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close this bookMaldevelopment - Anatomy of a Global Failure (United Nations University)
close this folder7. Inter-African and south-south co-operation
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPan-Africanism in the light of the colonial inheritance1
View the documentThe problematic of the Arab nation2
View the documentAfro-arab co-operation3
View the documentProspects for south-south co-operation4
View the documentNotes

Afro-arab co-operation3

When the United Nations was founded in the aftermath of the Second World War, the decolonization process had not yet begun and the African and Asian states represented there could be counted on one's fingers. But within a mere five years, the Asian and Arab states with formal independence constituted an 'Arab-Asiatic' group that aimed to speed up decolonization, of Africa in particular, through support to the liberation movements. At Bandung in 1955 the principles of the solidarity of the peoples and states of the Third World were systematically formulated. The Asian-African conference declared its full support of the principle of self-determination of peoples and nations. It rejected the 'an/i-communist' blackmail of the United States that, in the name of 'Atlantic' solidarity in the first cold war, tolerated colonial wars and/or systematic repression on the part of the old colonial powers, Britain and France in particular. The Asian-African conference also refused to subject their independence to the conditionality of arrangements of collective defence to serve the particular interests of any of the big powers (of the kind the United States was actively promoting against the Soviet Union and China). The conference was in favour of 'positive neutrality' that precluded going further into a Soviet sphere of influence as the price of freedom. On these foundations various formal and informal organizations for Afro-Asian co-operation were established - the Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization in Cairo and the All-African Peoples Organization in Accra - in 1958.

The decade of 1955 to 1965 saw the greet years of Afro-Asian co-operation in general and Arab-African in particular. It was a question of mutual political support, where independent states and national liberation movements took their place side by side. This decade was the period of the great 'wind of change' that obliged colonialist Europe to yield: after an attempt to lop off one of the heads of the movement, through the tripartite Anglo-French-lsraeli aggression against Egypt in 1956, it tried to limit concessions in North Africa to independence for Tunisia and Morocco (1956) and deny it to Algeria, which, therefore, was ravaged by colonial war for Bight years (1954 to 1962), gave way to the United States to take over from France in Vietnam (from 1954) and finally, in 1960, Europe chose to accelerate the accession of sub-Saharan Africa to an independence that was steered into the hands of its 'friends'.

The conflict between the radical nationalist political forces and those that emerged from European concessions, from 1960 to 1963 divided Africa into the

Casablanca group and the Monrovia group, particularly on the issue of the former Belgian Congo. As we know, the fusion of the two groups in 1463 was the origin of the OAU, whose members went on to decide to accept the colonial boundaries and the Balkanization of the continent, and non-interference in each other's 'internal' affairs, and to support only the liberation movements of the colonies not yet freed (the Portuguese colonies, Rhodesia. Namibia and South Africa).

It was in this atmosphere that the first plans for intra-African, intra-Arab and Arab-African co-operation took shape. It was a matter of extending the political solidarity of the liberation movements into a new economic cooperation between the states liberated from colonialism, and refusing the surrender to the neo-colonialist prospects offered by the West. The cooperation was highly selective and involved only the radical nationalist states: Nasserist Egypt, promoter of the movement had a crucial place, alongside independent Algeria (from 1962), Nkrumah's Ghana. Sekou Toure's Guinea, Modibo Keita's Mali, and Nyerere's Tanzania. As for the neo-colonial regimes, they were not interested in principle, as they regarded 'Western aid' as satisfactory and spurned co-operation 'between the poor' who, in their view, had nothing to give each other.

By contrast, the radical nationalist states nurtured a vision of the total liberation of Africa and the Middle East that would pave the way to overcoming the handicaps inherited from the past and colonization, 'underdevelopment' (understood as dependence on imperialism and not as 'backwardness and poverty'), and the break-up into more or less artificial states, vulnerable by virtue of their inadequate size. Nasser's pan-Arab language and Nkrumah's pan-African language, far from being absurdly utopian, were rather evidence of the perceptiveness of these historic leaders. The co-operation envisaged was not limited to 'financial add' to one another. In view of the general poverty of the states in question such aid played only a secondary role in the strategies, policies and co-operation programmes.

