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close this bookMaldevelopment - Anatomy of a Global Failure (United Nations University)
close this folder4. complexities of international relations: Africa's vulnerability and external intervention
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAfrican economies' vulnerability vis-à-vis the challenge of capitalism's new worldwide expansion
View the documentSome specific aspects of Africa's economic integration in the world system, ACP-EEC association and Euro-American mercantile conflict1
View the documentSpecial links with France: the Franc zone2
View the documentEvolution in Euro-Arab relations: interwoven economics and politics
View the documentConflict and national and regional security in Africa
View the documentThe Middle East conflict in a world perspective
View the documentAfrica and the Arab world in the world system
View the documentNotes

Some specific aspects of Africa's economic integration in the world system, ACP-EEC association and Euro-American mercantile conflict1

The Berlin Act of the 1880s divided the African continent that was almost entirely subject to direct colonialism by the European powers, mainly Britain. France, Belgium and Portugal. Already by that time Britain's hegemony was declining, and until 1945 the world system was marked by constant conflict between the main imperial powers over the inheritance. It is understandable that from 1880 to 1945, the British and French metropolises should treat their colonies as preserves. The crisis of the 1930s further emphasized these 'imperial boltholes' by giving the Sterling area and Franc zone a system of strict preferences. But, at the same time, it must be admitted that Africa as a whole (apart from South Africa and North Africa) played only minor subordinate roles in imperialist exploitation of the world, in comparison with Asia and Latin America. As can be seen, the primitive forms of the exploitation of peasant labour reduced the potential size of the colonial African market. Colonization in Africa, predicated on the exploitation of mineral resources, gave no thought to industrialization and intensified agriculture.

But by the end of the Second World War the United States emerged as the new, world hegemonic power, and in this capacity insisted on relinquishment of the preserves; this was its motive for 'an/i-colonialism'. Britain and France tried for a while to resist American pressure, and the adventurist Suez War of 1956 marks the end of their colonial nostalgia. The Franco-British defeat in this adventure hastened the process of decolonization of Africa, at the same time as it was an encouragement to join the path of 'European construction' inaugurated in the Treaty of Rome signed in 1957. As London was for a long time blackballed from membership of the EEC, Paris had to play the decisive political role, even if the gradual rebirth of Germany was to shift the centre of gravity of the European economy to the east of the Rhine. France brought as dowry to the EEC its African colonies, not without first ensuring the permanence of its own political and control, among other means by maintaining the rigid structures of the Franc zone. The conventions of association between the newly independent African countries and the EEC put a legal garb on European privileges in Africa, while the dual membership of former British colonies and other African countries in this association, and of Britain in the EEC, broadens the Euro-African association. But if for a decade or so there was nothing more remarkable on this theme, the general crisis the world system entered from the 1970s reopened the discussion. New prospects for reorganization were opened. The decline of US hegemony, beginning in the crisis, put on to the agenda contradictory reactions from its partners in the world system. Would Europe embark on a road ensuring it greater collective autonomy with regard to Washington? Would it therefore envisage a tightening-up of neo-imperial control over Africa? Or would it rather commit its future to a polycentric approach more favourably balanced towards the Third World, accept revision of its privileged links with Africa and agree to support a process of autocentric popular development to the south of the

Mediterranean and the Sahara? The entire ambiguity of the Euro-African association comes within this purview.

The significance of the Euro-African association goes beyond the limited framework of the association 'agreements'. The Yaoundnd Lomonventions grant preferences on the European market for some African products (those that do not compete with European agricultural products), and - in the other direction - some trading advantages to the European partners. But in fact these 'mutual advantages' are virtually negligible. The conventions envisaged financial aid from Europe to Africa. But, so far, this has been scarcely more than to carry on the bilateral aid that the former metropolises would probably have gone on supplying the states, which it must be said are often client states. The conventions also envisaged 'establishment rights' ensuring that the African countries would be open to European capital. But so far, to our knowledge, Africa is not closed to other capital (notably the American): moreover, the European negotiator has never denied that these establishment rights were not synonymous with an open door, and the states could set - even strict - limits on their extent, and control the investments in question, provided that they put their European partners on an equal footing with third parties (American or Japanese). In other words, the African countries could determine that the 'association' should be devoid of content: a symbolic preference would be enough, without excluding control over foreign trade or over investments by local authorities, in return for which the states might benefit from financial and technical aid they could still turn down. Their sovereignty therefore remained virtually limitless. This recognized sovereignty has no greater limits than those of African inter-state relations. These are not expected to follow the same approach as in regard to the European partner preferences actually granted to some may be less for others, an open door for some may be closed to others.

So what is at stake in association? Whether or not an associate, what difference does it make to Africa? Why does Europe cling to the symbol and the US fuss about it with such force? Are the Europeans so ingenuous as to believe that, in competition with the United States, a symbolic duty of half a per cent of value on exports is decisive, and are the Americans for their part afraid of this 'injustice'? Certainly not.

If these things occur it is because both know that what is at stake goes further than the letter of the agreement. It is a question of whether the governments in Africa will initiate a 'pro-European' policy - it has to be seen whether this conceals a singular or plural component - or hence 'an/i-American' policy, or the reverse. Accepting or refusing the association agreement is, therefore, a political act, a very broad statement of intent on this issue. The trick was in seeing in the texts only secondary issues, the 'inheritance', and not foreseeing the true lines of debate, the issues that would arise along with the 'development' of Africa. Hence, positions should retain the flexibility that international uncertainty enjoins.

It has already been shown in Chapter 2 how, in the 1970s, the Third World waged a battle for a revision of the international division of labour to enable it to embark on industrialization, and how the world redeployment of capital related to this change. Over the next 15 years or so the international division of labour was changed, although more slowly than the plans for the NIEO and redeployment expected. But if these changes have occurred, it is certainly not in Africa that they have changed the terms of international specialization, but in Latin America, India and East Asia. The decline in status of Africa - trapped in its (ruinous) agricultural and mining role - is the other vector of this global evolution. Is Europe to blame? In part it is, since the EEC-ACP asociation and other forms of its presence in Africa - gives it a particular responsibility. To say the least, the association has not been mobilized to hasten the evolution of Africa. Of course it is still true that responsibility for the disaster also and primarily falls on the local ruling classes. But were not the latter largely the traditional clients of Europe?

In these circumstances, competition between Europe and the United States disguised in the crisis operates on African territory only within the narrow limits of mercantile competition.