From the October 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
The tourist industry is increasingly playing a significant role in the economies of many African countries. This is evidenced by the innovative programmes that are, day-in-day-out, being introduced to attract tourists. In Ghana there is what is dubbed PANAFEST (Pan African Festival) and in Gambia the Roots Homecoming Festival is of premium importance. In fact many governments claim that the tourist industry is one of their major if not the main foreign currency earners. Huge sums of money are therefore spent to develop historical and exotic monuments and spots.
It is important to understand that in this part of the world tourism is seen by the authorities to mean Americans and Europeans coming to Africa for a few weeks or months for holidays. The official view of tourism being a mainstay of the economy, however, crumbles in the face of the massive evidence of negative consequences of the industry on the people of Africa. Governments maintain that the tourist industry generates employment for their citizens. But a closer look at the so-called employment opportunities reveals a lot. Many of those considered as employed are tourist guides or "bumpsters". In most cases these youth are not salaried.
They hang about the hotels and beaches and if lucky they find a tourist who wishes to be shown about town. At the end of the day the "lucky" bumpster gets a tip. There are a few who get employed in the hotels and restaurants as cleaners and cooks. Others more fortunate than the two latter groups, carve and sell artefacts to the tourists. Unfortunately, tourism is a seasonal affair and so during the off-season most of these "employed" youth are unemployed and many resort to petty crime to survive.
Another detrimental effect associated with tourism in Africa but which government officials turn a blind eye to is the introduction of the young ones to "heavy spending". This particularly affects those living in and around areas of high tourist concentration. In their search for pleasure and heavily loaded with pounds sterling, dollars, marks, etc, they easily entice the youth—male and female alike—to be instruments of sex. They pay generously as the youth fast become spendthrifts. When these partners leave for home the children, used to big spending, resort to petty crime.
It is also known, especially from the high frequency of arrests at local airports, that a good lot of these tourists and tourist agents are drug traffickers. The industry provides a favourable climate for the drug business. Serving as safe havens and transit points these poor African countries, which have elevated tourism to the status of major sponsor of government programmes only expose their youth to hard drugs. Though not originally meant to be consumed here, drugs easily find their way into the local market.
Thus, contrary to what the governments claim, the cumulative adverse effects of the activities of tourists and tourism on the people far outweighs the scanty revenue derived. Having gotten used to "big money", many youth prefer running after tourists to going to school. There is a growing culture of begging among the people as everyone has mastered the tricks of squeezing "something small" from tourists. Tourist infrastructure—hotels, casinos, restaurants, bars, etc become breeding grounds for prostitution, gambling, drug abuse, petty thievery, etc. These, coupled with the heavy cost of treating people with STDs, the refusal of the youth to attend school, arming the security forces to fight crime, etc certainly indicate that governments lose rather than gain from this type of tourism.
If African governments do not derive as much as they claim, who then does? To answer this question one needs to answer a second, more pertinent question: is tourism today organised for people to enjoy their leisure or is it organised to make profit? If it is organised purposely for people to enjoy, then no tourist would need to pay money to come to Africa, nor would they need to pay for hotel accommodation and food. Therefore one can safely conclude that tourism is organised for the sole aim of making profit.
Tourism is a business venture undertaken by the owners of the means of production—in this case the aircraft, hotels, bars and restaurants, etc. Governments only come in to play their historical role of making sure that the owners of the means of producing the pleasure of tourism reap their profits in a peaceful environment.
Thus this exploitation of the workers and youth of African countries is made possible because they do not own the airlines, hotels, etc-—the means of producing the wealth of tourism. To ensure that such exploitation is halted the means of production must be commonly owned. Now since this system where a few people are able to exclusively possess the means of production is global, destroying it cannot be an African affair. The struggle to do away with the profit system (and make, for instance, the tourist industry benefit everyone) must be fought on two planes. On the one hand it should be an overall struggle encompassing all aspects of life—healthcare, feeding, clothing, education, protecting the environment, tourism, etc. On the other hand such a struggle must involve the concerted action of all workers of the world. There is the need for workers to understand the class struggle; to get actively and consciously involved in it; to persuade others to join in; and with a majority of willing members the struggle will be won.