Thursday, July 12, 2012

Strolling down Memory Lane: African Labour Movement


So what's new? The answer is a disappointing "nothing", as far as the ensuing subject matter is concerned. This grand continent (Africa), which has the distinction of being the default home of humanity and many other magnificent species, has been inflicted with gross propaganda-driven disinformation, along with a good amount of apathy; mostly of the willful kind, ever since the common era rise to significance of previously isolated west European countries in the globe's geopolitical landscape. Many examples of this trend have been covered on this site, ranging from DNA studies to historical analysis. For instance, it has become something of a cultic ritual of sycophants of 'western' imperialism and associated chauvinism to insinuate that African labour forces were granted "freedom" or "independence" on a silver platter, supposedly as a "goodwill" gesture on the part of occupying intruders (colonists) from outside, particularly from Europe, who had nothing at heart but thinking only of the people they came to inhumanely colonize. The same sycophants have a tendency to blame social misery in the continent on the supposed "premature withdrawal" of colonial presence.

Apathy has spurred others to opine away that Africans rarely stand up for themselves, thereby suggesting that Africans are somehow innately submissive to oppression. Such personalities assume that just because their local TV news networks don't cover it, African labour movements must then be all but non-existent, not leaving out that they all-too-often than not have a screwed up idea of what entails Africa as a geological entity. Of course, a sober research is all that is needed to render any of these assumptive opinions as nothing more than emotional bunk, and avoidable, by anyone with a genuine desire to acquire knowledge.

No, to the contrary, African labour forces have earned every bit of whatever little social or civil liberty gains that they have made over the course of the modern labour force's history on the continent, just as any labour force anywhere else. Like labour forces anywhere else, they continue to face hurdles to fully liberate themselves, socially and economically.


This discussion piggybacks on issues raised in at least two previous blog posts, namely "
The portrayal of the Submissive African" and "Africa's Image: A case of Misbranding", which deal with resistance movements against imperialism and associated colonial media manipulation of real state of affairs on the continent.

It is no mystery that the aristocracies of "western" nations have a vested interest in doling out incomplete, often unflattering, caricatures of peoples they are trying to over-power, but the general citizenry of those "western" nations often don't realize this. They have been conditioned to assume the best in their politicians and financial oligarchy, even as far as to immerse themselves in fictitious flattering history about their nations, which are cloaked in patriotism. The mass media in those nations, particularly television, play a definite role in this social conditioning.

What are passed off as "news" network in these nations, have become nothing more than pawns of the financial oligarchy, which also serve as propaganda factories of the ruling establishment. It would be a mistake to take these networks seriously as true journalistic organizations; to provide examples, consider the manner in which conflicts around the world are treated with double standards, by so-called "news" outlets ranging from those in Europe [like BBC] to those in America [like CNN] or even in the so-called "Middle East" [like al Jazeera]. Pointing to fairly recent instances, conflicts in say, Libya or Syria, for example, were or are treated with a different standard than say, conflicts that were/are taking place in Yemen, Jordan or Bahrain. Much was said about either the Libyan or Syrian social unrest than that which was said about say, those in Bahrain or Yemen; CNN for example, thinly disguises its bias towards this end, whereby the target audience is lopsidedly informed about the "heavy-handed" suppression of opposition by the ruling establishment in say, Syria, while such "heavy-handedness" in Bahrain goes essentially unreported. How can any rational person say that this speaks to objective journalism with a straight face? Similar trend can be observed about BBC, as a another fairly known "western" outlet.

Just the other day, as recent as July 10th, 2012, a guest at CNN talked about how Israeli operatives were illegally working in Iran, and getting caught up in what can be called blatant acts of terrorism, supposedly to set back that country's alleged "nuclear-acquisition program". What's fascinating about this segment, which happened to be part of a last hour program of the so-called "Situation Room", is that even though the guest's accounts essentially showed that the said Israeli operatives had all the hallmarks of terrorists, there was not a beep about "terrorism", or critical analysis of Israeli actions by the program host, Wolf Blitzer; whereas such reaction or analysis would have immediately been forthcoming, were it revolving around some "rogue" country that is deemed to be "unfriendly" to the U.S.

