#18 - From Biafra to Rwanda, Africa plagued by imperialism

Oct 1994


Before Rwanda hit the headlines last April, few people knew much about this remote area of central Africa, except possibly its name. Then, suddenly, reports of mass killings flooded the media. Tens of thousands were being slaughtered in what was described by some as full-blown pogroms and by others as a genocide. Unbearably cruel pictures of whole families hacked to death, of whole villages decimated by machine-gun fire, were shown on television. The whole population seemed to be pushed onto the roads in a desperate search for shelter. Soon the casualty figures went past the hundred thousand mark while aid organisations reported a frantic exodus across the border to neighbouring Zaïre involving possibly as many as a million people, something like 12% of the country's population.

Coming so shortly after their costly intervention in Somalia, the United Nations, and particularly Clinton, were reluctant to do anything. Hurd's repeated statements against western intervention in Rwanda only expressed the general feeling among western powers - although Britain also had reasons of its own for making such a stand, as we will see later on.

In the end, however, the extent of the carnage prompted the United Nations to move. Not out of concern for those whose lives were under threat though. But having asserted so many times over the past few years, and at such high human and material cost, their commitment to keeping "peace, law and order" in the world, the UN had at least to pretend it was doing something.

The pretence was short-lived. In the Gulf War, they had mobilised over half-a-million soldiers to protect the few hundred Kuwaiti oil lords and their 900,000 subjects. But there were no oil interests to defend in Rwanda. Nor did it offer the rich countries an opportunity for a show of strength against the unruly behaviour of an aspiring regional power such as Iraq. So, on June 8, after two months of empty talk, the UN decided that a peace-keeping force of 5,500 would be more than enough to protect eight million Rwandans against the mass killers.

Even that was never actually implemented. A few hundred US soldiers stayed in barracks for a short while in Kigali - the Rwandan capital - before being flown back home in a rush, on the grounds that there was nothing they could do. The food and medical supplies that the UN had pledged to provide never came anywhere near the level required just to avoid mass starvation and epidemics in the refugee camps - yet what was needed was very little compared to the enormous resources of any one of the big member states. In fact, the only visible so-called western "aid" to resolve the Rwandan crisis - the setting up of a "safe haven" by French paratroopers - turned out to be aimed at providing the mass killers with a safe escape route out of the country!

So much for Clinton's and Major's world "order" which accomodates massacres like that in Rwanda without being affected in the least. What does the fate of Rwanda and its people represent for the multinationals who are the paymasters of western governments? To them Rwanda is no more than a dot on the map of Africa with scarce resources to boot and a total income which is much less than than even one year's annual profit for many of them!

Ironically, the Rwandan population could in fact consider itself lucky not to have attracted more interest from the western powers at the height of the crisis. For in addition to their homegrown murderers they would then have had to face the even more dangerous threat of a ruthless military machine determined to restore order at any cost, and in any case without the slightest regard for the aspirations of the local population. All the more so as the torturers of Rwanda were themselves groomed, trained and armed by the West.

For, in addition to the fear of getting bogged down by a long and bloody conflict as almost happened in Somalia, the UN's main players had one major reason not to want to lift a finger over Rwanda - the fact that all of them had already had one or more fingers on the trigger of the Rwandan crisis in the first place. Lenin used to call the UN's predecessor a "thieves' kitchen". Nothing could better describe the behaviour of the United Nations over Rwanda, except maybe calling them a "murderers' kitchen", even if by proxy.

And in fact Rwanda is not an isolated case. Since decolonisation Africa has been shaken and torn apart by similar crises, created or fed, directly or indirectly, by the heritage of the old colonial empires, by the on-going rivalries between the major powers or simply by the consequences on the African economy of the continued looting of its resources by the world market and the rich western countries that control it.

For the past thirty years, despite the illusion of political independence, Africa has been constantly plagued by the impact of the world capitalist system, plagued to the point where the economic, political and social fabric of many African countries are on the verge of collapse, when they haven't collapsed already, as in the case of Chad for instance. The horrifying situation in Rwanda is yet one more symptom of Africa's accelerating death agony under the yoke of world capitalism.

Behind the Rwandan "genocide"

Of course, the extent of the bloodbath in Rwanda was universally explained away by talking of a genocide and blaming ethnic rivalries deeply rooted in Africa's past. There were a few hints at the French government's dubious role, but little more.

When Rwanda and Burundi came under Belgian rule in 1919 as part of the spoils of defeated Germany, their ethnic makeup was, like in neighbouring British-dominated Uganda, a mixture of Bantus, known in Rwanda as Hutus, and of a cattle-growing people coming from the north-east, known as Tutsis. Despite being a minority, the Tutsis had created the first feudal structures, while at the same time adopting the language of the Hutus. With time, as is often the case, the original ethnic division had gradually receded to be replaced with a social division based on property ownership which cut across the old ethnic divisions.

Colonisation changed this. In order to consolidate its hold, Belgium used the Tutsis as their auxiliaries. The sparse Tutsi-dominated institutions were turned into a rigid state machinery with Tutsis appointed to all key positions. Some Tutsi youth received education while the Hutus were allowed nothing. Predictably, this policy created an increasing gap between a thin layer of privileged Tutsis and the rest of the population, both poorer Tutsis and the Hutu majority.

In the run-up to independence, in the late 50s, Belgium separated Rwanda from Burundi. In Burundi, power was handed over to the Tutsi monarchy which was subsequently replaced by a series of military dictators who based their regimes on the old Tutsi-dominated army and privileged layer and fanned the flames of anti-Hutu fears whenever opposition seemed to be growing. In 1988, another wave of anti-Hutu pogroms stage-managed by the army against a peasant rebellion, resulted in 60,000 Hutus fleeing to Rwanda. This last development triggered the UN's fear that such a long period of dictatorship was inevitably going to lead to an explosion. In 1993, under pressure from the UN, the military organised the first general election. Vote-rigging was widespread but failed to prevent the victory of the Front for Democracy in Burundi, a cross-ethnic grouping opposed to the rule of the military.

Within months the new Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, was killed by an army commando. The army then seized on the resulting protest to launch a campaign of repression against all those who had been associated with Ndadaye's regime. In order to guarantee that there would be no turning back, they dressed up the repression as an anti-Hutu pogrom. In the process, 100,000 died and 700,000 fled to neighbouring countries, most to Rwanda. The army resumed its dictatorship over the country, without the UN objecting. For the major powers political stability was restored, for the time being at least, due to the extensive slaughter or exodus of the army's opponents. As to ethnic rivalries, they had been an instrument in the hands of the military, not the cause of the massacre.

In Rwanda, developments took a somewhat different path but with similar results. The run-up to independence saw the emergence of an anti-monarchy Hutu-based movement, to which Belgium handed over power. In the process, however, the rival politicians used ethnic divisions to build support as did Belgium, to retain control of the situation. 500,000 Tutsis fled the country, many of them to Uganda from where they periodically attempted to launch guerilla attacks against the Rwandan regime.

The new regime proved to be just as undemocratic toward the Hutu majority as its opposite number in Burundi. It relied for its support on a thin layer of privileged Hutus from Central Rwanda and repeatedly used attacks by Tutsi guerillas as a pretext to launch anti-Tutsi pogroms which were really aimed at all opposition. By 1973, the regime had become so unstable that the army stepped in easily behind a group of Hutu officers from Northern Rwanda. General Habyarimana took power which he was to retain for the next 21 years.

