(Report from the Preparatory Meeting of the Africa Tribunal: Johannesburg, February 27-28, 1999)

By Ralph Schoenman

One year ago in Bingerville, Ivory Coast, a conference was organized jointly by the Gas and Electrical Workers¹ Federation (SYNASEG) of Ivory Coast and the International Liaison Committee for a Workers¹ International (ILC) to discuss the necessity for an International Tribunal to Judge Those Responsible for the Murderous Course Imposed on the Workers and Peoples of Africa.

Following one year of discussions with trade unions and mass organizations on the continent of Africa, the ILC, on behalf of affiliated unions and organizations in 92 countries, supported the initiative of African trade union federations to hold a Preparatory Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. Leaders of the Black movement in Brazil and worker activists from the United States, Europe and from political parties and mass organizations in Africa joined in the preparatory work in Johannesburg of the International Tribunal on Africa.

The Preparatory Conference was hosted by the Socialist Party of Azania, whose 15 delegates took responsibility for organizing the multiple tasks of the Conference, including extensive meetings with television, radio and print media.

For two days, 60 delegates brought documents and provided testimony addressing the devastating impact on the peoples of the continent of Africa of the policies of structural adjustment, austerity and the destruction of social services imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank

Epidemic disease, the destruction of any systemized provision of health care, the rapid pauperization of tens of millions of people and the calculated promotion of internecine violence and war have created a virtual holocaust of famine, mass migration, besieged refugee populations and a generalized augmentation of Aids, Ebola and systemic diseases. Up to 40 million people are expected to die.

Noting that over US$30 billion annually service a debt to the banks and corporations which have seized the natural wealth of the continent, the delegates reported on the impact of these policies: life expectancy on the continent has decreased by 20 years and over 4 million children die annually from treatable diseases such as measles, diarrhea and malaria.

The Preparatory Conference examined carefully two legislative proposals in the United States concerning the African continent: the Africa Trade and Development Act (also called the "NAFTA for Africa Bill") and the Hope for Africa Act, introduced by Jesse Jackson, Jr. Following the discussion, the conference delegates issued an "Open Letter to African Americans and All Working People in the United States" in which they expressed their views and concerns about both these bills. [See Open Letter below.]

Extensively covered by radio and television in South Africa, the Press Conference concluding the conference was the lead television story. News and television reports were continuous in Xhosa, Sutho, Zulu, English and Afrikaans.

An important feature of the Johannesburg meeting was the unanimous adoption of a resolution based on the call of the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal ‹ a resolution that was endorsed by the ILC and its international affiliates. The trade union delegates and representatives of political organizations, ranging from the Peoples¹ Convention Party of Ghana to the Socialist Party of Azania, undertook to call upon their organizations to prepare rallies, meetings, and mobilizations in defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Trade Union delegates will prepare vigils and communiqués directed to their respective U.S. Embassies calling for a new trial and for the freedom of Mumia.

The Sowetan, which has a circulation of close to two million, has scheduled feature stories on the international campaign to free Mumia and the special responsibility of African movements against apartheid and injustice to mobilize in his defense.

Trade Union delegates from Azania, Swaziland, Comoros, Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi, Niger, Benin, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Algeria undertook to coordinate their efforts with U.S. participants in the work of the Africa Tribunal through the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The decision was taken to send a delegation from the Africa Tribunal Preparatory Committee to the United States to meet African-American and worker activists for the purpose of collaborating in the work of the Tribunal and in concrete actions in Africa to build mass action in defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Ralph Schoenman was asked to coordinate these efforts and to prepare the work of the visiting delegation of the Africa Tribunal to the United States.

Ralph Schoenman is the past executive director of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation. He is currently the U.S. representative of the Paris-based International Committee Against Repression. He is the author of numerous books, including "Hidden History of Zionism" and "Iraq:Kuwait: A History Suppressed." He is a regular contributor to The Organizer newspaper.



28 February 1999

Note: Activists and trade union delegates from throughout Africa, joined by participants from Europe, the U.S. and Brazil, conferred recently for three days in Johannesburg, South Africa at the Preparatory Conference of the International Tribunal to judge those responsible for the murderous course which menaces the very existence of the peoples of Africa. The delegates issued the following statement:

We, the sponsors and organizers of the Africa Tribunal, have examined legislative proposals in the United States concerning the African continent concerning the African continent.

We note that The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (HR434), called "The NAFTA for Africa Bill," has re-emerged as "The Africa Trade and Development Act."