Two sides of this overall co-operation strategy were envisaged: the constitution of a common front against the imperialist West, in order to strengthen the negotiating position of the partners and reduce their vulnerability: the gradual construction of a regional society better integrated through the development of its internal complementarities and leading at least to partially overcoming the asymmetrical and unequal North-South relations.

Undoubtedly, the plans for 'common fronts' against the West rarely went beyond the embryonic stage: exchange of views did not lead to the founding of effective producers' associations (only OPEC' was to emerge later, at a different conjuncture). Likewise, the shared plans for technological exchange and exploitation of (mining, agricultural and industrial) resources, such as those for integrated transport systems, rarely went further than the drawing board. The conjunctural circumstances were not promising: it was still a time of easy growth and to some it seemed a softer option to follow the line of least resistance, to promote the traditional exports to the West and to import from it the means to launch industrialization. But this shows the limitations of the radical nationalist regimes of the time.

Some positive achievements were initiated at the time in many areas. The exchange of students and specialists, popular congresses and conferences of professional associations, encouraged an Afro-Asian internationalism whose significance it would be wrong to underestimate. Political and military consultation gave this co-operation a sense of direction. In terms of economic results - construction of industry and infrastructure, increase of trade - a great many positive steps were taken. The partner states were largely influenced by the models of co-operation offered by both the USSR and China: long-term credits on soft terms, repayment in kind from the output of completed projects, and so on.

This co-operation cannot be isolated from the context of the internal politics of the radical nationalist partners, or escape a judgement that includes the limitations and contradictions of these systems. The latter may be characterized by a latent internal conflict between the trend towards evolution in a progressive social manner and the trend towards reinforcement of conservative social forces hankering after a bourgeois national state. For the components of the national liberation movement from which the radical nationalist state had emerged had not yet come into direct confrontation. The indecisive and contradictory content of the development policies pursued under these circumstances reflected this latent internal conflict. In fact, as we have said above, what we have called the 'Bandung plan' was essentially geared to the construction of a bourgeois national state, in the sense that on the one hand it sought control over internal accumulation and on the other it conceived of this within a 'global interdependence' (in fact the pursuit of integration in the world capitalist system) freed of the inequalities inherited from colonization. This plan was in opposition to the tendency towards a more or less well-defined national and popular plan that would have entailed a genuine de-linking in the way we have defined it, and opened the long chapter of the history of a transition capable of bolstering the gradual trend to socialism. The subsequent events confirmed the thesis that in our age the crystallization of new capitalist centres (the definition of the content of the bourgeois national plan) was impossible in the Third World in general, and the Afro-Arab region in particular. Even before the global crisis brought the dismantling of national bourgeois attempts, the drift, from the mid-1960s, had already doomed these experiments hastily dubbed as 'socialist'. With the fall of Modibo Keita and Nkrumah and the Egyptian defeat of 1967, the first wave of this Afro-Arab co-operation was played out.

The bourgeois national plan was, in fact, in operation for only a brief period. Even be for the opening of the crisis of the early 1970s its historical limitations were fairly apparent.

With the signature of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and the beginning of the European construction, the neo-colonialist pressure of the Common Market took over from the old colonialisms. African states, only freshly independent, became 'associated' with the community, and subjected their vision of development to the imperatives of European strategy. The African radical nationalist states themselves accepted the terms of the Yaoundonvention (followed by the Lomonvention) without too much bother; those in the Maghreb tried to extend the 'advantages' of the opening-up of the French market to their traditional products or to those of their new industry (especially textile sub-contracting). At the same time, this new European 'friend' pursued its policy of open or concealed support to the old Portuguese colonialism, the apartheid regimes in South Africa. Rhodesia and Namibia, and Zionist expansion.

Africa, in the OAU, also continued its support to the liberation movements of Portuguese and southern Africa. But the results of these liberation struggles did not appear until later (1974: independence of the Portuguese colonies; 1980: independence of Zimbabwe) and in incomplete form as, South Africa to this day maintains its destabilizing intervention without Europe gainsaying... As for Israel, it pursued its intervention south of the Sahara on behalf of the United States: it took the 1967 war to see it provisionally and partially hounded out of the region. In Asia, neo-colonial dependence was less strongly felt, although the Vietnam war dragged on to 1975 and the countries to the south and east of the Arabian peninsula did not achieve independent status until the end of the 1960s.

