political regions on the continent. The war against Libya represented the first major operation of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) which was formed in 2008.
However, this intervention was met by formidable resistance on the part of the people of this oil-producing North African state. It took six months for the war to drive the Libyan government from the capital of Tripoli and another two months to take the Jamahiriya strongholds of Sirte and Bani Walid.
Rebel forces patched together under the banner of the National Transitional Council (NTC) could not have toppled the Libyan government of Col. Muammar Gaddafi if it had not been for the combined airstrikes, naval blockades, economic sanctions and the deployments of intelligence operatives and special forces from the Western countries and their allies in the region. Nonetheless, this massive bombing of Libya, the murder of thousands of its citizens and the seizure of its national wealth cannot ensure its stability for imperialism as resistance to these neo-colonial designs continues.
Camp Lemonier: The US-French Military Base in the Horn of Africa
In the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, a former French colony, the United States and France maintains a military base with at least 6,500 troops being stationed there. Both the U.S. and France are operating in neighboring Somalia as leading forces in a combined effort to liquidate the Al-Shabaab Islamic resistance movement that has been designated as “terrorist” and an affiliate of al-Qaeda. The Kenyan Defense Forces have sent ground troops into Somalia and they are being supported by Ethiopia, the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) troops, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) soldiers that are financed by the U.S. with these African troops being supported from the air and sea by the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, the French military and drones deployed by the State of Israel.
Despite the strong presence of French and U.S. troops in Djibouti, the country erupted in February with widespread social unrest. Reports of mass demonstrations and rebellions resulted in government repression leaving several people dead and injured.
The military alliance between Djibouti’s government and the U.S. and France has not brought economic benefits to this country of less than one million people with a gross domestic product of only $982 million. The country’s strategic interest for imperialist states lies in its location on the Red Sea which is one of the world’s most lucrative shipping lanes.
According to Bloomberg, “Inflation in Djibouti accelerated to 6.5 percent in October as health costs and the prices of some foods increased….The inflation rate climbed from 4 percent in September, the Djibouti City-based agency said in an e-mailed statement on December 5. Prices rose 0.5 percent in the month, it said. Health costs advanced 2.7 percent, as prices of vegetable jumped 7.3 percent from September….” (Bloomberg, Dec. 5)
In November it was announced that Djibouti will become more directly involved in the current war against Somalia with the possible deployment of so-called peacekeeping troops to join AMISOM in Mogadishu. The country has also been the location for the training of the U.S.-backed Somalia TFG military forces as well as hosting “reconciliation” talks for the country that has not had an internationally-recognized government in over two decades.
Defense Professional website says that “Djibouti is seeking to play a stabilizing role in the frequently tense regional politics of the Horn of Africa.” (defpro.com, Nov. 8) However, objectively the government is being utilized in the imperialist aims of establishing broader political and military influence in Africa.
Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast: The Legacy of French Imperialism
In two other former French colonies in West Africa, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, the impact of the world economic crisis and increased militarism has been clearly illustrated. In Burkina Faso between February and April, the western-allied regime of President Blaise Compaore was forced to place the country under curfew after a mutiny within the armed forces and the police accompanied nationwide protests in response to the rising cost of living.
The French Press Agency (AFP) reported on April 28 that “Koudougou, located 100km west of Ouagadougou (the capital), was the birthplace of a wave of protests in the country two months ago, placing growing pressure on Compaore, who has been in power for 24 years. The first protest in Koudougou took place on February 22 when students took to the streets, saying a school pupil said to have died of meningitis was in fact tortured and killed in police custody.” (AFP, April 28)
This same AFP article also pointed out that “Allegations of police impunity, torture and cover-ups and the high cost of living have fuelled mounting protests by all sectors of the population against Compaore’s regime…. The country is also beset by woeful social conditions, with much of the 16 million-strong population living on barely $1 a day, while prices of basic goods continue to rise.”
The unrest in Burkina Faso led to President Compaore dismissing his government’s cabinet. Nevertheless, without a major restructuring of the political and economic relations with France and the imperialist states in general, there will be no real progress for the majority of workers, farmers and unemployed inside the country.
Developments in Ivory Coast exposed the escalating French military aggression on the African continent. Taking advantage of a months-long dispute over the results of a run-off presidential election between Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo, the French and the U.S. sided with Ouattara and sought to remove Gbago, the incumbent, from office under the guise of international law.
