Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 3-1998, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich

“Market Economy and Democracy” in Africa
Imperialism’s Ultimate Development Model for its African Creations and the Consequences

In the spring of 1997, American President Bill Clinton visited six African countries. He announced his intention to counter the widespread ‘pessimism’ regarding economic and political conditions in sub-Saharan Africa and to pave the way for a new American policy initiative: ‘Partnership for Economic Growth and Opportunity in Africa’:

“As Africa’s nations join the global march toward freedom and open markets, our nation has a deep interest in helping to ensure that these efforts pay off. … Our initiative opens the door to real, positive change. Only nations carrying out serious reforms will reap the full benefits. Those who strengthen their democracies and invest in their people will see their efforts pay off in increased trade that will create new jobs, increase wages, spur growth and improve the quality of lives of people who have suffered some of the world’s worst poverty.” (Remarks by the president at the Africa trade event, June 17, 1997)[1]

A remarkable disclosure. There always is some rebellion and mass poverty somewhere in Africa; violent conflicts, refugee and famine disasters, these are the order of the day; city slums and ruined regions are on the increase; mining conveyors, transport routes, ‘infrastructure’ in general is not doing well; the ‘unemployed’ are not even counted; previously hopeful developing countries now fall in the category of “poorest countries” in international statistics; the gap between them and the “rich countries” doesn’t get smaller but larger; the only thing growing is their debts… — all of that falls under “pessimism.” America’s leading man knows better: the existing poverty does not count for much; the situation is actually full of hope. Fresh reform initiatives under a team of “new leaders” are making headway; a “future market of 700 million consumers” awaits its opening; “Africa’s renaissance” is well on its way.

The president’s optimism however is not the same as satisfaction. According to his own diagnosis, “real, positive change” still lies ahead. And for the “door” to it to open, he is contributing above all two requirements that have to be met, otherwise nothing happens, especially not from the American side: “open markets” and “democracy.” These are what is still lacking in Africa. These, and these alone are the remedy for the continent; so says the world power’s chief, who keeps an eye on democracy and open markets the world over, thereby setting the rules by which Africa’s statesmen have to prove themselves in the future.

That will not be easy for them. Because first of all, they have long since devoted all their policies to both of these aims: establishing a solid rule approved of by as many of the people as possible, and integrating their country into the global market economy. But their efforts in this regard have only brought about the “situation” that the US president declares to be in dire need of improvement along exactly these lines. And secondly, his reform requirements do not call into question any single systemic cause of poverty and violence in Africa, but instead vigorously question the way African rulers have brought things to this point, as far as concerns governing the people and to managing the economy pursuant to the needs of capital.

I. The economic achievement of sub-Saharan Africa: sources of raw materials under a debt regime

America’s call for an intensified “integration into the world market” is aimed at states that have done nothing other than participate in the world market and earn money with all their means. The dark continent with its 700 million potential market participants is involved in global business. In Africa, too, everything revolves around money: on the markets where the population does its business, as well as with the governments that arrange their activities in accordance with a proper budget. And the results of all that are summed up to a gross national product in accordance with all the rules of national accounting, converted into dollars, and divided by the size of the population, so that one knows where one stands with these countries, as far as economics is concerned.

The quantities that are statistically determined in this case turn out, however, to be quite insignificant and immediately lead to the conclusion that there can hardly be any talk of a proper bourgeois working life that would include the entire population. Things would be even clearer if the statistical yearbooks noted how the figures that nowadays measure out the wealth of nations in toto and per capita — in sub-Saharan Africa and everywhere else — come about. In this case, it is not wages and profits — or more precisely the prices that are realized with goods and services and out of which the various incomes are earned — that are added up to a national money-product that the state partakes of once it has financed everything required for a national product to materialize, everything from creating and looking after a national money down to the last customs officer and government official. What is called “gross national product” in these countries rather comes about by a state having disposal over sources of income with which it gets hold of foreign currency, i.e., partakes of the monetary wealth of other nations that have a functioning capitalist accumulation — so the bookkeepers of the global economy don’t really need to mentally convert the relevant wealth of these nations into dollars when attributing some hundred dollar or less income per capita to a single Black, but can immediately stick to the figures by which the governments concerned stand on the books of foreign merchants or finance capitalists. They can also definitely spare themselves the fiction that what underlies their fractional arithmetic is, if not a participation of a single Black in the real national money-income, then nonetheless “somehow” an individual, gainful contribution to it: the “gainful activity” of the masses has nothing to do with the wealth of their state.

‘‘Primary producing country”

This wealth is based on the sale of goods that are called natural resources or “natural riches” — obviously in contrast to “artificially” created social wealth, into which such natural resources first have to be transformed through the production of objects of social need, and which, in today’s society, in which the active player in the market economy, capital, defines social need, is only completed and exists in its finished form when the articles of need have become by profitable sale a really purely social, artificial product: money, wealth in the extremely abstract form of general, private power of disposal. It goes without saying that in addition to the geological and climatic conditions provided by nature, work is necessary to prepare these natural resources for sale, work that definitely does not happen due to nature, but rather has to be organized on a societal basis and even in Africa is equipped with capitalistically produced forces of production — from the conveyors for minerals to the chemical fertilizers for cultivated plants favored by nature. But this apparently does not suffice at all to already transform the natural conditions gotten for capitalistic production into real wealth, i.e., wealth realized in money. At any rate not in the countries where the first step to a productive ‘appropriation’ of nature takes place — and sometimes also one or another operation for further processing of the material — but that all the same fall under the rubric of “primary producing countries.” These countries get hold of society’s real wealth by selling their “natural” products under the economic definition of mere raw means of production. This they do as a country, hence abroad: to countries where the money they are keen on first arises.

And this money is definitely gotten hold of in this way; for this is the other economically relevant indication in the labeling of their exports as “natural riches”: as a result of their geological and climatic endowment, these countries have at their disposal interesting materials useful for capitalistic production, materials which not only cannot be found everywhere, let alone can be increased willy-nilly, but in relation to social requirements are rare by nature — and these materials can now be found, extracted, cultivated, or procured somehow or other in these very countries. Materials that are found, possibly even exclusively, on their lands, and that are the object of capitalistic desire somewhere else where money is really made — these make up the wealth of the African nations. These nations have made their politico-economic lives with this source of income.[2]

The life of a “debtor nation”

