Democratization, Exploitation and the State in Africa: The Final Conquest?
of Yaounde II - SOA
Globalization has been a feature of world history. And, to understand
what globalization is all about, one may need to trace the development
of capitalism in its three historic phases: mercantile, industrial and
The motive force of globalization during each phase has been private and
corporate accumulation of capital. This accumulation is facilitated through
the removal of all barriers to the movement of capital. The capital globalizes
itself in order to sell its knowledge, intensive products and services,
and to exploit cheaper resources of human labour (skilled and unskilled)
and raw materials.
It is through these phases that the state in Africa has been brought under
the heel of international finance capital. And, as dependent states, functionally,
they lubricate the export-import capitalist economy. And financially,
they are heavily reliant on, and subordinate to, capital.
Today, globalization has compelled the drive toward the democratization
of the state in Africa as the best possible political shell for capitalism.
The preference given to “democratic republics” in Africa is because they
best disguise some of the more marked aspects of capitalist exploitation.
What can be done to save the state in Africa and Africans from exploitation
and suppression by capital in its final conquest of the continent? The
answer to this question lies in the demand for the “new national democratic
revolution” in Africa. In other words, who exploits whom and oppresses
whom as the economic essence of globalisation must be identified and battled
In English, the concept globalisation means the transition to a geo-finance
system during the 1980s. Whereas, in French (as in all Latin languages)
“globalisation ”relates essentially to the geographical dimension of the
phenomenon. However, the phenomenon does not date from the 1980s. The
origins lie in the history of the modern Western world since the 15th
century the period when economic internationalization became the foundation
of capitalist society.
The end of the Cold War (with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989) triggered
a marked shift in the dynamics of international politics with the geo-military
factor ceding prominence to strategies for meeting the challenges of economic
internationalisation or globalization. Caught once again at the crossroads
of history, Africa’s predicament within the new delusive dictum of democratization
and globalization raises questions as to its congeniality to a culture
of democracy. That is to say, to what extent and with what consequences
does the post-colonial experience political, economic, social, cultural
and ideological manifestations and structures constitute a series of structural
limitations to the momentum and ambitions of democratization in Africa?
Given the history and nature of democratization in the 1990s, its class/ethnic
and ideological content, how is the state in Africa to be characterized
in the light of the current configuration of forces at global level? What
have been the achievements and pitfalls? And, on the basis of such analysis,
what is the future of the democratization for Africa in the face of globalization?
Furthermore, is globalization the final conquest of Africa by international
These, indeed, are not idle questions. This paper is an attempt to explain
why things are what they are in Africa today. And how, on the basis of
the current configuration of domestic and global forces, may those interested
begin to organize and plan for the way forward.
Hopes and State Collapse
Historically, globalization or the internationalization of finance capital
with private and corporate accumulation of capital as its force motrice
acquired a rapacious character in the 1880s. This was the period of maturation
in the West of the institution of the joint stock company, of banking,
of industrial capital, and of the development of deep mining technology.
This was when globalization exploded the “scramble for Africa” licenced
and sold to the West as the “white man’s burden” to civilize the “senile
and savage” Africans.
Globalization or the victory of socialism in the Soviet Union in 1917?
Sovietism stood opposed to globalization by the North for some 70 Years.
This Cold War period enabled Africa to acquire a measure of independence
The struggle for independence in Africa, armed or unarmed, was not oblivious
of the fact that private and corporate accumulation of capital, not the
welfare of Africans through its distribution, was the motive force of
globalization. This preoccupation explains why African nationalists proclaimed
insistently, in Mugabe’s words, that:
The first object of our armed struggle is the attainment of total and
unfettered independence so we can rule ourselves as we deem fit and develop
our country in the general interests of the (African) masses.(1)
hopes and grand designs of African nationalists were pitted against the
historical conjuncture in which globalization was a serious factor in
the determination of the course to be taken in the post-independence era.
All nationalists, like Kwame Nkrumah, soon discovered the rapacious character
The reality of neocolonialism quickly becomes obvious to a new African
government which tries to act in economic matters and in the betterment
of its own masses. For such a government immediately discovers that it
inherited the power to make laws, to direct the civil service, to treat
with foreign governments and so on, but it did not inherit effective power
over economic development in its own country. Indeed, it often discovers
that there is no such thing as a national economy(2).
of “national economy” assigns a strange role to the post-colonial
state. Could the state pursue the developmentalist objectives of independence
in response to the popular aspirations and expectation of the masses?
