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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

African economies' vulnerability vis-à-vis the challenge of capitalism's new worldwide expansion

If the quarter century (1945-70) after the Second World War was one of worldwide expansion reaching a qualitatively new stage (with the inter-nationalization of imperialism, and US hegemony that provides the framework for this almost unprecedented upsurge), for the particular region of Europe and Africa the period was one of European construction (with an impact on southern Europe) and of development of the Arab plan for unitary and popular liberation (and its confrontation with the Palestine issue) and of independence for Africa in general. European construction, initiated with the Marshall Plan and formalized with the Treaty of Rome, which came into effect in 1958, reached a new stage with its extension to Southern Europe, not without worsening the contradictions of interest between the latter and the wealthier Europe, and in a period of crisis. The post-war upsurge has, however, already had a substantial impact on the givens of the North-South issue in Europe. For the upsurge has, with its wider world impact, entailed a substantial speeding-up of the modernization of the European peripheries to such an extent that the states of Southern Europe are now so integrated into the European and world system that it is virtually impossible for the dominant political forces of these countries to envisage a response to the crisis by a withdrawal into themselves. There is a striking illustration of this change in the contrast between the attitudes of these countries in response to the crisis of the 1930s - a semi-autarkical withdrawal of populist or fascistic bent - and the current belief that acceptance of the rules of the game of worldwide competition is 'unstoppable', as is said on the right and the left.

Nevertheless, European construction remains ambiguous in meaning and prospects; and the challenges of the current crisis, far from attenuating these ambiguities, serve rather to reveal the irresolute and indecisive attitudes of the European partners.

The European construction had, from the outset, been conceived as a necessary venture to avoid the spectre of 'communism' that has today totally disappeared, if it ever really existed. In this sense, it was conceived as an integral part of the economic, political, military and ideological strategy of US domination. European economic integration, far from aiming at the creation of a new autonomous pole competing with the United States, was conceived as a sub-set of the worldwide whole. Europe was open to the Atlantic military alliance and the penetration of the US transnationals who have played a decisive role in its economic modernization. It remains so. First since it remains under the supposed protection of the United States nuclear umbrella and has not developed an autonomous defence, in the absence of which an autonomous economy is inconceivable. With a touch of bizarre economic shortsightedness, it has been suggested that savings on military expenditure will allow a better economic performance. The intention of autonomy, which De Gaulle obviously favoured, never went beyond the stage of irresolute actions. Furthermore, in response to the challenges of the crisis. Europe has rallied behind the United States in a common Western offensive intended to 'recompradorize' the Third World.

This final ambiguity leads us to the issue of imperialism in general, and of European imperialism towards the Arab and African worlds in particular. Great Britain and France had virtually shared out the Arab and African world between them: and on the morrow of the last world war they did not yet suspect that they would have to bow to the decolonization that was imposed upon them by the liberation movement and acceptable under certain conditions to American hegemony. Decolonization did not come about without conflict' and the Algerian war was colonialism's death throe.

European construction had prepared nothing in this regard, except to put the former French colonial empire in Africa at the disposal of the capital of the Community of the Six, with collective neo-colonialism replacing the former imperial colonialism and little more. Without taking up time with issues that are treated elsewhere, it is necessary to recall here:

(i) that France has de facto retained privileged status in its former colonies, notably by the bias of control over the Franc zone;

(ii) that the conventions of the association of the African states to the EEC show a concern for reserving privileged status for Europe in regard to American and Japanese competitors, despite the general opening-up of Africa implied by worldwide expansion;

(iii) that with Britain's membership of the EEC and the association of the African states, the jockeying for influence by the various powers in Africa is even more overt;

(iv) that the kind of unequal relations renewed in this framework in no sense represents progress towards the liberation of Africa and development of its peoples, but on the contrary their restriction to obsolete mining and agricultural specializations that are to Europe's advantage. In that sense Europe bears a heavy responsibility for the crystallization of the power of the new local ruling classes and thereby in the continent's economic, social and political disaster.

