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Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism in Africa

Horace Campbell is professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya (Monthly Review Press, 2013), as well as Rasta and Resistance (1987) and Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics (2010).
One of the most serious errors, if not the most serious error, committed by colonial powers in Africa, may have been to ignore or underestimate the cultural strength of the African peoples. —Amilcar Cabral1

When international media were broadcasting live video footage of Tunisians gathering in hundreds of thousands in front of the central office in Tunis of the long-terrifying ministry of home security, chanting in one voice “the people want to bring down the regime,” something had already changed: ordinary people realized they could make huge changes.2 Weeks later, the Egyptian uprising removed the Mubarak regime that had been entrenched in power for over thirty years. Fearmongering, police violence, exploitation, and rigged electoral systems could not stop the wave of protests. The neoliberal forms of imperial rule that had destroyed the hopes of the liberation movements were under attack. In order to counter the possibilities for a massive breakthrough at the popular level, the Western forces mounted an invasion of Libya using the mantra of humanitarianism to disrupt, militarily, political and economic life in Africa. Later in collusion with the counter-revolutionary forces in the Egyptian military, Western imperialism sought to roll back the gains of people in the streets of Tunis and Cairo. NATO, as the force for the defense of the financial oligarchs, sought to squash all forms of anti-imperialism in Africa, but the NATO intervention and its catastrophic aftermath only strengthened the resurgence of anti-imperialist ideas among the peoples of Africa.3

What developed on the streets of Cairo could not readily emerge into an agreed program for social change because for decades neoliberal ideas about making societies safe for markets and foreign direct investment had polluted the official intellectual spaces. Imperialism in Africa had matured from the cruder colonial forms and worked through the Bretton Woods institutions while unleashing divisive ideas on cultural and religious levels. At the base, fundamentalist religious formations were the vanguard of penetration—spewing ideas about the subordination of women and disrespect for peoples of different faiths.

For the educated, authorities on colonialism such as Geoffrey Kay and Anne Phillips have led to a rejection of the scholarship of Walter Rodney’s book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.4 Rodney had argued that capitalism and imperialism blocked the economic transformation of Africa. Figures like Kay and Phillips joined with colonial apologists such as Lewis Gann and Peter Duignan, who claimed that colonialism was beneficial for Africans, and that capitalism created underdevelopment in Africa because it was not exploitative enough.5 Even those who disagreed with the outright colonial apologists adopted the balance-sheet approach to European penetration in Africa. They argued that while there may have been excesses and unfortunate incidents, on balance, colonialism brought education, health, and sanitation to Africa.6 The barbarism of today’s imperialism is often neglected in the left scholarship of figures like Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Empire.7

Yet, Africa remains the space of the worst forms of exploitation of the capitalist system and has inspired continuity in anti-imperialism from colonial times to the present. Today, in the twenty-first century, the older forms of class mobilization of the national liberation era have exhausted their potential and there are new social forces that have arisen that are fighting for reparative justice, peace, life, health, and the repair of the natural environment. These movements, and their anti-imperialist ideas, had kept the flames of African freedom burning. The uprisings of 2011 served to counter the pessimistic notions of Africa that had become an accepted part of Western imperial culture, and with the phrase “failed states,” repeated ad nauseam. The application of Marxist anti-imperialist thought in the work of Amilcar Cabral and Rodney now re-emerges as guide to a new wave of African anti-imperialism.

Piracy on Dry Land

We will simply state that imperialism can be defined as a worldwide expression of the search for profits and the ever-increasing accumulation of surplus value by monopoly-financial capital centered in two parts of the world; first in Europe, and then in North America. And if we wish to place the fact of imperialism within the general trajectory of the evolution of the transcendental factor, which has changed the face of the world, namely capital and the process of its accumulation, we can say that imperialism is piracy transplanted from the seas to dry land. It is piracy reorganized, consolidated, and adapted to the aim of exploiting the natural and human resources of our peoples.