As a rule, this life started with capitalistic, private businessmen — farmers, mining groups, oil conglomerates, factory farms — opening up a cross-border business with a “natural” commodity, earning dollars, and with the governmental authorities taking their share through fiscal measures. Admittedly always too little, according to their own estimation: only a fraction of the proceeds generated with the natural resources of a country ever ended up in the state’s coffers. This is why these governments as a rule at one time or another “nationalized” the largest and most profitable business activities on their soil — an act of state that has to be placed in quotation marks because the political authorities did not intervene as sovereign supervisory bodies into private business life for the purpose of fostering the course of national business, prodding it along, but instead went over to supplying commodities on the world market for raw materials, i.e., appearing in the same function as private raw materials traders did previously. The calculation to get their hands on more dollars in this way than by concessions, fees, and suchlike certainly worked out. From that point on, however, the governments were also now directly confronted with the pitfalls of their source of income. Proceeds that arise from a capitalistic need meeting with a natural condition used by business are on the one hand dependent on the urgency of demand, i.e., on the capitalistic customers’ calculations in particular as well as on the ups and downs of capitalistic business in the centers of the global market economy in general. On the other hand, every additional supply, i.e., every newly opened oil well, plantation, or ore mine diminishes outright the market power of all suppliers. This results in the typically extreme fluctuations on the commodities exchanges, where — in fact first according to the criterion of relative “scarcity” of the commodity — world market prices are continually “determined” anew, as is the general, downward trend of these prices. The supplier states generate this trend themselves with all their efforts to increase their proceeds though increased supply; and if they follow the advice to diversify by selling varied “natural” products in order to make themselves more independent of the price trend for a single commodity, then they only generalize the tendency to oversupply that causes the proceeds to drop. Private enterprises will in this case eventually shut down their production facilities because the difference between expenditure and revenue is no longer favorable, or else go bust and in one way or another bring about a shortage of supply that eventually allows those remaining to get back to profitable business again. For governments, however, who have taken over these private businesses in order to increase their income and even to ensure it against such downturns arising from private calculations, such a closure of business is out of the question: they would not only thereby cripple their private source of income but also cancel the source of money for their national budget and thus jeopardize the continuance of state power. As suppliers, they therefore react — as the jargon goes — extremely ‘insensitively’ to the drop-off in prices of their commodity, to which they are consequently unable to set a limit. (Cartels only function in this case when they are not really necessary, if for instance a caprice of nature heavily cuts down supply, or if demand gets the upper hand for any other reason.) This is how these states easily get beyond the point where maintaining operations in their own country’s raw-material sector not only requires labor power to be badly paid, and in the local currency, but also necessitates imports of material and machines to be paid in foreign reserves whose costs can no longer be covered by export earnings.

Certainly, capitalism has the means to master even situations like this. With the addition of credit, the calculation changes: the earnings from the sale of the country’s natural resources no longer need be enough for the national budget — inclusive of the inevitable business costs for the state companies that bring in foreign exchange earnings — but simply for guaranteeing the punctual service of debts. This creates new freedom, but a freedom that comes at a price; because, after all, the calculation over on the other side also changes: to the extent that a country’s export earnings go for interest and repayment, the need for new credit grows with each budget. The entire national raw-materials business thereby changes its economic character — so thoroughly that now the classification of sub-Saharan states as “raw-material countries” with their wonderful “natural treasures” has largely given way to the label of debtor nations: the means for the nation to earn money turns into a security for the creditors they have debts with. And, in fact, a security that is increasingly overtaxed and very soon insufficient; because all the efforts to increase earnings just keep deepening the market powerlessness of the raw-material suppliers and never lead to an increase in earnings that would turn out to be bigger than the debt-service obligations. At some point then, debt service ultimately exceeds export revenues — nowadays no longer an exception but so frequent that economic journalists have already established for it the handy metaphor of a “debt trap snapped shut.”

Political credit

Of course, sub-Saharan Africa‘s raw-material–supplying debtor nations could only get to such an interim result of their politico-economical development because their borrowing is not solely dependent on the global banking business — no capitalistic lender throws good money after bad loans so limitlessly on its own account. These states have become and above all remain creditworthy through the political credit they are granted by the world powers of international capitalism — bilaterally or by jointly maintained credit agencies, among them the World Bank with its development programs as well as the IMF with its perpetual redevelopment mission. Their funds or guarantees, as the case may be, see to it that the governments in sub-Saharan Africa can keep drawing up a budget, survive as suppliers of raw materials, somehow still meet their debt service — and at the same time still manage a national power apparatus with which they seek to keep their domestic conditions under control. These conditions, too, develop in the course of these nations’ politico-economical life; but they don’t do this without a governmental power arising from the existing situation and applied accordingly.

The state’s regulatory duty

Those who hold power first of all have to ensure — either as official general contractors or by securing the activities of private businessmen and corporations — that agricultural products and by-products of natural resources for sale abroad are produced, reach their destination, and are properly accounted for. This task is taken care of by a social elite who earn their money with the better professions familiar from bourgeois states — starting with politicians, army officers, and government officials; to export merchants and bank clerks; all the way to engineers and harbor masters. The money they earn does not originate in a domestic circuit of capital but comes into the country from abroad as export earnings, and allows its possessors to participate in the capitalistic world market in the opposite direction: to import weapons, cars, medical treatment, and everything else that a ruling elite so needs nowadays.

A certain quantity of proletariat is likewise necessary to extract and transport the national export items: workers who definitely do not enjoy foreign currencies and imported goods but instead are compensated with national means of exchange having no real “purchasing power.” This is good enough, though, to distinguish them from the mass of the population, for whom there can be no talk of their being exploited by locally active capital for its business activities. There were programs to abolish, or at least head in the direction of abolishing, the capitalistically unproductive separation between the production of export goods and a population useless for that production, by appending a few more processing steps to the “primary” sector consisting of the procurement of pure raw materials; but wherever they were carried out with noticeable results, these programs all proved in practice that a version of what Marx called “primitive accumulation” — the installation of a circuit of capital that takes hold of, penetrates, and rearranges society — cannot be attained this way. The role of a national economy as external supplier to a global accumulation that has long since existed is only reinforced this way — especially by the fact that investment expenditures always appear as a deduction from the crucial earnings of foreign currency, a deduction that can hardly ever be offset by a matching amount, not to mention an overproportional increase, of export revenue. The relevant programs have therefore been long since abandoned for the most part; what remains can be viewed as “industrial ruins” in the midst of “natural riches.” Otherwise, a growing mass of the population lives in capitalistically necessary uselessness cut off from the nation’s world-market work and income, alongside the production of export goods; and with their large numbers they push the statistical measures of the national per capita income down to the incredibly few dollars they never actually get their hands on their entire lives.

The establishment of a new kind of subsistence economy

This separation between a population and a national foreign-currency economy, however much it is the consequence of a world-market necessity — and accordingly fundamentally reasonable — does not of course come about by itself. The most important task of government is to establish this separation in the context of the state’s general task of guaranteeing the supplying of the global economy with a few “natural riches.” After all, this requires a rather radical intervention into the traditional — in this particular case “preindustrial” — living conditions of the natives. Their ancestral lebensraum is in the worst case forcefully taken away from them, at any rate restricted, in many cases poisoned or devastated; their territorially dependent existence is destroyed. The natives are tied down to a subsistence economy of a new kind: surrounding the country’s economic centers, especially in the appropriately sprawling capital cities, a “market economy” opens up in which the national money, brought into circulation by the state through its many ordinary employees, proves itself as a pure, interpersonal means of circulation for exchanging the necessities of life. While it may be true that many a man can thereby (measured against the customary average) get “rich” — pick up a truck as a source of income and a TV for pleasure — so little of this local “money” thereby becomes real, capitalistically self-expanding abstract wealth that something like “convertibility,” a genuine, practical comparison with world money, doesn’t really come about. But some sort of arithmetical parity exists for this medium of exchange, so that all who deal with it find their way straight into the national product accounts. This distinguishes them from masses living between the edge of town and the bush, to whom the conditions pushed through by state power do not leave more than an “economy” of hunger: literally a “struggle for existence” over the refuse left by the ruling elite; over areas of arable land that do not yield the bare necessities; ultimately over the protein biscuits that the omnipresent World Hunger Relief distributes — out of pity, and because, in the case of mushrooming famine, the responsible global economic powers are lacking in the indispensable minimum of sovereign control over land and people. The internal wars that arise on the basis of these politico-economic conditions — with a necessity that will be discussed below — complete the misery.

