Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Future Wars: The New Scramble for Africa

Why is there a commemoration for the First World War? Why the fuss? The commemoration has more to do with today’s politics and the need for politicians like Cameron and Miliband to bind the working class to the interests of the capitalist class within the mythical “nation state” than it has to recall the millions maimed and killed while fighting for the interest of their respective ruling class.

The 1914-1918 conflict was supposed to be the “War to end all wars”, but it turned out to be no such thing. Capitalism’s wars continued throughout the 20th century on into this one; Afghanistan and Iraq to name but two. And these wars take place no matter which capitalist political party was in government at the time; whether they were Tory, Liberal, a Coalition, or Labour.

In fact, the world today has many similarities to the build-up to the First World War, for example, the scramble for Africa by capitalist powers for the protection of trade routes, the plunder of raw resources especially oil and the so-called “rare earths” and strategic considerations.

The original Scramble for Africa (1880-1900) was a period of rapid colonization of the African continent by European powers. But it wouldn't have happened except for the particular economic, political and military pressures acting on Europe at the time.

As the historian Alistair Body-Evens pointed out:

The end of European trading in slaves left a need for commerce between Europe and Africa. Capitalists may have seen the light over slavery, but they still wanted to exploit the continent - new 'legitimate' trade would be encouraged. Explorers located vast reserves of raw materials; they plotted the course of trade routes, navigated rivers, and identified population centers which could be a market for manufactured goods from Europe. It was a time of plantations and cash crops, dedicating the region's workforce to producing rubber, coffee, sugar, palm oil, timber, etc. for Europe. And all the more enticing if a colony could be set up which gave the European nation a monopoly. http://africanhistory.about.com/od/eracolonialism/a/ScrambleWhy.htm

The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 (and the subsequent General Act of the Conference of Berlin) laid down ground rules for the further partitioning of Africa. Navigation on the Niger and Congo rivers was to be free to all, and in order to declare a protectorate over a region the European colonizer must show effective occupancy and develop a 'sphere of influence'; a development that contributed to the out-break of the First world war in 1914.

The development of these spheres of influence in the continent of Africa continues today but without the “ground rules” provided by the veneer of International conferences. The scramble for Africa is just as globally competitive and unpleasant as it was then, with modern-day plunder and piracy. Literally, it is every capitalist nation for itself. And this is no more so than in the pursuit of the economic and military interests of the US and China. Both want to ensure that the greatest amount of oil and raw resources - cheap labour, rivers, mountains, what exists above and below the ground - goes to their respective countries to the exclusion of anyone else: economic locusts; one could say.

A recent report in THE AFRICAN ECONOMIST gave a “taster" of the potential for Africa and its developing capitalist class. Africa’s capitalist class, which effectively did not exist in the last scramble for Africa has welcomed the benefits that competing foreign countries would bring in terms of mining for raw materials, the building of infrastructure facilities like ports and roads and the construction of factories, offices and luxury houses. The example given in the report was Tanzania, once a German colony. Tanzania just one country eyed with economic lust by resource-hungry capitalist countries like the US, India and China eye. The report stated:

Among other countries, Tanzania could take a lead in pushing the continent into a new economic frontier. Due to its low cost of labour and abundant natural resources – ranging from minerals, oil, and natural gas to agricultural and non-agricultural natural resources – Tanzania and the rest of Africa are the new destination for the developed and developing economies thirsting for energy, food, and raw materials. Discoveries of mineral resources in many of African countries, especially those in Sub-Sahara Africa, point to the tremendous economic potential. http://theafricaneconomist.com/will-tanzania-be-the-new-economic-frontier/

The US has been expanding its own presence in Africa because of its fears of China’s growing influence on the continent and in the region of the Pacific Ocean. In May 2012 the US sent economic and military delegations to a number of African countries - Ghana, Liberia, Niger and Mali to try to win the governments over to US not Chinese interests. The conflict of interest between the US and China is particularly prevalent in the oil-rich areas of South Sudan, Darfur, Uganda and the Gulf of Guinea.

Over the last year there has been a scramble to set up military spheres of influence across Africa. THE INDEPENDENT recently reported on the increased deployment of troops from the US, China, India and France to African countries. In an article, “Soft power”: the hard sell in Africa” (13th November 2013) their reporter wrote:

…there is competition for influence in a continent rich in minerals and commercial potential. China, desperate for resources and undertaking endless construction projects, is now flexing its military muscle…India now has a series of defense agreements with Kenya, Mozambique and Madagascar….

A map of the African continent, which accompanied the article, showed a strong US military presence in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Niger and Chad in the North of Africa and in Nigeria in the West and Kenya, Tanzania Mozambique and Madagascar to the South, giving the US strategic access to ports and to the coastal regions around large contours of the continent to check Chinese expansion.

In a rather insipid and lacklustre conclusion to the militarization of the continent and the ravaging of African countries for raw materials and cheap labour, the INDEPENDENT report said “It will be fascinating scene of competition for influence in the future” Fascinating for whom? Not the working class forced to work in the mines securing minerals and oil. Nor for those workers – often children – who will be forced to take part in proxy wars or in the many civil-wars which plague the continent.

Yet the interest of the working class who live in Africa, just as for the working class elsewhere in the world, is of little or no concern for the powers-that-be. The destruction of competitors, capital accumulation for the sake of accumulation, the expansion of value and the profit motive: these are the prime concerns of capitalists, their politicians and governments.

The need of the working class to be adequately fed, clothed and to have access to shelter, medicine and education is of little importance to the indigenous and foreign governments and military. And the needs of the workers seen mainly as cheap labour are of little or no consequence to the companies mining the raw materials and setting up factories and distribution points in order to fuel the production of commodities for sale on the world market for the enrichment of the world’s capitalist class.

For Socialists capitalism causes war. It is the Socialist contention that the basic cause of war in the modern world is the way in which society is organised around the exploitation of the working class and the competitive pursuit of profit. The cause of war is the constant rivalry between competing nation states.

The working class of the world has no interest in war. Workers have no country. They own no mineral resources like oil. Workers have no strategic interests to protect. And workers have no trade routes to fight over. It is not enough merely to protest against war. To get rid of war, Socialists argue, we must get rid of capitalism, based on its relentless competition and exploitation. This social system inevitably causes conflict and war.

The scramble for troop deployment across the continent of Africa will lay the basis for future conflict and war. So how we to set in motion a politics that will end all wars? World Socialism is the solution to end all wars but to establish World Socialism requires the conscious and political action of a Socialist majority acting within a principled Socialist Party with Socialism and nothing but Socialism as its objective. Workers who now give their support to the “nation” have to begin to understand that capitalism causes war and will carry on causing war until it is abolished and replaced by the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. There is no alternative; there is no “third way”.

In a year in which the capitalist class, their governments and their politicians celebrate and commemorate the “war to end all wars” while preparing the basis for future wars we repeat what we said at the outbreak of war in 1914, and again in 1939:

Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism

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