The 80s saw catastrophic economic difficulties. Opposition to the regime grew, all the more so as Habyarimana's extravagant corruption was becoming increasingly blatant. By 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the external Tutsi-dominated guerilla based in Uganda was gaining support from almost all the regime's opponents, including from among the Hutu population.

To prevent a confrontation which was likely to have regional consequences, the UN stepped in and brokered an agreement in 1993 whereby Habyarimana agreed to share power with the RPF. But instead the dictator started preparing behind the scenes for massive repression, setting up special units trained for this purpose. It is not known whether the plane crash that caused Habyarimana's death on 6 April this year was due to the RPF, to rival Rwandan officers, or to some Western secret service. But this crash triggered the wave of repression that had been prepared for so long, with the horrendous result that brought Rwanda to the attention of the western media. But there again, what the so-called ethnic explosion boiled down to, was the attempt of a military dictatorship to hide repression against all opposition behind the cover of ethnic pogroms.

Imperialism and Rwanda

Rwanda and Burundi occupy a particular strategic position as far as imperialist rivalries are concerned, being at the junction of the French and British spheres of influence. In fact, this was probably the main reason why Belgium chose to split them into two rival countries at independence, to avoid the risk of a possible future alliance with British-controlled Uganda.

Far from receding with the end of the colonial era, the rivalry between France and Britain took on a different form. But instead of control over colonies, the issue became control over markets. The fact that other imperialisms, particularly the US and to a lesser extent Germany, got involved too, did not reduce the Anglo-French rivalry over African soil, quite the contrary.

In the mid-70s, the French government moved to increase its profile in Belgium's former colonial empire. Probably this was a reaction to the US's higher profile in Zaïre, but also to the increasing involvement of Rwanda in the Preferential Trade Area of Eastern and Southern Africa, a trade organisation dominated by English-speaking countries. In any case, a new secret military pact was signed by the French president and the Rwandan dictator Habyarimana in 1975, only two years after his accession to power.

In 1986 came the military victory of Museveni's National Resistance Movement over Milton Obote's regime in Uganda. The encouragement, if not the backing given by London and Washington to Museveni was an open secret. In part this was due to Obote's past flirtation with the USSR and in part to his inability to bring some discipline back into Idi Amin's former army. This development was important for Rwanda because Museveni's staff included a number of Tutsis from Rwanda. And in fact the Rwandan Patriotic Front suddenly took off the ground, both in terms of equipment and in terms of membership, with the open support of the new Ugandan regime.

The career of Paul Kagamé, the strong man in today's new RPF regime in Rwanda, is undoubtedly significant. He was one of Museveni's first associates in setting up the guerilla force against Obote in 1981. Following Museveni's victory Kagamé became head of Uganda's army intelligence and was sent shortly afterwards to train as an intelligence officer in the US Fort Leavenworth army base in Texas. It was on his return from Texas that Kagamé suddenly became the military chief of the RPF. Clearly Kagamé is a man with powerful connections and most probably the CIA is among them.

By 1990, when the RPF launched its first offensive against the Rwandan regime, France was only too aware of what was happening. On the one hand Habyarimana's dictatorship was clearly collapsing. On the other hand, behind its most likely successor, the RPF, was Uganda and Britain's economic influence. And behind the RPF's chief in command, was the US, an even more serious threat - although, the USA did keep all their options open till the last minute, since while having their own man at the head of the RPF they also sold $2.3 million worth of arms to Habyarimana in the last year of his rule!

The French government (then led by the Socialist Party) made a quick decision - the dictatorship had to be saved at any cost. In October 1990, in June 1992 and again in February 1993, the French paratroopers intervened successfully to stop the RPF's advance. In the meantime, French military advisers were busy helping Habyarimana to increase the size of his army from 5,000 to 30,000. In addition, the setting up of military death squads to launch a wholesale repression was decided in front of these advisers who then provided the necessary training. Most of their equipment seems to have come from an arms deal with Egypt financed by a loan from the French state bank Crédit Lyonnais.

France's so-called "humanitarian" intervention in the summer of 1994 was nothing more than a damage-limitation exercise. The French government knew that after the wave of mass killings unleashed by the death squads after Habyarimana's death, there was no way the regime could be saved; nor was there any way to prevent the RPF from taking power. The French government probably only hoped to intimidate the RPF into accepting a compromise under its patronage, which would have left a space for the defunct dictatorship. In the end, the RPF felt strong enough to turn this down. So the French troops had to withdraw but not without helping the former regime's officers and killers to escape into Zaïre where, far from being disarmed, they are now allowed by France's ally, the Zaïrean dictator Mobutu, to rule over the refugee camps. In doing so French imperialism has stood by a sacred principle of the imperialist "world order" - that no existing state apparatus, however dictatorial it may be, should be allowed to be totally destroyed by a political change: the state must always be respected, not matter what. But France's paratroopers have also laid the ground for a future comeback of today's defeated thugs - a comeback which may bring about a regime more favourable to France than the RPF, whatever the cost to the population!

The fabric of post-colonial Africa

As mentioned before, many of the factors behind the build-up of the Rwandan crisis exist in their full potential all over Africa.

Among these factors is the geo-political setup of Africa created by so-called "decolonisation". Africa is not the largest continent in the world, but it is by far the continent with the largest number of countries - 52 all in all. Of these countries only one, Nigeria, has a population above the one hundred million mark; ten have over ten million inhabitants and seven have less than one million.

It only takes one look at the straight borders of countries like Mali, Niger, Chad or Namibia, for instance, to figure out how they were drawn arbitrarily with a ruler on a map by some colonial strategists, without any concern for geography and even less for the local populations.

The artificial and unviable nature of some of these states is just as obvious. Thus Gambia's sore thumb stuck in the middle of Senegal is an eternal reminder of the relationship between the British and the French colonial empires. Tiny Equatorial Guinea owes its independent existence solely to Spain having retained a solitary toe in an area dominated by France. Lesotho and Swaziland are little pieces of confetti left over by the British Empire and are now satellites of South Africa. Not to mention probably the strangest of all - the enclave of Cabinda which is officially part of Angola but is separated from this country by a corridor which is the only access of Zaire to the sea coast.

The largest among these states are not even less artificial because of their size. Thus Nigeria's existence as one single country was the result of its being a British colony surrounded by French colonies: by building Nigeria into a single large multi-ethnic country, Britain hoped that the ethnic links which existed between Nigerian minorities and the populations of neighbouring French-dominated Benin and Cameroon would not be able to undermine its own colonial domination. And Zaïre, another large state, owes its present borders to having been recognised by all colonial powers at the 1884 Berlin Conference as "the private property of the King of Belgium ", which it remained for 32 years, until it became a Belgian colony.

The present African states are primarily the remains of what yesterday's colonial powers saw as being in their interests against their rivals. The few changes that were made at the time of independence reflected the same preoccupation, shown by the splitting of Rwanda from Burundi, to strengthen imperialist domination rather than to create viable countries.

Moreover, because these borders were drafted according to rival colonial interests or even according to rival clique interests within one colonial empire, most of them cut straight across ethnic groups, splitting them between two, three or more different states. At the same time, ethnic groups which were never prepared to live together within the same political framework found themselves forced to do so by colonisation.