A new kind of “tribal society”

This awkward kind of “social reproduction” creates correspondingly peculiar social bonds within the population of these countries, between the inhabitants separated into the elite (plus needed appendages) and the superfluous masses. At any rate, they are all spared an existence as character masks of objectified dependencies; namely, as bourgeois individuals who compete with their own means for capitalistically realized income. For their survival in the proverbial struggle for survival, they rely instead on a collective that imposes itself out of a primitive natural context: on common bonds of family, clan, ultimately of tribe or distinct “ethnicity.” The integration of sub-Saharan Africa into the capitalistic world market has of course left nothing of the living conditions of the old “tribal societies”; they have been vanquished and ruined by a corresponding civilizing progress. Nevertheless, the people need not step away from their entanglement in kinship relations and from the ugly tradition within which the conditions of living do not allow an individual to be emancipated from the circle of his origins: no other collectivism has replaced these bonds; the means and opportunities for survival are distributed via family and tribe.

Interestingly, this doesn’t look much different in the higher echelons of the population: the national elite is not recruited out of competing careerists; access to riches in form of dollars coming into the country is gained by patronage through relatives in the broad or narrow sense, not distorted by the functionalist criteria of competitive success (let alone by aspects of a rational division of labor), but rather guided solely by a felt, moral obligation towards those naturally close. Authorities on these conditions tend to denounce this sort of cohesion as corruption under the catchwords ‘nepotism’ or ‘clientelism,’ thereby revealing above all how little the standpoint of competitive morality fits with African conditions, a morality that is familiar with competitive, bourgeois vultures falling back on their “informal,” “good relations” and that condemns this recourse as an anomaly and distortion of performance-based results.

The Americans are now turning up in Africa with this very standpoint and in the name of its ideals, criticizing the habitual relationships, going after the responsible governments — and getting the next round in the capitalistic life of the “dark continent” into high gear.

II. The prescribed reorganization of economic services for the world market: a ruinous reform program

The sub-Saharan African states do not have the means — and, since the end of Soviet countervailing power in the world, no longer any opportunity — to decisively alter their role in the capitalistic global economy, let alone to terminate it and survive such a termination economically. But above all, nowhere is there to be found — any longer — even the slightest political will even to propose basic changes in Africa’s standing on the world market, let alone bring them about. Everything — however seriously meant — that once sounded somehow like liberation from dependence on the “First World,” like anti-imperialism, socialism, or state planning, has long since been withdrawn from circulation. Even the rhetorical demand for a “just global economic order” in which the “Third World” would be better off is no longer to be heard — either as the pious hope of starry-eyed idealists of democracy and market economy or as the diplomatic claim of a “non-aligned movement” that once tried to make its presence felt even south of the Sahara. In the context of the great debate between “freedom and socialism,” every idealism of autonomy and development along these lines has been thoroughly given up by governments that once had notions like that, and, after the victory of “freedom,” has completely died out. The responsible public administrations have adjusted — and, in their status as international debtors without any alternative, they make do with sources of raw materials great or small. Of course, they are regularly harassed with demands from their creditors and the IMF to increase their revenues and reduce their expenditures; they would really prefer to take care of the first item themselves, but it’s simply not in their hands; and they comply on their own with the blackmail to run a lean budget in the only form compatible with the system, by aggravating the split between the ruling elite, who participate in the nation’s dollar earnings from export proceeds or loans, and the superfluous masses, who are excluded to a great extent anyway from dollar-financed state hand-outs. In this way, the officeholders bear up rather well under the condition of “overindebtedness” they have managed to get into with their services on the world market and the political credit of imperialist powers — at least as long as the foreign sponsors to whom they owe their situation do not on their part change the conditions or even cancel the credit.

Now (1997) these states are getting criticism from their sponsors and above all from the US that is turning out to be much more radical than the customary IMF reform remedies. The fact that President Clinton, on his visit to Africa, used the diplomatic-optimistic variant (i.e., the necessity of making a new start) to voice the imperialistic disapproval of the habitual relationships takes nothing away from its bite: the powers that supervise world affairs are discontent with the economic condition of sub-Saharan Africa and are no longer willing to continue granting credit for the unforeseeably growing debts of this region. They regard Africa’s debts as their own expenses and no longer tolerable, not because the debt level is exorbitantly high, but because they (the creditors) lack profitable prospects of fulfilling their own higher demands. A simple debt-cancellation on their part, however, is out of the question; “dropping” debts doesn’t work. Economic reasons also definitely speak against it: with their natural resources and the debt service for which these have long since been pledged, the Africans at least contribute their share to capitalistic growth in the world, even if the criticism of them ignores this achievement. But above all, it is absolutely beyond question that completely clear relations of political power have to prevail in the world in order that those really in charge can hold a potentate responsible for maintaining a useful order anywhere and blackmail him for the appropriate services — be it only for closing borders to “economic refugees” from his region. It goes without saying that in sub-Saharan Africa, too, there needs to be a lasting ensemble of state powers continent-wide.

Hence the political credit for Africa’s world of states is not being revoked. But the African governments are confronted with an accounting that holds them to blame for an “overindebtedness” no longer tolerated and, under this viewpoint, bluntly denounces the existing relationships as being the result of completely mistaken policies because they deviate from proper market-economy conduct. Those responsible for the nation are said to have made their national economies ineffective and unprofitable by nationalization — easily verified by the fact that the governments, in their everlasting concern over national export earnings, have inevitably shown a disregard for business profitability standards and that, under the pressure of debt service, the country’s productive inventory is no longer being renewed, i.e., has been left to rot. What is more, some rulers are supposed to have accelerated the bankruptcy of their countries by socialist experiments — a reproach that is likewise correct if the title ‘socialism’ aims at the attempt, beyond the mere cultivation of crops and mining of minerals, to install at least a bit of national industry as a better source of money between the mining or harvesting and hauling away; for reasons that have really nothing at all to do with socialism, but on the contrary have much to do with the necessities of the terms of trade, the expenditure of foreign reserves was always higher than the dollar earnings. On the whole, state revenue is said to be unproductively wasted — an astute diagnosis for countries in which an internal, national accumulation of capital that could be given productive “stimuli” through state expenditures doesn’t even exist, and where even increases in productivity in the export-industry sector merely increase global overproduction and thus diminish revenues. All in all, those in power over there supposedly engage in too much government interference, are too sovereign in the handling of national resources — in the very arena where the rulers’ economic policies reveal nothing but the lack of economic power. Finally, the greatest offense is the generally prevailing unbridled corruption — this also being an all-too-obvious finding provided that one maintains the right to judge the African way of supporting a power structure by the ethos of a bourgeois civil service instead of taking note of a few systemic necessities of “professional life” in a primary producing country. These charges are complemented by a matching self-criticism: the concerned foreign countries, through their imprudent aid, are supposed to have virtually fostered this irresponsible, part slipshod, part socialist, at any rate woefully ineffective handling of land and people. This can also be proven easily: without foreign credit, the local authorities would no longer have a state — and thus could do nothing wrong.