After Gbagbo was overthrown and captured by French paratroopers in April, he has subsequently been kidnapped and transported to a detention facility in Ivory Coast and eventually to The Hague, where he is slated to be tried for supposed war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has exclusively focused on the harassment, persecution and indictment of African leaders such as President Omar Hussein al-Bashir of Sudan and the martyred Col. Muammar Gaddafi and members of his family and government.
Ironically after the massive bombing of Libya and the overthrowing of its government, the ICC has suddenly abandoned its plans to place on trial Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Muammar Gaddafi and his heir apparent. Seif was captured by the western-backed rebel forces in November and a recent visit by the ICC chief prosecutor to Libya resulted in an announcement that the imperialist-installed rebels would be allowed to prosecute Seif and to also seek the death penalty in the event that he is found guilty of purported “war crimes.”
The ICC has been widely condemned by various governmental and mass organizations in Africa for its targeting of continental leaders and organizations and the refusal by the Netherlands-based entity to hold the imperialists accountable for numerous war crimes in Africa and throughout the world. Over the last year the U.S., France, Britain and Israel along with other NATO states, have been responsible for the killing of thousands of Africans in Libya, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Sudan.
Malawi and South Africa: The Sub-Continent on the Brink
Two countries in Southern Africa, Malawi and South Africa, have experienced escalating labor and popular upheavals over the last year. The two states have very different economic relations of production but both are still heavily integrated into the world capitalist system.
Malawi is considered one of the least developed countries in Africa while South Africa has the largest economy on the continent and is the most industrialized with the strongest organized working class. Both states have a history of British colonialism and U.S. economic involvement since the 19th century.
In Malawi during late July, 18 people were reported killed in two days of mass unrest stemming from the impact of the capitalist crisis. The initial protests were in response to fuel shortages, the escalation of prices for basic food stuffs and other commodities as well as extremely high unemployment.
In the northern cities of Karongo and Mzuzu where 10 people were killed, protesters ransacked the offices of President Bingu wa Mutharika’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In the capital of Lilongwe and the southern commercial center of Blantyre, police and army troops fired teargas into the crowds to break up demonstrations.
Part of the unrest in Malawi can be attributed to its strained relations with Britain that resulted in the expulsion of London’s ambassador after revelations surfaced of involvement of the former colonial power in the country’s internal affairs. Britain later expelled the Malawian ambassador to the UK and suspended $550 million in foreign aid over a period of four years.
In South Africa, trade unions engaged in massive strikes that brought hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets during August. Various industries were hit by the work stoppages including the public sector, mining, electricity, fuel, postal services, telecommunications and platinum.
The militancy of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and other labor federations were reflected in the demands for wage increases of up to 18 percent. South Africa ended the racist apartheid system in 1994 after centuries of struggle against settler colonialism, yet the economy is still largely-controlled by European capitalists allied with western-based transnational corporations.
Strikes and other industrial unrest resulted in the loss of $200 million in production output by the middle of 2011. The ANC government’s political base is rooted in the trade union movement and therefore the ruling party is under tremendous pressure to both maintain popular support as well as keep foreign capitalist investors interested in continuing their involvement in the country.
The Globe & Mail noted in August that “Partly because of the frequent labor unrest, South Africa’s mining industry is widely seen as more unstable and more expensive than others in the developing world, and the latest strikes will add to that perception. Strike settlements in the mining sector have provided wage increases of 7 to 10 percent.
These developments in various regions of the continent indicate that there are close connections between the rising economic crisis in Europe and North America with instability and increasing poverty in the post-colonial states. Consequently, the nations of Africa will be forced to seek solutions outside the world capitalist system which provides no models for genuine development in Africa.
Africa 2011: Year of Mass Upheaval, Imperialist Interventions, Part III
From the Durban climate change conference to the ZANU-PF Conference, Africa seeks a way out of global crisis
A very important conference on climate change took place in Durban, South Africa during early December. COP 17 was sponsored by the United Nations and was billed as an event that would bring all states and regions together to hammer out a new agreement for limiting the rapid pace of global warming which many cite as the cause of the escalating problems of natural disasters, droughts and the mounting food deficits.
On December 11 it was announced that a new agreement had been reached but that it would not be clearly spelled out until 2015 and not implemented until 2020. This outcome of the Durban conference was almost predictable considering the conflicting interests of the industrialized capitalist states and the newly-emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, among others.
