A Colonial Carol: The Hypocritical Basis for Sustainable Development

Zafirah Kesington

By Zafirah Kesington, GLOBUS Correspondent

“The west was built on racism” – Kehinde Andrews [1]

A bold statement, but one that is completely necessary and valid in its assertion. As I will outline, not only is the West built on racism, it is sustained by the remnants of neo-colonialism and dependent on the pillaging of the African continent. Stemming from this ideal, I have identified three “Ghosts” that haunt talks of development. Much like the title suggests, the Colonial Ghosts draw parallels to the ghosts from Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, and are aptly named in this article: The Ghost of Colonial Past, The Ghost of Colonial Present and The Ghost of Colonial Yet to Come.

Tackling each “Ghost” will be crucial in understanding how Africa has evolved to its current standing, and facilitating a critical assessment of how the continent can move from its present position in the world’s system to one in which it is more stable and independent; specifically, through a departure from influence of the Western world.

“De ting wey black no good. Na foreign things them dey like” – Fela Kuti [2]

The Ghost of Colonial Past can be identified as the act of colonialism itself. The combination of imperialism, colonialism and slavery presents the establishment of the initial links that tie Africa to their previous colonial masters. These preliminary acts instilled relations of subordination and authority which have had adverse effects on the African continent and have followed into present day interactions.

Aside from the horrors faced by African people, including but not limited to the killings of an estimated 10-15 million Congolese people (Gerdziunas, 2017), the African continent also suffered economically. Particularly, the substitution of local goods with European manufactured goods signals the beginning of decades long relations of unequal trade (Settles, 1996). The culmination of these different factors has led to a continent that depended and ultimately still depends on the Global North to refine raw materials- made locally- into industrial goods sold back at disproportionately higher prices that were, and still are essential to operate in an increasingly globalized world.

It must also be noted that colonialism “was not just about economic subjugation, but about the ability to wrest control of the local economy from African rulers” (Settles, 1996). Rather than developing the country alongside colonial practices, technological and industrial development previously occurring was stalled and the focus remained on strengthening the European powers. This was accomplished through profits gained from the increased dependence of colonized nations on imported goods, and the pillaging of resources to fuel the Industrial Revolution, all at the detriment of local African power bases.

The effects of this can be recognised in conflict (Bond and Dor, 2003), corrupt governments (Angeles and Neanidis, 2014) and the creation and maintenance of the ‘underdeveloped’ world (Mizuno and Okazawa, 2009). The imposition of varying imperialist and colonial rules, whether it be direct, indirect or forced assimilation have created economic and political systems strife with problems and poor social conditions that operate on the backs of inequality. Furthermore, the creation of a ‘colonial mentality’ appears to be another prominent effect of colonial rule, a mentality that is referenced in the aforementioned Fela Kuti quote and has enabled the Global North to dominate global institutions for so long (Ngugi, 2017).

In the classic tale that mirrors this article, Scrooge “demands to be shown no more.” However, in a similar fashion to the tale, the story does not end here. The Present must be explored and expanded on to provide clarity to how the remnants of colonialism allowed the rise of neoliberalism that further contributes to Africa’s seemingly eternal developing state.

“Them don release you now. But you never release yourself.” – Fela Kuti

The Ghost of Colonial Present feeds on the remnants of neoliberalism and how it has influenced African economies today, in ways that prohibit appropriate development. Additionally, it considers on plundering of African resources as a supplementary obstacle to development. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge two children; Ignorance and Want, which form the basis of the Ghost of Colonial Present.

Neoliberalism, presented as a great advantage to African economies through its implementation of strategies such as export-led policies, and its heavy focus on the free market and trade liberalization, has only served as a cover for a shift from colonialism to neo-colonialism. The gap between the Global North and South has been amplified to such an extent that for at least five years preceding the financial crisis of 2007-8 “the global South transferred financial resources to the North” (Ghosh, 2017), without the South deriving benefits.

Moreover, the focus on export-oriented policies resulted in unequal terms of terms trade that negatively affected African countries. In these countries, the terms of trade – the relative prices of exports and imports – fell by 4% per year, the trend continuing until 1998, when commodity prices were at their lowest levels since the Great Depression (Bond and Dor, 2003). Export-led growth also led to income loss during the 1970s and 1980s at nearly 4% of GDP which was about as twice as high as that of other countries (Bond and Dor, 2003). It must also be noted that more than three quarters of all Africa’s trade is with developed countries (Bond and Dor, 2003) which further serves to show the connections between the two entities.

