Plundering Africa: British imperialism 2016

Africa gold

A recent report by War on Want, The New Colonialism: Britain’s scramble for Africa’s energy and mineral resources, underlines the continued role of Britain as one of the world’s dominant imperialist powers.1 Researcher Mark Curtis has once again produced a vital report providing a savage indictment of the capitalist system. The report exposes the naked plunder by British extractive companies of African resources, ripping minerals, oil and gas out of the ground without concern for the human, social, and environmental cost. All this wealth is then transferred out of Africa through the City of London and tax havens. The report provides ammunition for revolutionaries in the fight against imperialism, in solidarity with African resistance to the plunder and destruction of their countries.

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Angola: 40 years of independence, from revolution to neo-colony

Agostinho Neto and Fidel Castro

On 11 November 2015, Angola celebrated 40 years of independence from its former colonial master; Portugal. The occasion is a significant milestone for the country's ruling party; Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), which has enjoyed 40 years of uninterrupted rule. Looking at the greedy, corrupt, self-serving clique at the top of the MPLA, it is impossible not to question how a once truly revolutionary organisation, that led the heroic struggle for national liberation, which all Angolans may take pride in, has become an enemy of all that the heroes of the liberation struggle fought for.

The future of the MPLA is increasingly uncertain. Falling oil prices have hit Angola’s heavily oil dependent economy very hard (crude oil makes up 90% of Angola’s exports), forcing the government to implement budget cuts, including the removal of fuel subsidies, which had been one of the most popular policies of President José Eduardo Dos Santos’ increasingly unpopular government. In June, 17 young people, members of a book club, were arrested, and accused of reading books about non-violent protest. Initially charged with plotting a coup, they are now on trial for rebellion against the state.

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The Great African Robbery

Africa is an extremely resource rich continent, yet, despite its natural wealth, Sub-Saharan Africa is at the bottom of the Human Development Index, with 50% of people living in extreme poverty. The Overseas Development Institute estimates that $30bn of aid goes into the continent each year, but huge parts of the African population remain in poverty. A report by 15 charities, Honest Accounts? The true story of Africa’s billion dollar losses* sheds light on why this might be.

Africa has been bled dry over centuries by slavery, colonisation and imperialism, at an incalculable economic and human cost. Today this takes the form not of physical chains, but huge debts, debilitating theft of income and imposed policies that prevent the independence of nations. As Honest Accounts? explains:

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UN ignores sexual abuse in the Central African Republic

In April it was reported in The Guardian that 14 French soldiers sent to the Central African Republic (CAR) as part of international ‘peacekeeping’ efforts after the state collapsed in December 2013, were involved in sexually abusing at least ten hungry and homeless children, some as young as nine, in exchange for food and money. The rape and sodomy took place at a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) at M’Poko airport near the capital Bangui, between December 2013 and June 2014. Six children had testified against the soldiers, four were direct victims while two others witnessed the abuse. The kids fled the IDP camp in terror after the assault. France was made aware of the abuse in July 2014 and has belatedly agreed to ‘investigate’. The UN had tried to cover-up the abuse, and is busy persecuting the whistleblower, UN director of field operations Anders Kompass, who leaked the report to French authorities because his superiors had failed to take any action. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Ebola epidemic – Cuba sends doctors, imperialists send soldiers

The deadly and highly contagious ebola virus has been ravaging West Africa since December 2013. By the end of September, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that nearly 3,000 people had died. But the real figure is likely to be much higher, and the epidemic has spiralled out of control, with cases in Liberia, for example, reportedly doubling every 15 to 20 days. The lethally inadequate response by both the international community and the corrupt neo-colonial governments of the countries affected, whose frail health care systems are overwhelmed, have created a humanitarian crisis of appalling proportions.