The gradual gaining ground by the dominant conservative forces in Africa, the Arab world and Asia, alongside the collapse of radical national experiences, would at the same time encourage new currents attaching more significance to North-South relations than to South-South co-operation.

The overt crisis in the system from the 1970s accelerated the process of decomposition of the bourgeois national plan of Bandung. A global realignment of the West behind the United States was detectable and - on the excuse of debt and through the IMF and World Bank - this intervention proposed imposing on the Third World countries the now familiar 'readjustments'; the latter have no room for the demands of autocentric development at national, regional or collective level. Simultaneously the Soviet Union was subjected to the arms race imposed by the United States in the latter's strategy of counterattack to re-establish its hegemony and to impose an Atlantic pact realignment on Europe and Japan through the blackmail of East-West conflict. For this reason perhaps, the Soviet Union appears to have gone generally on the defensive. The penetration they achieved by providing defence for Angola and Mozambique threatened by South African destabilization, and by intervening in the conflicts of the Horn of Africa, from 1975, is rather limited and possibly provisional. In the Middle East, obviously, its presence has been largely marginalized by Egypt's about-turn since 1973.

In turn, the general retreat of the Bandung spirit encouraged the resurgence of various ideological and political currents and ambivalent and even dubious strategies. For example, it enabled Saudi Arabia to give the 'Pan-lslamic' current an airing it could not have achieved while Nasser was on guard, as he would not allow it to counter militant, unitary pan-Arabism. The current would give rise to such institutions as the Islamic Bank that would really take off a while later. It also permitted illusions as to a 'common front' of the Third World countries, regardless of their regimes and internal options, that would be able to force upon the West a revision of the terms of operation of the world economic system. This illusion was no doubt fuelled by the victory gained by OPEC in 1973. This was indeed a victory for the Third World: for the first time in history, the countries of the periphery were able to intervene effectively - and collectively - in setting the price of a significant raw material. It was of no great consequence from this point of view that the regimes principally benefiting by this victory were conservative. It was of no great consequence too, that OPEC reached this conclusion by able exploitation of a conjuncture of internal conflict in the Western world (the United States discovering that readjustment of the oil price could serve their interests in competition with Europe and Japan).

The limitations and ambivalence of what would be built in this framework were too often lost sight of, in the light of a euphoria that subsequent events would show to be unfounded. The regrouping of the non-aligned and Third World countries in 1975 to present an overall plan of reform of North-South relations, under the name of New International Economic Order, is a sign of these illusions. The West's predictably implacable opposition to the attempt hastened the later decomposition of the Third World.

As was to be expected, this decomposition accentuated the internal conflicts within the Third World. Some of these are of longstanding and not necessarily the exclusive product of the colonial heritage and great power manoeuvres. But it is not by chance that it is in the African and Arab region - the weakest and most exposed of the Third World - that we find a huge number of these conflicts: the Horn of Africa, Chad. Western Sahara, Iran-lraq, civil war in Lebanon, rivalry of the two Yemens, amongst others.

Expansion of Arab-African co-operation comes exactly within this period of ambivalence, from 1973. The connection between this blossoming of cooperation end 'oil prosperity' - from 1973 to 1985 ending, perhaps, in the crumbling of OPEC underway -is an obvious factor. A study of this cooperation brings out its general characteristics, perhaps three in all.

First, it is a matter of substantial programmes, by far the most impressive throughout the Third World.

Second, it is all-round co-operation, meaning that it embraces all the African and Arab countries, regardless of their political regimes and internal and international ideological and social options. The financial institutions established within the framework of overall co-operation between the OAU and the Arab League (BADEA among others) are evidence of this all-round conception of the co-operation. It is distinct from the selective co-operation of the 1960s.

Third, it is programmes essentially with access to substantial funds derived in the main from the 'oil surpluses' of the 1970s. This 'advantage', however, also has its negative side. It has contributed to distorting the outlook on genuinely alternative South-South demands, rather than complementary to North

South demands, just as it has encouraged well - or ill-founded expectations of boundless financial 'wealth' from the oil-producer countries. It is hardly surprising to note that little attention has been given to the sharing of nonfinancial resources (expertize, possibilities of technological research) and to increasing trade within the group of countries concerned (with priority for development of agricultural, mining and industrial complementarities, loan repayment through increased trade).