More often than not, the game of "divide to rule" played by the colonial powers to maintain their domination has widened a gap between previously coexisting ethnic groups in the colonial countries. As was shown by the example of Rwanda, this has left deep scars, both in the political set up of these countries and in the collective consciousness of their populations.

From chronic empoverishment...

When colonial rule was terminated, capitalist exploitation by the rich imperialist countries continued. Liberia may have been the first African state to win independence, back in 1847, but this did not prevent it from being almost completely taken over from 1926 onwards by an alliance between two American rubber giants, Goodrich and Firestone, under a 99 years concession, with the US marines intervening periodically to enforce this "arrangement".

Today, over thirty years after decolonisation, France, which used to have the largest colonial empire in Africa, is still by far Sub-Saharan Africa's (excluding South Africa) main trading partner. Eighty French companies are represented by 1300 local subsidiaries, employing a total of 350,000 workers. France is also the biggest money-lender to this part of Africa, with only one-third of its loans being channelled through international agencies, which means that France still retains direct control over the finances of many African countries. Although a smaller direct lender, Britain maintains the same kind of direct dependency ties with its former colonies.

With the possible exception of South Africa, the economy of every African country is entangled in an intricate web of financial and trade dependencies which makes the label "developing country" pure nonsense. Far from delivering the economic boom it was meant to create, the orientation of these countries' production towards exports has crippled them further. It has made them overwhelmingly dependent on the ups and downs of the world market, dependent on the multinationals who buy their products and dependent on the states machineries of the industrialised countries through which most of their export deals are arranged. It has dictated the development of single crop agricultures at the expense of staple food production, with the result that today, Africa is dependent on imports for 25% of its food consumption whereas it was still self-sufficient in the 1960s.

In and of itself, this background of increasing poverty would be enough to turn Africa into a social timebomb, as the starving countryside forces more and more millions of poor to add to already huge urban concentrations. In these empoverished economies the permanent flow back and forth of populations wandering from one country to the next in search of the means to survive is a major burden that often triggers hostile reactions from the local population, and even more often brutal repression by state machineries for whom it is cheaper to fire a round of machine-gun ammunition than to offer a loaf of bread.

... To endemic instability

Poverty is undoubtedly the root cause of instability in Africa, but there are other causes that add to it. Among these is the political setup left by colonialism at the time of independence.

One thing that all colonial powers knew all too well was that political bourgeois democracy, even in the limited sense it has in the industrialised countries, was never an option in Africa. They knew that so well that in most cases they never even thought of introducing any form of democracy under their own rule.

For no African country has ever had an economy capable of sustaining, like in the industrialised countries, a fully-fledged bourgeoisie together with the large middle classes who are the social basis of western bourgeois democracy - let alone the social provisions that still cushion, even if they are reduced these days, the impact of exploitation on the working masses. These countries can only feed a tiny privileged class. And because the state is the main source of finance in these countries, it is this privileged class and their relatives who also occupy all the key positions in the state machinery. There can be no space, therefore, for political change through parliamentary channels and no space for any real multi-party system.

The state machineries to which the colonial rulers handed over power were therefore made of people who were selected according to two basic criteria: first their respect for the colonial economic interests and second for their ability to retain power against any form of opposition. And to ensure that these two criteria would be respected in the future, these state machineries included representatives of the colonial powers themselves.

Thus in Ivory Coast, president Houphouet Boigny kept for over thirty years two former French officials as head of his Cabinet and general secretary to the presidency. Such a thing is not unusual among the former French colonies where dictators may come and go, but some rather anonymous French senior civil servant seems immutable. Britain usually resorted to less conspicuous but more direct involvement, through the use of temporary advisers sent by the British government or leading officials of trade organisations. But all former colonies have maintained the habit of providing permanent staff for specific organs of the state, like the army and the police in particular, but also the local equivalent of the Department of Trade and Inland Revenue, for instance.

However, these tight links between the African state machineries and the old colonial powers cannot change this fundamental fact in Third World countries: that there are far too many aspiring privileged for far too few portions of the cake. Hence the usual form of government found all over Africa - military dictatorship, manned by officers often selected, trained and promoted by the ex-colonial army, not for their abilities but for their ruthlessness. Dictators like Idi Amin in Uganda, Bokassa in the Central African Republic, Mobutu in Zaire and Macias Nguema in Equatorial Africa, were perfect examples of this breed - including their mad paranoia (Bokassa declared himself an emperor) and their murderous methods (Idi Amin's executions of school children).

But while the purpose of these dictatorships is, supposedly, political stability, they rarely fulfill this role. Not only do they pile up discontent in the population, they also give rival aspiring politicians no other option than to take power by force. To achieve this aim and raise the level of support which it requires, they will use any demagogy that can serve their purpose, particularly religious, linguistic, regional or ethnic-based demagogy - just as, in return, the dictatorship will use the same kind of demagogy to retain power. Rwanda and Burundi provide a glaring, but not unusual example of this.

Of course, the result of all this is endemic political instability across Africa, which in turn fans existing divisions and hatred.

The post-independence explosions

The strategists of decolonisation were to find out very early on that their schemes were not going to create the basis for political stability in the former colonies. In fact this became obvious even before independence itself when the rivalries between politicians bidding for a place in the future independent setup unleashed some of the explosive potential of the tensions built up over decades of colonial "divide and rule".

There is no space here for an account of the decolonisation period. Let us say that there were many explosions both before and after independence. In many cases, like in Uganda for instance, these explosions were relatively short-lived but they were the starting point of a long history of recurrent political instability which has yet to be concluded.

But in the case of Zaïre, the former Belgian Congo, independence led to a full-blown war involving the military intervention of Belgium, France, the US and finally the United Nations. The process in Zaïre was a particularly sensitive one in that enormous interests were at stake in the Katanga province which was probably Africa's largest source of all kinds of minerals - including cobalt, platinium, iron and copper. Given the stakes, the pan-africanist language of the Congolese nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba was enough to frighten the mining capitalists. They initiated a secession of Katanga by giving full military support to a regional separatist movement. At the same time, other regionalist leaders were encouraged to challenge Lumumba's support in the population. This led to a five-year civil war in which many regionalist and ethnic divisions which had been non-existant before emerged suddenly to the fore.

After five years of this war, Mobutu emerged as the new leader of the country, with the backing of imperialism. But it left permanent scars in the country. Mobutu's regime, shaped as it was by the civil war, soon turned into a ruthless and corrupted dictatorship. The regionalist and ethnic hatred which were unleashed and whipped up during the war have kept re-emerging again and again ever since. And today, the catastrophic situation in Zaïre is the price still being paid by the country for its first years of independence.

Only a few years after independence came another open war, the Biafran war, this time in Nigeria. It is worth looking at this conflict for several reasons. On the one hand Nigeria was and remains today the country with the largest population in Africa and the second largest proletariat, and has for this reason a particular importance for the future of Africa. On the other hand, while the Biafran war illustrated the traps left by the colonial era in Africa it also showed many of the features of the conflicts in today's Africa, particularly the role played in this war by imperialist rivalries.

