AFRICAN UNION: Masters and houseboys unite

July 24, 2002

[The following statement was issued by the Johannesburg Anti-Privatisation Forum, which unites working-class and poor communities struggling against water and electricity cut-offs and evictions which flow from the neo-liberal economic policies of the African National Congress government in South Africa. It has been slightly abridged.]

The leaders of Africa's governments met in Durban July 9-16 to launch the African Union (AU). They invoked pan-African solidarity between nations as the means to advance the continent from the chaos of corruption, war and poverty.

The leaders' admission of failure in liberating their countries from underdevelopment and their recognition that the solution lay in greater African unity could have been be inspiring. But rather than hopeful relief from gloomy Afro-pessimism, the ceremony of stitching together this unity inaugurates a deepening of divisions between African people.

If declared by the AU's Peace and Security Council to be defying "good governance" or breaching the protocols of "sound economic policy", unfortunate Africans can now suffer the sanction of other African countries instead of British, American, French or World Bank bullies. The only unity that the AU will suture is united submission to a line of march led by junior imperialists and determined by their masters.

The formation of the AU will, according to its founding charter, promote "greater unity and solidarity between African countries and the peoples of Africa". By fostering peace, stability, democratic governance and respect for human rights, the AU's objective is to ensure that the continent plays its "rightful role in the global economy".

If signatory governments show themselves to be disciplined, well-behaved subjects of the AU's economic project — South African President Thabo Mbeki's New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) — they will be volunteering for a subordinate role in the global economy. What exactly this role might be depends less on the visionary objectives of the AU than the whims of the foreign "investors" that NEPAD will be courting.

As community organisations allied against the South African government's rolling privatisation program, the Anti-Privatisation Forum supports the union of Africa's peoples, not the feeding frenzy that the AU will host.

NEPAD's provisions promise the full-scale privatisation of the continent. Never mind the commitments to the rule of law and good governance — governance will only be good insofar as the national fiscus is disciplined. Fiscal discipline will entail creeping privatisation as the state trusses up its own limbs and hands over the responsibility for protecting the public interest to private concern.

Privatised colonialism will compound the history of impoverishment, exploitation and oppression scripted for today by its European and racist grandparents. For its continuity with a colonial heritage, NEPAD won G8 approval in Canada in June. Mbeki received congratulations there for a job well done.

As the AU summit progressed, Mbeki's police arrested hundreds of municipal workers who went on strike for a living wage, forcibly removed people from their homes, opened fire on protesting pensioners in Tafelsig, Cape Town, and continued to persecute so-called illegal immigrants from the continent Mbeki now begs unity with. This is the "good governance" as preached by our president and to be administered as continent-wide policy through the AU.

The Organisation of African Unity has been written off as a failed pan-African vision for the continent. Now that liberation movements are spent forces in government and the OAU is declared redundant, the AU is rolling out the red carpet for colonialists to re-enter the continent, this time as private corporations seeking to expropriate Africa's wealth.

Without liberation leaders holding out an African solution, the AU will offer even less hope for Africa's people. Today's Kwame Nkrumahs, Haile Selassies and Julius Nyereres have turned into proxies for the West. The only unity that will be stitched together by the formation of the AU is one of pomp and pretence.

From Green Left Weekly, July 24, 2002.
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