This critique apparently aims at forward-looking, practical conclusions; one certainly would not be wrong in assuming that the remedies logically precede the diagnoses and objectively underlie them — as is always the case with the policies of bourgeois states. The practically intended remedies are, on their part, an admittedly hard-to-resolve mixture of market-economy ideology and, at best, practical instruction — here, too, nothing out of the ordinary in the economic policy of capitalist states. The overall point is the terribly honorable concern to substitute success for a failure that is not so much criticized as incriminated — through new policies in these states and above all new dealings with them. It’s supposed to look roughly like this:

  • President Clinton’s maxim, “Trade, but not aid,” applies to imperialistic influence in the overindebted Black nations, which of course aren’t to be called this, either now or in the future. The completely “developed” states are thereby dissociating themselves from the notion that Africa’s “developing countries” first have to be “developed,” i.e., become capable of participating profitably in world trade, before going into competition over the acquisition of world money. The fact that this notion never had any validity at all is absolutely irrelevant. The imperative to give up the standpoint of aid just requires that deficient export revenues be “bridged” again and again by one or another makeshift, ultimately by loans from the homelands of the global credit business: this practice is supposed to be discontinued. Of course it is true that the loans were directed to the relevant governments under the title “aid,” but the credit was meant to function, and has functioned, only as a means to draw the countries into big business and to make and keep them useful for it. Discontinuing credit without a substitute would therefore impact a capitalistic business world that is still interested in exotic “natural treasures,” in addition to the public and private creditors themselves. Hence it is necessary to prevent these undesired side effects. The remedy for that means:
  • The African states should open up to foreign capital. This incredibly original reform proposal is, on the one hand, aimed at the “primary sector” companies with which these countries generally earn money on the world market. These firms need to be withdrawn from governmental access and privatized, i.e., transferred to capitalist combines — every Africa policymaker of course has in mind multinationals from his own country, whose interests are pointed out to him by a domestic lobby — which will then invest in accordance with their tough profitability criteria where it pays off; and also in such a way that it pays off; and which otherwise will shut down everything that doesn’t pay off. In this manner — this is the calculation — all deposits of “natural riches” that are absolutely certain to be profitable in world market terms would be severed from political rule, from its level of debt, and from its need for money, i.e., freed from the annoying condition of keeping bankrupt states able to function. If one can then no longer count on their service in guaranteeing a “public order” in line with the circumstances, then that’s simply part of the price: private businessmen will have to dimension their factory security services accordingly large — models have long been available, and the expense is also not too great due to the usual cheap prices for armed services in Africa. In return, the governments are reminded of the multiple advantage that at least fixed concession fees and levies would again accrue to them out of the raw-materials business thus guaranteed; they would even be spared the necessary expenses of factory upkeep that they have so far not been able to afford. Moreover, with these revenues and the proceeds of privatization, they will again become financially solvent, in fact “by their own efforts.” And for the foreseeable case of this not sufficing, the reform project comprises still a second part:
  • Besides supplying export goods, Africans should “open” whatever else exists in their countries in terms of “market economy,” their domestic “markets,” to assessment and use by foreign investors, who will inevitably find objects of capitalist desire there. This will then again bring investment, i.e., foreign currency, into the country, turning the barter carried out in local currency into a source of money that an African treasury will be able to enjoy. This ingenious proposal largely overlooks the little problem that stands in the way of the business of capitalist trading houses on Africa’s markets, namely, that the medium of exchange circulating among the local masses is not capitalistically suitable world money, and that not a single entity would be willing and able to guarantee any parity to real foreign currency. Imperialist advisers simply adhere to the empirical observation that money can somehow be made even from the poorest customers. Furthermore, they on their part are willing to allow African products unhindered on their markets; this is how local businessmen and the relevant national banks would get their hands on foreign currency, which could easily be earned back again. The fact that the sub-Saharan states have at their disposal no profitably saleable commodities apart from those with which they already supply the commodity exchanges is of no concern to advocates of the imperative “trade not aid.”
  • Especially this last part of the imperialistic reform program for Africa, with its mixture of ideological bias, cynical calculation, and ignorance, looks to be fairly unrealistic, which doesn’t mean, however, that it couldn’t be put into practice. Owing to the imperialist distribution of power, the fact that it doesn’t fit with the economic conditions south of the Sahara doesn’t speak against it but against the conditions, hence first of all against the governments that are responsible for these conditions. The first and most thorough course of reform treatment is therefore prescribed to them: they have to adjust, govern properly, stop the mismanagement, cost less, and achieve more, and, for this purpose and along these lines, they have to push through the projected, new conditions for participating in the world market. If they don’t do it, they have to be blackmailed into it or replaced; if they fail, they bear the responsibility and likewise deserve to be replaced; and if they do what is demanded and thereby ruin their countries’ economy — the same holds: in all cases, they are responsible for fulfilling the imperatives included as “guiding cognitive interest”[*] in the great, capitalist nations’ new, critical view of their African appendages.

The imperialist powers’ dissatisfaction and will to reform thus leads very consequently to a single, priority agenda item: to look for the right personnel to realize the lovely aim of sparing expenses and profiting more from the countries of the dark continent. Under the title “democratization,” they do everything in their power to recruit such personnel. In this way, the destruction of the countries to which modern development workers so earnestly turn their political attention progresses pretty quickly.

III. The permanent, political state of affairs: power struggles for limited state power

In the opinion of the expert appraisers in Washington and elsewhere, the political situation, too, is in need of a fundamental correction. Though an anti-Western political will is no longer on the march, the advocates of the West are far from satisfied. They discover disturbing activities everywhere, find a clear political orientation to the West lacking, and complain that in many cases governmental power is not at all enforced throughout the land. Their discontent has, apart from all differences, a common denominator: everywhere in Africa, there is a lack of ‘stability.’ This judgment is easy to come by, for the countries have not brought about a reliable internal order. Everywhere one looks, separate, local powers contest the central government and rebels are on the move. Even the masses are on the move everywhere, fleeing from the violent clashes. The disintegration of the political order and open rebellion are not the exception but the rule. If this situation is measured by the standard that is deemed the epitome of the progress of civilization in the West, namely, that they over there need to be governed as reliably as we are over here, then the verdict is clear: one cannot speak of a ‘proper’ rule, of an accomplished and acknowledged national monopoly on force. What then?

The former colonies have, at any rate, achieved the status of acknowledged sovereigns, members of the international family of nations provided with all the trappings of national rule. They are governed by politicians who meet international standards; even on the dark continent, it is apparently little problem to find an ambitious power elite eager to manage the country and represent it in the world. And all these countries also have a regular, not exactly modest, machinery of force at their disposal. As far as this external side of sovereignty is concerned, they are absolutely ‘all right.’ However, this power — wealth, weapons, and recognition — comes from abroad. How much of this power, and thus all critical requirements of governing, they have at their disposal are decided solely by the economic and strategic role they play for foreign countries. Making a big fuss over these requirements is thus also the prevailing interest in ruling that the political leadership guard orientates itself to, all internal rebellion notwithstanding. The rebels, too, do not oppose the conditions of dependence but are solely out to govern under these conditions themselves.

As far as the internal side of their sovereignty is concerned, it is hard to overlook the fact that these countries have never gone beyond groundless attempts to copy a bourgeois rule that commands a willing people and can rely on their state-affirming, national convictions. The efforts of the first generation of politicians after decolonization to turn the home team into a single, loyal people ended in disgrace as hopeless idealism and have long since been abandoned. Not because Blacks are just not ready for democracy, but because the political economy and the requirements of power in these countries forces the national authorities to handle the masses in a way that lacks the convenience of a political command over a national collective of the people with its nationally useful social structure, and also because the masses have quite a different attitude towards their authorities.