When Cabral, the African freedom fighter, wrote that imperialism was “piracy on dry land,” he was continuing a debate that had started in the early twentieth century about monopoly capital and the export of capital.8 Lenin had written in the midst of the First World War and had been very clear on the relationship between imperialism and war. However, what was disputed in his analysis was the question of whether there had been the export of capital to Africa similar to the massive export of capital to places such as Argentina, Eastern Europe, or the United States. An important book to propagate the idea of a non-economic, humanitarian impulse behind Britain’s imperial policies is entitled Africa and the Victorians by Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher. The book supposedly challenged Lenin’s theory about the export of capital by drawing attention to the fact that there had been no major export of capital to Africa by the time of the great war between the imperial powers. Robinson and Gallagher were not Marxists, but some Marxists like Bill Warren of the United Kingdom argued, on what were purportedly Leninist grounds, that capitalist imperialism, even in the form of direct colonial rule, performed a historically highly progressive role in non-European societies, economically, culturally, and politically: through capital exports it laid the foundation for a development of the productive forces and of a vibrant, indigenously rooted capitalism.9

Rodney answered these criticisms of Lenin’s analysis with respect to imperialism as early as 1970, in his little-known essay “The Imperial Partition of Africa.” Lenin, Rodney pointed out, had never argued that the export of capital applied in his time to Africa, which still occupied a marginal role—since the imperialist partition and penetration of Africa was so recent. As Rodney said of the supposed inapplicability of the export of capital to late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century capitalism in Africa, “This is a contradiction of Lenin only for those who have not read Lenin.”10 It had its basis in a confusion of the partition of Africa with the full development of imperialism in the continent, rather than simply its necessary condition. In his historically based analysis, Rodney did not present imperialism as a uniform process but as a general historical process or tendency that took different forms in distinct regions based on varying circumstances, combining a myriad of economic, political, and cultural factors.

Nonetheless, such questions do serve to highlight that Africa was not historically an object of the export of capital, nor integrated directly into the system even in terms of economic dependency, until well into the twentieth century. Rather it was relegated to the position of a natural resource and labor reserve, subject from the beginning to a particularly extreme form of extractivism. This was later developed more fully in the late twentieth century in the context of the emergence of independent African states, without, however, altering the essential relation. Moreover, this was invariably tied to cultural imperialism that was imposed in the form of a hegemonic racism, rooted in the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Political, economic, and cultural forces imposed by the penetration of imperialism into Africa therefore all contributed to the historical process that Rodney described as How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

The interpretation of capitalist imperialism as a force for cultural and economic progress in Africa is an element in the neoliberal darkness that descended in the last decades, erasing the history of European imperialism in Africa and eluding the reality of imperialism today. In contrast, Cabral’s conception of “imperialism as piracy on dry land” drove home the point that the looting and plunder, both during and after the notorious scramble for Africa, must constitute the beginning of all meaningful analysis in this area. The origins of this system of pillage, and that of industrial capitalism itself, can be found in the European establishment of outposts for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Karl Marx had grasped the importance of Africa to global capitalist accumulation when he wrote in Capital that the “discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.”11

By the end of the nineteenth century, European capitalism had accumulated enough military and economic power to impose Western economic domination over most of Asia and the Pacific islands. The notorious scramble for Africa was formalized in the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 that divided Africa among the European powers. Rodney pointed out that the imperial partition of Africa was merely the preface to its exploitation, which was soon interrupted by war. Indeed, the increasing tensions between the major powers, often over African territory, eventually led to the world war: this had been recognized before Lenin by W.E.B. Du Bois who had written on “The African Roots of War” in 1915.12 While Du Bois and Lenin grasped the importance of the partitioning of Africa, during the twentieth century the relevance of Lenin’s thesis to Africa was much disputed, with a focus on the export of capital question. In a little known essay, Rodney explained:

Lenin is generally said to have professed an “economic” theory of imperialism. This gave rise to the criticism that his theory was one sided, because Europeans carved up Africa for several reasons, including economic, political, social-humanitarian, and psychological. Of course, Marxism does not concern itself solely with some so-called “economic” aspect of society. It is a world view which perceives the presence of multiple variants within the complexity of human society, and seeks to unravel their relationship with reference to the material conditions of existence. Lenin did not have to spell out this elementary Marxist position in everything he wrote. His essay on imperialism dealt with the question of the expansion of the capitalist economy. The non-economic dimensions were known to exist, and were regarded as secondary.13

Rodney then quotes Lenin to zero in on the point of the non-economic dimensions of imperialism: “The non-economic superstructure which grows up on the basis of finance capital, its politics and its ideology stimulates the striving for colonial conquest.”14 The importance of Rodney’s intervention was his highlighting of the deep ways that imperialism affected all the regions of Africa. Rodney excavated the pseudoscientific, religious, and cultural basis of racism, inseparable from the smug self-justified looting of resources in land and minerals. He added that in the period of imperialism, South Africa was the laboratory where the virus of white racism was cultivated. Up to today the two most important non-economic dimensions that connect colonial and post-colonial imperialism are those of military force and racism. Military engagement is still very much present, with the French interventionist forces deployed in places such as Chad, the Central Africa Republic, Mali, and Côte d’Ivoire. The racism of the European Union’s complicity, indifference, and hypocritical response to the ongoing Mediterranean mass drownings needs no comment.