Could it counter the economic and political weight (full and direct) of
international finance capital as it continued to exploit the human and
material resources in the neocolonial situation? No. And, why?
Herein lies the contradictory character of the post-colonial state. It
is at the best of times a state split in two: a schizophrenic state, a
state torn apart between on the one hand the democratic forces of the
people, and on the other hand the imperialist forces of the international
financial oligarchy. This split is in evidence right through all the police,
the court system, the parliament and even the government itself (including
the cabinet), and we might add, even the political parties. Indeed, even
individual political leaders sometimes display schizophrenic tendencies
when they feel impelled on the one hand to respond to the democratic demands
of the people, and on the other hand, feel the pressure of international
capital on them which impels them to suppress those very demands they
would want to respond to but cannot.(3)
situation undermined the political independence of African states that
sought to delink from the capitalist world system. This is why, as Nyerere
stated, it is impossible to explain Africa’s current predicament without
acknowledging international finance capital as its basic cause. The reason
The gap between African poverty and the wealth of the developed nations
gets larger. African nations get further into debt and have less and less
ability even to sustain such economic progress as they had earlier made.
Then, when the natural disasters of drought or flood strike, the quid
pro quo for temporary relief is liable to be facilities for military or
communication units of a Great Power, or the forced adoption of their
economic policies. And if an African nation is not sufficiently cooperative,
then the lessons of Angola and of Libya are there to see, to say nothing
of the more subtle and camouflaged interventions in our political systems
which are frequent. (4)
not mean that each African government is always a lone-goer. From time
to time, African governments have indeed shown remarkable unity. In 1979,
they agreed on a common long-term economic plan of action for Africa,
called the Lagos Plan of Action. Unfortunately, no sooner the ink was
dry than one by one of these governments compromised to the domestic demands
of the moment and pressure from the donor community. The pressure was
for them to abandon the Plan and get down to their old ways of doing bilateral
things with donors and the World Bank.
The impact of globalization’s aggression on the state in Africa was enormous.
First, governments, by the 1980s had lost their ability even to protect
national interests against further encroachments on their sovereignty.
Second, the state bore the hallmarks of a predatory one. That is, the
pillars of the state were expropriation, extortion, the inflation of taxes,
and corruption. And, of course, the predatory state was obviously inconsistent
with economic development because it discouraged productivity and led
inexorably to misallocation of resources, culminating generally in its
collapse as a rogue state.
The collapsed state was not one that failed to do the right things, but
one that failed to do much of anything effectively – even maintaining
repressive order. Three broad and overlapping pathologies of state collapse
could easily be identified:
a) States that lost (or failed to establish) legitimacy in the eyes of
most of the population, nationally unable to exercise that authority like
b) States that were run into the ground by leaders and officials who were
corrupt, negligent, incompetent, or all three like Cameroon;
c) States that were fragmented in civil war, and in which no party was
capable of re-establishing central authority like Angola.
or “end of geography”?
The emergent position(5) in international politics is that we live in
a new era of “economic globalization”. This global system is driven by
uncontrollable international financial market forces. It is dominated
by large transnational companies that source, invest, produce and market
wherever their economic advantage dictates.
For example, 40% of world exports are controlled by just 100 undertakings.
There are also sectoral arrangements between companies operating in the
area leading to the emergence of global oligopolies. And statistics show
that genuine integration in terms of trade and direct investments is taking
place. Since 1990, world trade has increased by 6% per annum, as against
under 4% per annum during the 1980s. In 1995 world trade in goods increased
by 8% in volume terms, four times the growth in world GDP.
These global market forces are beyond governance by states. This implies
that African states have no effective role in macro-economic policy other
than adjusting to the dictates of world markets. They cannot alter the
rate of growth or the rate of employment by national manipulation of macro-economic
Globalization directly affects and constrains the social policy of a state.
The argument is that welfare rights and benefits, tax levels, and labour
market policies that deviate from the minimum level acceptable to international
finance capital will render the society in question uncompetitive and
lead to capital flight. Thus, public policy in any state should follow
the needs of international capital rather than trying to alter the economic
environment by changing the behaviour of economic actors.
This demonstrates that states cannot singly or collectively govern world
markets. The only roles remaining for them are to promote competitiveness
of local economic actors and to make their territory as attractive as
possible to inward investment by internationally mobile capital. Thus,
the discourse of “international competitiveness” is the natural companion
to that of globalization. (6)
Globalization therefore signals the “end of geography.” (7) Its principal
objective is to remove all barriers to the movement of capital and to
“raise” standards of products that enter the international market. Private
and corporate accumulation of capital, not the welfare of people through
its distribution, is the motive force of globalization.
