The on-going wars which have plagued Africa for over two decades have been further fuelled by the fact that each time
imperialism tries to intervene, directly or indirectly, in order to try to resolve one problem, it ends up creating a whole
series of new imbalances and new problems which, in turn, require a new intervention and fuel new wars.
This is not specific to Africa, since it was just as much the main factor leading to the war in Iraq and the reason for the
continuation of the occupation of Afghanistan for so many years. Rather, it is a feature of imperialism itself, because
imperialism is nothing but a system of world domination against the world's populations. In order to maintain its rule, it
needs regimes which will serve its needs - and whose personnel is therefore made up by characters willing to be bribed by
positions, status and money. It needs to provide them with heavy weaponry so that they can control their deprived populations.
So not only are such regimes utterly parasitic, but they are potentially dangerous, even for imperialism, in that they can fit
requirements at one point, but get too big for their boots at a later point, as did the Pakistani army at various times in
history, Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait and the erratic Gaddafi, who proved so unreliable - to name just a few.
Of course, since the disastrous intervention of US troops in Somalia in 1992, western troops are less often sent to intervene
directly to "solve problems" for imperialism. Now they tend to get African Union troops and UN troops to do the job, as in
Darfur in the Sudan. There were exceptions in the period though - when the British sent crack troops to Sierra Leone in 2002 to
restore the pliable Kabbah to power or when the French intervened in Ivory Coast, several times in the past few years, to defend
their own corporate interests.
The Middle East is, on the other hand, a special case because of the strategic importance of oil - which explains the many
direct western interventions in the past. But given the disaster that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned into, it was
maybe a little surprising that France, Britain and the US intervened in Libya last year to help insurgents oust Gadaffi. Then
again, the states of the imperialist countries are not prepared to leave the interests of their respective bourgeoisies to the
tender mercies of an oppressed population which has had enough and taken up weapons.
Of course they have just created more problems as a result. Libya is unlikely to reach any kind of political equilibrium in the
short to medium term - the Pandora's box has been opened - who knows when or how it will be shut. In the meantime all manner of
gremlins are on the loose - including those of the religious reactionaries who threaten women's rights. This all goes to show
how blindly reactive the imperialist system is - and how incapable it is of long term strategy - if only because of the
fragmented and short-term political structures it has erected to defend its interests. And which are now rusted and no longer
even operating properly, even for their own purposes.
Anyway, many indirect interventions continue around the world - as with the Somalia conference hosted just this week by Cameron
and Hilary Clinton. Despite the strategic importance of Somalia at the entrance to the Red Sea, opposite Yemen, the fact that
there had not been a stable government in place in Somalia (or Somaliland and Puntland) since the early 1990s was of little
concern to the imperialists. Not until the shipping routes started to be seriously threatened by the on-going and highly
successful piracy conducted by ex-fisherman whose livelihoods had been confiscated by Thai and Taiwanese factory fishing ships.
And not until the so-called Al Shabaab Islamic insurgents began to make gains - their recruitment helped by US-backed Ethiopian
incursions into Somali territory! Almost 20 years of war across the territory has made for an on-going human disaster.
The independence of South Sudan which was recognised last July - is hardly installed and war already threatens to break out
again between Khartoum and Juba (the new Southern capital), over the division of oil revenue and production. Juba has now shut
down its main oil pipeline to Port Sudan in the north. But even though it has plans to build another through Kenya, this means
oil cannot flow for the time being.
The Lords Resistance Army which began to massacre, amputate and rape in Uganda in the 1990s now operates in the border area of
South Sudan (and the east Congo) and is another source of death and destruction for the local populations. The origin of the
LRA seems to be such profound and chronic deprivation of everything, that it has reduced people to the brutal madness of killing
and maiming and inducing others, including the children it kidnaps, to do the same. But of course this practice isn't new -
such horrors were carried out by the RUF in Sierra Leone as well, even if they at least had the immediate objective of political
power at the time.
Sierra Leone may no longer be the poorest country in Africa, but it is still near the bottom of the league tables with 60% of
the population in severe poverty following 30 years of civil war. It has not recovered an economy to speak of, since the
installation of a western-friendly regime in 2002. 49% of the population relies on subsistence farming. Corruption is rife
despite all kinds of decrees to try to stop it, more recently under Ernest Koroma, president since 2008. The legacy of the war
is still evident in the thousands of surviving amputees who are still without prosthetic limbs and have little hope of getting
them. The literacy rate today remains abysmal, at 41.4%, and only 30% of kids are immunized against disease. Life expectancy
(even in the context of a low HIV infection rate for Africa of 1.6%) is just 48 years. But never mind, because the diamond
industry, and the rutile-titanium mines are proving very lucrative for foreign interests - the latter being owned by a
consortium of US and European investors. And now offshore oil has been discovered by another consortium involving a British,
Australian, US and Spanish consortium. In 2010 an SEZ was opened in Freetown operated by the US company "First Step" and a
plant has been completed which will process fruit for export. The 60% of the population suffering hunger will, of course, have
to wait for the trickle-down effect...