Racism, Sexism, and Imperialism

In his refutation of the bourgeois scholars who had written on the humanitarian motives for colonialism, Rodney was drawing attention to the fact that the rise of Western European racism had an economic base in society. That is, the time around the trans-Atlantic slave trade inspired a new conception of the hierarchy of human beings. The breakthroughs in science and technology in Western Europe during the nineteenth century contributed to ideas about scientific racism and modern eugenics. By the start of the twentieth century, the eugenics movement had refined concepts of white supremacy that polluted all aspects of social and economic life in Western Europe and North America. Lenin had written in Imperialism that, “the receipts of high monopoly capitalmakes it economically possible for them to corrupt certain sections of the working class, and for a time a fairly considerable minority and win them to the side of the bourgeoisie of a given industry or nation against all others.”15 Lenin had drawn attention to how imperialism served to split the working-class movement in Europe by creating opportunism and jingoism among the workers. The two linked aspects go together: imperialism creates the surplus that can be distributed to upper sections of the working classes, and racism directed against the primary victims of imperialism, above all Africans, gives a psychological/cultural benefit to the entire European working class. In order to capture the hearts of the German working classes—and win them away from ideas about revolution and international solidarity—the Nazis stressed cultural principles about family, race, and how the Volk were the foundation for German values. It was in Africa, against the rebellious Herero peoples of Namibia, that the Imperial German military carried out the dress rehearsal for the genocidal policies that were to explode after the capitalist depression of 1929.

Nor were the British much better. The African massacres they perpetrated were many, and the racist system they instituted gave rise eventually to apartheid.16 John Mackenzie’s book Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880–1960 detailed the instruments of ideological manipulation that bound the British working classes to imperial adventures, and motivated workers in Britain to fight against other workers in Europe in the meaningless bloodbaths of the First World War.

Both imperialism and colonialism were supported and even impelled by impressive ideological formations that include notions that certain people, often with no more in common than as inhabitants of a certain territory, require and welcome domination as well as forms of knowledge affiliated with domination. We now know that imperialism projected masculinist thinking about power, violence, and male supremacy. Since the end of the last century feminist scholars have enriched our understanding of the masculinist and militarist components of imperial domination.17 Edward Said’s The Culture of Imperialism helps us to understand the intricate relations between imperialism, race, patriarchy, and some of the most extreme cultural forms of exploitation.18 Britain was the forerunner of cultural imperialism making Rudyard Kipling (famous for his notion of “the white man’s burden”) its poet laureate.

Both Germany and Britain stood at the apex of the hierarchy of Western imperialism and clashed in wars to dominate the planet.19 U.S. scholars drew from the intellectual cultures of Germany and Britain in their search for anchors for their own liberalism. Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden,” subtitled “The United States and the Philippine Islands,” was written specifically to urge on the U.S. war on the Philippines.20

For the oppressed peoples of the world, those now called peoples of color, imperialism was refined by deepening a linear conception of human transformations that placed Europe and capitalism as emerging out of an evolutionary process. White supremacy codified ideas about social Darwinism (“survival of the fittest”), rugged individualism, sexism, the inviolability of the market, private property, and the credo that “Everyone can make it.” The linear view of progress and modernity was also internalized by some Marxists in North America, who believed that revolutions in Africa and other colonized spaces required the leadership of the advanced (mostly white) workers in capitalist countries. Linkages between class and anti-imperialist struggles were slow to develop in such circumstances. Capitalist competition, jingoism, and chauvinism not only precipitated one war, but the ideas of racism and genocidal violence exploded across the world in the Second World War (which was an imperialist war, the expansive nature of which was prefigured by such events as the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia).