The run-up to the Biafra secession

Nigeria, as was said earlier was an artificial creation of British colonialism. It was a complex mixture of ethnic groups with a relatively clear cut division between the North, inhabited by Muslim Fulani Hausas with rigid feudal institutions, and the South where a number of different ethnic groups coexisted loosely, the largest of these groups being the Christian Ibos and Yorubas. Under British rule the Fulani emirs had been given political prominence at the expense of the Southern population.

Prior to the independence agreement and afterwards, various threats over a Northern secession were made by the Northern politicians. Of course, these Northern leaders did not want to lose the benefit of the Southern oil and industries. But what they did want was some guarantee that they would retain their dominant political position after independence. This was pure blackmail, but they got their way. In 1960, Nigeria became independent as a federation of three states - North, East and West - designed to strengthen the North at the expense of the South, which was divided in two, and later three regions.

But the new Nigerian constitutional framework did not resolve everything. In particular it could not change the relative cultural backwardness of the North compared to the South. By the mid-60s, the South had more doctors, lawyers, and engineers than most other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. There were an estimated 1.3m Ibos from the South East working in the Northern region, many of them in skilled positions, particularly in the civil service. This represented a serious threat to the Northern leaders. At the same time this opened the Southerners to the accusation of depriving Northerners of good jobs, albeit due to their better competence.

In 1966, a group of young officers assassinated the Northern leader, Bello, the Federal Prime Minister Balewa and the Western leader Akintola - all of whom were particularly discredited in the eyes of the population. The coup leader broadcast the following reasons for the coup on radio: "Our enemies are the political profiteers, swindlers, men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand ten percent, those that seek to keep the country permanently divided so that they can remain in office as Ministers and VIP's of waste, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles ". And, in the North, jubilant masses ransacked the governor's palace and cheered the coup leader, despite his Ibo origin.

This coup did not succeed however. In Lagos, General Ironsi had restored order in the name of the old regime. No doubt with British backing, he placed himself at the head of the Federation and declared Nigeria under military rule.

Despite opposition from Northern politicians, Ironsi announced his "Unification Decree", which although it changed little but names - regions became provinces, the Federation would became a Republic - sparked a series of the most violent massacres of Southerners yet seen in the North. "Armed thugs swept across the space between the city walls of Kano and the Sabon Garis where the Easterners lived, broke into the ghetto and started burning, raping, looting and killing as many men, women and children from the East as they could lay their hands on. " It is without doubt that these massacres were deliberately planned by Northern politicians using their own armed gangs to whip up local feelings against the Ibos and other Southerners.

Ironsi then went on a tour to promote the "One Nigeria" ideal. It was while he was on this tour that another coup was staged, led by Northern army officers. Ironsi and two of his co-commanding officers were stripped, beaten, tortured and then shot. Along with taking over command, the coup leaders, led by a young British-trained officer, General Gowan, issued instructions for Ibos in the army - many of whom formed the bulk of the technical corps - to be rounded up and imprisoned. And Gowan declared himself supreme commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces.

The British High Commission after meeting with the coup leaders came out in their support - including their demand for recognition of the dominance of the North in any political process. And all the regions except the South Eastern reagion - where the former governor, colonel Ojukwu, remained in command with his troops - recognised the new dictatorship. This Ojukwu, son of a millionaire who had been knighted by the British, had been educated in Oxford and Eaton Hall military college. He was later to lead the South-East to secession and war.

Through September and October 1966, three months after Gowan's takeover, a large scale pogrom of Southerners was reported again from the Northern region. To quote the "Observer" 17 October 1966: "While Hausas in each town and village in the North know what happened in their own localities, only the Ibos know the whole terrible story from the 600,000 or so refugees who have fled to the safety of the Eastern Region - hacked, slashed, mangled, stripped naked and robbed of their possessions; the orphans, the widows, the traumatised. A woman, mute and dazed, arrived back in her village after travelling for five days with only a bowl in her lap. She held her child's head, which was severed before her eyes... after a fortnight the scene in the Eastern Region continues to be reminiscent of the ingathering of exiles into Israel after the end of the last war. The parallel is not fanciful. "

A great deal of wheeling and dealing followed between different regional politicians and Gowan, culminating in a conference hosted in Aburi, Ghana in order to bring Ojukwu to recognise the Gowan regime. Agreements were made - to pay salaries of displaced Southerners, to provide a subsidy for refugees - by now 1.8million, and to give a certain amount of autonomy to the Region. It seems that under pressure from the British and US governments, fearing at this point the loss of control of their oil concessions, Gowan rapidly agreed these concessions.

But even this agreement, which Gowan did not stick to in the end, could not avoid a secession of the South-Eastern region. On 30 May 1967, Ojukwu proclaimed the independent republic of Biafra.

The Biafra war

The actual fighting lasted a full 18 months and took the form of an initial conquest of towns and a whole region to the West of Biafra by the Biafran Army and then the slow re-conquest of this region and Biafra itself, town by town, by the Nigerian Federal Army, pushing the Biafran troops further and further back. The Biafran army was never short of soldiers. However there was a short supply of weaponry, made worse by the total blockade implemented after the first 16 months of fighting. But 40% of the Biafran soldiers were equipped with weapons captured from the enemy. In addition, the Biafrans lacked any air power, possessing a single B-26 bomber dating back to World War II and six French Alouette helicopters. However the fact that it was primarily South-Easterners who had previously manned the technical and engineering corps of the Federal army, meant that they had a certain capital of expertise which the Federal troops lacked until their own Western backers, finally understanding that they were facing a prolonged war started providing direct aid to Gowan's side.

The first shots were fired on the 6th July, 1967 over the Northern Biafran town of Ogoja by Federal Nigerian troops. This was a diversionary attack and on the 8th July, 6,000 Federal troops captured the town of Nsukka. This was followed by the surprise attack via the sea on the island Port Bonny, where the Shell/BP oil terminal was located. However they were unable to come within striking distance of Port Harcourt the main oil town of the region as Ojukwu responded by sending patrols to defend the coast. Ojukwu's troops were in the meantime marching into the Mid-West and took town after town until they had enlarged the territory under Biafran control to encompass the whole of the oil-producing area of the country. This took Gowan and his backers by surprise. Until the Nigerian army occupied Calabar on the far Eastern border of Biafra, supplies of weapons provided by France could still reach Biafra from neighbouring Cameroon.

The main plank of Gowan's strategy however was the food and supplies blockade of Biafra. Milk and meat, and other sources of protein had to be brought in from the other regions and though chicken farming was started intensively once the war was underway, this was not sufficiently developed to feed the starving. The deficiency in dietry protein led to the slow death of almost a million civilians, most of them children.

Eventually in 1970, after a series of peace talks a settlement was reached, after which Gowan made his famous speech that there were no victors in this war. Of course in a sense this was true. Both sides had suffered severe losses and part of the country had been devastated. But there was one victor. Imperialism had established a number of new oil terminals and ensured the stability of its oil profits...

Formal "unity" of Nigeria may have again been achieved but it was certainly no more unified in reality than it had been before the war broke out and probably the mistrust built up during the war betwen peoples was only balanced by the terror instilled in them by the atrocities perpetrated against them.

What this war did achieve was the reinforcement of the Gowan regime as a military dictatorship which was to remain in power for a further 6 years only to be replaced by another miltary dictatorship in 1976-9, when Nigeria returned for five years under Shagari to corrupt civilian rule - until a "bloodless" coup re-installed a military dictatorship - which has been the form of government maintaining "one Nigeria" ever since.

