A new spectre is haunting Africa. It is the spectre of Privatization. All over the continent, from the North to the South, from West to East, regimes of all tendencies – from the most conservative to the most ‘progressive’ – have discovered the all-curing pill of privatizing and selling the public sectors of their neo-colonial economies.
Africa is not only being plundered by imperialist Transnational Corporations (INCS), its people are not only going through the most disastrous living conditions since the Depression of the 1930s, but have now been put up for sale – to the highest bidder? By its ruling classes.
To be sure, the privatization drive is a cardinal element of the present-day strategy of imperialism to strengthen its hegemony in the various neo-colonies. It represents one of the most successful points of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) which has been running amock – with very tragic consequences – over the past seven years, in Africa.
A study commissioned by the United States Department of State, in March 1987, indicated that about two thirds of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa and Namibia, have undertaken significant reforms since 1982.
According to the survey, 10 countries have decontrolled producer prices; 20 countries had frozen hiring or reduced public sector employment; 13 counties had eliminated public agricultural marketing agencies or permitted private sector competition; 7 countries gave up imports of agricultural inputs to the private sector. The study also revealed that 14 countries have privatized some state enterprises; 8 countries liquidated some state enterprises; 21 countries substantially increased producer prices; 14 countries reduced or eliminated agricultural input subsidies; 8 countries reduced or eliminated food subsidies; 16 countries reduced/eliminated petroleum subsidies; 13 countries “realigned” exchange rates (devalued their currencies!).
To underline the deep ideological content of imperialist strategy, Chris Patten, the British Minister of Overseas Development, in response to the survey, observed that “many aid-recipient countries have turned their backs on fake socialist solutions and chosen to take the course of greater emphasis on market forces.”
This development, he pointed out, “is profoundly in the interest of the West….” Henceforth, British development aid would be tied to ‘policy reform’ in Africa.
A recent report written for the Adam Smith Institute (an economic think tank associated with Britain’s Conservative government, WEST AFRICA magazine February 20 – 26, 1989) entitled ‘The Enterprise Imperative – promoting growth in developing countries,’ sought to direct economic aid in a manner conducive to the encouragement of privatization.
The report firmly opposes public ownership or anything that smacks of socialism, which It characterizes as a ‘malady’, which was ‘virtually dead’ and a cause of economic problems. Privatization is described in very glowing terms.
Privatization transforms the “inward-looking monopolistic state bureaucracies where wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a few bureaucrats and politicians…” into “… modern, competitive market economies where much wealth and power is diversified and talent rewarded.”
Selling the public service is even presented as our final act of economic decolonization! But can the crusade for privatization be value-free? Hardly. According to the WEST AFRICA magazine report, the Adam Smith Institute report was keen to point out the economic advantages to Britain.
British promotion of privatization, would provide British companies with valuable inroads into overseas markets.
At the beginning of this century, Lenin, in outlining the characteristics of imperialism, as the highest stage of capitalism, pointed out the crucial importance of overseas markets for the imperialist circles. In our epoch, markets overseas, are even of greater importance.
As “The Enterprise Imperative” stated, “working on privatization provides influence on policy and the opportunity to work directly with top government officials and gain long term, important contacts” – all in the interest, NOT of our economies, but of the imperialist TNCS. This is the naked truth about the privatization ‘gospel’.
Privatization in Africa, runs against a lot of obstacles which the imperialists know very well. There is first of all the fact, that the so-called private sector here, is nothing but the local representative institutions of the TNCS and their lackeys of African comprador bourgeoisie – the class Obasanjo describes as the ‘Tollgate Keepers’ for imperialism.
Objectively, this bourgeoisie, with its notorious lack of patriotism, its spinelessness, its subservience to the dictates of imperialism, cannot be expected to purchase the public sector, to turn them into ‘competitive market economies’ – the illusion peddled by the Ideologues of the Adam Smith Institute.
As has happened before, the African lackeys of the imperialists will act as the fronts-men of their masters. Purchase shares in the enterprises put up for sale, sit on the Directorship Boards, and watch the creaming out of super-profits by the ‘Foreign Partners.’
In an interview with WEST AFRICA magazine, David Stafford, International Expert for Coopers and & Lybrand, one of the leading British firms in the field of privatization, in Africa, confirmed the fact that “in African countries, they are faced with a dilemma: either to sell to foreign
companies or, if they sell domestically, the private sector might be quite small and it will be the same people who buy all the time so you end up with market concentration in the hands of a few very powerful individuals.”
It is therefore not an accident, that British missions abroad, have apparently been instructed to investigate candidate sectors for privatization. Priority sectors for British imperialism, being transport and communication.
Undeterred by the protestations of broad sections of the population, and with the aid of the awesome powers of detentions without trial, banning, riot troops etc., the ruling classes in Africa, are marching on along the privatization paths, laid out by the high priests of the IMF and the World Bank.
So from Benin Republic to Zaire, hundreds of state enterprises are up for sale. Up to January 1989, in Nigeria, the public sector, comprised 107 enterprises, of which 36 are owned wholly, by the Federal Government.
In the privatization program, 96 enterprises are involved. 49 are to be completely privatized, 9 are to be commercialised and 18 others, are for partial privatization.
This is why the media in the country today, has become saturated with jingles about the impending sales of Flour Mills and African Petroleum.
Another factor that must not be underestimated, is the Illusion of property ownership, that the program hopes to generate within society, if it succeeds in getting individual workers and their trade unions to purchase some of the shares in the enterprises. Ultimately, it is to the benefit of the capitalism system, to block the development of a proletarian class consciousness amongst African workers.
By selling the public sector of the economy, the tasks of revolutionary praxis on the continent, becomes similarly complicated. What kind of inheritance will follow in the wake of the victory of the peoples over the present away neo-colonial order? These are questions that must be pondered in the wake of the Privatization program.
A provisional reading of the 1980s, I think, reveals the counterattack launched by imperialism to halt the tide of anti-imperialist victories, which was so characteristic of the previous decade. It is also a decade of rolling back whatever gains made by the peoples, from the end of the Second World War.
There were certain factors that have been to the advantage of imperialism. In the first place, they have generally been able to successfully intensify production, using the gains of the Scientific and Technological Revolution (STR). This is at a point, when the economies of the socialist countries have been stagnating.
The debt-crisis of the underdeveloped countries also opened ‘sesame’ for greater manipulation of these countries. At a related level, is the intensification of un-equal exchange, deteriorating terms of trade in the primary commodities of these countries. All backed by a succession of very conservative – Reagan/Thatcher type-governments in the imperialist countries. Trapped within this labyrinth of
problems, and exacerbated by the notorious inefficiency of the neo-colonial state machinery, the African ruling classes, could not in any case run way from embracing the privatization ‘panacea’.
The alternative to imperialism’s present economic doctrines today in Africa has always been available. This consists in the conscious rupture with imperialist control. It means an independent development of national productive forces and the strengthening of sovereign control over economies.
It is this alternative, that Africa’s ruling classes have sought to ensure does not become popular. It is an economic program, that would have called for reliance on the working people and other patriotic sectors of the African society; an anathema for the ruling classes who have a lot to lose in such arrangements.
Privatization is not the panacea that would solve Africa’s problems of under development. On the contrary, it can only open the continent to greater plunder, disorganization, and exploitation. Perhaps our rulers want to count more corpses of children, before accepting that they are driving us to ruin.