Speaking of Iran, take it as one of these "rogue" nations for example; "western" television "news" concerns, especially in the U.S., have uncritically accepted unverified allegations about their pressing with nuclear acquisition. The matter has universally been taken as gospel truth in big business news media. Ironically, it was a career politician, and radical defender of "small government" and "non-interventionist" foreign policy, Ron Paul, who challenged a proponent of  an existing Iranian nuclear weapon program. Ron Paul had been the only figurehead among any public figure in the U.S., to publicly challenge that allegation, by putting Michele Bachmann to task for making it. That challenge, it should be pointed out, caught Ms. Bachmann unprepared for an answer, pointing to the frivolous nature of the allegation.

It basically took a single career politician and a single instance, to place such an allegation, with far-reaching international implications, under scrutiny, while career "journalists" simply parrot, and accept as gospel truth, what career politicians tell them. This is clear indication that big-business news media are nothing more than pawns of financial oligarchy and the ruling class, primarily there to bamboozle and condition the citizenry, not necessarily the external "enemies" of the country.

Still not enough examples? Consider this; Mike Rogers (Republican) of Michigan treated the viewing audience with a jingoistic line of America "having always been a great force for good around the world", to be subsequently greeted with not so much of a single trace of scrutiny by the then program host, again Wolf Blitzer; U.S. actions in say, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, alone could have provided ample material to put forward such challenge in any sober journalism.

In yet another development, much ado was made of a local Texan high school principle [a woman by the name of Wendee Long] sneakily "wiretapping" another citizen;aka her daughter's coach, reportedly via a wiretapping device placed in the daughter's bag, and about how that action amounted to a federal crime, and hence, warranted the apprehension of the woman, entailing a 20 year jail time for "the crime"; yet, illegal wiretapping by the government goes unquestioned. On the contrary, sneaky illegal wiretapping by the government is applauded by media personalities as a "necessary" violation of civil liberties, under the pretext of "homeland security".

In the U.S., pretty much all of the mainstream news networks cannot even get themselves to admit that there is such a thing as a "working class", aka the wage-workforce; it's almost like a taboo to mention something like that.  That's how pathetic things are within media circles.

Media talking heads and pundits thereof, only speak of a society with two polar social classes, involving the "top richest" on the one hand, and the "middle class" on the other; no "working class", or any other social layer, to be found. This conditions much of the wage-workforce to think that it is part of the so-called "middle class", since there appears to be no other social layer in media lexicon, except for the top richest.

Many realize that they can definitely NOT count themselves as "top richest", which must then by default, make them part of the "middle class", going by the logic of the so-called 'mainstream" media. By thinking this way, most in the wage-workforce are conditioned to think that they are actually socio-economically better off than they really are. One may reasonably suppose that this is purposely encouraged by big-business media to preemptively fend off public discontent with ever deteriorating economic situations, and hence, avert any civil unrest that might be on the horizon. Civil unrest, needless to say, is bad for business as usual! The corporate world likes to exploit and squeeze the labor force dry in a "stable" environment!

These are the sorts of media outlets that, under the pretense of objective journalism, decide on what the narrative of Africa is going to look like, and so, unsurprisingly the historiography of labour movement in Africa is just another casualty of that; take the following piece by Ed Brown of the Associated Press for instance, which was authored in response to the ANC going onto its 100th anniversary:

BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA—Tens of thousands of chanting and dancing revelers waved the green and gold colours of the African National Congress as Africa’s oldest liberation movement celebrated its 100th anniversary Sunday, though many South Africans say the party hasn’t delivered on its promises since taking power in 1994. - Ed Brown, "S. Africa: Joy, sadness as Mandela's party turns 100", January 8, 2010.

Ed Brown is in fact mistaken. The ANC does not symbolize "Africa's oldest liberation movement". There have been many before it...

