[OPE-L] African Workers and Scholars Unite

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu May 25 2006 - 14:25:48 EDT

African Workers and Scholars Unite

By Patrick Bond

Centre for Civil Society, Durban, South Africa

At Workers University in Cairo, a mid-May gathering of
100 trade union leaders and intellectuals from across
Africa adopted surprisingly common  radical language,
exhibiting a pent-up desire to jointly fight global

The Council for the Development of Social Science
Research in Africa (Codesria) has been an extraordinary
network for 5000 members who are the continent's core
of progressive academics. From its head office in Dakar
came the executive secretary, political economist
Adebayo Olukoshi, and Carlos Cardoso, one of the
leading scholars on the work of  Amilcar Cabral from
his native Guinea-Bissau.

Cohosting was Hassan Sunmonu, the charismatic Nigerian
leader of the 33-year old Organisation of African Trade
Union Unity (Oatuu). He noted his group's unusually
open relations with social change activists elsewhere
in civil society: as a founding member of the World
Social Forum's Africa regional network and member of
the WSF International Council, and founding member of
African Trade Network with twenty NGOs, as well as
networks on debt and economic policy.

Each intervention attacked their double oppression,
stemming first from international economic pressure and
second from local accomplices in comprador-state
regimes. Changing these governments was a perpetual
task, said Sunmonu: 'In our Arusha African Charter for
Popular Participation in 1990, we announced the need
for a people-empowered democracy. Those rulers elected
by the African people must be at their service, not in
the service of multinationals, donors or the World
Trade  Organisation, International Monetary Fund and
World Bank. Those leaders unwilling to work on this
basis must now go!'

For Sunmonu, this is a chance to unite with academics,
to remind all Africa's producers of the unfair
conditions they labour under. 'France formally
apologised to Africans this last week for participating
in slavery. We want to hear from Queen Elizabeth, the
Portuguese, the Spanish, Brussels, Washington and
others involved in the slave trade. You researchers
have to document who were the slave traders; how many
have been put in slavery; how many died; how many
survived. We need reparations for millions of Africans
put into slavery, and for all the resources and
artefacts stolen from us since.'

The challenge of ending contemporary economic slavery
is witnessed in the reluctance of the IMF and World
Bank to fully cancel Africa's debt, charged Sunmonu:
'They imposed the crudest form of neoliberalism on
Africa! It has worked nowhere!'

One rare area where struggles to reform Bank policies
achieved real results was permission for states to fund
education without dreaded cost-recovery provisions,
formerly a ubiquitous condition imposed by Washington.
User fees had drastically cut girl participation rates
in primary and secondary schooling.

Yet new problems soon arose, according to Wanyonyi
Buteyo, secretary general of the Kenyan Union of Post-
Primary Teachers. A 20% increase in teaching staff is
needed to provide quality education for expanding
enrolments following Kenya's implementation of free
education in 2002, he testified: 'Government is under
outrageous pressure from the World Bank and IMF not to
employ extra teachers, much as it is known that we have
this urgent need. I believe that advice and
conditionality should be disregarded completely.'

Sunmonu explained, 'The debt is still the main way that
the IMF and Bank  saddle our countries with orthodox
structural adjustments including  conditionality. All
the gains made after independence were wiped out. As
early as 1987, the first international trade union
conference on debt  was held by OATUU, and called for
total cancellation.'

Seven years earlier, the Lagos Plan of Action - a
progressive, regionalist economic platform   had been
adopted by African leaders. It was countered the
following year by the Bank's Elliott Berg Report,
codifying the 'Washington Consensus' formula for

Said Olukoshi, 'We have lived with this neoliberal
experience since Sierra Leone in 1978, with virtually
every other economy in Africa since. In 1983, the
Codesria declaration on why structural adjustment can't
work spelled out ten reasons. This was very influential
on me. Years later, Joseph Stiglitz says much the same
thing. The wasted time! That's the basis for our

Periodically, alternatives are suggested by progressive
intellectuals, trade unions and social movements. The
African Alternative Framework was  produced at the UN
Economic Commission on Africa in 1989, with drafting
support by this conference's keynote speaker, economist
Ali Abdel Gadir  Ali. Now based at the Arab Planning
Institute, Ali provided a demolition  job of the
Washington Consensus, claiming imminent victory in the
ideological wars, as greater attention to planning and
genuine  development economics is emerging in the

Olukoshi expressed growing confidence in this critique:
'We're not appealing any more to the Bank and Fund to
listen. We will reserve the right to go on a campaign
against our leaders who sell out the continent.'

Two additional problems were recorded: the
Pretoria/Johannesburg subimperial axis, and labour's
sometimes narrow self-interest.

'Who is the agent of the World Bank in Africa today?'
asked David Nkonjo, a leader of the Ugandan trade union
movement. He answered: 'South Africa. They have spread
their tentacles everywhere. They come and protect
capital. The agenda is continued exploitation, looking
for the soft ground. The minute you rise up - tear gas,
police. African leaders are working under the dictates
of capital.'

Agreed Mahlomola Skhosana, general secretary of South
Africa's National Council of Trade Unions: 'We have no
sentiments favouring the New Partnership for Africa's
Development [Mbeki's neoliberal plan for Africa]. We
have not been involved, it is not relevant to us.'

To be sure, there are some in labour, including the
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions
(ICFTU), who advocate ongoing consultations and even
work inside the World Bank. Early this month they
issued an insipid statement designed to show concern
about the Bank's  privatisation advice and public
service layoffs (http://www.sarpn.org/documents/d0002006/).