This announces the death of any legacy of Keynes and the welfare state.
National attempts at policies of social solidarity, equality, fairness
and collective reinsurance against economic shocks are obsolete. That
is, international capital will only accept a minimum safety net and the
barest of intervention humanizing and civilizing capitalism. So, assuming
that a market society without losers could be created and sustained is
an illusion when self-interested corporate classes and global markets
call the tune.
Capital globalizes itself both to sell its knowledge intensive products
and services, and to exploit cheaper resources human (skilled and unskilled)
and raw materials. This globalization is intended to overcome the triple
crises inherent in the capitalist system of production.
One of the periodic paroxysms of crises is the permanent tension between
the financial system (fictitious money capital) and its real, material
“value” base leading to occasional adjustments when prices of stocks and
shares tumble to bring some semblance of a relationship between fictitious
and material capital. (8)
The second crisis is the individualized appropriation of collectively
generated surplus value. This surplus value has created the world’s 358
billionaires whose assets exceed the combined annual incomes of countries
with 45% of mankind, especially where the poor starve and die in their
And the third crisis is the overproduction of commodities faced by the
limitations of the market. An equitable distribution of incomes worldwide
could theoretically create an effective market for these products. But
this cannot happen.
The UNDP in its Human Development Report, 1996 says: “The world has become
more polarised and the gulf between the poor and the rich has widened
even further. Of the US $23 trillion global GDP in 1993, $18 trillion
is in the industrial countries; they have nearly 80% of the world’s people”(10)
in terms of wealth, not numbers.
In fact, international economic relations is now an obvious game of the
powerful. And contemporary globalization ordains the rule that the strong
can now extract what they will. The weak must surrender what they cannot
protect. Thus, geographical walls now face the fate of the Berlin Wall.
in Africa and Democratization: The Final Conquest?
What is the nature of the state in Africa? How has this state fared with
internationalized capital as well as production and marketing? The world
economy is integrated such that national boundaries do not make economic
sense any longer (“end of geography”), so what is the significance of
democratizing the state in Africa?
These questions can best be answered when we look at the phenomenon of
the world capitalist system in its totality. That is, we must use the
method of dialectical materialism, a science of studying and apprehending
nature and society whose method is dialectical (the law of contradiction),
and whose theory is materialist (the primacy of matter over mind).
Marx and Engels saw the state as an organ: the political power of the
oppressing class. And political power, according to the Communist Manifesto,
is merely “the organized power of one class for oppressing another “(11)
The implication here is that the state is a class category and that state
(political power) always has a class character.
Lenin’s instructive position on the question of the meaning of political
independence is clear: “That political independence does not mean that
finance capital is unable to continue dominating independent countries.
“(12) In this case of Africa, political independence did not mean economic
independence. Finance capital subordinated the economies of these “sovereign”
states to the extent that the only change at independence was that the
personnel of the state apparatus was now recruited from the local petty
bourgeoisie. Indeed, independence meant a change in government, not the
As the state arose from the need to hold class antagonism in check,
but as it arose, at the same time, in the midst of conflict of these classes,
it is, as a rule, the state of the most powerful economically dominant
class, which through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically
dominant class, and this acquires new means of holding down and exploiting
the oppressed class. (13)
could say the following in 1916, it is a hundred times true in Africa
The enormous dimensions of finance capital concentrated in a few hands
and creating an extraordinarily dense and widespread network of relationships
and connections and which subordinates not only the small and medium,
but also the very small capitalists and small masters, on the one hand,
and the increasingly intense struggle waged against their national state
groups of financiers for the division of the world and domination over
other countries, on the other hand, cause the propertied classes to go
over entirely to the side of imperialism. (14)
Since the financial oligarchy is the economically dominant class, it also
rules politically and is therefore the ruling class; the owners of capital
are also the owners of the state, particularly the state in Africa.
This leaves one with a question rarely raised in discussions of democratization
of Africa: What part does the international financial oligarchy, never
a neutral partner in African affairs, play? Capital facilitated, promoted
even the import of foreign structures and institutions from all over the
world as if pre-colonial Africa had no political, economic and social
structures of their own.