The rivalries over Biafra

Frederick Forsyth, a journalist with the BBC reporting from Biafra during the war, later highlighted a major factor precipitating the war: "It has been postulated that if the Biafrans had had as their homeland a region of semi-desert and scrub they would have been allowed to depart from Nigeria with cries of 'Good riddance' in their ears. One foreign businessman remarked succintly 'it's an oil war', and felt obliged to say no more. Beneath Biafra lies an ocean of oil (..) Approximately one tenth of this field lies in neighbouring Cameroon, three tenths in Nigeria. The remaining six tenths lies under Biafra. "

What seems to have provided the spark for the war came to light some time afterwards. It transpired that Gowan and his ruling clique and Ojukwu's Eastern interest group had attempted to make an agreement over the terms of their relationship with the British and US oil companies in New York in June 1967. Ojukwu claimed the right to the royalties paid in Lagos by Shell/BP. Up until June 1967, £7m due to Nigeria in oil royalties, had not yet been paid. It was proposed that Biafra should receive 57.7% of the royalties and the rest be put aside until there was a political settlement. However this was flatly refused by the Gowan regime and they threatened to extend their anti-Biafra blockade to the Bonny Island oil terminal. In fact despite an offer of an interim payment of £250,000, Gowan's troops launched their attack and captured the terminal at Port Bonny.

Biafra received nothing at all in promised royalties and all negotiations after this were done only with Gowan. In fact, one source claims that by September, the £7m in oil royalties had been paid to the Gowan regime, because Britain fully expected that Ojukwu would be assassinated and a coup perpetrated in the next few weeks. This plot actually failed, and the war inconveniently for them, continued for another 18 months. However, as soon as the Nigerian army took the oil terminals, the British oil companies arrived behind them building new oil installations as fast as they could while war was still raging a few miles away.

Though the Biafran war took the form of a civil war between Gowan's large military clique and Ojukwu's small one representing regionalist aspirations, one could say that the Gowan regime represented by proxy the interests of British and US imperialism and that of Ojukwu in Biafra, the interests of French imperialism. Biafra got support from South Africa and Israel as well of course, and the Gowan regime was backed by most Muslim countries, including Egypt, whose pilots flew the Ilyushin jets provided by the USSR.

But the important interests at work were those of the oil companies owned by the British, Americans and French, and backed by their respective governments in the way they lined up for and against Biafra.

Shell/BP was by far the biggest exploiter of Nigerian oil. This Anglo-Dutch consortium held the major concessions for oil in both the Biafran and Midwestern region where oil had more recently begun to be pumped. However when Biafra was blockaded all oil ceased to flow - because the oil from outside of Biafra, from the Midwest was conveyed to Port Harcourt, now in Biafra, via a large pipeline. The US companies were only beginning to exploit Nigerian oil concessions and then their interests were mainly in the Midwest. As to the French, since all oil concessions in the Biafran region were not yet taken, they had been planning to expand their own concession already operating in Biafra in the name of the state-owned company Elf. In this they were in direct rivalry with Shell/BP and hoped to gain something at their expense.

That said, the interest of France, was sufficiently hedged by de Gaulle so as to keep his options open. He never formally recognised Biafra, though supporting its "right to self-determination" and giving aid via his puppet regimes in Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Gabon.

As to Wilson, then Labour prime minister, throughout the first twelve months of the war he lied about his outright support for Gowan against Biafra. Publicly, and in both Houses, government spokesmen maintained that no military aid was going to Nigeria and that Britain's stance was entirely neutral. However eventually the truth came out - not only was Wilson totally supportive of Gowan's regime, but Britain was up to its neck in supplying arms, personnel and support for the war against Biafra and had been right from the beginning.

Africa is sinking into economic bankruptcy

A few figures released by the most authoritative of all imperialist institutions, the World Bank, highlight the present state of the African economy (leaving out South Africa which is in a different league).

In the 80s, Africa's overall GDP had gone down by nearly 12% in real terms. By 1990, the GNP per head in Britain was five times that of South America and the Caribbean and 35 times that of Africa. Twenty-two of the world's 30 poorest countries were African. This downward trend was described by the IMF in the early 90s, as a "worldwide exception", yet far from being reversed it seems to be accelerating. And, according to the World Bank itself, even if this trend was to be reversed now, it would still take forty years for the poorest areas of the continent just to regain the ground lost over the past two decades.

One of the main causes behind Africa's increasing poverty is the slump in the world's raw material markets since 1987. The purchasing power of African exports went down by as much as 50% within a few years and has remained at this level ever since. Such is the case with cocoa in Ivory Coast for instance. Since the 1960s when cocoa became a major export crop, the land acreage devoted to it doubled and production increased seven-fold. Yet the country's income from cocoa hardly doubled over that period, while its total debt was multiplied by 50. Likewise, the economic catastrophe mentioned earlier in Rwanda in the early 90s, was due to a 49% reduction in income from coffee, which represents nearly 2/3 of the country's exports. By 1992, this had translated into a 17% fall in GDP.

Mineral and oil exports have been just as affected by the world slump as agricultural products. Ghana, which is often hailed by IMF officials as the growth model in Africa is nevertheless a case in point. Between 1987 and 1992, Ghana's GDP per head increased by an average 2.3%. But this glossy result was only achieved thanks to a frantic three-fold increase in gold production. This so-called "success" concealed two things: one was a drastic decrease in the purchasing power of Ghana's gold exports, the other was an even more drastic reduction of the country's income from cocoa which remains its main export crop.

It is worth noting in passing that the slump in the world mineral markets and its particularly drastic consequences for African countries does not result in a comparable slump in profits for the mining multinationals operating in Africa. The performance figures for 1993 recently released by the world's largest mining company, British-based RTZ, speak for themselves: while RTZ's African operations account for less than 10% of its overall turnover, they account for no less than 31% of its overall profits!

Reduced exports automatically means increased debts and interest payments. Already by 1990, Africa's overall debt was the equivalent of 111% of its annual GDP and interest payments represented over 50% of its overall export revenue. This situation is deteriorating literally by the minute as export income goes down, requiring more borrowing and therefore more interest payments. And the IMF and Western-brokered rescheduling of Africa's debt never comes for free - they always go together with an increase in the real interest rates imposed on borrowers. As to the much publicised writing off of some of the African countries' debts by Major and Mitterrand, this is pure hypocrisy, since these loans have long been repaid several times over anyway, both in the shape of interest payments and in the shape of import orders to British and French companies.

Reduced exports also automatically mean reduced imports and cuts in the already minimal social expenditure of African states. For the poor, reduced imports often result in shortages of affordable food and even of seeds which forces the countryside into a vicious cycle, leaving increasing stretches of land bare of any cultivation. Possibly an even more serious threat is the acute shortage of basic medicines, so that in most African urban areas child mortality is rising again today, after decades of, albeit slow, decline. In these large urban conurbations, minor diseases which require simple medication are becoming life-threatening for lack of the bare minimum in medical supplies. The world's pharmaceutical industry, mainly based in the West, contributes to this deteriorating situation, both by abusing the monopoly position they have on the African market to keep their prices high and by dropping research and even production in certain medical fields, like tropical diseases for which, to quote the cynical words of one former US executive, "there is no solvent market ".

