World in View: Africa in the crosshairs of world imperialism

May 8, 2021

From the May-June 2021 issue of News & Letters

by Gerry Emmett

Map of Africa

The capitalist world remains in a deep crisis and now faces a crossroads. U.S., Chinese, and European imperialism all have aging populations and mounting debt burdens. They will need to find new sources of labor to exploit, and natural resources to plunder, in a next round of primitive capitalist accumulation.

Africa has over 1.3 billion people. It is the youngest population of any major region, and three-fourths of its labor force works in the informal economy. It has abundant mineral wealth. It is a target.

Neocolonialism and corrupt state-capitalist regimes have laid the groundwork. U.S., Chinese, and European corporations keep African workers in mostly low-paying positions, reserving management to themselves.


Europe, especially France, is building trade routes through North Africa and down the West Coast. China has expanded its Belt and Road Initiative with billions in investments, mainly in East Africa.

At the same time, the U.S. has a string of 29 “temporary” military bases from Niger to Somalia, and a huge permanent naval base in Djibouti. China also has a naval base only a few miles away, which is able to dock a large aircraft carrier.

Much of this is supposed to be directed at pirates and terrorists. But, coincidentally, it serves to dominate the trade routes.


Labor exploitation is already intense, from sweatshops to mines. Child labor is a particular problem. There are an estimated 73 million child laborers, 1 in every 5 children, the highest rate in the world.

A recent statement by S’bu Zikode of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the South African shackdwellers’ movement, captures the dynamic in much of Africa: “The poor are not poor by choice. It is the history of colonialism, apartheid and land dispossession that keep us in poverty. The commodification of land and state corruption keep us poor.”

South Africa’s African National Congress government, which can sound liberal or even revolutionary, yet works hand in glove with global capitalism, is a state-of-the-art exploiter. It is now engaged in a struggle with the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the Communist Party-led federation that has been one of the pillars of its rule, and the independent National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.

Right now the ruling class is talking about moon bases, Mars colonies, and high-speed vacuum tube shipping across continents. Whose sweated labor will pay for those dreams? What new brutalities might lie hidden in those fantasies, to be turned against ourselves as human self-alienation always is?

Human solidarity requires we pay very close attention to Africa. The relative indifference to the 1998-2003 Congo War—which killed millions, grew from the Rwandan genocide, and was fueled by mineral wealth—remains one of contemporary society’s deepest shames.

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