Devastation in West Africa

The worst outbreaks have been in Liberia, Sierra Leone and to a lesser extent Guinea. The situation in Nigeria (which reported only 21 cases and eight deaths) and Senegal, with only one case, appears under control. But WHO figures for 25 September record more than 3,000 cases of contagion and 1,677 deaths in Liberia; 1,940 cases and 597 deaths in Sierra Leone, and 1,000 cases and 635 deaths in Guinea. Treatment and containment have been hampered by a lack of health facilities. Many hospitals initially closed for fear of infection, and treatment centres, including those set up by health charities such as Medecins sans Frontiers (MSF), have been overwhelmed, with reports of people dying in queues outside, or having to be taken back home in a ballooning cycle of contagion. At least 70% of those infected would need to be isolated and treated for there to be any chance of stopping the disease in its tracks: in Liberia the figure actually being treated is 18%. Today, Liberia has not a single bed available for the treatment of ebola patients anywhere in the entire country, and in March had only 50 doctors for a total population of four million people. Sierra Leone has fewer than 100 doctors practising in the public sector, very few of them specialists. Many health workers have died because they lack basic personal protective equipment (PPE). In September, nurses and doctors at Liberia's largest hospital went on strike over not being paid, food shortages and a lack of PPE.

These are poor countries, where many people are forced to share the same living space and the virus spreads quickly. Corpses are often left in houses for several days, and there is a lack of clean water to take essential hygiene precautions. In addition, in many rural areas there is mistrust of government and health workers, and some hospitals have been attacked and medical workers killed.

In the face of this catastrophe, national governments have introduced draconian measures. National borders have been closed and a state of emergency was declared in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, with soldiers being used to quarantine entire communities. In September, Sierra Leone imposed a three-day lockdown on the whole country.

International response: too little, too late ...

The ebola virus was first discovered in 1976. Yet nearly 40 years later, there are no licensed vaccines nor properly tested drug therapies available. The big drug companies have clearly not thought it profitable to develop treatments for a disease that to date has only affected poor people in Africa – claiming hundreds of lives every few years in cyclical epidemics. For presumably similar reasons, international health organisations were slow to act at the beginning of the current outbreak. Now, faced with the unprecedented scale of the current epidemic, the WHO and the United Nations have held emergency summits, and new treatments are in the pipeline. But no drugs, vaccines or therapies will be ready before November 2015. And despite promises of action and millions of dollars of aid from the imperialist countries, almost none has so far translated into the kind of response on the ground that organisations such as MSF have been desperately calling for. As MSF's international president Dr Joanne Liu said pointedly at the end of September:

'Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented UN resolutions are very welcome. But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered.'

... and too militaristic

The main intervention offered is by imperialist armies, ostensibly to build treatment centres. The US is sending 3,000 troops to Liberia, with a US Africa Command (Africom) centre in the capital, Monrovia. The intention is to build 17 100-bed units, but aid agencies warn that these will be useless without the medical personnel to staff them. France is setting up a military hospital in Guinea, while British military engineers and medical experts will build and operate a 62-bed facility in Sierra Leone. In 2012, US Army Africa, a component of Africom, announced a ‘pilot programme’ of 3,000 troops to deploy to Africa in 2013 for ‘multiple missions at different locations’. What an opportunity ebola has turned out to be, allowing imperialism to extend its reach into the oil-rich region.

It has been left to volunteers to provide actual medical care. 164 medical workers from Britain's National Health Service have courageously offered their services – but this hardly counts as an adequate government response to the crisis. For that, we need to look to socialist Cuba.

Cuba shows the way

Cuba, with a population of just over 11 million people, is already training up a team of 165 highly qualified medical specialists to work in Sierra Leone from October. This will double the total number of doctors in Sierra Leone. It is by far the largest health team sent by any country and has been warmly welcomed by the WHO.

'Those of us who have been working on the response efforts at WHO know how truly valuable this offer is. Many countries have offered money but no other country has offered such a large number of workers to go in and help do the most difficult jobs in this crisis,' said Dr Bruce Aylward.

On 26 September, as British politicians gathered to discuss launching a new imperialist war on the Middle East, Cuba announced it was sending a further 300 health workers to West Africa. The contrast between imperialism’s militaristic and socialism’s humanitarian responses couldn’t be clearer.

Charles Chinweizu

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014