Behind the cold statistical data, the reality for the African poor masses is devastating. Even in the least derelict of Africa's countries, such as Nigeria, Gabon, Ivory Coast or Senegal, being a worker in a job is already considered a considerable privilege by the poor. But what privilege? That of earning something like £10 or £15 a week! This can hardly provide a decent living for a single individual. Yet entire families, often including three or four generations, have to survive on such wages. As to the vast majority, they simply survive on... nothing. In Ivory Coast, people sell used paper bags collected in refuse tips, in Nigeria they sell a mixture of water and fuel extracted from the soil around leaking oil pipe-lines and all over Africa during the dry season, the sale of ice cubes and iced water is a "booming industry" for adults and children alike, but so is prostitution. Yes, this is the real face of a catastrophic economic and social disaster in the making.

The IMF's witch doctors

Since the early 80s, the so-called experts sent by the IMF have travelled across Africa to advocate what they call "Structural Adjustment Plans" or SAPs. "Advocate" is in fact the official euphemism for blackmail: their business is to force African governments to agree to their suggested economic and reform targets or face losing access to the facilities provided by the international financial institutions. The IMF's instruments of blackmail are indeed overwhelming. Not only can its experts refuse new loans or the rescheduling of existing loans and interest payments, they can also organise an effective banking boycott against any country. For instance they have the means to ban a country from buying foreign currencies, or even from using the international banking system to settle international trade contracts. To all intents and purposes, the IMF is all powerful and the poor countries have no means of redress against it. No wonder, since the IMF is really the mouthpiece of the international banking monopoly set up by the imperialist powers.

Beyond the ideological nonsense about liberalisation, what these SAPs boil down to is this: since you no longer have the resources to pay for your debts, slash your expenses to the bare minimum, sell the furniture and offer incentives to potential foreign investors. The first casualty of SAPs is the population. What little social expenditure there might have been, in education, health, public transport, etc... is ruthlessly cut. Then comes the politically more sensitive issue of subsidies on food and basic commodities. A huge section of the African poor survive only thanks to these subsidies. In Nigeria, the mere threat of reducing the subsidies on petrol has been enough to trigger widespread riots and strikes among a population whose survival depends heavily on being able to use the overcrowded and antiquated public transport.

Providing incentives to foreign investors really means reducing wage costs further and ending all import controls. Once again, the population foots the bill. More farmers are pushed into bankruptcy and forced out of the countryside into the dereliction and extreme poverty of the urban shanty towns. After a period of dumping, once the competition is wiped out, the importers increase their prices and the population has to pay a second time - only this time they often can no longer foot the bill. As to the foreign investors, they only come to plunder what is still plunderable. Thus there was a construction boom throughout the 80s in which foreign companies were fighting one another to build new company headquarters, new government buildings or simply new luxury villas for the small layer of privileged rich. For that sort of operation the IMF and the banks were always prepared to agree a new loan - at a price of course. But as to developing long term industrial or agricultural projects which would be of any use for the local economy, there are neither investors interested nor loans available.

The most conspicuous aspect of SAPs has been the sale of state property - which means in most cases the dismantling of what little rationalisation existed in the local economy. Not that African states were in anyway effective in managing their nationalised industries. There were far too many officials and politicians who considered these industries as a legitimate source of private income for themselves. Nigeria's chronic oil "leak", whereby millions of barrels of petrol disappear every year without being accounted for in the books of the state oil company is a typical example. A clandestine private company has been blossoming for a long time within the state oil company, involving dozens, possibly hundreds of officials who help themselves to free oil and organise their own export network. Yet despite this extensive corruption, the mere fact that many people in the privileged layers relied on the state companies to supplement their incomes guaranteed that their production was maintained to a degree and that competition was kept at reasonable levels.

With the sell-off of the state sectors which is the centrepiece of the SAPs, this fragile guarantee no longer applies. It is not the corruption of the state that suffers, as was supposedly the aim of the exercise, according to the IMF experts. State officials simply find other ways to earn their money, usually by becoming middlemen in shadowy trafficking with foreign customers. What suffers is the industry itself. Buying a state company and closing it down can be a cheap way for a multinational to gain a monopoly position for its own products in a country. Breaking up a newly-acquired state company to sell it again piecemeal is a profitable business, which has resulted in many job losses in Britain in the past and is becoming a "growth industry" in Africa. Except that such exercises in the fragile framework of Africa's weak industrial structures is a recipe for dangerous economic imbalance and ultimate disaster.

Last, but not least, the SAPs could be described as a form of "re-colonisation" of Africa - bearing in mind the fact that Africa was never really decolonised. Let us take the example of Ghana. In the colonial days, the British United Africa Company used to effectively rule over Ghana. In 1977, Taysec - today the country's largest construction company - was set up as a joint venture between Taylor Woodrow - itself originally the construction arm of the United Africa Company - and a state-owned bank. At the time Taylor Woodrow owned 1/3 of Taysec and the state owned the rest. With the SAP, the state sold its share of Taysec and now Taylor Woodrow controls 70% of Taysec. In other words the United Africa Company is creeping back into Ghana by proxy. A similar process is taking place with Ghana's Ashanti Gold Mines. Since 1967, the British mining conglomerate Lonrho owns 45% of the mines against the state's 55% share. Under the new arrangements, the state will keep only 27.7% of the shares and Lonrho, who will retain its 45% shareholding, will become the majority shareholder therfore gaining effective control of the company. Another case of an old British colonial company restoring its grip on a former colony.

Another aspect of the IMF intervention is its attempt - on behalf of the US - at weakening the economic hold of the old colonial powers in Africa, under the pretext of making the African market more open, there again with disastrous consequences for the population. The main economic vehicle for France's hold has been, since World War II, the CFA franc zone - a group of 14 countries which share the same currency with a common fixed parity with the French franc. The incentive for France was that it protected the trade of French companies with these countries from the ebb and flow of the currency market. At the same time it forced the group members into a position of dependency towards the French financial institutions. But, since 1948, the real parity between the French franc and the CFA franc had never been changed, with the result that the CFA franc was wildly overvalued in relation to the strength of the economies that backed it. The decision made in January this year, was to devaluate the CFA franc by half - which, by the way, highlights the growing gap between the African and European economies.

This measure has not totally satisfied the IMF experts and their US masters, in so far as it does not end France's financial weight in Africa, far from it, although it does weaken it. For the French companies, this is not a big deal since this will reduce wage costs in Africa. But the consequence of this measure was to double the prices of all imported products in these countries overnight, including that of food imports, which is a terrible blow for the vast majority of the population.

Imperialist rivalries and multi-partyism

According to western commentators, economic liberalisation cannot be dissociated from political democracy. We know all too well what a nonsense this is in Britain, but such illusions have indeed existed among some sections of the population here. But in Africa, there is no space whatsoever for such nonsense.

Imposing, as is required by the SAPs, a drastic reduction of the African poor's already abyssmally low living standards, with the risk of social explosion that this involves, means that no democracy can coexist with economic liberalisation in Africa.

Of course the West has exercised pressures on the African regimes to introduce multi-partyism. But has this got anything to do with democracy? What are these parties which have been reluctantly authorised in a number of African countries over the past few years?