This Act requires African nations to submit to the economic and political dictates of the International Monetary Fund. Under the Act, before any investment can occur in an African country, its government must be certified annually by the United States President.

The requirements for certification are full compliance with United States-designed economic measures which go beyond those imposed by the IMF in Russia, Latin America and Asia, with catastrophic results.

To qualify, every government on the African continent must:

_ Reduce dramatically all taxes on corporations, foreign or domestic; _ Undertake immediate, sweeping privatization of public assets and public services ­ whether in transportation, communication, medical care or major industry; _ Open up most areas of the economy to ownership and control by foreign conglomerates; _ Permit unrestricted access of foreign corporations to natural resources, including agriculture, land and minerals; _ Adopt agricultural policies that replace food production with cash crops sought by foreign corporations for the commodities market.

When NAFTA was first proposed, the Clinton administration presented it as an Act designed to expand the economies of the United States, Canada and Mexico based on unrestricted "trade" and a market economy.

We may judge the results:

In but five years, over a half-million jobs have been lost in the United States and nearly one million jobs have disappeared in Mexico. Temporary and part-time work in the United States accounts for over 50 percent of employment ­ without benefits or pensions.

Wages in Mexico have fallen by 50 percent and the peasant cooperatives ­ the "ejidos" ­ a principal gain of the Mexican revolution ­ have been eliminated, driving millions of peasants into the cities as a desperate reserve army of labor. The system of Maquiladoras and "free trade zones" have spread throughout Mexico, where the formation of independent trade unions is a matter of life and death and where the labor laws of Mexico are not enforced.

We are aware that President Clinton¹s proposal produced widespread opposition among trade unionists and Black activists. We know that workers in the United States and especially African American activists reject these plans to plunder and oppress the people of Africa.

We have learned that other legislation has been prepared which has been presented as a humane alternative, "The Hope for Africa Act."

In this document we read that the Act refers to "comprehensive cancellation of the debt," a position with which, of course, we agree. Over 20 percent of African GNP services the debt ­ a debt already repaid many times over. Compound interest weighs down every country with even greater obligation than that already repaid.

Upon reading further, however, we see in the same document, "The Hope for Africa Act," that the phrase "debt relief" replaces that of "cancellation of debt." In addition, future debt payments are not to be cancelled but are allowed to reach five percent annually of export earnings.

Other parts of the Act refer to "a transition through debt relief," a clear retreat from the promise of "cancellation." The issue is thus posed: "debt relief" or "reduction" is not the same as "cancellation." In fact, "debt relief" means that the debt will continue.

Let us look further: In promoting the Act, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. cites favorably President Clinton¹s State of the Union Address calling for a "fairer trading system for the twenty-first century and for common ground on which business, workers, environmentalists, farmers and governments can stand together."

We ask, however, if the call for corporations and workers to share common ground is not precisely the corporatist agenda embodied in NAFTA?

Trade unions are expected to assume responsibility for corporate profit and to participate in the assault upon worker living standards.

In essence, the independence of trade unions is to be compromised fatally as they are called upon to police workers on behalf of the bosses, dissolving the ability of workers to defend their wages, benefits and all the gains of past struggles.

We believe this becomes very clear when we see that "The Hope for Africa Act" allocates responsibility for investment in Africa to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation of the United States government and to the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. Treasury.

These two institutions subsidize U.S. corporations and their investments overseas. We must further note that "The Hope for Africa Act" calls for "Decisional Boards" governing investment in Africa which "shall have majority private sector membership."

In short, corporations will determine how, where and when funds are invested.

The Act also dictates that all U.S. funds must be "dispensed through non-governmental organizations in each nation in consultation with a broad spectrum of African civil society."

The responsibilities of NGOs and African civil society in each African country include: _ Educational systems _ Healthcare _ AIDS prevention and treatment _ Democratization _ Food Security _ Environmental measures _ Social, political and economic status of women

We raise the following concerns:

NGOs are responsible to no one. They are unelected and need not even originate in the African country over which they exercise such major social, economic and political hegemony.

In essence, the Act replaces the governments of Africa with NGOs from afar and with "civil society" at home with respect to major social, economic and political decisions.

What is left to governments is the right to police and subjugate their people. Civil society becomes a euphemism for control of social policy by private organizations, unelected and outside the control of the people over whom they exercise this power.