Below, are examples [albeit, in those instances, confined to western Africa], showcasing an interesting array of diversified liberation movement tactics applied:


Click on the Images to get higher resolution

In that last link, the book chooses to focus on the "instantaneous" setbacks faced by armed resistance and insurgency efforts. That is perhaps the wrong way to go about looking at the effects of these undertakings. The effects of the liberation movements lie in their accumulative effect over time. We start to see the turning point of these efforts on the heels of the World Wars, as Africans — recruited in European armies overseas — subsequently reinforced armed African liberation movements, while European military resources weakened, and as both armed and civil African liberation struggles continued to harass and put increasing financial strains on colonial totalitarianism while denying the home European nations of these totalitarian regimes a stable ground for their businesses to exploit African resources. As a result, totalitarian European colonial regimes were forced to call on self-appointed leaders of African liberation movements, to strike deals that would see European states concede to "independence" demands of occupied African territories.

So, these liberation struggles ultimately proved effective in forcing out totalitarian European occupation from their lands, but it is the bourgeois elements  who appointed themselves as leaders/spokespersons of the African proletariat liberation movements  that betrayed the African public and squandered the gains their liberation struggles had won. Case in point, even Ed Brown was compelled to acknowledge in the earlier cited article, that "many South Africans say the party hasn’t delivered on its promises since taking power in 1994."

Indeed, the reception of the ANC is not surprising, as it has followed essentially more or less the same "formula" that other African bourgeois "independence movement" organizations had taken. That "formula" sort of goes like this:

1)Elements of the aspiring African bourgeois joined the preexisting proletarian fight against totalitarian colonial rule, find their way to the front of cameras and headlines, and thereby appoint themselves as figureheads or spokespersons of the proletarian movements;

2)totalitarian colonial regimes thereof sought out these self-appointed figures, so as to use them as a medium to placate proletarian unrest, and hope to negotiate "deals" with them, which would effectively allow the colonizers to continue to have a foothold in their "colonies", i.e. in exchange for a "treat" (some may metaphorically call it a "carrot") given to said "figureheads";

3) granting of token "independence" was usually seen as this "carrot", to be given to the "other side" as a "compromise" at the negotiating table, which entailed relinquishing "power" to a figurehead who could nominally represent the majority "black" population; an exception to this trend, is spelled out as follows:

The difference to this general pattern of development in Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia as it was then called, was the existence of a larger group of white settlers opposed to sharing power with a black elite. Faced with a wave of strikes and growing political awareness amongst black urban workers in the 1940s and 50s, the British Labour government encouraged more white emigration to support the colonial regime. The number of white Europeans in Rhodesia doubled between 1941 and 1951. All the managerial and privileged jobs went to whites and systematic discrimination against the African population was legally enforced.

Mining operations in Rhodesia were never as profitable as in South Africa and whilst a significant growth of industry occurred after the war, agriculture was the core of its economy. After the brutal conquest of the region by Cecil Rhodes in the 1890s, white settlers seized all the prime land. By 1922, 64 percent of the African population were confined to reserves in tribal areas. A series of laws were passed forcing them to work on European farms, and they were prevented from growing most cash crops.

Culminating in the Land Tenure Act of 1969, legislation was passed to divide the land up into white- and black-owned areas.

When Britain tried to decolonise Rhodesia in the 1960s, it was opposed by the white settlers who eventually made the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965. The UDI regime led by Ian Smith insisted that the white settlers, although they were prepared to see a greater role for the black elite, would not transfer political power to them
. - Chris Albot, WSWS, Zimbabwe on the brink of collapse, January 2004.

4)the granting of token "independence" usually came with a string the form of an inheritance of colonial-accrued debt, i.e. debt incurred by the totalitarian colonial administrations themselves; however, as leverage, the colonizers would offer to provide "loans" to their "native" successors to the throne, who are now supposed to have assumed "power" from the colonizers.

5)once the new "native" rulers of the "newly independent" African nations accepted loans from their former "colonial masters", they effectively became pawns in a "debtor-creditor" relationship. Organizations like the IMF had been put into place to deal with these kinds of relationships, whereby the creditor nations would exercise their leverage over their former colonies by holding the latter hostage with "indebtedness".

Usually, this took the form of IMF requesting the gutting of "social spending", to be accompanied by the "opening of  markets" of the indebted nation to businesses owned in creditor nations, in exchange for "debt restructuring".

