From Socialist Review, No. 169, November 1993.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Impact of Structural Adjustment on the Population of Africa
ed. Aderanti Adepoju
James Currey/Heinemann/United Nations £9.95
Over the last two months the struggle of Nigerian workers culminating in a three day general strike has shown once again the potential power of organised workers, even in countries with a large farming sector. Adepoju’s book sketches the background to this and other African workers’ movements. It shows how ordinary people’s living standards have been sacrificed under economic programmes run by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
An almost identical recipe of so-called ‘structural adjustment’ measures has been applied to every single one of the countries involved. The intention has been to increase national economic output, combat inflation and generally spend only what the country earns through various taxes and exports. Usually some of those goals have been reached, but for the mass of people this has caused a return to living conditions normally associated with those of European workers in the early stages of the industrial revolution.
In Ghana the introduction of hospital user charges has led to outpatient attendance dropping by two thirds.
Sierra Leone’s population has a life expectancy of 38 years, and out of 1,000 children born, 200 die before their first birthday. The Zambian government’s cutbacks in health meant that ‘all the operating theatres were closed down ... As they had become a health hazard to both medical personnel and patients.’
This book gives a picture of how one half to three quarters of sub-Saharan Africa’s populations came to live below the poverty line in the 1980s compared to 30 to 40 percent in the mid-1970s. However, it has some serious shortcomings.
The most obvious one is its complicated academic style – it is supposed to ‘be of particular value to government officials and policy makers, to donors’. More importantly, though, most of the authors agree that some structural adjustment is needed – only it should be made more humane.
There is hardly any critique of relying on exports of raw materials to earn money for development, even though most African countries were dumped into economic crisis because world market prices for their products collapsed.
Worst of all, class struggle and its potential for restoring decent living standards is, at best, found between the lines.
This book makes almost no mention of the only solution to the devastation caused by IMF-type policies throughout the 1980s. African workers are not waiting for the trickle of wealth that may or may not reach them, but are using their already huge muscle to take it themselves.
Last updated: 1 March 2017