Virtually all NGOs are private groups and those organizations comprising civil society are invariably funded by large private sources. This means that Africa¹s peoples are unable to enjoy democracy and the right to make their own decisions concerning the future of society. None of us ­ African trade unionists and activists ­ can accept this, even as we are convinced that none among you would agree either.

We also should like to point out that the Act allows foreign corporations to "operate with the same labor and environment standards as they do in their home countries."

The Act refers to "core ILO standards." This term is a retreat from the original ILO codes that ban child labor, protect job security and guarantee the right to independent trade union representation ­ none of which exists in the United States.

The Act designates OPIC and USAID to oversee investments, but these agencies work under the guidance of U.S. corporations in deciding whether projects should be funded.

Sixty-one private NGOs in Africa, who aspire to assume responsibility for funding social and public service, support the Act.

The death of missions of children in Africa from epidemic disease and lack of basic medication is a social responsibility, divorced under the Act from governments and assigned to private organizations.

AIDS and Ebola, which have claimed as many as 40 million people, represent a vast tragedy whose presumptive remedy is put in the hands of NGOs answerable to the U.S. "private sector."

For us these principles are inviolable:

1. Absolute cancellation of the debt.

2. Outright rejection of all plans for structural adjustment.

3. Opposition to all schemes for privatization.

4. Respect for the principle of the right of all peoples and nations to exercise full control over their destinies.

5. Immediate removal of all foreign military bases from the continent of Africa, noting that these bases serve as organizing centers and launching points for repression and for preserving oppressive regimes subservient to international finance capital.

We join here in the demand posed by broad sectors of African, African American and international workers¹ organizations for reparations. Reparations can only begin to mitigate the devastating consequences of centuries of slavery, plunder of natural resources and massive exploitation of human labor.

The political, economic and social system responsible for these policies and acts which have led to the death and misery of hundreds of millions of people must be held accountable for the human suffering its has caused.

We know that many sincere people are seeking how best to remedy the suffering of vast millions on the African continent. It is precisely to address this tragedy that the Africa Tribunal has been convened. We ask you to join us in uncovering what has occurred, why it is happening, who is responsible and how this painful reality may be transformed.

Neither the people of Africa nor any government that purports to represent them is allowed any significant control by the two Acts before Congress with regard to life and death matters for the continent of Africa. Please join with us in seeking the truth about which policies have produced exploitation and subjugation of entire peoples on this suffering continent.

This is why we consider it essential to meet face to face and to discuss these compelling issues with African American workers and activists, and with the labor movement. We seek to involve you in support of the African people in their determined struggle for a better life.

The Continuations Committee of this Preparatory Session of the Africa Tribunal has decided to send a delegation to the United States to meet all those interested and to open a discussion on these issues.

We urge you to join us in this essential work of preparation for the International Tribunal on Africa and look forward to hearing from you regarding it.

Signed by more than 60 delegates including:

24 members of the Socialist Party of Azania including its president, Lybon Mbasa; Jane Duncan Salim Vally, Workers Organization for Socialist Action (WOSA); Hassen Lorgut, Workers¹ Library and Museum, Johannesburg; Zsan Senan, SYNASFG, Benin; Claude Quenum, SG/UNACOB/CSTB, Benin; Jeff Rampou, MEGWU; Reg Feldman and Barrie Barrow, New Unity Movement; Richard Tiendrebeogo and Gaston Azova, CGT Burkina Faso; Paul Nkunzisana, F.O.R.T.R.A. Burundi; ); Boinaidi Abdul el Ghaniyou, National Union of Professors, Comoros Islands; Zran Senan, SYNASFG, Ivory Coast; Vicente Vilaninfo, Mozambique; Sidibe Assane, Federation of Workers Unions, Niger; Jean Marie Vianney Nzarakurana, Oppressed People¹s Organizations Network, Rwanda; Kote Abou, trade unionist, Senegal; Norbert Gbikpi Benissan, National Union of Independent Trade Unions of Togo (UNSIT); Esther Woode, Zimbabwe; Francois Grandazzi, general secretary, CGT-FO France; Daniel Gluckstein, coordinator, International Liaison Ctte for a Workers International (ILC); Ralph Schoenman, ILC-United States who had been the secretary general of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal on U.S. War Crimes in Indo-China and a president of the International Tribunal on the Debt; Mathari Annegret, Committee to Support the Africa Tribunal, Switzerland; three delegates from Brazil (Bahia, Porto Allegre and Rio de Janiero)

NOTE: For a copy of the final declaration of the Johannesburg Preparatory Meeting (International Tribunal on Africa), please contact