6)many of these "native" rulers of the "newly independent" African nations went onto rule for over decades, unwilling to relinquish power or put into place, truly democratic administrative structures, not to mention that they accepted national boundaries that were drawn by their "colonial masters"; many even went onto rule with an iron fist, especially when the effects of IMF "debt restructuring" policies led socio-economic situations to go astray. This effectively amounted to one totalitarian rule replacing another, aka colonial dictatorship being replaced by "domestic" dictatorship.

Click on the image for higher resolution.

We have seen this trend in many cases involving the progression of post-World War II "independence" movements or mass labor movements; "liberation" leaders like say, Gaddafi or Mugabe, went onto rule for  many decades, spanning generations, and even with an iron-fist rule at some stage or another! Some had to be violently removed, like Gaddafi has exemplified very recently, particularly when their relations with "western" nations soured after more amicable or "improved" relations; other's like Mugabe still linger on.

In recent times, Mugabe fell out of “friendly” terms with “western” nations, because IMF programs that Mugabe previously adhered to, leading to an economic crisis, had to compel Mugabe to resort to his old empty rhetoric of land reformation. Mugabe might have thought that he could only go little further with this land reformation, through a temporary and perhaps small scale demonstration, so as to get political leverage at a time of elections, which interestingly coincided with the economic crisis. After all, to give an otherwise skeptic people (potential voters, who also happened to be hit the hardest by the crisis) a reason to believe the rhetoric, he would have to do 'something' (no matter how little) tangible.

This “tangible something" or small temporary concession that Mugabe was willing to give for the sake of getting him through the elections successfully, was not to be tolerated in Europe, as they saw it as something that Mugabe would probably be forced to go through at a larger scale under political pressure brought to bear by social unrest in Zimbabwe, i.e. in the event that people found out that they were taken for a ride. They saw any pretense used as a political maneuver  which targeted “western” interest in the region (in this case starting with the white farmers)  as a spark for trouble; any ensuing fallout of “political maneuvering” could create a politically unstable place, which wouldn't be good for “western” multinational corporations and other interests in Zimbabwe. Moreover, Zimbabwe must not be allowed to provide an example to the region, regarding bourgeois usage of 'superficial' political stunts that specifically target Euro-American interests as way of building political leverage.

Mugabe's journey serves as an exemplary template of the modus operandi of "nationalist" figureheads of "pre-independent" African localities, who often emanated from among the aspiring African bourgeois social layers; an article dated to January 2004, by Chris Albot from the WSWS (a Trotskyst-based organization) website, sums it up as follows:

"Mugabe’s politics are essentially the same as a whole number of black bourgeois regimes professing Pan Africanist or socialist views that were put in power when Britain and France ended colonial rule in the 1960s. This elite layer, most of them educated in Western universities, were used by the colonial powers to maintain their economic domination over the African continent, which had been threatened by a wave of strikes and political unrest in the period following World War Two

These regimes accepted the division of Africa that had been carried out by the colonial powers and despite, in some cases, carrying out nationalisations and introducing limited welfare state measures, they never challenged the capitalist profit system from which they benefited. Their socialist rhetoric aside these leaders articulated the class interests of an aspiring bourgeois and petty bourgeois layer, which was organically opposed to the liberation of the working class from capitalist exploitation

The anti-imperialism of those like Mugabe was bound up with their striving to secure the right to exploit their own working class and oppressed masses and was always subordinate to this overall aim. What they wanted from the former colonial powers was a political and economic arrangement that allowed them a share in the surplus value extracted from the working class—either through the development of native industries through policies of import substitution and financial aid from the West, or in the form of taxes on international corporations that continued to operate.

During the Cold War period they could lean for support on the Soviet Union or China as a means of strengthening their bargaining position with the old colonial powers. But the talk of socialism largely disappeared with the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in the 1980s and IMF structural adjustment programs were adopted virtually everywhere.

The article goes onto detail Mugabe's record to prove the underlying point summed above:

"When Britain tried to decolonise Rhodesia in the 1960s, it was opposed by the white settlers who eventually made the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965. The UDI regime led by Ian Smith insisted that the white settlers, although they were prepared to see a greater role for the black elite, would not transfer political power to them.