After all, only a small part of the population is needed for economic services and leadership functions; the vast majority is useless for that — at best simply immaterial for the economic efforts of the governing elite, mostly nothing but an absolute burden, contributing nothing material to the continuance and success of rule. Hence the state carries out a rigorous selection from its internal human inventory according to criteria demanded by its external sources of wealth. For the useless majority, there is basically only one commandment: thou shalt not stand in the way. The enforcement of this commandment does not come off without force. Lands for export cultivation have to be made ready, the profitable elements of the economy, the basis of the state, have to be separated from the rest and protected from those who are excluded from it and other resources. What is more, care has to be taken as much as possible that the masses get by with their impoverished circumstances without attracting unpleasant attention. After all, they are supposed to accept their circumstances: not fight back when they are cleared away, keep still in the towns, and slog through somehow; they are also supposed to make ends meet under such starvation conditions with their nonrebellious efforts, not be a burden, arrange themselves in the slums, and not roam around the country in droves and muddle up the situation. So state power is not used to organize a national ‘acquisitive society’[†] in which the individual makes himself useful for private wealth and for the state and so earns an income depending on his position in competition. But even in this case, state power determines living conditions, and in fact rather directly, by sorting — mostly negatively. It has no command over a productive life, but allows people to participate in the few earning opportunities, distributes the few ‘chances’ that come along under such circumstances, or excludes people from the basic means of survival.

The job of carrying out this separation, assigning or denying the few prospects, belongs to the political figures and is the crucial means of their power within the country. The bitterness of their fight over this use of power goes along with the care they take not to upset their outside dependence. This is no matter to be decided by mutual agreement and peaceful competition. Because what’s at stake is the power to decide on which groups the rulers look favorably on and give a share in the meager benefits of power, and which ones on the other hand are not included, the competition over the possession of power has itself the character of a fight that excludes others. A permanent fight for power of a special kind therefore rages in these countries. Every government has the problem of surviving against the disappointed demands of competitors and their supporters. Instead of the chumminess of democratic politicians, which unites them even in the most bitter competition, enmity prevails, and the transition to violence lurks constantly in political life. The command over troops is therefore the all-important means of rule.

In this power struggle, the collectives in which the masses move in their everyday struggle for survival play their other, political role. The tribally organized system of relationships, which appears so uncivilized, so hopelessly backward to fans of a successful monopoly on force, constitutes the political context in which leadership and masses are united, united in their will to secure power and everything that depends on it for their group, meaning, at the expense of others. Even in these countries, political leaders, despite all rumors to the contrary, base their success on, and refer to, the benefits they are willing and able to provide with their power for the masses; gain approval; and thereby stake their claims to power — but do all that as representatives of their own, tribally qualified group. The leading elite called to execute power is drawn from those ‘ethnic’ groups that were previously used by their colonial masters as instruments of their administration and thereby got used to positions of rule. Origin and position in the group qualify for a leading role in a political system that obtains its material resources and its political constraints from quite different connections, not at all from a narrow tribalism. Even the usual way up the political ladder to a position of responsibility, through the military, doesn’t come off without this system of political relationships and doesn’t permanently manage without them. The same figures who externally represent their country in the international community with all the trappings of recognized statesmen, satisfy the constraints of the IMF and the global players together with their political backers, and are in command over the corresponding mass poverty: these same figures organize the solidarity of the state machinery as a system of personal supporters and clientele out of military cliques, nepotism, and sinecurism. The former (satisfying the IMF, etc.) earns them great credit, while the latter (the cliques, nepotism, etc.) is held against them as personal enrichment and made responsible for all the poverty. This at the same time creates the ‘loyalty’ that supports such an exercise of power. A presidential guard, recruited from one’s own followers, secures the power of the leadership; the governing team and state apparatus are primarily staffed with people from the “inner circle,” so that equally assembled in the cabinet one finds experts on international financial matters, a lot of military, family members, other members of one’s own tribe — but also representatives of other clans, who are supposed to be satisfied in this way.

In the process, the leader’s personal regime necessarily disappoints claims of all sorts, and inevitably spurs on opponents to contest the leadership. Yet nothing in this relation is altered with an exchange of political figures; each change poses the same task to the successors. Africa’s politicians therefore keep trying to gain general acceptance — but these days hardly ever by pursuing the once proclaimed ‘fight against tribalism.’ Political parties, all called ‘Democratic Movement for the Renewal …’ or suchlike, merely organize the tribal clientele, but with the claim — not even bogus — that its leader is concerned about the entire nation. Nowadays, the demonstrative efforts to unite the entire population politically as a single, big movement under a national leader amount to the attempt to pacify the opposing claims of the contenders for rule along with their supporters by involving them to some extent in the clientele net. The private coffers of ‘power-mad dictators’ as well as the arrangements they make with their competitors about participation and local governing rights always serve this attempt and are anyway proof that all the efforts — even of competitors — are concerned with something general: securing power in the state.

In these power struggles, the wretched figures moving about in the country and struggling to get by under the conditions of rule play a not insignificant role. As members of their clan and tribe, they constitute the supporters and the human material out of which are drawn the fighters for the political cause for which the leading elite battles it out. As followers, they are beguiled with the pitiful perspective of belonging to the right clientele. This is how the communities of common plight they are materially thrown back on acquire a positive character, making demands of which the very ones who govern these wretched conditions present themselves as guarantor. In this way, even in these states, which confront their population first and foremost as ruthless force, a positive relationship of obedience comes about; although one that is not directed toward the entire state but only to one’s own group in the state. Mediated through their everyday collectivism of need, even the masses there become ‘politicized’; not as a nation but rather in a ‘we’ that is aimed against others in the country of the same impoverished type who are presented to them as the ones responsible for their misery. The antagonism of the political power to all of them is transformed into enmity among themselves and thus becomes productive for the ruling power. These poor figures, who would never even get the idea of being the masters of their circumstances; to whom making any active calculation or relying on their own initiative is, in these circumstances, foreign; who are instead rather familiar with having to endure miserable conditions and being incorporated in one or another clan — these of all people become politically active in droves: they are mobilized for and incited to take part in the power struggle. How well that works, when the need arises, is noted by Western commentators when they deplore the ‘resurgence of rabid tribal fanaticism’ in Africa with its ‘senseless massacres.’ In this case, no rebellion of citizens is in progress, citizens who want to overthrow their ruling power or change it according to their own ideas; instead followers are on the move who haven’t even a halfway fitting notion of the political calculations they are being roped in for, but, through the relevant interpretation of their poverty, know exactly what matters: clearing away all those from the other crowd. So the followers, who the claimants for power create and arm over there for themselves, enforce this conviction with everything they’ve got, and the leaders have their work cut out for them just to put the brakes on their crews again. Belonging to the successful perpetrators is a mode of existence — and a rather common one under such circumstances, just as is the existence of droves of victims of violence; and anyway they do not have a bourgeois existence to lose.

The jaded head-shaking over the regular, devastating ‘outbreaks of violence’ not only pays little attention to the fact that the means of military coups and revolts, unrest and organized revolts against the center, massacres great and small, come from the competent players of the international world of states. It also completely disregards the fact that the deployment of these means of violence is due not to tribal localism but to worldly aims. An internal power struggle is always about becoming the contact point for all the foreign ambitions that are directed toward the country and that really provide something of the power that internal circumstances do not lend themselves to. The continued existence of power thus depends on how these ambitions are doing, how the African state leaders perform on the test they are permanently subjected to, a test whose criteria they neither determine themselves nor are able to fulfill by their own efforts. At the same time, they are to vouch for the expected economic services and, notwithstanding their effects, guarantee a reliable order on the soil of their territory.

