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Vol. 73/No. 10      March 16, 2009

Book on Africa helps you see yourself
‘as citizen of world and world history’
‘Capitalism and the Transformation of Africa’ highlights the new class
and social relations emerging as a working class is being born
(feature article)
The following are major excerpts from the remarks by the three speakers at the presentation of Capitalism and the Transformation of Africa: Reports from Equatorial Guinea, held February 19 at the Havana International Book Fair. Mary-Alice Waters, coauthor of the book, is president of Pathfinder Press. Teresa Efua Asangono is the ambassador of Equatorial Guinea in Cuba. Víctor Dreke, until August 2008 Cuba’s ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, is today vice president in charge of international relations for the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution and vice president of the Cuba-Africa Friendship Association. The talk by Waters is © 2009 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

‘We fight to transform the world we live in’

When Martín Koppel and I had the pleasure of meeting Ambassador Teresa Efua Asangono a few days ago, she asked us why we had written this book, Capitalism and the Transformation of Africa. It was a good question. And like all good questions, it made us both stop and think.

The basic answer is that we wanted to share with others—above all, working people in the United States and young people whose minds are open to the world—the education we had received from the people of Equatorial Guinea during the two trips we made there in 2005 and 2008. We wanted to help our readers understand the interconnected and contradictory world in which we live today, the world we refuse to accept simply as it is, the world we fight to transform. We wanted to help others begin to think as citizens of the world, as citizens of world history.

Most working people in the United States know little about conditions of life in Africa. They know little about the vast changes under way in many regions there. There is one big exception, of course—the growing millions from across that vast continent who have found themselves compelled by the lash of imperialist exploitation to leave their homelands to seek work and to take their chances on life in another land. These Africans now living in United States do know firsthand about conditions in their countries of origin, and they do add to the transformation of the working class in North America.

As those of you here today are aware, the picture of Africa most often presented by the media in the United States and many other countries portrays the people of Africa only as helpless victims, suffering conditions of inhuman violence and incapable of taking their own future in hand. You would think they live on charity from the imperialist foundations of the billionaire families whose riches, more often than not, are the historical product of the superexploitation of those to whom they now dole out a few dollars at a time.

The reality we saw in Equatorial Guinea was quite different from this picture, and more complex. We tried to capture that reality in the words and photos of this book.  
A provocative title
I want to say something about the title: Capitalism and the Transformation of Africa. More than one reader has said to me, “Aren’t you a socialist, a communist? Doesn’t that title give capitalism credit for transforming Africa?”

The truth is that we started with something different. Our working title had been Imperialist Plunder and the Transformation of Africa. Pablum! It was a title that did not challenge anyone to think about anything. Those centuries of colonial and imperial domination, in all their brutal and bloody detail, have been lived by millions and the story told in hundreds—no thousands—of books. We had even designed a cover with that title, a very attractive one. And the more we looked at it, the more we knew: that’s not what this book is about.

So we decided on a title we knew might be somewhat provocative, but more accurate as to our intentions.

This book is about the changes you can see all around you in Equatorial Guinea today, as government revenues—derived from the fruits of the labor of employees of imperialist companies extracting oil from offshore waters—are used in part to build an infrastructure on which advancing labor productivity, industry, education, and progress depend. But it is indeed capitalism and capitalist social relations that are emerging, as they have in other parts of the world at other historical junctures.

The book puts the spotlight on the transformation of the instruments of production and the new class relations, the new social relations, that are emerging. It puts the spotlight on a working class that is being born, drawn from the four corners of the world—from Mali to Paraguay, from China to the Dominican Republic—in, and only in, the same measure as a bourgeoisie is arising, together with expanding layers of traders, middlemen, and professionals.

This is a historical process that strengthens the hand of working people internationally, because it diminishes the yawning chasm of the material conditions and class relations that divide us in different parts of the globe. Every new road, every new source of electricity, every new phone tower, every expansion of the availability of drinkable water, every new clinic, school, and library makes it harder for those who live off the exploitation of our labor power to drive a wedge between “us” and “them”—between the working people of the United States and other imperialist countries, on the one hand, and the toilers of Africa and the rest of the world, on the other.