The European view of the Arab world, especially North Africa, scarcely goes any further, except that it had to take into account the greater stability of the local ruling classes. The association agreements, drawn up with Morocco and Tunisia, made do with providing preferential and provisional access to the European market for the countries' agricultural exports (until the integration of Southern Europe into the EEC provoked a crisis for these exports), and with relocation (also provisional) of labour-intensive (mainly textile) industries directed towards European exports (until the current crisis called these concessions into question). The strategic view implicit here plunged the Arab partners deeper in the impasse of peripheral capitalism clinging to expansion of the European centre. It was the same in the end for the other Arab countries. If the oil producers among them (Algeria, Libya, Iraq and the Gulf states) believed they could mobilize their financial resources to speed up their industrialization, their ruling classes could imagine only a kind of industrialization that would offer a new outlet for the exports of developed capitalism - European, but American and Japanese too. This could only strengthen the tendency towards worldwide expansion and not offer a decisive step towards an autocentric national or regional development. Once the crisis had come, this closer entanglement proved deeply catastrophic, as is evidenced by the external debt' rudely aggravated by the conjuncture of stagnation and the impact of the American counter-attack.

In these circumstances, Saudi Arabia, Washington's traditional client, has opted, as might be expected, for unconditional support to the financial and monetary system that is the instrument of worldwide expansion and the counter-attack aimed at restoring US hegemony. If there has been any attempt at autocentric development, it has been incomplete, erratic, limited by the very character of the ruling classes of the progressive countries engaged upon it, whether they were oil producers (Algeria and Iraq) or not (Egypt and Syria). What should be noted here is that these attempts, supported by the USSR, have been fought by the West as a whole, Europe included.

To what can one ascribe this European refusal to envisage any relations with the Arabs and Africans other than neo-imperialist relations, whether they are chiefly open to US and Japanese competition (above all when the local partner insists) or relatively reserved for the Europeans?

An examination of Europe's structural and conjunctural position in international competition sheds light on this question. Europe covers the deficit on its relations with the United States and Japan by the surplus on its exchanges with the Third World and the countries of the Eastern bloc. To remain a player in the worldwide game, Europe has to maintain unequal relations within the sphere of its particular dependencies. Europe has found the main outlet for its expansion through modernization of its own peripheries (Southern Europe to be precise) and its own internal modernization. Unlike the United States and Japan who export their capital more widely (especially to Latin America and South-East Asia) in order to dominate the process of export-oriented relocation of industry in the Third World, Europe is open to massive importation of Third World manpower necessary to keep up with the rate of its internal expansion. It is also not by chance that this immigration is, in the main, precisely by those in areas of European dependence (the Arabs, the Africans, the West Indians] that are much more affected than Latin America and South-East Asia by the unequal capitalist development that Europe's strategy entails. It is now well-known just how far this immigration has created a political atmosphere inimical to improved relations with the Third World. Finally, Europe, with a paucity of natural resources in comparison with the United States, attaches much greater importance to securing its supplies. As it has renounced autonomous military powers, Europe has condemned itself to dependence upon American good will, and relies only on its rapid intervention forces {directed against the Third World of course) that are now almost entirely the essence of the European military vision.

All this inspires little confidence in the European talk of the Third World, along the lines of a Euro-Arabo-African 'trialogue'. We should not necessarily go so far as to conclude that it would be better to be dependent directly on the masters of the world -hegemonic imperialism - than on its lieutenants. That would leave out of account the military dimension of the problem, and rule out the possibility of internal change, less difficult to imagine in Europe perhaps than in the United States.

Does the crisis open new and different prospects for Euro-Arab relations? How will the conflict of economic interests henceforth between Europe and the United States be resolved, or the East-West and North-South conflicts? We shall consider these questions in Chapter 8.