The nationalist movement in that period, and there is no reason to believe the young intellectual Robert Mugabe was any exception, had assumed that Britain would intervene against UDI and hand power over to them. “I expected the British to take some action. I was filled with hopelessness when they failed to do so,” said one nationalist leader [1].

The weak and divided nationalist leaders made little attempt to mobilise the black masses against UDI, even though there was a wave of strikes. The two main organisations, Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) and Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), went into exile and organised limited guerrilla operations against the Smith regime.

It was not until the 1970s that Zanu, influenced by the Frelimo movement in Mozambique, moved away from carrying out limited guerrilla incursions to building a base of support amongst the rural masses and stepping up the war against the white regime. More radical political views were put forward. Zanu’s programme stated that the land and all natural resources “belong to the people of Zimbabwe as a whole in perpetuity. No person has the right of private ownership of land and minerals... Zanu would dismantle the white farms and base its efforts for increased production on an entirely new socialist arrangement.” [1]

Mugabe came to the leadership of Zanu by skilfully using the growing popular support obtained by this radical-sounding land programme against the older, more conservative leaders
. At the same time he ruthlessly suppressed more radical sections of the guerrillas who opposed a deal with Britain and the Smith regime, including, for example, the murder of 300 guerrilla fighters in Province, Mozambique in 1977

By the mid 1970s the nationally isolated Rhodesian economy was in sharp decline and fear that a radicalisation of the masses was developing throughout Southern Africa meant that Britain and the United States wanted a deal

Capitalism maintained :

Mugabe’s popularity enabled independence to be organised entirely to the satisfaction of Britain and the West. All sections of the British parliament congratulated Mugabe as British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington obtained virtually every point he demanded in the final Lancaster House Agreement. A recent interview with Lord Carrington explains the importance of the 1980 deal for Britain. “But for that,” he said, “there wouldn’t be a single white farmer on any farm in Zimbabwe, or any white person in Zimbabwe at all. What was happening in 1979 was people being killed, black and white, and the place was in a state of collapse.”

Private business was declared sacrosanct and investment by multinational companies flooded into the country. Mugabe agreed to pay off the debts built up by the Smith regime in financing the war. All promises of land nationalisation were dropped and the large white farmers were guaranteed 10 years of ownership of their land if they wished to stay.

The small farmers and landless got virtually nothing. Even under the relatively better economic conditions and loan assistance from the World Bank, problems with poor infrastructure and lack of inputs increased the rate of defaults compared to that under the Smith regime. Between 1980 and 2000 only 70,000 out of approximately one million farmers on the poorest Communal Area land were resettled.

When 10 years was up nothing was done to remove the white farmers and organise land reform. The 1993 Land Designation Act intended to address the issue was shelved because it was not in line with IMF/World Bank directives.

In 1991 the Mugabe government adopted the IMF’s Economic and Structural Adjustment Programme . As in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa the results were disastrous even though Mugabe attempted to implement the liberal economic policies to the letter, earning the praise of the World Bank in 1995 as “highly satisfactory” (the highest possible grading) [2].

Between 1990 and 1995 per-capita spending on healthcare fell by 20 percent, 18,000 public sector jobs were abolished and the civil service wage bill reduced from 15.3 percent in 1990 to 11.3 percent of GDP in 1994. Foreign exchange controls were removed and trade tariffs lowered.

Liberalisation first hit the weak manufacturing sector, but by the late 1990s the crucial exporting agricultural sectors such as tobacco, together with mining, were hit by falling prices. Debt levels rose to $US4.3 billion by 2000, taking as much as 38 percent of foreign export earnings in 1998. Faced with mounting unemployment and drastic declines in real income, there was a growing strike wave and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition attracted growing support.

It was only in the midst of this crisis, unable to meet the increasing demands from the IMF without losing more support, that Mugabe once again resurrected the land issue.

Whereas land occupations had been suppressed by the police in the 1990s, in 2000 Mugabe began backing the war veterans’ movement and encouraged the takeover of white farms. A band of unemployed youth were paid to intimidate and in some cases murder white farmers, as tens of thousands of poor farmers and landless began occupying the higher grade land.