It is important to recognize how these policies have failed to benefit those most disadvantaged, especially since the imposition of neoliberalism has contributed greatly to the economic and political climate of today’s society. Neoliberalism in this instance represents both Ignorance and Want; Ignorance in the sense that the Western world appears immune to the effect that trade policies have had on the African continent, as they are blindly fuelled by their Want for the strengthening of their own economies regardless of the impacts it may have on trading partners. The benefits gained are selfish and serve to reinforce the status of underdeveloped countries that are constantly being taken advantage of.

Editors’ Note: For further information on the theory of underdevelopment, see Frohly, 2018

In reference to the second Fela Kuti quote, the blame cannot solely be placed on Western powers. The current situation can also be attributed to the failings of African leaders. Reluctance to escape from colonial ‘clutches’ have resulted in a continent that consistently looks to the Western world to survive. Perhaps through trading with other African counterparts who show signs of similar models of economic growth, the African nations can flourish. Yet, appropriate detachment is not being explored. This can be credited to years of colonial rule that have resulted in political instability with corrupt government officials relying on such one-sided deals to fatten their pockets (Bujra, 2002).  Therefore, the child Want can be recognized here also, as the greed of these corrupt officials is a prohibitor of African development.

“If you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through mistakes”- African Proverb

The Ghost of Colonial Yet to Come is one that is entirely hypothetical in its musings, being that the events of which it concerns are yet to occur. From this, one is able to take any stance in attempt to provide a sense of clarity to the Western World. In this instance, the stance considered is that the African world departs from Western suppression and hurtles towards self-sufficiency in the near future.

In the event that Africa realises and capitalises on its true potential, where would that leave the West? South Africa has potential mineral wealth of $2.5 trillion, which rises to a potential $24 trillion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Curtis and Jones, 2017). Relating to Africa in its entirety, research shows that “101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange control an identified $1.05 trillion worth of resources in Africa in just five commodities” (Curtis and Jones, 2017). A transfer of control back to African countries has the ability to further enrich them. Furthermore, illicit financial flows which amount to “around 6.1% of the continent’s entire GDP”, and are valued at $68 billion, act as a further deterrent to appropriate development within Africa (Curtis and Jones, 2017).  The imposition of regulations and restructuring of ownership have the ability to create wealth for Africa, which can in turn lead to investments and improvement in the overall quality of life and economic position. When Africa recognises its value for what it truly is, does the West honestly believe that after years of oppression, that Africa will willingly share its wealth? Perhaps blasting the Western world with the reality of their potentially miserable future is the only way in which Africa can be discharged from its clutches. [3]

The decolonisation – as one can’t justly say that Africa was every truly removed from the West’s sphere of influence – of Africa would serve as a wake-up call to the Global North.  At the end of A Christmas Carol, we observe Scrooge’s transformation into a kind-hearted and generous individual. Is it too presumptuous to suggest that when confronted with the centuries of their maltreatment of African nations, the Western world would see the error of their ways and hasten to reverse their faults through appropriate reimbursement? (See Guardian, 2017; Guardian, 2015; Osabu-Kle, 2000 for more on reparations) Maybe it is – but when confronted with the possibility of a future in which the West is no longer the dominator but instead the dominated, surely the Western world would hasten to lift its thumb from Africa. At the threat of its demise, it can be projected that suddenly, talks of credible trade deals and equity in global systems will become the forefront of discourse and discussions, once more relating to the selfish nature of the Western world.

In relation to the last quote and summation of the article in its entirety, for years the Western world has been voluntarily and selectively blind to its grave mistakes in its relations with Africa through colonialism, neo-colonialism, imperialism, slavery, and neoliberalism. Until they open their eyes and acknowledge what they have done and appropriately reverse the damage, the West will continue to make mistakes until the final mistake is one that they cannot return from. As to how or when the ultimate mistake is recognized or overcome, only time will tell. Things need to change: the question is – to you, the reader, and more broadly, to the Western world – what are you willing to do to change things?

