Theresa May and Africa: No Reason to Party

Published on 4th September 2018

In his 1959 inaugural address PAC founding President Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe said, “There is no doubt that with the liquidation of Western imperialism and colonialism in Asia, the Capitalist market has shrunk considerably. As a result, Africa has become the happy hunting-ground of adventuristic capital. There is again a scramble for Africa and both the Soviet Union and the United States of America are trying to win the loyalty of the African states. Africa is being wooed with more ardour than she has ever been.”

In the recent past, Britain, China and Russia have turned Africa into a happy-hunting ground of adventurist capital and winning the loyalty of Africa. This does not mean that the USA is not involved. The US has Africom military bases in strategic parts of the African continent.

The rivalry of big global power players in the continent is explicit in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement: “So while we cannot compete with the economic might of some foreign governments investing in Africa, what we can offer is long-term investment of the very highest quality and breadth. Something that will deliver more for Africans for longer, and which can only be achieved when the government and private sector work together.”

The loans and aid that Theresa May said would be provided to some African countries invariably have strings attached. They are not a free lunch provided to freeloaders. Unfortunately, Africa has naïve leaders who are complicit in selling their own people down the drain.

In a media statement on her visit to South Africa on August 28, Theresa May said that her country, South Africa and other southern African countries were signatories to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). In 2009, I wrote an article about these EPA’s in The African Executive

May says that it is time “... independence movements of a generation of new nations, took on a renewed urgency. People across the world won the right to self-determination, constitutions were written and countries were born.” She knows quite well that South Africa didn’t win its right to self-determination. South Africa’s constitution wasn’t written by the African people. It was imposed on them.

If South Africa were a sovereign country that determined its future, Britain wouldn’t be dictating terms such as adopting “free market” economics and signing “free’ trade agreements to South Africa. This is about a corporate power grab where multinational corporations are working hard to expand their control over the international economy and to undo health, safety, and environmental protections won by citizen movements across the globe. In fact, these “free” trade agreements and globalisation are all about the globalisation of corporate power. There is nothing like “free” trade. African countries do not need free trade but fair trade.

Jerry Mander says “free trade” and “market economics” are positive-sounding phrases that are in reality public-relations terms designed to conceal what they really stand for: the forced abandonment of local control: on development, ownership, trade, wages, prices, or lifestyles in favour of centrally conceived concepts and interests protected by bureaucracies in Geneva or Brussels and ultimately enforced by the US military.

According to Ralph Nader, a US consumer advocate, secrecy, abstruseness, and unaccountability are watchwords of global trade policy-making. Every element of the negotiation, adoption, and the implementation of trade agreements is designed to foreclose citizen participation or even awareness.

May observes that “The embrace of free markets and free trade, which accelerated further with the end of the Cold War, has acted as the greatest agent of collective human progress the world has ever seen. In those countries that have successfully embraced properly regulated market economies, life expectancy has increased and infant mortality fallen. Absolute poverty has shrunk and disposable income grown. Access to education has widened, and rates of illiteracy plummeted. And innovators have developed technology that transformed lives.”

It is possible that Millions of South Africans, both literate and illiterate, are not aware of the serious implications of “free” trade agreements. These “free” trade agreements have neither been discussed in parliament nor unpacked in the media.

These have obviously benefitted Britain and other big global powers. North Korea is not part of this globalisation yet it is progressing far more than many countries including South Africa. China informed western powers that it was going to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on its own terms.

South Africa became a signatory to the WTO without even perusing the global organization’s voluminous documents drafted behind closed doors. That document was known as the GATT Uruguay Round Text of 1991 which environmental and consumer groups rejected. The WTO is the driver behind globalisation and replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) on the 1st January 1995. GATT, World Bank, IMF and the UN were established in the mid to late 1940’s by western powers for their benefit after the end of the Second World War.

Those who said the solution lies in seeking to halt or reverse change. Undermining the institutions of global co-operation, rebuilding the barriers to trade, viewing global competition as a zero sum game are spot on. It depends what May means by “to halt or reverse change.” This is language meant to convey negative sentiments and alarm the pusillanimous and unexperienced. Those institutions of global cooperation do not have African representation. If they do, the Africans are just tokens. 

According to May, “The ideology that inspires vicious terrorist attacks does not respect borders.” So do ideologies of western imperialism and globalisation. She continues, “...we should recognise that competition and cooperation are not opposites. They can be mutually reinforcing.” The dog-eat-dog system where competition is a defining feature is definitely diametrically opposite to cooperation. Competition and cooperation are mutually exclusive.

Africa has not recovered from the devastating effects of the Atlantic slave trade, white supremacy, colonialism, imperialism and capitalism. It is disingenuous to suggest that Africa is on equal footing with western countries or an equal partner in a relationship in which power relations are unequal and lopsided.  

The three countries that Theresa May visited – South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya – are willing stooges of Britain which Britain controls through the Commonwealth. It will be through these three countries that Britain will use to dominate other African countries. They are not key partners of Britain. There is no way they can be partners with their former colonial master. That is why when May says she continues to support calls for a permanent African presence on the UN Security Council, note that she doesn’t say ‘a permanent seat’ but ‘permanent presence.’

While May concedes that most of the world’s poorest people are Africans. She does not acknowledge the role of British imperialism in Africa’s poverty. There is no way that the trade agreements her government is going to sign with some African countries are going to change the situation of Africans. Africans must wean themselves off parasitic relationships.

When May says that “ the years ahead, demographic change will present further economic challenges and opportunities for this continent,” she is referring to the increasing population of Africa. This is borne out by the following statement, “And we must also support governments as they work to ensure development is not stalled by other threats. This includes boosting resilience against climate change and tackling demographic challenges by empowering women and girls with access to safe, voluntary modern family planning, enabling access to education and skills.”

Demographic challenges and family planning is the concern of individual couples. It is not the business of Theresa May and the British government. Demographic challenges might concern the South African government in terms of planning but family planning is not its business. While she acknowledges that the UK has paid for more than 37 million children to be immunised, saving more than 600,000 lives around the world since 2015, she does not address the scientific evidence of unsafe vaccinations.

By Sam Ditshego

Sam Ditshego

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