Things are not going well, however, since the internal power struggles inevitably bring about a double effect. First of all, the economic services and calculations do not remain unaffected. The list of deficiencies that are enumerated to the leaders ranges from a growing military budget to the damage to sources of raw material. But secondly, the rulers themselves get no peace. They are permanently busy with starvation and rebellion. Local rule spreads. Again and again, the difference between a proper military and banditry, between political leader with a local power base and warlord, between proper statesman and rebel leader becomes blurred. In the extreme cases, every contact address is lost, as in the case of Somalia. And these circumstances regularly reach beyond the borders. Of course, the rulers mostly adhere to the colonial drawings of frontiers as boundaries of their sovereign territory; but not so the insurgents and the masses affected by the conflicts. This blurs the borders and contributes its part to the power struggles. The streams of refugees that spill across the borders regularly threaten a government’s sovereignty over parts of its own territory and in addition stir up the antagonisms already existing there. Foreign rebels often operate from one’s own soil because of the lack of control over one’s own land or with the intention of depriving rebels against one’s own rule of support in another country. The consequences of the problems that states have in asserting their power internally are thus what primarily shape their dealings with each other. This occasionally creates cross-national commonalities where the respective needs to secure rule happen to meet, but also all sorts of hostilities.

Hence the continued existence of these countries ultimately depends entirely on the efforts made by the non-African targets of their competition for power. This audience, America above all, sees things quite differently.

IV. The contemporary, imperialist response: a program to forcefully pacify system-conforming power struggles

During the days of the Cold War, quite a lot was done for Africa’s states to perform as expected. Reliable partisans were given recognition, weapons, and foreign support. With unsuitable candidates, on the other hand, their opponents were substantially helped along. The end of the Soviet Union freed imperialism from this concern. Now scrutiny is directed towards finished objects of the one world order: not only are they developed as sources of raw material, but abundance and cheap prices prevail; the old global-political imperative to support and combat regimes has resolved itself. Alternatives to imperialism are no longer on offer. Thus not only have the revenues of these countries dropped, but also the political credit they had been granted for both roles. What has not dropped but rather grown is the demand that especially America makes on the political conditions of these countries. They are supposed to respond to the shrinking of foreign efforts to maintain these ruling powers by their own efforts in terms of ‘good government.’ This is an imperialistic program that is presented as a large-scale improvement program but amounts to a fundamental critique of the efforts for ‘good government’ that are definitely being made down there. Its name is ‘democratization.’ It has recently (1979) been yet again proclaimed by Clinton.

The call for ‘democratization’

The African states are therefore not democracies in the Christian Western sense; the representatives of the corresponding Western values take this as their starting point. The kind of system they actually are is not something they bother about. They demand that Black states function like the political systems in which force is effectively monopolized; bourgeois law, justice, and police secure the human right of a system of property; gainfully employed citizens support with their taxes an effective machinery of force; which on its part secures law, order, and the buying power of money and for that leaves the occupation of its offices to a competition of political parties and free elections by its self-confident legal persons — i.e., proper conditions under which earning money in a market economy works out and shareholders and wageworkers, freelancers and pensioners are loyal to the authorities, which by enforcing the material constraints of the capitalistic economy likewise force on them the corresponding private interests. Not included in the call for ‘democratization’ is for state power to eliminate the material difficulties of its subjects, provide them with a way to earn their daily bread, or in general to install a functioning system of social reproduction. The material living conditions of the Black nations are left out of consideration, i.e., are simply assumed. On an economic base in which the bulk of the country’s inhabitants wage a hopeless struggle for survival alongside a foreign-currency-earning export economy and against its forcefully protected requirements, what is demanded is the impossible feat of installing a political superstructure that presupposes a thoroughly organized capitalistic class society, serves its requirements, and is in turn also desired and maintained by it. Utter hardship is supposed to be combined with obeying the law, pauperization without any ‘welfare net’ is to be combined with political loyalty, the absolute ruin of the population is to be combined with effective obligation and voluntary self-commitment. This is what is demanded by values-conscious democrats from the centers of the global economy, in the name of the universal indivisibility of human rights — and in wonderfully preestablished harmony[‡] with their own public interest and the private interest they see to, namely, that there be secure conditions for the existence and growth of capitalistic property, precisely adhered-to rules of procedure, reliable lobbies, competent management, and a people that can be depended on for all that.

Well, citizens present themselves and states offer up many things that surprise even communists a bit now and again. But this extreme ruthlessness by the political power combined with national-civic solidarity, demanded of the raw-materials-extracting polities of Africa under the catchphrase ‘democracy,’ is not remotely possible. A political body that does not make class-divided bourgeois out of its subjects — haut (high), petit (petty), and proletarian — will also never find citoyens[§] who, just for placing so many demands on the state pursuant to the common good, confront it with loyalty. But such real necessities of a capitalism exported to Africa are not, as said above, of any concern to politicians who, at home, have command over a first-class symbiosis of capitalism and popular rule and demand the same of their exotic partners. As the ultimate and most entitled of all dogmatists, they regard the inability of their demands to be fulfilled, wherever they find them not fulfilled and are bothered by it, as needless mismanagement.

To overcome this, and having placed this on on their African policy agenda, they turn to their own kind — to politicians who “bear the responsibility” in the African republics, i.e., who also have to take responsibility for the deplorable political state of affairs, namely, that nothing works like it does in Berlin, Washington, or Paris. The exercise of their profession — after all, as already said, politics as profession exists in Africa, too — is subjected to critical scrutiny: the way they have come to power and executed their rule; the methods they have employed in the process and the conduct they have displayed. By this means, Western politicians find that gaining power in Africa doesn’t work by having a career in the service of a fully-established monopoly on force, but rather consists in being the head of the relatively most powerful troops, i.e., the most important tribal group, ousting other rulers and restraining power in the hands of others. He doesn’t simply attain the office on which the generally accepted authority of the state depends, but instead occupies the existing instruments of power and generalizes his personal power by excluding rival “commanders” from the existing instruments of power. As soon as the elimination of all competitors has succeeded, the head of government does not execute an unambiguously recognized monopoly on force, but rather acts as personal commander of the strongest battalions inclusive of the instruments of power, monopolized by him, that make up the apparatus of state. The result is certainly ‘stable’ enough for the interests of the clan leader who has won this power struggle — at least until competitors successfully build themselves up again. For the imperialistic interest and judgment, however, exactly this kind of personal rule is the reason why the state power leaves the need for civil order unsatisfied to such an extent: after all, it’s really just somebody and his crew governing over there; just for himself and to retain power; not as replaceable officials of established national purposes and ambitions, of a fixed reason of state.

And all the professional democrats from the First World know right away what the third and fourth worlds are missing: their colleagues there do not stick to the rules of procedure of power meant for well-functioning, democratic communities — no wonder that power doesn’t “work” “down there”; at any rate not in the way it should. This is how, from the situation they are dissatisfied with, foreign policy advisors “infer” the method they don’t see being followed. And with that, they have a ready remedy in hand for improving things: a proper political life deserves to be established there; a sensible, moderate competition for power that fosters the “consent of democrats” must take place; and as their goal and serving as the basis of a people-appropriate sovereignty that can insist on loyalty and constructive opposition: free elections.

Those who call for elections do not seriously maintain that their demand reflects some kind of desire of the “peoples of Africa.” They invoke a right to elections that cannot be taken away even from Blacks — and otherwise quite openly confess that the interest in organizing them is more the concern of foreign “advisors” who know and appreciate elections as an especially valuable instrument of power: their concern is “stabilization by power-sharing.” Hence what they are thinking of is a pacification of the reckless competition over, and exercise of, rule, which aims to satisfy the foreign interest in stability. And for that they suggest a procedure that elsewhere — although under different circumstances and for different purposes — stands the test: for filling the highest offices in nations in which the objective necessities of governing are generally acknowledged, where government and opposition share in executing power by taking turns, and where the people have their approval of the state put on record by selecting the personnel. The intention to pacify the struggles over the exclusive possession of power in the African countries by holding elections is, in comparison, a strangely unfitting imposition on those interested in a government power that cannot be ‘shared.’ The African politicians are ordered to bring their competition under control, to come to amicable terms, and to renounce the violent measures that are their sole means of enforcing their personal interest in rule — an interest neither generally acknowledged nor capable of consensus. And they are offered an unbeatable procedure with which to achieve this feat: polling the masses, whose vote they are to take as a binding directive as to how far their rights to power extend. The political activists are supposed to give up their power base in their own following and to entrust the decision over the relations of power instead to the will of the population. The masses are no longer supposed to speak up as followers of a movement, but instead to cast their ballots as well-behaved voters, to reconcile themselves to their conditions, and to be content. Thus for both the high and mighty or the down and out, the demand for ‘democracy’ thus amounts to a command that in these countries there is no basis for: kindly refrain from your civil war.