Recognition of these historical and social realities does not make me a partisan of capitalism. To the contrary. Understanding them helps one to become a more conscious proletarian internationalist. To quote the title of the lead article in one of the recent issues of the magazine New International, “Our Politics Start with the World.”  
Cuba’s socialist example
At the same time—and just as importantly—this is a book about the Cuban Revolution and Cuba’s place in Africa, and in the world. Without seeing this, it would be much more difficult to be confident of the road forward not only in Africa, but anywhere.

The practical example of Cuba’s socialist revolution is seen in the hand of proletarian solidarity extended to the people of Equatorial Guinea by the 230 Cuban internationalists working there. Through them, through their actions, we see the kind of human beings only a socialist revolution can begin to produce—and the kind of human beings necessary to defend and advance a socialist revolution.

And I want to emphasize, this is the example our five Cuban brothers unjustly held hostage in the prisons of the United States are giving the world—the steadfastness and dignity of millions of men and women who embody the revolution in their actions each day.

One of the most striking things for me in Equatorial Guinea was the relationship between the Cuban medical school teachers and their students, the absence of the antagonistic relationship that marks all education in capitalist society. Teachers in the United States, as elsewhere in the capitalist world, often become a transmission belt for breaking and harnessing, as opposed to encouraging, the creative discipline and spirit—the aspirations—of their students. The pride of the Cuban teachers in the development of their students, and the respect and affection of the students towards their teachers, were a remarkable testimony that social relations different from those we know under capitalism can be forged.

There is one question we are often asked by workers and youth who are trying to understand why the U.S. rulers are so ferocious in their determination to make you, the Cuban people, pay for your refusal to surrender to the demands of the empire. Why do Cuban doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, and others offer their services to live and work in places around the world where their counterparts in no other country on the face of the earth are willing to go?

The answer we give is simple. This is possible because the workers and farmers of Cuba made a socialist revolution half a century ago—truly took their destiny into their own hands—and began building a society on different social and economic foundations. A society based on the conscious class solidarity of the toilers, the creators of all wealth and culture.

However difficult this effort has been, especially in face of Washington’s unceasing aggression—however imperfect the results (and there are no more demanding critics than the Cuban people themselves)—the example of the Cuban Revolution continues to stand today as the beacon of what working people the world over are capable of achieving.  
Weight of Africa’s toilers
I want to finish by referring to the now accelerating contraction of capitalist production and circulation that is now in its early stages worldwide and the accompanying global economic crisis—deepening even as we meet!—that falls on us all with increasing weight.

The decades of intertwined military conflicts and economic, political, and social crises that lie ahead of us will be more like the early decades of the 20th century that culminated in wars spreading across the world than anything we have known during the conscious political lifetimes of any of us here today. The future of humanity will be decided by the capacity of the working class and its allies to resolve this crisis by organizing to take the power to rule out of the hands of the capitalist owners—as the working people of Cuba showed us how to do half a century ago.

As the crisis of world capitalism that we have entered continues to sharpen, as it waxes and wanes in the years ahead of us, there are two things we can say with certainty:

Working people who are today coming together in the United States—drawn from every continent the world over—will be at the center of revolutionary struggles unlike anything we have known.

And, as the people of Equatorial Guinea helped us see, the weight of the toilers of Africa in shaping the future of humanity will be greater than ever before.

That is the course we hope to explain and advance with Capitalism and the Transformation of Africa.


Book ‘seeks to tell truth’ about Africa

It is with pride that I speak at this cultural event presenting the book Capitalism and the Transformation of Africa: Reports from Equatorial Guinea. I say with pride, because it is evident that the authors—besides rejecting the traditional and habitual approach of other authors and the press toward Africa, of portraying it as a disaster—have sought to carry out investigative research, explaining the general reality about Africa, and in particular about Equatorial Guinea, pointing to deficiencies and stressing successes… .

At the time it gained national independence on Oct. 12, 1968, our country only had small roads, mostly unpaved, and traditional paths used to search for coffee, cocoa, and other raw materials from the bush in order to transport them to the port for subsequent export to Europe.

Equatorial Guinea, like the rest of Africa, is paying the steep price of a bill that dates from the colonization of its people. When we look at the charges in that bill, we find the sad reality of a lack of road infrastructure, universities, primary schools and literacy, electrification, hospitals, access to clean water, qualified personnel, and a long list of etceteras. Today we confront the need to carry out the bulk of those tasks across the country, without excluding any region… .