The emergence of the United States as the dominant imperial power after the Second World War further exposed the racist basis of capitalism and imperialism, because within the United States resided a large population that suffered from the superexploitation similar to that suffered by Africans in Africa. Even today the growing anti-racist movement in the United States lacks the breadth of the movement against the Vietnam War. In fact the enemy in both cases is exactly the same. The relevant point for an understanding of imperialism today is the reality that war situations emanate directly from acts of resistance to U.S. imperialist domination. Africa in the modern imperium has become a deeply racialized continent, integral to the maintenance of the essential culture of imperialism.

Said, a Palestinian scholar, wrote about the culture of imperial rule and the impact of imperialism on people’s consciousness. He joined Cabral in distinguishing imperialism from colonialism while at the same time linking capitalism and imperialism. Said had defined imperialism as “thinking about, settling on, controlling land that you do not possess, that is distant, that is lived on and owned by others.”21 He did not expend time on the financial and corporate forms of imperial domination as this work had been done for decades by Marxist and non-Marxist scholars such as Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Nikolai Bukharin, Rudolf Hilferding, and John A. Hobson. At the start of the twentieth century these writers had recognized the end of the old forms of competitive industrial capitalism and the emergence of financial and monopolistic capitalism. The concentration and centralization of capital throughout the twentieth century transformed capitalism and by the end of the twentieth century there were scholars writing about super imperialism and the New Imperialism.22

The specific contribution of Said was the way that he brought out the deeply racist culture of capital which later exploded in the twenty-first century, in what I term the global armaments culture. This armaments culture connects the barons of Wall Street and financialization of the world economy to the arms manufacturers, the media and image managers, information and communication managers, military entrepreneurs, defense contractors, congressional representatives, policy entrepreneurs, university funding, and humanitarian experts. In this way modern imperialism represents itself in racialized forms that are represented to the citizens of imperialist states as agencies for doing good or “aiding Africa.”

U.S. Imperialism, the Military Management of the International System, and Africa

During the period of the Cold War, the United States managed the capitalist international system through anti-Communist ideology (such as “totalitarianism versus democracy”) and, in Said’s sense, culture. With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the prior ideological management of U.S. dominance became even less coherent, but military resistance was no longer a major obstacle. In the post-Cold War era, the United States was now clearly willing to use military force to achieve political and economic goals. George H.W. Bush had launched a New World Order in the context of the Persian Gulf War, aimed at achieving geopolitical objectives (i.e., control of the pivotal oil region of the world). A little over a decade later, his son George W. Bush invaded Iraq, in what is known in the United States as the Iraq War, to further these same objectives and to impress upon the subordinate imperial states such as Germany and Japan that the United States was more than ever the dominant force among global capitalists. The Persian Gulf War was made possible precisely by the absence of the Soviet Union from the scene—and was prosecuted almost simultaneously with the Soviet demise. For Samir Amin this new imperial domination was set on creating conditions for global apartheid.23

The emerging international financial system now extended U.S. global dominance in disguised and indirect ways, as well as cruder direct forms. U.S. treasury officials and agents who control the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank dictated “restructuring” interventions into the internal affairs of supposedly sovereign nations. The resulting unstable system was so rigged that the U.S. dollar benefited from crises that emanated from the skullduggery of U.S. and British bankers.24 In these moments of crisis, the dollar benefited as a safe haven for international capitalists.

The barons of Wall Street now exercised direct control over the investment portfolios of the countries with large reserves of natural resources. The example of the wide-ranging activities of Goldman Sachs and its dalliance with the Libyan Investment Authority was one of the most recent examples of speculation and scamming, using complex new packages of debt obligations and interest-rate derivatives to appropriate the wealth of what had been the richest of the African states. Predatory capitalism has been most explicit throughout Africa with looting, plunder, massive violence, and the destruction of the natural environment.25

For Africa, the pre-history of these last disastrous decades was the age of national liberation struggles, evanescent victories, and painful defeats. From the point of view of the anti-imperialist forces, the struggles in Indochina, southern Africa, and Latin America have shaped the politics of the international system since 1945.26 Vijay Prashad agrees with Amin in placing the volatile relationship between the North and the South from the period of the Bandung conference of 1955 up to the global financial crisis of 2008. In this period, the role of imperial military and economic force underwent substantial change. What has remained constant has been the centrality of African resources for the European states. Belgium, Britain, and France had planned to maintain colonial territories in Africa and link African resources to the British Sterling and the French Franc. The Cold War had dictated that in spite of the post-colonial/neo-colonial basis of U.S. political logic, the United States assisted the remaining European colonialists to suppress freedom fighters in Africa. The United States had opted to leave European military forces to police the African economies. It was in this period that the United States established unified military command structures such as the European Command, the Pacific Command, the Southern Command, the Northern Command, and Central Command. Each command covers an area of responsibility.