With their call for democratization, the leading imperialists — who at home declare each of their ruling interests an irrefutable, objective necessity — make it understood that in their view the internal African conflicts are from the outset not fighting matters. In noting that African political leaders have shown themselves incapable of enforcing a proper monopoly on force with their ‘methods of rule,’ the West is telling them that these ‘methods’ are not acceptable. The African leaders are offered instead the proposed, better ‘method’ requiring all of them to turn their backs on their irreconcilable claims to power and bow to an externally issued command to settle their differences, which would leave none of the competitors unscathed. This is justified with the intolerable conditions of violence and poverty, recommended with the pertinent advice that Africa’s politicians should themselves really be intent on sustainable conditions, and brought home to them with political and economic pressure. And Africa’s politicians are making the adjustment.

Democracy has been “on the march” in Africa since an anti-communist orientation was no longer crucial for America and its competitors. Nearly all the political figures in power have been confirmed through elections, thereby complying with the demand for ‘good government,’ whose fulfillment is the precondition for further foreign grants, debt relief, and recognition. The masses, who otherwise go without any state assistance, are regularly called to the polls somewhere in Africa, and the status of ‘international election monitor’ is now a proper profession. What the latter observe there, however, seldom satisfies the democracy promoters from the Western metropolises. After all, the democratic way of letting citizens, as individuals, freely, equally, and secretly deliver their commitment to a particular leadership doesn’t at all suit states whose inhabitants, whether just for the sake of sheer survival — or at the other end of the scale: in the interest in partaking of the blessings of political power — stick to their relatives and tribe as the all-important collective that comes into its own during the elections. The ‘campaign’ run by the politicians is nothing but an appeal to the ‘bonds of blood’; not in the sense of the bourgeois ideology that draws its image of the nation counter to the class society with its conflicting interests, but because there is no other binding connection among the local masses in their politico-economic redundancy — and just the same no other connection to the possessors of governmental power exists; so ‘bonds of blood' should be taken quite literally. It goes without saying that this collectivism does not come into its own in a private voting booth; it requires celebrations, enjoyment of an immediate sense of community, acclamation, and a palpable dissociation from neighbors who cultivate the same collectivism under different tribal insignia. This drags on until polling day, becoming all the bloodier the more pointedly the chiefs fighting for power remind their lot of the important patron they represent. The election and its result consequently resemble a census corresponding to tribal affiliation, modified by tribal coalitions that the “party” leaders forge for the purpose of seizing power. The opposition frequently abstains from taking any part in the election because it already knows the completely unmanipulated, literally natural result in advance and spares itself and its tribe stigmatization as a hopeless minority in the state — or because it wishes to deprive the foreseeable winner of the externally presentable appearance of being legitimized by the enfranchised public. The turmoil that mobilizing the voters inevitably triggers has the effect, more often than not, of disturbing the chumminess in which the competing tribal representatives have joined forces for their claim for all the power available in the country; election campaigns regularly trigger off “abuses” and cost human life. And in the end, it cannot be hidden from the concerned, democratic election monitors that the “democratic renewal in Africa” promotes “decentralization” and “competition between ethnic groups,” and “integrates tribal chiefs and councils back into the state apparatus,” i.e., does not pacify the clientelism or conflicting claims to power, but rather drives them on.

Hence the parties involved also earn constant criticism. Those in power are urged to restrain themselves when taking account of their command over the power apparatus. Without succeeding in power struggles, recognition cannot be counted on; but as soon as someone sets about securing power, criticism follows with the convenient hint that this won’t bring internal peace — or at any rate won’t measure up to the demanding standards of democratic imperialists. When — not at all surprisingly — the president’s party wins a landslide victory, they are once again in for criticism, because their opponents are excluded instead of included. On the other side, the opposition forces are on their part obliged in any case to stand for elections. Though they are awarded a co-claim to power from abroad, they are at the same time ordered to subordinate themselves, and are criticized if they boycott the election. In all these cases, it is only the “principles of liberal democracy” that are being satisfied but not the “spirit of democracy.” The latter in its foreign version means once and for all that elections have to bring about a system of participation with which everyone considers themselves satisfied. On many occasions, therefore, the ruling democrats from the metropolises insist that their counterparts join together before, after, or instead of elections to form such a ‘unity of all national forces.’ Instead of warring against each other, so goes the urgent recommendation, they would only have to disassociate themselves from their personal power ambitions and be content with this; then they would have orderly conditions at home.

This is the way the African rulers and contenders for power find out how little the sort of rule they have arrived at on the territory left to them is thought of in the centers of real power: it falls short on the required results, and noncompliance with the only saving, democratic procedure is to blame. This leads again and again to intervention in the struggles for power and in the execution of power that Africa’s politicians are interested in, and to stirring up the practiced rule with mandates of democracy. The ruling power in these countries is, however, not supposed to suffer from this; on the contrary, by being bent into shape by rules of procedure, it is supposed to finally serve the imperialist demand for usefully ordered conditions. This democratization policy, for all the art of extortion, is admittedly confronted again and again with this fact: that there is, finally, no other sort of rule in the debtor states of the dark continent than the accumulation of means of force in the hands of a leading figure and his “natural” followers. Consequently, the Western imperialists fall back time and again on figures like these and their ruling practices, without finding that in the least bit contradictory. After all, they criticize these leaders not merely in the sense that they should learn for the better and thoroughly and democratically change, but also that they, Africa’s ruling elite and leaders, have to carry out the task. The present actors with all their conflicts, whose political irrationality is criticized, are supposed, just as they are, to be suitable as a basis for ‘stabilizing’ political rule. The responsible parties, so goes the suggestion, only need to follow foreign orders. Clinton & Co. don’t waste any thought on whether any kind of “contribution to the stability” of the targeted and terribly impaired — according to their own standards — state actors would be needed other than such prescriptions for ‘good government’; let alone on whether “stability” according to their standards is to be had at all. In the certainty that there is no alternative anyhow for the African countries, they insist that these states with their useful functions have to be better administered, more solidly ruled, and once and for all pacified — and that ultimately it is down to only the good will of those in power to satisfy this utterly justifiable claim.

In this entirely consistent way, the democratic criticism of Africa’s undemocratic circumstances becomes in the end very personal. The fact that states, battered as the African debtor countries are with their externally credited rule, politically function and only function to the extent that the ruined living conditions of the population and the power base of their politicians allow and force — and not how the narrow-minded protagonists of global democratic and market-economy effectiveness would like it — is held against those in power as their misconduct. In a self-critical manner, it is determined that the assistance provided to the statesmen up to now has only led to a personal misuse of power, so that all the efforts devoted to them and the support given to them was wrong. No peace reigns in these lands, thus — so goes the demanding conclusion — those responsible have failed and neglected their duty. The fact that ruling conditions do not satisfy the demanding requirements is thus held against the ruling ,em>figures and asserted against them in practice as soon as enough reasons for dissatisfaction have accumulated. The efforts of those in power to stabilize their personal power are then denied political recognition and support, and the replacement of personnel is instigated.