The land occupations proceeded completely haphazardly. There was no attempt to nationalise the land, and whilst a relatively small number of small farmers gained land (some 127,000 were awarded land according to the government’s Utete Committee), big gains were made by the Zanu-PF elite. There is now a struggle between wealthy black businessmen over land ownership, which according to the pro-government Sunday Mirror, “is likely to engulf the country because of botched up allocation of this finite resource.”

The small farmers who gained land have fared far worse even than those who were given land in the 1980s. A recent survey of the Zimbabwean population showed that whilst 96 percent knew about the land seizures, only 14 percent said they had access to land. Less than 65 percent of those allocated land had occupied it and even fewer were in production. According to the government’s District Development Fund (DDF), only 12,000 hectares out of a targeted 100,000 hectares for both commercial and communal farms were being tilled. DDF reported the majority of tractors broken down due to shortage of diesel and lack of spare parts. There are also shortages of seed, fertiliser and other inputs.

Whilst Mugabe had been portrayed as unhinged by Western journalists, his land programme is entirely consistent with his bourgeois nationalist politics of the last four decades. As in the war of liberation, his attempt to gain some popular support is entirely subordinate to the interests of the black elite. Mugabe hoped that the attacks on white farmers would persuade Britain and the international bankers to make more concessions. The real importance attached to supporting small farmers is shown in the latest budget: $Z439.8 billion to the agricultural sector compared to $Z1.27 trillion for defence and security to pay for the suppression of all opposition.

The black elite, in many cases in partnership with sections of their friends amongst surviving white farmers, have evaded the “smart sanctions” of the West and increased their personal fortunes. Private companies, including 300 or so that are British owned, have been left untouched. But Mugabe has seriously miscalculated if he thinks there will be a national economic revival or that Blair will want to make a deal like his predecessors in the 1970s. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the complete domination of the global economy over nation states mean that no compromise with the national bourgeoisie is on offer if they are deemed to have implemented imperialism’s dictates with insufficient vigour. Blair’s standpoint of letting the Zimbabwe economy collapse and its population suffer the consequences until the regime changes is no idle threat...

[1] Zimbabwe: A Revolution That Lost Its Way, André Astrow, Zed Books, 1983
[2] Zimbabwe’s Plunge, Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice, Patrick Bond and Masimba Manyanya, The Merlin Press, 2002."

From personal encounter, there was an allegation out there which stated that Mugabe’s procrastination in going through with the land reform, up until the economic crisis hit Zimbabwe, was supposedly due to his concern for not disturbing the then upcoming release of Mandela, and hence, the turn over of power to “black” government that represented the majority segment of the country. However, Mandela's release was the result of the ongoing social unrest in South Africa, as well as international pressure, including the social pressure in America for the pull-out of the long established American companies in the region, who were otherwise reluctant to do so.

African governments collectively applied pressure on the apartheid government through embargoes. Needless to say, all these had a negative impact on the liberation of local white-run business. South African whites were only able to do business through back-door relationships with some companies in Europe and America. Notorious was their relationship with Israel, which acted as a middle person in transfer of military technology from certain Euro and American companies to the apartheid South African state, which was then faced with UN arms sales embargo.

The Israeli leadership made no secret of its sympathy for the apartheid state, and contempt for the south African native population. All these developments, rather than any residual impact of Mugabe's land reform, were the deciding factors for transfer of power to 'indigenous' South African candidates. Nevertheless, Mugabe's 'misbehavior' wouldn't be tolerated now that the cold war is over, and therefore, denying him the opportunity to serve as a role model for other African ruling bourgeois. Rather, an example ought to have been made of him, to put other observers on notice, that messing with "western" interest can have terrible consequences.

These days, such words like the so-called "Arab Spring" have become household catchwords in many parts of the world, in no small thanks to its concoction by media in "west", which finds propagation in other parts of the world through Satellite media; the so-called "Arab Spring" has become the namesake of a series of events that actually first took off on the African continent, and then spilling over to nearby areas in the so-called "Middle East", like cancer. It heralded the beginning of a new era of the intensification of the labour movement around the world.