What was generally not covered in Durban was the mass mobilizations led by trade unionists, community activists and youth who held a “counter-summit” in what was called a “People’s Space” on the hill at KwaZulu-Natal University. It was from this location that the Global Action Day demonstration was organized which marched to the COP 17 Conference to take a grassroots agenda related to the social concerns of working people and the oppressed.
This “People’s Space” took up the question of mass unemployment and related it to the need to save the environment. A large number of youth with university education attended in an effort to get a clearer understanding as to why they have been rendered to joblessness and low-wage employment.
According to Mike Loewe in relationship to the atmosphere prevailing in the discussions held outside the official COP 17 deliberations, “The issue of climate change is in the air that moves the room. It links everyone and everything. Nobody is allowed to get into their technical box; this is about capitalist psychos, that one percent of greedy, corporate polluters who laud it over the 99 percent, who lobby and bully to prevent any deviation from the keeping their hands on that filthy lucre.” (RDNA, Dec. 4)
The conclusion of the “People’s Space” discussions was that the transnational corporations and the western capitalist states are to blame for the destruction of the environment and its consequent social impact. Lowe says that the activists have noted “Until the masses of people—that 99 percent of humanity—rise up and demand at least one million climate change jobs, the corporates will simply carry on.”
This same article continues pointing out that “The COP 17 conference is dismissed as a done deal, sealed long before the leaders arrived in Durban. Corporate lobbyists and weak or collaborative political leaders have already happily agreed to ‘do nothing at all’ for at least a decade.”
The conference in Durban once again raised the issue of creating a fund of billions of dollars that will assist the developing countries to work toward cleaner energy sources. Yet no firm targets were established and as a result if things do not radically change, Damian Carrington of the Guardian predicts that the failure to act “ensures beyond doubt that our children will be worse off than we have been.” (theweek.com, Dec. 12)
Impact of Climate Change on the Continent
In East Africa there has been drought that created famine in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. These problems of food deficits have escalated tensions inside of all of these countries prompting a Kenyan and Ethiopian invasion of Somalia that is supported by the United States, France and Israel.
In West Africa trees are dying due to lack of rainfall and this impacts water resources, agriculture, food production and distribution. One of the hardest hit areas is the Sahel, which was the focus of a recent study that will be published on December 16 in the Journal of Arid Environments.
Patrick Gonzalez, the lead author of the study, says that “Rainfall in the Sahel has dropped 20-30 percent in the 20th century, the world’s most severe long-term drought since measurements from rainfall gauges began in the mid-1800s. Previous research already established climate change as the primary cause of the drought, which has overwhelmed the resilience of the trees.” (eurekalert.org, Dec. 12)
In this region people need trees for their very survival. Gonzalez notes that “Trees provide people with food, firewood, building materials and medicine.”
The author of this forthcoming study who is based at the University of California at Berkeley, also points out that “We in the U.S. and other industrialized nations have it in our power, with current technologies and practices, to avert more drastic impacts around the world by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Our local actions can have global consequences.”
Nonetheless, Africa’s climate change negotiator at Durban, Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, stressed that “We don’t want Durban to be the graveyard of the Kyoto Protocol,” that set standards for the reduction of pollutants which had been rejected by the U.S. “One billion Africans are suffering from the climate change phenomenon, to which they did not contribute.” (ethjournal.com, Dec. 9)
Yet the conference in Durban created a separate agreement that will allow the Kyoto Protocol to expire in 2012. The problems associated with climate change can only be addressed through mass political actions that hold the corporations and governments accountable for their actions.
One new development is that South Africa will host the first climate change observatory scheduled to open in 2014. The observatory is being constructed in Cape Town and will monitor and “present complex information about global climate change in a relevant, accessible and understandable manner.” (esi-africa.com, Dec. 12)
People in Africa are very concerned about this and are willing to take action. Nighat Amin, who is the vice-president of the International Polar Foundation, that educates the public on polar science and research, says that “There is a willingness here to actually do something about climate change. In other parts of the world there were vested interests, but in South Africa we found that people want to get involved.”
Zimbabwe Fights Sanctions With Mobilization and Nationalization
In neighboring Zimbabwe this Southern African state has been battling U.S., U.K. and EU sanctions for over a decade in response to a massive land redistribution program that returned white-owned farms to indigenous Africans who were colonized beginning in the late 19th century. The ruling party which led the nation to national independence in 1980, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) held its annual National People’s Conference in Bulawayo between December 6-10.
