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African socialism or socialist Africa?

The euphoria that greeted the attainment of independence by the majority of African states over two decades ago has since died down, and the hopes raised with regard to development and a higher standard of living for the masses have not materialized. Only a minority, taking advantage of their positions within the politico-economic structures, have enriched themselves and now live an exaggerated lifestyle that belies the poverty that characterizes the lives of the majority. Africa is still beset with problems which, rather than abating, have actually intensified, ranging from political instability as manifested in the series of coups and counter-coups, the proliferation of revolutionary movements, to the lack of adequate health services, shelter, education, etc., for the masses. Furthermore, a continent that in the not too distant past was able to feed its population is today on the verge of starvation and is dependent on imported food to feed its people. What could possibly be responsible for this state of affairs and what does the future hold for Africa?

In African Socialism or Socialist Africa? A.M. Babu, a former minister of economic development in Tanzania, attempts to answer these questions. With characteristic bluntness, he holds all of us responsible. He points out that while Africa is probably the second richest continent in the world in natural resources, its people are among the poorest. HE identifies the exploitation of Africa by foreigners as largely responsible for this unfortunate contradiction, but further argues that they are not the only culprits: "Our own inaction is also to blame." (p. 173) Thus, all Africans are held responsible, and no one is exonerated.

He exposes the bankrupt policies of African leaders, the gap between their radical rhetoric and their performance, their development strategy of encouraging foreign aid and foreign investment, their failure to understand that capitalism can no longer work in developing countries in this epoch of proletarian socialist revolution. Babu attributes all these, in part, to the leaders' inability to correctly analyze imperialism and the African situation. Consequently, they fail to understand Africa's underdevelopment as an outcome of its incorporation into the world capitalist system as an appendage to serve international capital. The survival of capitalism, he further argues, is tied up with the maintenance of this exploitative relationship. It is through this exploitation of the working peoples of Africa and the rest of the third world that capitalist countries have been able to provide their workers with an increased standard of living, thereby maintaining industrial peace. The underdevelopment of Africa and the rest of the third world is therefore a necessary condition for the survival of capitalism.

However, it is doubtful that African leaders' policies can be adequately explained in terms of their failure to correctly analyze imperialism and the African situation. Given their experiences, the of literature on the subject, much of which is available to them, it is doubtful the the above is a plausible explanation. A more acceptable explanation attributes the policies of African leaders to the development of a common class interest with international capital. To perpetuate underdevelopment and ensure capitalism's survival, according to Babu, capitalism found allies in some of the African leaders. These leaders, having developed common class interest with the exploiters, have adopted development strategies geared toward a perpetuation of this exploitative relationship. In this regard, with the exception of the former Portuguese colonies, the author sees hardly any difference between the so-called conservative and radical African leaders. Neither seem to view the African contradiction as a concrete indictment of capitalism and a glaring proof of its failure. Consequently, both adopt development strategies that are dependent on foreign investment and foreign aid, which in effect only intesify the dependent economic structure and perpetuate underdevelopment.

Babu also rejects the frequently mentioned Japanese model as an available option of development for Africa. He argues that Japan was never a colony and hence its economy was never subjected to the distortion suffered by African countries. In its development process, Japan also exploited other (Asia) countries, an option which is no longer avaialble. In addition, monopoly capitalism was in its embryonic stages of development during the nineteenth century when Japan developed. It has since matured internationally, and will crush any attempt by any state to emulate the Japanese model.

Babu identifies the only two development options open to Africa--capitalism or scientific socialism--and argues that there is no third way, only a historical period of transition from capitalism to socialism. He thus identifies scientific socialism as the only option available for African countries to attain a self-reliant and self-sustaining development. He cites North Korea, China, and Vietnam as some of the backward countries that have adopted this strategy and have developed in a relatively short time. He attributes the success of socialism to the fact that it is the only social system which makes "man" the center of its economic activities. Unlike capitalism which centers on profit, socialism is aimed at satisfying human needs.

With regard to how socialism might be achieved, however, the author does not seem to be quite clear. He is confident about the potential for change in Africa and that the tide for economic and political revolution "is now rising rapidly." And he is convinced that change will be effected through the organization of workers and the other oppressed classes and the genuinely revolutionary fraction of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia. The objective conditions are present, only the subjective factor is missing. It is primarily on the working class that the author pins his hopes. In spite of its numerical and organizational weakness, Babu sees this class as destined to play the vanguard role. This is because, as he puts it, "in the final analysis, it is the role of the organized working class to take the people of Africa to their historically conditioned destiny." (p. 174) But so far, Babu has not provided us with any concrete evidence to warrant this optimism or confidence in the working class of Africa. He can only urge the working class to organize and in the process to push the "petty bourgeois leaders of africa to more progressive, socialist economic policies." (p. 174)

One is still left wondering how socialism is supposed to be achieved in Africa. Babu is obviously advoacting a revolutionary change, but unlike the socialist examples (North Korea, Vietnam, China), we do not hear the staccato of machine-gun fire. Instead, we see a working class content with gradually increasing its pressure on the petty bourgeoisie to adopt socialist policies. Since this scenario obviously does not follow from Babu's analysis, one is forced to ask whether Babu really believes that socialism can be achieved in Africa by the working class simply "pushing the African petty bourgeois leaders to more progressive, socialist economic policies." Given their position and vested interest in the exploitative relationship with international capital, it is most unlikely and in fact unrealistic to expect that they would, as a result of pressure from the proletariat, opt for a genuine socialist development strategy. Implicit in Babu's position is the assumption that socialism can be achieved peacefully. This evokes memories of Allende's Chile and the recurrent question whether it is possible for socialism to be achieved through peaceful means.

This is nevertheless a thought-provoking book, and in it Babu brings together the ideas he has been expressing in his columns in New Africa and later Africa Now. It is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the political economy of Africa. It is, as the author describes it, "a down-to-earth political manifesto" in which he has presented a simple, lucid, and convincing explanation for Africa's underdevelopment which exonerates no one--we are all guilty! And it is a book in which Babu has outlined how to overcome the present state of underdevelopment.

Africa Socialism or Socialist Africa? will be of immense interest, not only to "the emerging workers and youth," as the author hopes, but to all Africans and those interested in Africa. His unequivocal choice of socialism as the only option available to Africa and his discussion of the process of achieving this end are bound to provoke much discussion. His wish that the book generate discussion among workers and youth will undoubtedly be fulfilled, but the discussion will go far beyond that circle. Those in power in Africa today will be well advised to read this book. It is indispensable for all Africans and anyone interested in Africa's future.
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Author:Owugah, Lenny
Publication:Monthly Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1984
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