When this global command structure was being refined, Africa was an afterthought. Hence, Africa fell under the European Command with its headquarters in Germany. Africa had not been included in the geographic combatant commands because it was expected that France, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and other colonial powers would retain military forces to guarantee Western interests and keep “peace” in Africa. However, the collapse of the Portuguese colonial forces in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea, and Sao Tome, and the collapse of the white racist military forces in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), gradually led to a rethinking of this strategy. During this period the United States had labeled all African freedom fighters as terrorists; there was not one African independence struggle that the United States supported. After Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba was assassinated, for thirty-five years the West supported the brutal dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Every credible liberation leader—whether Cabral, Eduardo Mondlane, Samora Machel, Thomas Sankara, Felix Moumie, or Chris Hani—was killed. In fact, in the days when the United States was allied with Osama Bin Laden and Jonas Savimbi, Nelson Mandela had been branded a terrorist. This branding of freedom fighters as terrorists, and the propping up of apartheid and destabilization in Africa, is better understood against the background of the global politics of the Cold War.

The special relationship between the dollar and sterling that had emerged out of the “Atlantic alliance” was eventually to see British financial institutions and the former British colonial territories fall under the domain of U.S. capitalism, as most African states now kept their reserves in the U.S. dollar instead of the pound sterling. In South Africa, Britain’s most valuable sphere of economic dominance in Africa, developmental elements under apartheid were removed along with the regime itself, and replaced by a neoliberal model that forced Britain to share control with U.S.-based corporations and creditors. The case of subjugating French capital was less straightforward. Under de Gaulle, France had let go of Algeria and Guinea but clung on to the remaining African colonial areas with such tenacity that well into the twenty-first century the CFA (Central African Franc) still subjects fourteen former colonies to the monetary control of the French treasury, while a dominating influence is maintained over military, cultural, and economic affairs. France has acted like a gendarme of today’s imperialism, intervening more than thirty times in Africa and most recently leading the charge in the NATO destruction of Libya.

Lessons from the NATO Intervention in Africa

Facing deep popular resistance to its dominion, the United States has promoted the view that Africa was a space for instability and a recruiting ground for international terrorists. Despite this propaganda, leaders such as Mandela and Desmond Tutu had opposed the U.S. Africa Command. Imperial forays into selected African societies on the grounds of “humanitarian intervention” have both promoted and utilized instability, and kept Africa in the Western imagination as a space for the legitimate pacification of uncivilized barbarians. Joseph Nye had used the formulation of “soft power” to disguise the crude militarism of the United States, and some scholars have elaborated “humanitarian intervention” and “responsibility to protect” as useful ideological weapons to justify imperial military force against supposedly sovereign states.27 This can be seen as psychological warfare against Western citizens who are invited to disengage with Africa outside of a patriarchal-philanthropic (tragedy of Africa) form, which serves to justify each and every Western invention. The emphasis on humanitarian intervention (the new “White Man’s Burden” philosophy) was intensified after the Wall Street crash and the rise of economic insecurity in Europe. The Libyan leadership had long shown an ambivalence to the West and their persistent economic nationalism threatened Western imperialism, especially when Muamar Gaddafi began a discussion about harnessing the financial reserves of Libya to be the foundation for a proposed common African currency. NATO invaded Libya under the pretext of protecting Libyans, but in the invasion and post-invasion enormous numbers of Libyans were killed—by the invading forces and then by those forces that succeeded Gaddafi—and the society is now impoverished and overrun with marauding militias. The invasion was ideologically justified under the “responsibility to protect” rubric, to the applause of various liberals and even some Western “leftists.”

