“Imperialism is determined, it has no conscience, it has no heart,” explained Thomas Sankara, the leader of the popular revolutionary government in Burkina Faso in 1985. “Fortunately the more we’ve discovered how dangerous an enemy imperialism is, the more determined we’ve become to fight and defeat it. And each time we find fresh forces ready to stand up to it.”
As the sharp capitalist economic and social crisis today spreads worldwide, it’s exacerbating already wretched conditions — the product of centuries of colonial and imperialist exploitation — that confront millions of workers, peasants and other toilers across Africa. More and more are looking for ways to defend themselves. Protests center on demands for jobs and pay.
“I would rather risk being beaten by policemen; I can’t stay home and just watch my hungry children crying,” taxi driver James Kakoza, from Kampala, Uganda, told the Wall Street Journal as he sought to find work.
In South Africa cops and soldiers are using whips, tear gas and rubber bullets to enforce a government lockdown that prevents workers and vendors from working. Thousands of people without permanent homes have been confined to open fields and empty school grounds by security forces.
Many of those living across the continent are routinely portrayed in the press and by capitalist politicians as helpless victims of natural disasters. Wealthy philanthropist Bill Gates sheds crocodile tears over the prospect of 10 million people dying across Africa as coronavirus spreads.
But in fact the devastating social conditions inflicted on working people there — triggered by famines, wars or epidemics like Ebola or coronavirus — are an inevitable consequence of the natural workings of capitalist exploitation. The expansion of capitalist production across the continent over decades has drawn millions out of rural isolation, into the cities and towns, beginning to create a modern capitalist class structure. That includes a growing working class that responds to assaults on its conditions of life by looking for ways to resist.
Several hundred working people in Tunis, the Tunisian capital, marched on local government offices March 31 to demand immediate relief and for permission to work. The government had imposed restrictions that prevent many workers from going to their jobs. One bricklayer spoke for the protesters when he shouted out, “Let us work!” Thousands joined similar actions across the country, where unemployment was 15% before the government edict.
Toilers confront imperialist plunder
Elsewhere on the continent the shutdowns in production and jobs threaten to devastate the lives of millions more, including in West African countries whose economies are hard hit by the worldwide slowdown in oil production and trade as oil prices have plummeted. Oil revenues account for more than 90% of exports and 60% of government revenue in Nigeria and Angola. Thousands of oil workers face being thrown out on the streets.
One result of flight restrictions imposed in Kenya is that as of April 3 only four days’ stock of pesticide remains. Pesticide is critical to eradicate swarms of locusts there that are devastating crops. This shortage could endanger food supplies for up to 13 million people, according to the U.N. World Food Program. The group’s report says some 20% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people already face undernourishment.
For decades working people have faced acute shortages of health care provisions and medical personnel. The governments of Angola, Ivory Coast, Mozambique and South Sudan told the World Health Organization that they have no intensive care unit capacity at all.
In contrast to these conditions bequeathed by imperialism and capitalist rule, the new Pathfinder edition of Red Zone: Cuba and the Battle Against Ebola in West Africa by Enrique Ubieta Gómez explains that overcoming this deadly disease was led by Cuba’s internationalist medical volunteers. Their actions showed the world the kind of men and women only a deep-going socialist revolution can produce.