Alternative approaches to Africa: Chinese trade v Western bombs

Africa's growth - accelerated after 2000

By Tom Castle

The military intervention in Mali led by French imperialism has quickly been followed by Britain announcing it intends to establish a military presence in Libya, South Sudan and Somalia.

Both Britain and France are increasing their intervention into Africa. Both played central roles in the co-ordinated military attack on Libya in 2011 and French troops intervened in the Cote d’Ivoire in 2011.

The US is encouraging its junior imperialist partners to step up their military role in Africa, with the US providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance rather than the key fighting forces. This is to allow the US to continue prioritising its ‘pivot’ to Asia, which is aimed at stepping up its presence in the Pacific as a curb on China, partly aimed at forcing a diversion of Chinese resources into defensive military spending in an attempt to curb the growth of the Chinese economy.

However, imperialism still has important interests in Africa, particularly its privileged access to raw materials. In 2008, the US established Africom, the command centre for US forces intervention in Africa. Its mission was openly described by Vice Admiral Robert Moeller as preserving ‘the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market’.

The rise of China combined with the relative and absolute economic weakening of the imperialist powers means that the West’s economic monopoly is being progressively eliminated in Africa, and it is therefore forced to turn toward more direct use of military power to preserve its interests .

Through its recent interventions the Western powers have in effect seized control of African assets by military means. In Libya the French government insisted on oil contracts at substantially below market prices even before the fighting was finished. Intervention in Cote d’Ivoire occurred after it had discovered very large offshore oil reserves. Since the French military arrived in Mali, French troops have also taken control of a uranium mine in Niger.

The propaganda campaign in support of this renewed scramble for African has a number of strands including all the reactionary claims made for the ‘war on terror’. It also includes a propaganda campaign against Chinese trade with Africa. Bizarrely China is accused of imperialism, when it is evident that its trade with Africa has been a major factor assisting Africa break the long stagnation of its economy.

African GDP growth has increased markedly, to an average of approximately 5.5 per cent a year since 2000, nearly double its growth rate in the two preceding decades. The value of trade flows has trebled over the same period. The growth in bilateral trade with China has increased tenfold, to over US $100bn, this being the largest contribution to the continent’s growth over the period.

Trade is not imperialism. Marx explained (in relation to British domination of Ireland) that imperialism uses military force as part of an entire system of more intense exploitation of the colony, with its firms ‘pocketing the excess’ profits. Until recently rapid growth was precluded for Africa, because Western firms pocketed the excess, backed up by Western armies.

South African President Jacob Zuma explained the first decisive effect of Chinese trade with Africa was that ‘we no longer have to sign every contract that is put in front of us’. African countries can decisively improve their terms of trade because of China’s role.

But the role of the Western imperialist powers, acting in concert, has not been to compete with China by offering better terms for natural resources. Instead they have revealed the true face of imperialism, and increasingly use open force to extort their terms.

African countries face two contrasting approaches: trade with China and other fast-growing developing economies or military intervention by Western imperialism.

Western liberal opinion which supports these interventions, believing the rhetoric of the ‘war on terror’ or the need for ‘stability’ or the ‘rule of law’ is at best self-delusional.

Cameron and Hollande are no more acting for humanitarian reasons in Africa than George Bush was in Iraq. The seizure of natural resources is precisely the same as was attempted in Iraq. Their methods, chiefly bombing population centres, are equally indiscriminate. They are a far more lethal threat to the population than their lightly-armed opponents.

In Britain the Stop the War Coalition’s activities against these interventions deserve full support.