Civil unrest and mass demonstrations had already been underway in such locations as Greece, due to government plans to implement extreme austerity measures, which would see drastic retraction of social benefits of the wage labour force, but many smaller scale subsequent workers' movements in the "west" and other parts of the world point to the so-called "Arab Spring" as their primary source of inspiration, given the great publicity it had gotten world over, and given its cancerous spread from Tunisia in western Africa to Egypt in the eastern coast, and onto the Arabian peninsula from there; the so-called "Occupy" movements  which first took off as "Occupy Wall Street" in New York, and then going onto become a phenomenon in different locations of the world  come to mind, as such global "spin-offs" of the so-called "Arab Spring". This in essence, makes a labour movement birthed in Africa as another African export to other corners of the globe, as part of a long line of African socio-cultural exports to the remainder of the world over the ages. Of course, media in the "west" obscure this fact by simply applying the "Arab" banner to the movement.

The so-called "Arab Spring" should be testament to the fact that the modern labour movement is no stranger to the African continent, and thus, has been an integral part of African history for awhile. No matter this reality, mass struggles in other parts of the continent outside of the coastal northern areas, which were already taking place before the recent "revolutions" of coastal northern African countries, had only been mentioned either in a passing or not at all, by so-called "news" outlets in the "west" and elsewhere. As such, even if one were to openly acknowledge the so-called "Arab Spring" as a "made in Africa" movement, it would appear as though it were an aberration.

In a classic manner, many international "news" organizations, usually led by those in the so-called "west", have covered these social developments in Africa from a "north vs. the rest of Africa" standpoint, whereby only the latter is generally cast as "African". This habit had already been briefly brought to attention in an earlier discussion, titled Knowledge-base Tool Kit: What's with all this not Getting "Africa" Right?; developments in coastal-northern African countries are called out specifically, with reference to the respective names of the involved countries themselves, when not being indiscriminately lumped under the "Arab Spring" banner, while so-called "sub-Saharan" countries are rarely specified by name, as opposed to simply being referred to as "in Africa".

As pointed out in the last link above, such tactic is undertaken to obscure the rich heritage that is part of the African continent, mind you—heritage that points to the long intertwined and shared heritage between countries of the coastal north and those right below them. Such shared heritage go back before Europe had made any inroads into world geopolitics; so-called "sub-Saharan" localities below the coast-north African countries essentially had their first trading relations with those very north African countries and vice versa. This was a primary source of vitality for the early west "Sudanic" complexes of western Africa, like Ghana, long before the Arabs came into the picture. Now all of a sudden, people are supposed to believe that none of this has ever happened, and that facts don't matter.

There are of course people who defend this washing out of the shared relationship and heritage between countries of the coastal north and those below them, by pointing to contemporary
Eurocentric-led politics of gutting the coastal-north from the remainder of the African continent, and instead, aligning the said north with either Europe or the so-called "Middle East". One such commentator went to great lengths on this very site, to defend this ideology, arguing about the supposed stronger contemporary cultural ties and geopolitical relationships between coastal-north African countries and those of the so-called "Middle East".

Such proponents have the same goal as those 'western' ruling aristocrats and their "news"-disseminating factories, which call themselves "news organizations", and that goal is to portray this fictitious or fairy world where coastal-north Africa becomes some sort of "alien island"—filled with totally "alien people"—that is conjoined to the remainder of Africa for some bizarre reason. As far as such people are concerned, to hell with the fact that the fairly contemporary Eurocentric-led politics do not suddenly undo the realities of the past, which predate Europe as any significant entity in the world of geopolitics. To this end, it might be intuitive to recap from the last link posted,...

despite the fact that the rich banks of the Nile are sourced from central Africa, the world looked upon the uprising in  Egypt solely as a Middle Eastern issue and commentators scrambled to predict what it would mean for the rest of the Arab world and, of course, Israel. Few seemed to care that Egypt was also part of Africa, a continent with a billion people, most living under despotic regimes and suffering economic strife and political suppression just like their Egyptian neighbours


Egypt is in Africa. We should not fool about with the attempts of the North to segregate the countries of North Africa from the rest of the continent," says Firoze Manji, the editor of Pambazuka Online, an advocacy website for social justice in Africa.
- Courtesy of Azad Essa, al Jazeera.