Capital propped up authoritarian regimes, considered to be its strategic
allies, for decades, and then suddenly swerved to the defence of the “democratic
cause”.(15) Reverend Jose Chipenda observed with regret that ‘Since 1990,
African countries have spent over US# 1 billion on the formation and servicing
of multiparty democracies, with hardly any country emerging with a stable
and mature multiparty system of governance.” Yet, African countries have
embarked on the road to democracy with varying degrees of enthusiasm and
resistance. But questions are increasingly being asked about the validity
of Western-style democracy for Africa. In fact, these questions become
increasingly pointed as, here and there, the democracy movement suffers
reverses and regression to autocracy.
Of course, Africa is home to 32 of the 47 poorest countries in the world.
And the World Bank as well as the IMF bait democratizing states with a
structural adjustment programme whose objective is to perpetuate its monocultural
economic system, its external dependence which renders it highly susceptible
to external shocks. Thus, there is no room for pursuing the goal of diversifying
and transforming the economy of any African state.
The danger which belies this trend is the rejection of the will of the
people as the basis of governmental authority. It is perhaps for this
reason that UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan has warned that the mad rush
toward globalization in the 21st century is an indication that countries,
especially those in Africa, which do not define their democratic and developmental
models before the third millennium will find themselves stuck in the “seething
cauldron of chaos and confusion.“ (16) And the chaos and confusion” will
only facilitate the final conquest of the state in Africa by finance capital.
The British historian, Basil Davidson, insists that “History’s conclusion
is that Africa has tried to work the wrong models” (17) So what is the
way out for Africa? First of all, the national economy remains a viable
analytical category. And it is within this arena that choices are made.
The democratizing state in Africa can strengthen its local community-based
system of production and marketing. (18) This will enable the state to
control local resources away from the hands of globalizing international
corporations. Indeed, economic policy, in particular with regard to distribution,
is not dictated by economic globalization but subject to political decisions
Secondly, the state can slow down its further integration into the world
capitalist system. That is, the state should maintain its ability to protect
national interests against further encroachments on its sovereignty implied
in globalization’s aggression.
Robert Gabriel, Our War of Liberation: Speeches, Articles, Interviews,
1976-1979 (Mambo Press, 1983), a lead quotation on the back cover of the
(2) Kwame Nkrumah cited in Jonah, Kwesi, Imperialism, The Sate and the
Indigenization of the Ghanaian Economy, 1957-84, Africa Development, Vol.
X, N°. 3 1985, p. 64.
(3) Tandon, Yash, The Post-colonial State, Social Change and Development,
N°8, 1984 pp. 24.
(4) Speech by Dr. Julius K. Nyerere at University of Zimbabwe, Harare,
7 June 1986.
(5) Hirst, Paul Q and Thompson, Grahame F., "Globalization. Ten Frequently
Asked Questions and Some Surprising Answers" soundings, N°4, Autumn
1996, pp. 47-66.
(6) Thompson, G.F. "Some Observations on the ‘International Competitiveness
Debate’ and International Economic Relations", in "Globalization and Industrial
Transformation in Europe", Malaga, Spain: January 9-12, 1997.
(7) O’Brien, R., Global Financial Integration: The End of Geography, London:
(8) Tandon, Yash, "Globalization and the South: The Logic of Exploitation",
in International Politics and Society, N°4, 1997, p.391. The author
notes that the 1987 crisis was the latest manifestation of this when stock
prices tumbled by some $200 billion within 24 hours.
(10) UNDP, Human Development Report, New York, Oxford University Press,
(11) Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, selected works (MOSCOW: Progress
Publishers, 1969), 3VD/S., p. 127.
(12) Kievsky’s arguments and Lenin’s rebuttal are in V.I. Lenin, ‘A caricature
of Marxism and Imperialist Economism", in collected Works, Vol. 23, pp.
(13) Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 3, Moscow: Progress Publishers,
1970 pp. 38-78.
(14) Lenin, V.I, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Collected
Works, Vol. 22, Moscow:
Progress Publishers, 1976, pp. 10-45.
(15) The Courier, N°138, March-April 1993, pp. 62-88.
(16) See, George Ngwane, " Cameroon Nation at a Crossroads," in West Africa,
N°. 4171, 1997, pp. 1678-1680.
(17) Ibid, p. 1679.
(18) Tandon, op. Cit., p. 397.
The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO.
Les idées et opinions exprimées dans cette article sont
celles de l'auteur
et n’engagent pas la responsabilité de l´UNESCO.