Africa has been a weak front for NATO because, although there were many authoritarian leaders in Africa, the anti-imperialist traditions were so deep that no major African state could offer the U.S. military a base for the Africa Command. Although the preferred form of intervention and control have been the hundreds of thousands of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), a minority actually spending their resources on useful projects, preparations for the use of military force have grown steadily. As a part of Pentagon capitalism, and the promotion of high-priority military spending, a massive intelligence and surveillance system was perfected under the National Security Agency to control all forms of information, including the fabrication of terrorism to justify the deployment of military resources in Africa. Jeremy Keenan has documented the fabrication of terrorism by U.S. strategic planners and how U.S. counter-terrorism initiatives yielded more instability in the Sahel.28

Even with the presence of some 5,000 U.S. troops, Africa is the least militarized of the continents. Melvin Goodman, in National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism, offers estimates of the numbers of U.S. military bases, lily pads, and forward positions, as well as numbers of troops on land and sea, that are outside of U.S. borders.29 In East Asia, there are more than 80,000 U.S. military personnel. In Europe, there are more than 80,000 military personnel overall, with 40,000 in Germany alone, 11,000 in Italy, and over 9,000 in Britain. In the Persian Gulf, there are over 15,000; 11,000 are in Kuwait, while the Fifth Fleet, stationed in Bahrain, has over 3,000 military personnel. This does not include the numbers of U.S. military personnel from the Central Command in the Middle East or those in Afghanistan. The two areas where the United States is weak militarily are in Africa and South America.

Modern imperialism counters the persistent anti-imperialism in Africa by the deployment of NGOs and private military contractors. Recent exposures of the role of NGOs in subversion in Africa and Latin America (Cuba and Venezuela) exposed the role of nonmilitary personnel in work with a decided intelligence and military aspect. These NGOs are clearly deemed to be force multipliers for U.S. imperialism.30

Inter–Imperialist Rivalry in Africa?

Inter-imperialist rivalry between the Europeans and the United States was subdued but persisted even after the Second World War. However it has now been submerged in the profound global changes that followed the breakdown of the Western financial system in September 2008.31 In the emerging global order, there is an incipient shift in the locus and configuration of economic power from Western Europe and the Atlantic powers that have dominated the international political system since the eighteenth century. This evolving international system is part of the rise to prominence of societies in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) formation and in Latin America. Prior to this period, Western imperialism, effectively unopposed after the demolition of the USSR, pressured African states through structural adjustment programs imposed through the IMF. When the U.S. Africa Command was being formed, J. Peter Pham wrote for the World Defense Review in the United States that one of the objectives of the new militarization of Africa was “protecting access to hydrocarbons and other strategic resources which Africa has in abundance, a task which includes ensuring against the vulnerability of those natural riches and ensuring that no other interested third parties, such as China, India, Japan, or Russia, obtain monopolies or preferential treatment.”32

With the rapid growth of the Chinese economy there has been an outcry that there is a new scramble for Africa, and that the Chinese are the new imperialists in Africa. The appearance of books such as Howard French’s China’s Second Continent: How A Million Migrants Are Building A New Empire in Africa is indicative of the changing balance of power.33 The argument of this book has undertones of “Yellow Peril” and threats from swarms of Orientals. Mention is made of land grabbing, Chinese investments, and the massive use of Chinese labor in Africa. This debate on “Chinese imperialism” in Africa has brought about a new challenge to progressives to grasp the nature of Chinese society itself and the future of China’s relationship with Western capitalism.34 This debate has been in the main superficial, without reference to the dynamic changes in the modes of expansion of capitalism in the period of financialization. It was earlier noted that Lenin wrote that in the imperialist stage one of the distinguishing features of capitalism is that there is the export of capital. Yet it would be simplistic to argue that China is imperialist because there are large-scale Chinese investments in Africa. In reality, the levels of Chinese investments in Africa lag behind the volume of Chinese investments in Europe, North America, or in Eastern Europe. Moreover, the emphasis of many of these criticisms is on investments by Chinese state companies, while the much larger, and more clearly exploitative, role of Western multinational corporations is rendered invisible in this accounting due to their private nature. Ironically, questions of Chinese imperialism in Africa have been coming primarily from the West and not from Africa, where Chinese involvement and quite different ways of doing business are generally viewed as a counterpoint to the collective imperialism of the triad.

Where the Chinese state can be legitimately criticized is in relation to the exploitation of Chinese and African workers alike, and for its history of lack of respect for environmental standards. Indeed, the crisis of the natural environment in China itself has pointed to the fallacy of one-sided focusing on the “development of the productive forces.” China has been so successful in opening its economy as a cheap labor reservoir for Western corporations that the future of Chinese workers now rests on an alliance with African and other workers to transcend capitalism. Chinese investment in African infrastructure has at best created an imperfect alternative for Africa to the existing forms of U.S.-dominated international financial control, but is seen by the United States as a threat and challenge. It is in a new anti-imperialist (particularly South-South) alliance across the planet that one can situate the call by Amin for the radical left to chart a new course beyond obsolete capitalism.