The first world countries did not allow us to evolve slowly through experience, as they did, researching and acquiring consciousness. Rather, what was imposed on us was an advanced civilization that was already prepackaged and unsustainable, where the illiterate native inhabitants, with rights to nothing and with all the limitations imposed by the colony, were unable to fit in.

Who can be a TV host without knowing how to read and write, and without ever having seen a studio? Who can enter a university if they have not reached the level of primary education? Who would know the norms of hygiene if they have never been taught? …

The few native specialists who were trained in the metropolis became their property and never returned. To this day the West imports the few intellectuals Africa has.

For all practical purposes, one could not speak of cities in Equatorial Guinea, although the capital, Malabo, and the city of Bata had a few solidly constructed buildings. The country was a string of villages without any modern infrastructure.

Today one can see modern highways and roads throughout the country, modern houses, hospitals, and other buildings for different uses. Many will say this is thanks to the oil. But in fact, Equatorial Guinea is a country of promise due to the will of its own people, to the solidarity and support of fraternal countries like Cuba, China, and others, and to the wise governance of its president, His Excellency Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

When we speak of fraternal countries, we want to highlight here the great work carried out by Cuba in the consolidation of a medical brigade and in the training of Equatorial Guinean doctors—all thanks to the solidarity always displayed by Cuba on the African continent… .

The book being presented today at this book fair—we won’t say it’s perfect, but we do value the high level of work done by its authors, who have sought to tell the truth, showing both deficiencies and accomplishments, highlighting the rich culture of Equatorial Guinea—what many other authors tend to omit… . The book could have been presented in Equatorial Guinea, but it was presented in Cuba, where there are so many friends of the Guinean people.


‘We were friends before the oil’

The friendship between Cuba and Africa goes back many years. Before Equatorial Guinea had oil, when it was one of the most underdeveloped countries in the African continent, we Cubans were friends of the Equatorial Guineans. We didn’t know they were going to find oil. Now they have an abundance of friends. But we were with Equatorial Guinea from the beginning… .

In fact, the history of Cuba’s ties with Equatorial Guinea goes back years. In 1868 and 1869, more than 250 Cubans who were fighting for Cuba’s independence were deported to Fernando Poo, as they called Equatorial Guinea at that time, when it was subjugated by Spain. They were sent there to die, to a place considered to be one of the worst of Spain’s penal centers.

After the country won its independence, on Oct. 12, 1968, official relations between Equatorial Guinea and Cuba began very soon, and Cubans went there to fulfill their responsibility of assisting an independent country, no matter what the situation. You have to help an independent African country. That was our job.

In 2000 we strengthened our collaboration with Equatorial Guinea. We remember that the situation was very serious: there were few teachers, few doctors there. Then President Obiang asked Fidel for some teachers and doctors. And one fine morning, a plane landed. Not with mercenaries—it was a Cubana de Aviación plane with the first 100 doctors to help Equatorial Guinea.

At that time there were no homes in Malabo for them to stay in. So many of them were put up for months in the homes of government ministers and party leaders. As a result, our doctors became even more closely tied to the people of Equatorial Guinea.

A public health program was created and established throughout the country—we have compañeros working in all of the country’s 18 districts. They have developed their work under very difficult conditions. They have been improving it, as you will be able to read in this book—I won’t tell you everything that’s in the book, because if I do, then you won’t read it.

We also have compañeros there working in education, including a literacy plan whose first stage is aimed at women.

There is also a major anti-rat plan being carried out with the collaboration of the Cuban company Biofam. It was carried out in Annobón, a small island very close to São Tomé and Príncipe, where there were a large number of rats. Now this plan is also being carried out with success in Malabo and Bata….

We also have the medical school in Equatorial Guinea. There they study through the fifth year. The students spend their sixth year at the medical school in Pinar del Río, Cuba. It’s in Pinar where the largest number of Equatorial Guineans in Cuba are studying.

Right now we have a group of 26 electrical workers in Bata and Malabo, who are deeply involved in work there. You will read in the book about the challenges of electrification, and the plans for electrification in the country.

In other words, we are working on some of the most basic questions: education, health, and electrification. And culture too, with the very positive experience of the first book fair in 2005…. These are reasons why the compañeros from Pathfinder traveled twice to Equatorial Guinea, to see the country and participate in a series of events there.
Related articles:
Havana book panel discusses transformation of Africa, world  
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