But in the crucial case of Tanzania's water which was
so badly privatised by the Bank and British aid that
last May the London firm Biwater was booted out - the
ICFTU document (quoting a local official) revealed some
of the power relations: 'The Tanzanian labour movement
did  not play a direct role in advocating for the de-
privatization of the  water company  The primary group
to work against privatization was the  Tanzania Gender
Networking Programme [along with] "the cries from the
general public as water consumers."'

'This does not mean that the union was a passive
player, however. Throughout the period of
privatization, the union's key issues were job security
and better terms and working conditions. As a result of
the union's efforts, "we managed to ensure that there
were no retrenchments after privatization," and "no
workers lost their jobs during the era of  the private
operator." That is a triumph in itself.'

Such is the tradition of 'corporatist', self-interested
union politics that Oatuu's broader social change
agenda aims to transcend. Observed Ibrahim Asila from
the Union of Senegalese Workers, 'Trade unions should
go beyond our classical scope, and more should be done
to bring on board  all concerns.'

Meanwhile, the continent's leaders are getting their
alternative economics information from the likes of
Jeffrey Sachs, at a mid- 2004 African Union summit. The
Columbia University professor does at least concede in
his recent book, The End of Poverty, that 'Little
surpasses the western world in the cruelty and
depredations that it has long imposed on Africa.' And
at his Addis Ababa hearing, he even advocated debt
repudiation, with payments redirected so as to improve
health and education.

However, Sachs muddies the politics and economics by
presuming that the critique of corrupt African elites
is a 'political story line' of the 'right', instead of
giving credence to progressive, organic anti-
corruption campaigning. From there, he rehearses
accounts of malaria, AIDS, landlocked countries and
other forms of geographically-determinist analysis.
Sachs then reconciles these explanations for African
poverty with garden-variety policy advice: adopting
good governance plus 'implementing traditional market
reforms, especially regarding export promotion',
revealing his notorious love of  sweatshops.

Complained Olukoshi, 'If Jeffrey Sachs can be given an
hour to speak to our leaders   the Sachs who wrote
privatisation programmes for Eastern Europe and Latin
America, yesterday's neoliberal who is today's social
democrat   then at every summit the African Union must
give us a platform.'

But will the rulers listen, if instead they enjoy their
own revolving door relationships with Washington?
Notable is Liberia's new president, Ellen Sirleaf-
Johnson, a former World Bank official.

Recounted TS Williams, secretary of the Liberian union
federation: 'Just  before I came here, government
announced it is embarking on major  downsizing. At the
same time, of course, people belonging to her own
political party are being brought in. We need a foreign
policy for unions because these ideas are coming from
the World Bank and IMF.'

Olukoshi cited the famous statement by the World Bank's
chief African economist, Deepak Lall, who in 1984
called for 'effective, ruthless governments able to
ride roughshod over public opinion.'

Added Egyptian scholar Shaheeda El-Baz, 'Most of our
countries have liberalised economics, but they have
refused to liberalise politics. There is a weak or
nonexistent margin of democracy and a monopoly on
policy-making by a state elite, which resorts to
coercive measures. Globalisation has defeated
democracy. The majority of people are simply excluded.'

Continued Helmy Sharawi, director of the Arab-African
Studies Centre here, 'We must restore the
responsibility and role of the state but we are not for
despotism or dictatorship.'

In the streets outside, Hosni Mubarak's half-hearted
commitment to democracy is degenerating into despotism.
This week his regime passed an  emergency ban on
demonstrations - 'any unauthorised protest in Cairo
shall be considered henceforth illegal'  directed at
the rising democracy protests.

According to a local source who preferred to remain
anonymous because of  potential reprisal, 'Something is
cooking. Last Friday, Mubarak's son  Gamal made a
secret visit to Washington as discrete as can be - and
fortunately, Al Jazeera reporters were covering a
different event: some  generals meeting with Rumsfeld.
It was pure coincidence that they saw  the Egyptian
ambassador and Mubarak junior going into the White
House  through a side door that leads to Dick Cheney's
office. They wanted to  keep the whole consultation

The US leaders were probably briefed about Gamal's
desire to succeed Hosni, a process that may get
underway within the next few months, in the wake of
Washington's approval of similar successions in Morocco
and Jordan. Vast US aid investments keep the powder keg
from blowing, but a  new popular democratic movement -
Kifaya ('Enough') - is pushing hard.

Next week, more protests are likely, in part because of
state harassment  of two dissident judges in Cairo and
Alexandria (they questioned the  legitimacy of the last
election), and because the World Economic Forum  is
moving its regional meeting here (usually it is in
Jordan). Activists  will have an alternative critical
conference, at the least.

This terrain, combining neoliberalism and eroded
rights, is familiar to Africa's labour movement and
intellectuals. As Olukushi warned, 'There are powerful
interests behind the status quo, who are profiting and
they are not going to leave the terrain to us without a
fight. They are powerful, transnational and sometimes
even have our own governments backing them.'

'Our strategy must be to make their policies
illegitimate, ungovernable.  We have a very strong
advantage. In spite of all the promises of the
neoliberal agenda, people in their daily lives have
felt the failures,  which gives both working people and
the middle classes an appetite for  an alternative. Our
capacity to connect to the groundswell of protest is
the other advantage we have.'

Olukoshi concluded, 'Together we can shake the
foundations of the neoliberal forces on the continent.
Our decision to march together and strike together
represents one of the most significant developments. We
will also target like-minded social movements across
Africa, like the African Social Forum, leading to the
World Social Forum in Nairobi next January.'

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