The call for a new anti-imperialist alliance is even more pertinent in the context of the pressures towards global war from the imperialist centers. One hundred years after the start of the first imperialist war in 1914 there is great danger of another major international conflagration in a world where the United States, through its control of the dollar, has been able to capture value on a global scale and dominate the international political system, and now sees its dominant position under threat. One of the challenges of the present moment is to strengthen the anti-imperialist and peace forces in the United States to break the power of those sections of the U.S. ruling class who are willing to go to war to maintain U.S. imperial power. In this challenge the African population in the United States has a strategic role to play in concert with the global anti-imperialist forces; an advanced section of this population has long been in alliance with the anti-imperialist and national liberation forces in Africa. It is in this sense that the Black Lives Matter campaign becomes part of the global anti-imperialist chain and seeks to mobilize young citizens to counter the kind of manipulation by the U.S. military and intelligence forces who mobilized millions for the pro-intervention Kony 2012 campaign.

At the beginning of this paper we drew attention to the changed international situation and the ways in which the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt brought to the fore new forms of political struggles. These struggles built on the long traditions of political organizing in Africa from the period of the youth of Soweto, who fought against apartheid, to the massive demonstrations that removed Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. These struggles called for international solidarity at a moment when the new forms of capitalist exploitation were leading to the globalization of apartheid. From the anti-apartheid struggles, a new conception of humanity emerged, that is the concept of Ubuntu, or linked humanity. Both Mandela and Tutu articulated the ideals of Ubuntu which was a direct challenge to the racist conceptions of the hierarchy of human beings. Tutu summed up its meaning when he stated, “It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong.” It is this juxtaposition of being against the ontology of imperialist and racist domination that provides the foundation for the new kind of anti-imperialist solidarity.

It is not by accident that it is the same energy—of the need to humanize the planet—that inspires the environmental justice movements in Africa. Tutu took the principles of Ubuntu into the struggles for climate justice and worked with those who are seeking to heal the planet. These struggles merge with the international struggles for reparative justice. Out of these struggles for climate justice have emerged new global alliances, especially from the South where there is now a common language of struggle. Activists from the global South are calling for the anti-imperialist forces internationally to make common cause against war in this moment of capitalist crisis. Experiences of the citizens of Nigeria, especially the Niger Delta, has expanded the global understanding of the rapacious activities of the oil companies. African activists have used the experiences of the Niger River Delta to indict global capitalism in its destruction of the planet earth.

One of the major areas of new international solidarity has been in the mobilization over environmental justice. However, in the areas of peace and reconstruction the traditional left movements have not yet grasped the machinations of contemporary imperialism. Because of the information and psychological warfare against the citizens of Western Europe and North America there is very little understanding of the aggressive nature of U.S. imperialism. Hence, in the example of so-called humanitarian intervention in Africa the traditional left was basically silent, or worse, when NATO intervened in Libya, and then supported jihadists in Syria.

Pan-African solidarity of the kind originally promoted by Du Bois and the struggles for reparative justice link the future conditions of struggles in the United States to the struggles for peace and transformation in Africa. Progressives from the global South have been drawing lessons from the interventions in Africa and there is a clear understanding among African intellectuals of the nature of imperialist machinations in Iraq, Syria, and the Ukraine. From the time of the League against Imperialism in 1927 through the Bandung project and the nonaligned movement, the peoples of Africa have been in the forefront of anti-colonialism, anti-racism, and the struggles against apartheid. These traditions of struggle are maturing at a moment when the imperialists are ready and willing to foment warfare to save their social system. One of the many challenges for the global anti-imperialist forces will be to rise above the chauvinism and racism that pits workers against workers based on religion, race, sex, or nationality. The struggles for peace, reconstruction, and a secular Africa in the twenty-first century are part of a larger struggle to develop the audacity to make another world possible.