Nigeria is another case altogether, but one which also is utterly perverse. Here, a national mobilisation of the population
just caused President Goodluck Jonathan to back down on the removal of fuel subsidies which would have doubled the price of
petrol. Yes, this oil rich country has a population which lives in fuel poverty, its oil being more or less "for export only"!
Much of domestic supply comes from illegal smuggled oil sold in of jerry cans along the main roads.
And while Nigeria's own oil production doesn't fuel its economy, it certainly is fuelling a worsening guerilla war in the
oil-producing Delta region where not only is the environment probably irreparably destroyed by the oil exploitation of the US's
Exxon and Britain's Shell and BP, but the local population is being driven to desperation.
Despite having large reserves of natural gas that can fire thermal plants, the country’s electricity supply and service is
among the world’s worst, with half of the 160m population lacking access to the grid. Peak output is little over 4,000MW,
with per capita consumption just 3% that of South Africa, Nigeria’s rival for the continent’s biggest economy. Frequent
blackouts mean that most of Nigeria’s power comes from privately owned petrol and diesel generators, as in many other African
countries - but most of those don't produce oil. Now Goodluck Jonathan wants to make the population pay for modernising
Nigeria's electricity through privatisation - and to attract buyers, intends to increase electricity prices by 88% - if he can
get away with it. But that seems very unlikely, judging from the mood of the population shown over the last months during
strikes and demos.
In the meantime, poverty and desperation has driven some Nigerians in the north to join fanatical religious groups - both
Christian and Islamic - the latest being Boko Haram which is beginning to stage systematic terrorist attacks throughout the
country. In an attack on Kano, Nigeria’s second-biggest city, on January 20, more than 180 people were killed when militants
co-ordinated a strike on 8 separate targets. It looks as if things can only get worse unless the recent mobilisation of the
population and the working class finds the kind of political programme and unity that would be able to provide the poor masses
with a real way forward.
Much further east, and on a different continent, the consequences of the war in Afghanistan and the on-going consequences of the
Iraq war (the sporadic suicide bomb attacks) are also proving disastrous for the respective populations.
Since 2004, there have been an estimated 72 Afghan civilian deaths attributable to the war - per month! Life expectancy in
Afghanistan today is 44 years for women and 44.5 years for men. It is women's death rate in childbirth that drags their life
expectancy down. This is probably the highest rate of women dying in childbirth in the world - 2 for every 100 births. Only
10% of married women have access to, or can practice contraception.
Only 13% have clean drinking water access; food supplies are erratic, and drought has exacerbated this in the last year. As
many as half of all children under 3 years old are severely malnourished.
As for education, after the years of civil war and the reactionary policy of the Taliban regime only 28% of all adults over 15
can read and write a simple sentence. The average schooling of adults is less than 2 years in duration. 35% of girls are now
enrolled in school, but at this point only around 18% of women between 15 and 24 are literate.
And now the Afghan war has spilled over into Pakistan where poverty levels are also rising. The Asian Development Bank asserts
that the proportion of Pakistan’s population living on less than $2 a day has fallen from 83% in 1996 to about 60% today. But
in 2007 this bank also found that Bangladesh and Pakistan were the only countries in Asia where the poorest fifth of the
population were worse off than they had been a decade earlier. Foreign aid workers administering flood relief were apparently
shocked by the high levels of malnutrition they found. According to UNICEF, 44% of Pakistani children are suffering from
chronic malnutrition, including 15% who are acutely malnourished.
Of course, North Africa and the Middle East remain on the boil - and not only because Libya's "endgame" between rival militias
continues, and because the Syrian crisis is escalating. The backdrop for the regional crisis remains Israel's violent siege
against the Palestinians both in Gaza and the West Bank which sporadically bursts into huge flames but never lets up.
The report of the UN’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and the Norwegian Refugee Council revealed that in 2010, 27.5
million people on this earth were displaced within their own countries by armed conflict, generalised violence and human-rights
violations, which is the highest number in a decade.
And just this last week what did we hear from Mali in north Africa?: "Clashes between the army and Tuareg rebels in northern
Mali have forced 126,400 people to flee their homes since mid-January. Tuareg rebels are waging their biggest offensive since a
2009 rebellion as they demand autonomy in Mali's vast north, and have launched several attacks on towns in the region since
mid-January. Mali and Niger experienced uprisings as the Tuareg fought for recognition of their identity and an independent
state in the 1960s, 1990s and early 2000s, with a resurgence between 2006 and 2009." And we're told: "Many Tuareg left
for Libya where they later fought for Muammar Gaddafi's regime, but after his death in October they returned, some heavily
armed, to their home countries." An "unintended consequence" as they say - but then isn't the situation in Mali just
another unresolved problem left to fester since colonial days?