Endnotes

[1] “Kehinde Andrews is associate professor in sociology at Birmingham City University. His research specialism is race and racism and is author of ‘Resisting Racism: Race, Inequality and the Black Supplementary School Movement’ (2013) and co-editor of ‘Blackness in Britain’ (2016)” – (Guardian, 2017)

[2] Fela Kuti is a Nigerian human rights activist and musician, best known for his strong influence on and contribution to the Afrobeat music genre- a style which he mostly created-  alongside his vocal criticism of the corruption present in the Nigerian government, both in his music and in newspapers throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Most of his music, including the song “Colonial Mentality” in which this quote originates from, is sung in Pidgin English (also known as “Broken English”), a colloquial English-based language that is spoken widely across Nigeria.

[3] However, it is important to acknowledge the implications for sustainable development that such a venture would create. In the event that the total value of mineral resources is mined and later refined, a great deal of energy and other resources such as fossil fuels will be required for production which will certainly have a largely negative impact on the environment, creating a sort of ‘Industrial Revolution 2.0’ (Todd Olive, 2018) with similar, potentially enhanced effects observed from the first Industrial Revolution. Therefore, if this hypothetical situation should become a reality, measures need to be implemented to mitigate and reduce such harmful consequences.

Header Image: Illustration of Scrooge and a Ghost (Source: BBC)

References

Angeles, L. and Neanidis, K. (2014). The Persistent Effect of Colonialism on Corruption. Economica, 82(326).

Andrews, K. (2017). The west’s wealth is based on slavery. Reparations should be paid | Kehinde Andrews. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/28/slavery-reparations-west-wealth-equality-world-race

Bond, P. and Dor, G. (2003). Neoliberalism and Poverty Reduction Strategies in Africa. [online] Equinetafrica.org. Available at: http://equinetafrica.org/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/DIS4trade.pdf

Bujra, A. (2002). African Conflicts: Their Causes and Their Political and Social Environment.

[ebook] Addis Ababa: Development Policy Management Forum (DPMF), pp.19-20. Available at: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.678.4533&rep=rep1&type=pdf [Accessed 14 Nov. 2018].

Curtis, M. and Jones, T. (2017). Honest Accounts 2017- How the world profits from Africa’s Wealth. [online] Globaljustice.org.uk. Available at: https://www.globaljustice.org.uk//sites/default/files/files/resources/honest_accounts_2017_web_final_updated.pdf

Dickens, C. and Leech, J. (2011). Christmas books. [London]: Folio Society.

Gerdziunas, B. (2017). Belgium’s Genocidal Colonial Legacy Haunts the Country’s Future. [online] The Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/belgiums-genocidal-colonial-legacy-haunts-the-country-s-future-a7984191.html [Accessed 2 Nov. 2018].

Ghosh, J. (2017). Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?. [online] Redpepper.org.uk. Available at: https://www.redpepper.org.uk/essay-after-neoliberalism-what-next/

Mizuno, N. and Okazawa, R. (2009). Colonial experience and postcolonialunderdevelopment in Africa. Public Choice, 141(3-4), pp.405-419.

Ngugi, F. (2017). A Post-Colonial Mentality Persists in Africa. [online] Face2Face Africa.Available at: https://face2faceafrica.com/article/post-colonial-mindset-africa [Accessed 15 Nov. 2018].

Settles, Joshua Dwayne. (1996). “The Impact of Colonialism on African EconomicDevelopment”. University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects. https://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_chanhonoproj/182

[1] “Kehinde Andrews is associate professor in sociology at Birmingham City University. His research specialism is race and racism and is author of ‘Resisting Racism: Race, Inequality and the Black Supplementary School Movement’ (2013) and co-editor of ‘Blackness in Britain’ (2016)” – (theguardian.com, 2017)

[2] Fela Kuti is a Nigerian human rights activist and musician, best known for his strong influence on and contribution to the Afrobeat music genre- a style which he mostly created-  alongside his vocal criticism of the corruption present in the Nigerian government, both in his music and in newspapers throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Most of his music, including the song “Colonial Mentality” in which this quote originates from, is sung in Pidgin English (also known as “Broken English”), a colloquial English-based language that is spoken widely across Nigeria.

[i] However, it is important to acknowledge the implications for sustainable development that such a venture would create. In the event that the total value of mineral resources is mined and later refined, a great deal of energy and other resources such as fossil fuels will be required for production which will certainly have a largely negative impact on the environment, creating a sort of ‘Industrial Revolution 2.0’ (Todd Olive, 2018) with similar, potentially enhanced effects observed from the first Industrial Revolution. Therefore, if this hypothetical situation should become a reality, measures need to be implemented to mitigate and reduce such harmful consequences.

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