A central conception in Cabral’s philosophy of revolution was that in Africa resistance was a permanent reality that constantly reasserted itself, and he insisted on “the indestructible character of the cultural resistance of the mass of the people when confronted with foreign domination.” He argued that, “Culture plunges its roots into the environmental hummus in which it develops, andreflects the organic structure of society.” The indigenous-based resistance struggles growing throughout the world, and notably in the African continent, help to explain the growing interventionism of imperial NATO in its renewed effort to control Africa and its resources. African peoples, despite being exposed to the most barbaric forms of imperial penetration, have shown enormous resilience in turning cultural resistance again and again into renewed political struggles which speak to the world at large, threatening the stability of the entire system of global apartheid. African anti-imperialism thus has a pivotal role to play in determining the framework of history in the twenty-first century—and the possibility of a new world revolution.35


  1. Amilcar Cabral, Return to the Source (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), 49.
  2. Nouri Gana, ed., The Making of the Tunisian Revolution (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2013). See also Esam Al Amin, The Arab Awakening Unveiled (Washington, DC: American Educational Trust, 2013).
  3. Horace G. Campbell, Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013).
  4. Anne Phillips. The Enigma of Colonialism (London: Curry, 1989).
  5. Lewis Gann and Peter Duignan. Burden of Empire (London: Pall Mall, 1968).
  6. Patrick Manning, “Imperial Balance Sheets Revisited: African Empires of France and Britain 1900-1960,” n.d.,
  7. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000). For a critique see Abu-Manneh Bashir, “The Illusions of Empire,” Monthly Review 56, no. 2 (June 2004): 31-47. For one of the clearest examples of the exposure of genocidal violence in the imperial domination of Africa, see Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999).
  8. Amilcar Cabral, “The Weapon of Theory,” in Revolution in Guinea (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969), 90­–111.
  9. Ronald Edwards Robinson, John Galager, and Alice Denning, Africa and the Victorians (New York: Anchor, 1968); Bill Warren, Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism (London: Verso Books, 1980).
  10. Walter Rodney, “The Imperialist Partition of Africa,” Monthly Review 21, no. 11 (April 1970): 104–5.
  11. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (London; Penguin, 1976), 915.
  12. W.E.B. DuBois, “The African Roots of war,” Atlantic Monthly, 115, no. 5, May 1915, 707–14.
  13. Rodney, “The Imperialist Partition of Africa,” 103.
  14. V.I. Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (New York: International Publishers, 1939), 84; Rodney, “The Imperialist Partition of Africa,” 104.
  15. Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 126.
  16. See Sven Linqvist, Exterminate all the Brutes (New York: New Press, 1997).
  17. Cynthia H. Enloe, Globalization and Militarism (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).
  18. Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993).
  19. Anne McLintock’s book on Imperial Leather (New York: Routledge, 1995) centralized the consumer culture of capitalism where citizens no longer saw themselves as producers but as consumers of exotic products.
  20. See Rudyard Kipling, Kipling’s Verse (New York: Doubleday, 1940).
  21. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Random House, 1993), 7.
  22. Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism (New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1972); David Harvey, The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); and Robert Biel, The New Imperialism (London: Zed Books, 2000).
  23. Samir Amin, The Law of Worldwide Value (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010). See also Amin, The Liberal Virus (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004).
  24. Matt Taibbi, “Everything Is Rigged: The Biggest Financial Scandal Yet,” Rolling Stone, May 15, 2013,
  25. Nimmo Bassey, To Cook a Continent (Cape Town: Pambazuka Books, 2012).
  26. Vijay Prashad, The Poorer Nations (London: Verso Books, 2012).
  27. See the analysis of this in Jean Bricmont, Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006).
  28. Jeremy Keenan, The Dying Sahara (London: Pluto Press, 2013).
  29. Melvin Goodman, National Insecurity (San Francisco: City Lights, 2013).
  30. See James Petras, “NGOs: In the Service of Imperialism,” Journal of Contemporary Asia 29, no. 4 (1999): 429–39.
  31. Paul Krugman, End This Depression Now (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012).
  32. J. Peter Pham, “Africom Stands Up,” World Defense Review, October 2, 2008,
  33. Howard French, China’s Second Continent (New York: Doubleday, 2014).
  34. Alison Ayers, “Beyond Myths, Lies and Stereotypes: The Political Economy of a ‘New Scramble for Africa,'” New Political Economy 18, no. 2 (2013): 227–57.
  35. Cabral, Return to the Source, 39–69.
2015, Volume 67, Issue 03 (July-August)
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