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in ENGLISH, The White House and the Black Continent, Economic Difficulties and Their Causes.

The White House and the Black Continent

Economic Difficulties and Their Causes


What the overwhelming majority of African countries have in common is the economic and social backwardness which they all inherited from the colonial period. Even today the economic and social position of the majority of African states remains difficult and unstable. Although during the years of their independent existence the volume and rate of industrial production and that of agricultural production, to a certain extent have risen; the condition of the national economies on the whole needs considerable improvement. Thus Africa accounts for some 10 per cent of the population of the planet, but its share in world industrial production is less than 1 per cent. Africa provides only 2.7 per cent of the total world gross national product. Of the 36 poorest countries in the world, 22 are African. The annual growth of GNP in the African countries was 5 per cent in the 1960s and 4.5 per cent in the 1970s (this indicator was 3.2 per cent in the case of the least developed countries; 7.8 per cent for the oil exporters, and 3.7 per cent for the rest). The early 1980s saw no change for the better. There has been a notable decline over the past twenty years in the production of basic food cultures and the growth rate for agriculture during the 1970s was only 2.5 per cent. Foreign trade deficit has gone up from approximately 1.5 billion dollars in the mid-seventies to almost 15 billion dollars in the early 1980s. The total national debt of the African countries rose from 7 billion dollars in 1965 to 100 billion dollars in 1984-a fourteen-fold increase. If the unfavourable trends continue this figure could be as high as 200 billion dollars by 1990.

Africa has the world's highest infant mortality rate-146 per 1000. The average lifespan in Africa is 47 years (as against 55 years in the world as a whole). There is an acute deficiency of teachers and doctors with one doctor per 700 residents in the towns and one doctor per 25,000 in the villages. Unemployment continues to grow and now accounts for almost 45 per cent of the able-bodied population. Under the demographic changes that are: now taking place in Africa (44 per cent of the population are under 15 years old) only 59 per cent of all boys and 43 per cent of all girls attend primary school, while the figures for secondary school are 39 per cent and 24 per cent respectively .

But it must also be realised that these general and average figures for independent-Africa conceal substantial differences in the position of different African countries. Thus only in ten states, including the oil producers, does per capita income exceed 306 dollars, while in other states it is lower, and in 18 it is lower than 100 dollars.

Inflation has had a very serious effect on the position of many of the African countries, where its level and growth is considerably higher than in the industrially developed capitalist states. In the early eighties inflation in Africa was on average about 25 per cent annually. The food problem is extremely acute and the need to import food in increasing quantities only serves to raise prices and thus increase inflation.

Having insufficient financial resources, technology, and qualified personnel of their own, the majority of African countries have to rely on foreign aid to build up a modern industry. This dependence on foreign financial, material, and technological re-sources-a characteristic feature of the present state of the African economy-is particularly evident in the fact that the key positions in the economy of the majority of countries are held by foreign monopoly capital, which puts obstacles in the way of economic independence.

On the whole the African countries have not during their years of independence been able to strengthen their position on the world markets. From i960 to 1980 Africa's share in the export of agricultural produce and raw materials (excluding oil) fell from 9 per cent to 4 per cent and from 8 per cent to 3 per cent respectively. The fact that exports lag far behind imports makes development difficult and increases the dependence of the African countries on the imperialist powers.

Thus during the 1970s exports of 14 major items from Sub-Saharan Africa were reduced because of: a) the economic crises in the United States and Western Europe, b) the unfavourable weather conditions in Africa (the frequent draughts), c) competition from other countries and d) the reduced export prices on many commodities. On the whole the reduction in the volume of exports and the fall in world prices affected a large number of commodities from Africa, particularly copper, iron, sugar, peanuts, peanut butter, bananas, cotton, and leather.

As a result of this the structure of African exports has substantially changed. On average by the early eighties the Sub-Saharan African countries got their main income from the export of only four commodities: oil, providing 43.5 per cent, coffee-10.7 per cent, cocoa beans-7. (1) per cent, and copper-6 per cent.1 But if the countries of North Africa are included, then oil accounts for 70 per cent of the total exports of the continent.

In the final analysis the presence or absence of oil has become one of the main factors in determining a country's economic position. But whereas the 1970s were boom years for the oil exporter countries, the early 1980s showed signs that the boom was over. Thus, for example, in January 1981 Nigeria was producing 2,000,000 barrels a day, but by August of the same year this figure had dropped to 640,000 since the US companies refused to buy Nigerian oil at 40 dollars a barrel. Even after the 10 per cent discount in August 1981, Nigerian oil shipments to the United States dropped in the autumn from 500,000 barrels per day to 300,000. (2)

As for the non-oil-producing countries of Africa, of which there are about 40, their biggest problem by far has been caused by the need to buy oil. In the early 1980s the cost of their total oil imports amounted to 7 billion dollars a year, or 30 per cent of their export income.

Altogether 80 per cent of the industrial production and of Africa's (excluding South Africa) total revenue is accounted for by 10 states. These ten states are: Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria, Ghana, Sudan, Gabon and the Ivory Coast. The last five countries account for 62 per cent of the total industrial production of tropical Africa. (3) Thus the African countries vary enormously in their economic situation.

The present economic position of the African countries naturally prompts the question as to the nature of the difficulties confronting independent Africa. The above-mentioned document issued by the Economic Commission for Africa points out in this connection that, "Africa's present state of underdevelopment is the direct consequence of many centuries of colonisation and domination in all their numerous forms, under which both the population and the continent's raw materials were ruthlessly exploited." (4)

But apart from the problems inherited from the colonial era there are many internal factors complicating the rapid economic and social development of the liberated countries. As Edem Kodjo, who was then General Secretary of the Organisation of African Unity, said at the Extraordinary Assembly, which was held in Lagos in April 1980, so long as Africa continues to till the soil with a hoe that has been imported from abroad, she will never achieve any success. Africa will only be really liberated and make progress when she begins to manufacture her own hoes. The point being made is clearly that Africa must cease to be dependent on the developed capitalist countries and put an end to neocolonialist exploitation. And it is precisely for this reason that the true national interests of the liberated countries are incompatible with the policies pursued by the imperialist powers, particularly the United States.


(1) Accelerated Development in Sub-Sabaran Africa. An Agenda for Ac-tion. IBRD, Washington, 1981, Statistical Supplement, p. 17.

(2) African Business, No. 39, November 1981, p. 12.

(3) Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, Vol. 36, UN, February 1982.

(4) UN General Assembly. Doc. AIS-11I16, 25 July 1980, p. 12.




Next - The Transnationals Make Things Worse


Translated from the Russian
Designed by Oleg Grebenyuk
Белый дом и черный континент
На английском языке
Group of Authors: An. A. Gromyko (Editor's Note);
Ye. A. Tarabrin (Ch. I, III, Conclusion); V. P. Kasatkin (Ch. II
IX); V. Ya. Lebedev (Ch. IV); A. Yu. Urnov (Ch V)-
V. S. Baskin (Ch. VI); A. V. Prudnikov (Ch. VII)-
M. L. Vishnevsky (Ch. VIII)
Издательство "Прогресс", 1984.
English translation. Progress Publishers 1984
Printed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics



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