There are varying opinions on the positive features and shortcomings of these programmes for Afro-Arab co-operation. The analyses available, whether global or by sector and country, allow room for this. Our personal opinion is that the principle of South-South co-operation is always positive of itself, whatever the limitations and shortcomings in any particular example. It is, nonetheless, necessary to bring out the concrete characteristics of the projects implemented through the co-operation in question, and on this basis to assess the significance of this development for a liberation we see as synonymous with autocentric development for the states concerned, individually and as wholes or part-wholes. The battle for genuine South-South co-operation requires this.

From a formalist point of view, it is acceptable that the choice of projects put forward for financing by Afro-Arab co-operation is of concern only to the beneficiary states. This choice is bound to depend on the character of the internal development strategies. The latter are often questionable, that is, from our point of view, not leading as systematically as possible to an autocentric structure. But it is accepted that the Third World countries have the right to determine their own options and, on principle, interference by the agencies of the North is ruled out; although they do, in fact interfere, as we can see from the constant statements by the World Bank. It should be said then that mutual aid between Third World countries should follow the same principle of scrupulous regard for sovereignties. But putting the issue in these terms removes from the discussion the real terms of the alternative: all-round, or selective co-operation between countries embarked upon economic liberation from their dependence on the North? We are not entirely convinced that the all-round choice of Afro-Arab co-operation is the best. Perhaps a more judicious recourse to choices (if possible) would have avoided certain disappointments. The bottomless pit of Zaire is a good example of the waste that international co-operation sometimes accepts. Some circles want it for particular political reasons (the cynical view, for example, that the stability of the regime is more important than improving the living standards of the people affected...). In principle, this kind of reasoning should not be used by readerships in Third World countries, on the assumption that they do not have an unwarranted hankering after imperialism. Some Third World countries may share Western views and follow the same guidelines. But then it is hard to believe they can imagine a South-South link other than one intended to reinforce the North-South link.

If South-South ties are still as they are (and the same is so of Afro-Arab co-operation and of other forms of regional Arab and African interaction), there are numerous factors on both sides of the divide: the countries (mostly of OPEC) financing this co-operation and its beneficiaries (tine 'poorer' African and Arab countries). So far, the co-operation has not brought any appreciable increase in complementary trade flows. The explanation is that neither side is engaged on policies of de-linking in the sense we have given the term. Neither side envisages reference systems of internal prices (and a profitability measure of options intended to strengthen the autocentric character of their development) as distinct from those governing the 'rationality" of the world capitalist system. This shortcoming is manifest in the respect shown for 'World Bank strategies' that they try to reproduce in the imitative detail of cooperation conventions. It was shown above how Arab aid to the countries of the African Sahel financed projects largely drafted by the 'donors' (the 'friends of the Sahel': the West, with the World Bank at its head) and playing no part in the prospect of autocentric development for the region. In these circumstances the increase in financial flows from the Arabs was matched by a reduction in those coming from the OECD countries and institutions. A fine example of the implementation of the currently fashionable Euro-Arab-African 'trialogue': carrying on doing with the money of others (the OPEC countries) what you had been doing with your own (from the OECD)!

Afro-Arab co-operation is, however, a major objective necessity for the economic liberation of this region of the Third World. The reason is that the African and Arab region is, as has been shown, the weakest and most exposed of any in the modern Third World.

The bourgeois national plan - still dominant on the African political scene and in the Arab world - is, therefore, from the start doomed to lead to nowhere except permanent failure. If, in Asia and Latin America the margin of possible adjustment to world development is still broad enough to contain the expectation (or illusion) of bourgeois national crystallization, in Africa and the Arab world there is almost no such scope. More than elsewhere there is a stark alternative: going forward quickly to a national and popular plan or perishing (sometimes in the literal sense, through famine).

The fragmentation of the region into tiny states (as compared to Asia and Latin America) heightens the vulnerability and lessens the chance for any of them in isolation to escape. There are, however, objective elements to strengthen Arab-African unity, with origins in history (the objective foundations of pan-Arabism and pan-Africanism) and in the fact that the region as whole is dealt with in a similar manner by a common adversary, at an economic and strategic level and with the same instruments of intervention (South Africa and Israel).

The challenge is easily defined, although difficult to overcome. Kwame Nkrumah and Gamal Abdel Nasser will remain prophets of our age for having initiated this consciousness. Unfortunately. Afro-Arab co-operation began to peak after the two of them had gone.