Exactly when today’s critical imperialists consider such an intervention necessary or appropriate is decided from case to case, as is the question of which new figures they will be able to rely on. There are no generally accepted criteria in the matter of political qualification of competing candidates — to be an anticommunist and partisan of the West is no longer an advantage meriting recognition — nor any criteria regarding the conditions under which a “ruling clique” is finally no longer to be supported and consequently can’t be expected to be put up with by its human rights–entitled subjects. Here both the weight and urgency of the demands remaining unfulfilled play their part, as well as the way the rulers appear from a global-political perspective, for instance in America’s new, global, defensive war against terrorism… What is clear is that satisfaction with each new ruler has its expiration date: some time or other the incommensurability of imperialistic interests with the practice of the local rulers will in every case become obvious, requiring a revision or even the withdrawal of the ‘trust placed in them’; this in turn fuels the power struggle with a vengeance.[3]

Hence the result of the demand to democratize turns out to be rather negative: the African political leaders are permanently subjected to a general proviso without a more satisfactory personnel being in sight. The sole sort of ‘stability’ that comes about under such circumstances is undermined without creating anything else, more sustainable, let alone a desired security guaranteed by a legal system. Now in this country, now in that one, now with this leadership, now with that one, the supervising authorities in Washington, Paris, or elsewhere are constantly noticing that a ‘regime’ — that’s how these cases are then called — has ‘reached rock bottom’ and a change is due. President Clinton is quite serious along these lines when he acknowledges Africa’s leaders as sovereigns responsible for their fate: “Only nations carrying out serious reforms will reap the full benefits.” America’s president insists that their efforts at ruling have to coincide with America’s expectations of them, a correspondence that doesn’t exist and that the USA, as soon as it is once again disappointed, itself terminates — of course with reference to the lack of ‘democracy’ and the bodies that one or another ‘potentate’ has on his conscience.

The African peacekeeping force: the imperialist order for self-control

So there is no lack of the need for order; Africa's guardians permanently expect war and civil war in and between the African states. Continuous supervision is required if the disputes are to be ended and if everyone is to be persuaded to subordinate themselves to a settlement order; the Americans know this, and not only since the events in Rwanda and Somalia. Much to their regret, however, they have also learned in Somalia that it is not easy to cure all fighters in the field of their ambitions. Instead of the prompt return of order, the US troops became the target of the warring parties, an intolerable affront and embarrassment for a world power that enforces the standpoint of peace-making against the locals. This must change: “We don’t want to be in the same situation again faced with the choice of either not being able to do anything or having to do it ourselves.” (a US official)

The new way of securing peace in Africa that America has thought up — and to which it invites the other imperialists, France first — is the formation of its own African peace force. The peace these troops are supposed to establish pertains first and foremost to the interior life of the states. The whole of sub-Saharan Africa is to be placed under the threat of military intervention in their internal conflicts. This is the other, the 'regulatory' method for the need announced with the demand for ‘democracy.’ This supervision is meant to be carried out once again by the Africans themselves — under the authoritative command that America reserves for itself. America trains elite units in several states that are supposed to function as contingents of this strike force. Thus the supervision is organized quite according to the ideal of a self-help association commanded from abroad for ‘containing conflicts,’ which spares one’s own intervention. America disregards the fact that the executive bodies under orders are themselves the potential objects of containment and do not have reliable force at their disposal. Washington sees the matter the other way around: when the United States makes this offer to states to participate in a proper supervision policy under world-power command and at the same time also provides them the means for that, then this is itself a contribution to strengthening their relationships which is not to be underestimated. This is how states that are not conceded the status of capable state actors are to be harnessed for enforcing order. They have no right to violent clashes with each other but can contribute their bit to an American-led supervision of third parties. This builds on the efforts the African countries undertake themselves, alone or in form of African ‘peacekeeping forces,’ to intervene over and over again in ongoing conflicts. At the same time, they come under standing criticism for being inept, too partisan, and too weak because they are not under the right overall leadership. It just makes a difference whether Senegal marches into neighboring Guinea-Bissau in order to bring the latter’s fallen president back to power and thereby deprive the insurgents in the former’s own land from support, who then promptly advance again in Senegal — or whether America with Senegalese and other Black auxiliary forces brings such conflicting parties to reason.

Most African countries see this as a chance to gain foreign political power. So Malawi, Senegal, Uganda, Ethiopia and others, not otherwise connected, are united in a project that represents a certain novelty. After all, this establishes a kind of monopoly on supervision without the costs of imperialist force. Imperialism requires an entire region full of unpacified states to make order without itself intending to take over the costs of an order policy. This is also a way to simultaneously express the need for supervision and indifference towards its objects, with which no anti-American insubordination (as in Sudan) has to be combated, but only ‘instability.’ In its own way, the strike force reveals the imperialistic annoyance with these states, who are not capable of anything, yet still produce nothing but disturbances. Apart from some damage to a 'vital' imperialistic interest that would compel American intervention — this is not presently the case — the general interest in a sustainable order is declared but at the same time organized in a way that follows the principle of absolute cost savings.

Translators' Notes

[*] A term from Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests (1968), which rejects the notion of an interest-free science.

[†] A term from Tawney, The Acquisitive Society (1920), which criticized capitalism for promoting the purpose of acquiring wealth.

[‡] The term ‘preestablished harmony’ refers to Leibniz's “solution” to the mind-body problem in which self-causing ‘monads’ seem to causally interact with each other because they have been programmed by God in advance to ‘harmonize’ with each other.

[§] The French-originating terms of the Enlightenment, bourgeois and citoyen, refer to the double character of the citizen as private economic competitor and public political subject, respectively.

Authors' Notes

[1] Within the framework of this program, the US administration intends to work to “increase private investment in Africa” and promote “infrastructure investment”; market access to African commodities is to be eased, negotiations for free trade agreements are to be entered in the foreseeable future; furthermore, limited debt reduction is promised; annual meetings of finance ministers are to put the new relations on a permanent footing.

[2] The political economy of these countries has its ironic side, namely, that their “natural treasures” have in the meantime become a source of foreign currencies in yet another, not insignificant sense — through tourism. In the meantime, besides the centers of raw materials production, and thoughtfully separated from the impoverished masses, there are enclaves of a more or less high-class tourism that consumes Africa’s “unspoiled” nature, the national parks, reserves, and beaches.

[3] The association of the ruling figures with one of the competing imperialistic powers therefore regularly comes into disgrace. The informed public, which detects a national interest of the authorized imperialists behind all affairs of power, is thoroughly mistaken about the character of competition when it continually searches in the various, recent incidents in Africa for figures that represent the interest of France or America. This positive association doesn’t exist. To be sure, the supervising powers time and time again encourage the replacement of figures and expect the new man to better meet their requirements just because he is appointed to the position that is the preferred address of their own demands. But the man who would be a reliable instrument of imperialist influence, ‘France’s man’ or ‘America’s man,’ doesn’t exist. On the one hand, all dependencies are sorted out in any case regardless of internal conflicts. On the other hand, the administrators of these services, with their political efforts at self-assertion, are in no way suited to forming reliable relationships; the imperialistic powers don’t offer support, they only make demands. That an orientation to the interests of foreign powers simply doesn’t come about reliably is the only remaining bother — and a thorn in the competition between France and America in Africa.

© GegenStandpunkt 2015