The greatest enemy of progress in Africa is neocolonialism
Perhaps the most pressing issue for Africans in the 21st century concerns the ownership by Africans of their own resources, political agendas, economic trajectories, cultural and social dynamics. Who dictates the course of events on the African continent? Are African leaders independent of the desire for external recognition? Is Africa dominated from the outside?
These are pertinent questions to ponder as Africa is viewed with contempt – being seen as the backwaters of civilization where poverty is inseparable from the definition of what Africa is. But here is a continent with everything the world needs: precious stones and minerals, timber, good land and human capital. Despite these abundant natural blessings, African countries have struggled to create equal opportunities for their people regarding a dignified existence. And in addressing this sensitive issue, it is impossible not to mention the history of imperial colonialism where the continent was subjected to European domination through brutal colonial conquests.
Colonialism meant that white private capital dominated the economies of the new African political entities – clustered haphazardly through the unilateral Berlin conference of 1884-85. Colonialists set up large agricultural enterprises [white commercial farming was not designed to feed Africans but global capitalist markets; and communal farming was inadequate to cater for the needs of African peoples]. These companies made super profits because Africans provided the cheapest labor in the world. The same applied to the creation of mining companies – the colonialists extracted all the minerals from Africa via the same cheap labor for the global capitalist markets. The value of white-owned mining companies on the Johannesburg, New York and London stock markets has skyrocketed. Infrastructures [roads, railways, airports, buildings, etc.] posed by the colonialists – using the cheap labor of Africans – was not designed for Africans to profit but to extract as much private profit as possible.
The triumph of nationalist liberation struggles did not mark the end of this model. Foreign capitalists retained their well-established interests in all aspects of African economic life. Political independence did not necessarily inaugurate real emancipatory economic freedoms. Although the leaders of independent African countries such as Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere realized that the capitalists of the Global North retained control of Africa and tried to implement policies for the universal public good, they were frustrated. and sabotaged by international private capital. What was the point of nationalizations and equality when it disrupted the flow of private capital and profits for the colonialists?
This is what Kwame Nkrumah rightly envisioned – neocolonialism. For Nkrumah, neocolonialism was the cruelest and most dangerous form of imperial domination hidden under the pretext of flag independence. Newly independent African countries have failed to wean themselves from the domination of their imperial / colonial masters – relying on them to keep their economies functioning. Yet the same colonial masters had little interest in altruistically helping African countries develop social policies in areas such as health, education and agriculture. African leaders have no control over their own economies – economies are controlled from the outside.
What is called [foreign direct] investment is a grim material reality for Africa because this investment, through foreign capital, is used to maximize the profits of rich countries when no development takes place at all. Africa’s abundant natural resources (which are said to advance Africa’s industrial prowess) are thus used by foreign capital to enrich developed countries – both West and East. Africa only receives finished products. All of this translates into deepening inequalities and poverty – “neocolonialism is the worst form of imperialism”. Neocolonialism is Africa’s greatest enemy. The colonial project never ended, it simply assumed more subtle and nuanced forms of domination that include foreign aid.
Neocolonialism is Africa’s greatest challenge in the 21st century. Nothing has changed since the days of colonialism. The Global North has decided to abandon coercive measures to exploit Africa in favor of soft approaches through ruthless diplomacy based on unequal negotiating grounds. Neocolonial domination led institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to impose privatization, austerity, deregulation, trade liberalization under the guise of structural adjustment programs. This has only resulted in the alienation of the African population which is economically deprived.
The answer to the question of neocolonialism lies in the unity rooted in Pan-Africanism. Africa must adopt a concerted effort to protect its wealth from exploitation by foreign private capital. The military bases of foreign powers such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and China must be dismantled for the continent to become truly and completely free in economic and political terms.