Essa's article goes onto point out that:

In the past three years, there has been violent service delivery protests in South Africa and food riots in Cameroon, Madagascar, Mozambique and Senegal.

...not to leave out movements in the "Horn of Africa", like the intermittent recent protests against the Meles Zenawi regime, or violence in Somalia driven by aspirations to ouster the "transitional" government, which seemed to otherwise have had little authority outside of the capital without "western" and Arabian interference.

Mass workers' movements in these exemplified countries and the remainder of the continent had not been sensationalized to the same degree as those of the coastal-north African countries, perhaps because a combination of the following facts is at play: 1) the said coastal countries are closer to Europe [and Israel, on the other hand], and hence, alarming 'western' authorities about the potential spill-over or aftereffects of the mass movements into Europe [e.g. refugee concerns, and possible emboldening of European mass struggles], 2) "western" nations appear to have their heaviest "foreign investments" in those areas than much of the continent, with the exception of South Africa, and 3)keeping true to the media-created narrative put into place about Africa at large, i.e. as that of the "helpless continent", wherein they can expediently interfere time and again under the pretext of trying to "save Africans", mainly "from Africans" themselves...especially now that competition seems to have heated up due to China's inroads into African markets.


The modern African labor movements can be traced to as far as the 19th Century, under colonial oppression by invading forces from Europe. Liberation struggles of course, go even further back, involving intra-continental conflicts and those involving Arab invasions. However, it is largely the advent of European colonialism that transformed the African labor movement into a modern one within a capitalist context. Mass labor movements on the continent have never seized since before the World Wars. In contemporary politics, there has been blackout in much of 'western media' and in other parts of the world, when it comes to the more recent developments of modern African labor movement, save for the likes of the so-called "Arab Spring". Much of such misinformation has to do with the fact that much of what poses as "news" media in the "west" and elsewhere, are in fact tools of the ruling class, and so, coverage reflects that which has primacy according to 'western' geopolitical interests; on another hand, the coverage is partly influenced by what sort of general narrative said media want to build up around those geopolitical interests in different geographical zones. The narrative of Africa throughout much of 'western' news media has long been that of a "helpless continent" which constantly necessitates the interference of the "west", in the name of "saving" the continent.

When the George Clooneys of the world go to visit some locality on the continent, with the 'western' press right by their side, what does one think they are doing? Why, perpetuating that illusion of the "helpless continent", while pumping up their own image for the viewing public. African working class taking matters into their own hands, by coming out en mass into the streets, to protest social and economic injustice, naturally does not fit well into such a narrative. This narrative of the "helpless continent" particularly becomes even more enticing, as observers in the "west" watch such rapidly emerging global players, like China, make economic inroads into Africa at an alarming pace. To avoid falling victim to propaganda outlets, posing as "news" organizations and in other cases, as academia, one ought to take it upon oneself to independently research the rich heritage of the modern African labor movement; the information is out there, should one choose to avail oneself of such. This goes out to any other subject matter. Stop assuming that because there are media and academic blackouts on such matters, that there must then be no such history to actively pursue. Cyberspace has made the attainment of information all that much easier!

*Maybe subject to modification or updating with additional information.
*References; otherwise as cited:

 Ed Brown, "S. Africa: Joy, sadness as Mandela's party turns 100", January 8, 2010. 

— Azad Essa, In search of an African revolution, courtesy of, 2/21/2011. 

— Chris Albot, WSWS, Zimbabwe on the brink of collapse, January 2004. 

— *Personal notes from 2005, 2008, 2011 & 2012.

1 comment:

Robert Figueroa said...

Thanks for writing this. You're entirely correct that the media depicts the "Arab Spring" as something disconnected from Africa even though it really began as a wave of protests and social unrest in several African countries while spreading to the "Middle East."

I'm sharing your blog with friends and associates of mine.