The outcome of the conference in Bulawayo was to enhance the process of “indigenization” which allows the government to seize land and other resources for the benefit of the majority of the population. A December 10 article in the state-owned Zimbabwe Herald stated that “According to the Central Committee report presented by President Mugabe on December 8 to the party’s 12th Annual National People’s Conference here, there are 198 white-owned farms which the department (Land Reform, Resettlement and Agriculture) wants gazetted.” (Herald)
This Central Committee report indicated that “land redistribution was a continuous process and “the Government must continue the process to address the needs of deserving people.” Also the Herald reported that “there were still some white former commercial farmers who were refusing to vacate gazetted land.”
ZANU-PF is preparing to hold elections next year on the future of the country. As a result of the sanctions imposed by the imperialist states, the party formed an inclusive unity government with the western-backed Movement for Democratic Change factions in 2008.
However, the holding of national elections will eliminate the Government of National Unity now in place in Zimbabwe. ZANU-PF feels it is in a position politically to sweep the elections based on its land redistribution program that provided farms to 400,000 families.
The country has endured the sanctions and other destabilization efforts through its close working alliance with South Africa which has refused to blockade the country and deny energy resources as demanded by the West. Also Zimbabwe has close ties with the People’s Republic of China that has defended the government within the United Nations Security Council in the face of additional threats of sanctions.
ZANU-PF foreign policy is centered on the notion of “Look East,” which is designed to increase trade relations with countries in Africa and Asia. Zimbabwe has some of the largest deposits of diamonds in the world and there has been a struggle with the imperialist states who have attempted to block the nation from selling its gems on the international market.
Imperialist Interventions Cannot Bring Development and Democracy
U.S. imperialism and its allies often claim that they are intervening in Africa to protect civilians and to foster security and democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth since the history of colonialism and neo-colonialism has served to suppress the legitimate aspirations and needs of the majority of people within society.
Any development project initiated or supported by the imperialist states is only designed to make profit for the capitalist class. The U.S. has never supported any genuine liberation movement in Africa and has always worked to prevent the right of oppressed peoples to self-determination and sovereignty.
Two excellent examples during 2011 are the destabilization efforts in Ivory Coast and Somalia. In Ivory Coast, the U.S. supported the French plan to remove Laurent Gbagbo from political office and the deportation of this African leader to the Netherlands to stand trial on trumped-up charges of war crimes.
Although Ivory Coast held parliamentary elections on December 10, the polls were boycotted by the party of ousted President Laurent Gbagbo. The situation inside this country, which is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, remains volatile.
In Somalia, under the guise of fighting “terrorism,” the U.S.-backed governments in Kenya and Ethiopia have invaded the country. Shabelle Media Network noted on December 10 that “Fighter jets were reported to have hit an Islamist militant stronghold town located in the southern-war ravaged Somalia on December 10.” (Shabelle)
U.S. drones and French bombs will not bring peace and stability to Somalia or Ivory Coast. Even the Council on Foreign Relations author Bronwyne E. Bruton wrote in an essay advocating for the withdrawal of the West from Somalia said that it was “Utterly unsurprising that Kenya and /or Ethiopia would want to get in on the act. The international war against the Shabaab could provide them with a handsome Western subsidy for setting up shop in the country and—one assumes—forcibly setting up their proxies.” (New York Times, Dec. 9)
Nonetheless, Africa has a long history of resisting slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism and the current wave of U.S. and French military interventions will be met with fierce resistance and the failure of the imperialists and their allies to achieve victory. In relationship to Kenya, the military debacle in southern Somalia has prompted the government to join in with the efforts of AMISOM which has been fighting to prop-up the puppet Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.
Africa must break with world imperialism and build societies that place the interests of the people above those of the transnational corporations and the western-based financial institutions. It is through this process that genuine peace, development and security will be realized.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of Pan-African News Wire , an international electronic press service designed to foster intelligent discussion on the affairs of African people throughout the continent and the world. The press agency was founded in January of 1998 and has published thousands of articles and dispatches in newspapers, magazines, journals, research reports, blogs and websites throughout the world. The PANW represents the only daily international news source on pan-african and global affairs. To contact him, click on this link >> Email