Nigeria provides an extreme but instructive case in this respect. When the former dictator Babangida decided to introduce "multi-partyism", he got a committee of civil servants to draft the programmes of the only two parties that he was prepared to make legal. Then he organised the launching conferences for both. These conferences elected their officers from a shortlist vetted by the regime. No wonder all these officers were part of the political personnel and the privileged layers linked to state. No wonder both candidates in the subsequent presidential election were millionaires linked to financial interests closely connected to the state. This was Babangida's idea of multi-partyism. As it turned out, even that was too much for the army and in the end, fifteen months after the election, the successful candidate is still under house arrest pending trial and Babangida has been replaced with a new dictator, General Abacha.

Of course, Nigeria's case may seem a caricature and it is in a sense. But the substance of the approach used is the same as in all those African countries where multi-partyism has been officially introduced. In the vast majority of cases, the old dictator or his designated heir was elected president and the only changes took place among Cabinet members, with the appearance of "new" usually younger faces. At best the changes amounted to a reshuffling of the existing political personnel. But the nature of the regimes did not change. Where a Parliament still operates, it is a rubber-stamp assembly. But more often than not, the old dictatorial practices have been reintroduced. And in any case, the poor masses who make up the vast majority of the population are still deprived of a political voice - at least of a legal one.

No matter how much imperialism tries to pose as a champion of democracy in Africa, it can fool no-one there. French imperialism is not the only one to support, arm and finance dictators such as Rwanda's Habyarimana. Idi Amin's overthrow of Milton Obote's regime in Uganda, in 1971, was welcomed by the Daily Telegraph with a "Good Riddance! " headline. And for about five years, both London and Washington were prepared to turn a blind eye to Amin's bloodthirsty habits and to grant him all the finance and military aid he asked for. But then of course, had not Idi Amin reversed the very modest nationalisation programme of foreign companies launched by Obote? And of course the unending megalomania of Mobutu's dictatorship in Zaïre is ample proof of the fact that, for lack of anyone else, imperialism is prepared to put up with and support the most demented dictators.

So why these pressures on the African regimes towards this sham of multi-partyism? One reason has to do with imperialism's permanent fear of political instability. Dictators are considered useful in that they create some political stability by default, that is by eliminating all potential opponents, and besides they are considered trustworthy when it comes to keeping the poor masses in check. But dictatorship does backfire in the long run. The longer the dictators last, the more savagely repressive the measures they have to take become, and the more explosive the situation. Hence the need for dictatorships to refurbish their images and to renew some of their personnel at least.

Imperialism, however, is always careful not to risk rocking the boat. Despite various noises about Mobutu's refusal to have anything to do with multi-partyism, there has been little pressure put on him to give in. And that, at least over the past two years, has certainly something to do with the on-going regionalist agitation in Zaïre itself and, even more, with the tense situation in neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi.

There are also some more intricate and hidden reasons for the drive to multi-partyism. Why is it, for instance, that Washington has always been more insistant and vocal about multi-partyism than London and Paris? The answer can be found in the qualifications of the new prime ministers who were appointed. For example, in Ivory Coast, the governor of the Central Bank of West African States became prime minister, in Gabon it was the director of the Central Bank of Central African States, in Benin it was a non-executive director of the World Bank. And of course, all these bankers were closely linked to the IMF and therefore to US imperialism. This was even more visible in the case of the Congo where the first measure of the new strong man, Milelongo, was to appoint a US consultancy firm to reassess the country's contracts with French and Italian oil companies.

It is beyond doubt that US imperialism is pushing the multi-party trump card as a means to get rid of an old political personnel which remains too loyal to the previous colonial powers, in order to push forward younger men who were shaped by the post-colonial international institutions rather than by the colonial powers themselves. Therefore, inter-imperialist rivalries have also a place behind the scene in the wheelings and dealings of imperialism.

A continent sinking into barbarism

In fact, inter-imperialist rivalries permeate every aspect of Africa's life. In the economic sphere, the example of the CFA franc is one among many others. Oil companies, for instance, are waging a constant war using the influence of their parent imperialist state to push aside their competitors. Thus the French company Elf is fighting an on-going war with the US company Occidental Petroleum in Congo and with Shell in Gabon. In both cases the regimes have been narrowly prevented by the French government from switching their allegiance away from Elf. Likewise in Chad, the new French puppet Idriss Deby agreed, in exchange for France's patronage, to shift to Elf, 20% of the existing oil concessions owned by Shell and Esso.

The Katanga war, the Biafran war and the Rwandan crisis are not the only open conflicts in which inter-imperialist rivalries have had a high profile in Africa. Behind all of Africa's present conflicts, looming or open, the rival imperialisms are always somewhere in the background. Sometimes they intervene directly to police the fighters and regain control, sometimes they wage a war between each other by proxy, sometimes they just try to find the right string to pull in case they could make some gains when the dust settles.

Military intervention has usually been either by France using its own troops, or by the US through the United Nations, through some combination of military forces provided by African allies or through an agreement with France, who then did the dirty job. Britain, on its part, has usually relied on its strong financial influence (sometimes with consequences as deadly as a real war) and when that was not enough, it has aligned itself behind the US.

France is the only country that still retains a strong military presence in Africa, with a permanent force of 12,000 soldiers in eight military bases. In addition 1,200 French military "advisers" are operating in Africa while 2,000 African officers are trained in France each year. This strong military presence, by the way, is also an expression of the weakness of French imperialism which unlike the US, has to rely on a physical military presence in order to maintain its influence rather than just relying on its economic power. The point, however, is that French interventions have become more frequent over the past years, reflecting the increasing tension in the situation across Africa.

Already, over the past 40 years, there have been 35 major armed conflicts in Africa resulting in 10 million dead. The longest of these conflicts was the war over the independence of Erytrea which alone claimed one million dead. And although the number of major open conflicts has decreased, situations have developed which are potentially much more serious and point to a disasterous future for Africa.

Liberia, for instance, for a long time a very stable dictatorship, has been increasingly engulfed in a state of permanent civil war since 1980. In 1991, the US marines intervened directly, at a time when there were three competing guerilla armies fighting one another in the country. Their intervention only fanned the flames and they had to leave. Today there are no less than six main guerilla groups, each one trying to muster support along ethnic and regional lines. A powerless US-backed government is sitting in the capital under the protection of an African peace-keeping force led by Nigeria and sponsored by the USA. 650,000 people, or one-fourth of the population, has fled to the neighbouring countries. Meanwhile, from Ivory Coast, France keeps an eye on the rich diamond, rubber and iron resources of Liberia. Ivory Coast offers shelter to Charles Taylor's guerillas, whose power basis is the iron-rich Nimba region. The country is totally destroyed and this state of destruction is now extending to Sierra-Leone, which is used as a battle-field by the guerillas, and is threatening Guinea.

Zaïre is also reaching a similar crisis. The authority of the central state has collapsed except in the main western towns and the northern half of the country. Some of the initial rebellions came as a result of the total bankruptcy of the state which was no longer capable of paying its own soldiers. Two large regions are in a state of virtual secession - Kasai in the South and Katanga in the South East, while many other armed guerillas have emerged in various parts of the country, including in the seceding provinces, claiming to represent the interest of one oppressed ethnic minority or another. The Katanga rebellion is led by a former prime minister of Mobutu who was sacked by the dictator for corruption - quite an achievement under the Mobutu's wildly corrupted regime. And he is obviously trying to gather the support of the western powers for an independent Katanga, using the enormous mineral resources of the region as a means of blackmail. Refugees are now pushed towards Angola from all parts of the country, when they are not forcibly conscripted into the army of one faction or another. Whether there will be another Katanga war remains to be seen. But never has the country been so close to being broken up by the rivalries of its politicians. And, of course, there again, the rival imperialisms are acting in the background, each one pushing its own pawns, in the hope of capturing full control of the Katanga mines.

There are open wars going on elsewhere, like in Sudan where France support the fundamentalist government via the Central African Republic, while the USA back the Southern guerilla via Uganda and Tanzania. Others are just looming like in Western Ghana, where armed groups are fighting each other in the name of ethnic interests, pushing tens of thousands of refugees into neighbouring Togo and threatening to starve the country's main town in the South. Meanwhile Ghana is the shelter of 20,000 refugees from Togo who are organising a guerilla force to overthrow the dictatorship of the "cousins' army " as the Togolese army is commonly known. And in Nigeria the border conflict with neigbouring Cameroon over the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula is being whipped up into a major issue by the Nigerian dictatorship which could choose to use this issue to distract the vocal discontent of a growing majority of the population.

Many existing and potential conflicts have not been mentioned here. But the dramatic reality is that it would be difficult to find one country in Africa without some warlords or politicians organising a guerilla army in the hope of carving out a kingdom for themselves. The entire fabric of three whole countries at least - Liberia, Zaire and Chad - has been destroyed and is under the control of rival warlords for whom there is no political, economic or social aim other than their own immediate greed.

Imperialism has, if anything promoted this state of affairs. For decades, its multinationals, its world market, its financial agencies and its internal rivalries have constantly pushed Africa closer to a state of complete bankruptcy. And today, the result is beginning to emerge in Africa, and it is barbarism, pure, unadulterated, capitalist barbarism.

Only the destruction of capitalism can be effective against Africa's collapse

Such is the state of Africa today. Inter-imperialist rivalries are operating in the background, stripping the continent of its last resources. The most worn out dictatorships are being revamped into sham democracies. But meanwhile, the vast majority of the African population is pushed further and further to the extremes of poverty.

In these days when the market economy is so fashionable, Africa's crisis demonstrates not only the fundamental injustice underlying the capitalist order, but also its fundamentally reactionary and destructive nature. The fate of Africa under capitalism is not unique. All poor countries across the world share the same burden. Only, in Africa, it has reached a more critical stage than anywhere else.

There is no future in Africa for capitalism. Not just because it cannot develop. What the figures show is that Africa's economy is not just stagnating, it is in fact disintegrating year by year. There is no way out in Africa other than that of a proletarian revolution to destroy capitalism.

There are still those, among African intellectuals and even among western liberals looking for a way to free Africa, who argue that there may be a "third way" for Africa, which would make capitalism less painful by adapting it to the local traditions, and that after all, classes, particularly the proletariat, perhaps do not exist in Africa.

Such arguments were already mistaken at the time of independence. But today, there can be no place for doubt. Africa is already completely integrated into the world capitalist system. There can be no "third way" for it - it is either capitalism and death agony for Africa, or the destruction of capitalism. It is also obvious that any dream of building a "third way" around a specific role that the peasantry could play, as was argued for a long time by many stalinist and radical nationalist currents, makes no sense. Over the past thirty years, capitalism has largely destroyed the African countryside. Not only have peasants been chased out of it, but in many regions, what used to be agricultural land is now desert.

Of course, capitalism has not created a powerful African industrial proletariat organised by capitalist production itself, like in the industrialised countries - since it has failed to create any significant large scale industrialisation. Yet there is a modern proletariat all over Africa.

Who did the work to build the massive numbers of huge skyscrapers, the railways, the harbours, the docks, making the fortune of companies like Taylor and Woodrow, if not hundreds of thousands, millions, of manual workers, scattered all over the continent. And who mans the public transport, the cranes on the docks, etc.. if not these same African workers or their brothers? It is the overexploited labour of the urban and rural African proletariat which feeds the local bourgeoisies and fills the bank accounts of western shareholders, while the poor peasants are producing less and less to feed themselves and more and more for the world market.

And this African proletariat is surrounded by an immense under-proletariat made up from the flow of peasants who have left the countryside to come to Lagos, Abidjan or Dakar. These former peasants did not join the industrial proletariat, but they are no longer peasants. They can be attracted by reactionary demagogues using fundamentalism or ethnic division to gather support for their aims. But they can also be won over by the proletariat in its fights, provided the proletariat is organised and aims clearly at the destruction of the bourgeois order. By this we mean, first the destruction of the power of their own bourgeoisie at home, not just the power of the rich state dignitaries but also that of the rich traders and all the middlemen used as intermediaries in the trafficking organised by the western multinationals. And this bourgeoisie is mean and weak, compared to the imperialist bourgeoisie. Its entrepreneurship is limited to grabbing whatever they can to put it in the bank, and if possible a Swiss bank. But its greed, its contempt for the poor classes, the luxury of its residential areas, of its selective clubs are all the more provocative and outrageous.

This constant provocation will inevitably lead to explosions, to hunger riots, as it has in the past. The decisive issue is whether the energy unleashed in these explosions will be wasted, by leaving untouched the basis of this society, whether it will be hijacked by some reactionary demagogues and channelled in a direction which can only increase the present social dereliction, or whether, on the contrary, it will be directed against the existing social and economic order. In this respect the African working class has a vital role to play.

If this was to happen, then, we are convinced that the future of Africa will belong to the African proletariat. It is a young proletariat which has no communist tradition, not even the distorted communist tradition spread by the stalinist parties nor the brand of even more distorted socialist tradition of the British Labour party. We don't know how, through what path, a section of this proletariat, even a small one, together with a section of intellectuals, will come to the conclusion that the only way forward is that of the proletarian revolution and that of communism. But what we do know is that there is no other way and we hope that among those who came over to Britain from Africa, either in search of work or to study, there will be some who take upon themselves the task of acting as a bridge between the real communist tradition and the African proletariat.

The proletarian revolution in Africa will, of course, aim at expropriating the local bourgeoisie, at destroying the parasitic state machineries, and at expropriating imperialist interests. The fact that the African population gets no benefit from its own work while it makes the western banks richer, is a permanent scandal that must be stopped. But that alone will not be enough. The proletarian revolution will also aim at ending the division of the African continent into tiny unviable states, which have not even an ethnic basis to justify their separate existence as a protection for a particular ethnic group. On the contrary these states exist to set ethnic groups against one another.

Lastly, the proletarian revolution will aim at extending the African revolution to the rich countries, so that all the profits accumulated over the decades and the centuries at the expense of Africa can at last provide the decent living which the 20th century can indeed offer everyone.

All this may sound utopian today. But facing this "utopia" is the certainty that under capitalism Africa can only expect to slide further into poverty, ethnic wars and barbarism. What sounds like a "utopia" today can provide the solid basis needed to build another society tomorrow, because this "utopia" is already implicit in the present development of humanity. And we are convinced that in Africa as elsewhere, there will be women and men who will devote their energy to the aim of destroying the capitalist system in order to replace it with a communist society, because this is the only way of helping to save Africa as well as mankind as a whole.