“The Europeans wanted gold and slaves like everybody else. But at the same time they wanted statues put up to themselves as people who have done good things for the slaves. At the end, they got both the slaves and the statues.” V.S Naipauls , A Bend in the River.
One of the often touted reasons for the perennial underdevelopment of Africa has been the argument that Africa has lacked good quality leaders as compared to Asia and in the Western world.
Blessed with vast natural resources, it has been argued that Africa’s development has been severely hampered by a worrisome lack or dearth of selfless, altruistic and visionary characters in leadership.
Whereas this school of thought has become the popular narrative in the discussion of the myriad of challenges confronting Africa, other viewpoints espoused particularly by scholars of African descent have emerged to confront these widely held and “broadly” accepted assertions and narratives.
In the considered view of these scholars, Africa’s weak position in the global system, which has accounted for its underdevelopment cannot be attributed to or blamed on poor leadership without appreciating the historical context and nuances.
Illustrious academics like Walter Rodney and Franz Fanon are clear in their minds and have amplified same through their writings that forces greater than leadership provided by Africans were most culpable and ought to take full responsibility for the current mess the continent finds itself. Both are unanimous in blaming the colonial project for the massive exploitation of Africa’s human and natural resources and leaving it in a perennial state of underdevelopment.
In his seminal book, “How Europe underdeveloped Africa”, Walter Rodney describes how European colonial regimes deliberately exploited and underdeveloped Africa. Rodney further argues throughout the book that natural resources of Africans were exploited and appropriated towards the development of Europe at the “same rate that Europe underdeveloped Africa.”
Rodney describes Africa’s lack of development or “mal-development” as a direct product of imperialism and not as a result or consequence of geography or location.
He goes on to argue that a combination of power politics and economic exploitation of Africa by Europeans led to the poor state of Africa’s political and economic development evident in the 20th century.
Franz Fanon on the other hand writes eruditely about the effects of colonialism on the psyche of the African and how it influences cultural formations and political organisation. In his brutally Frank manner, Fanon defines what he calls the European concept as one that is riddled with violence and subjugation in his book, The Wretched of the Earth.
Power Politics/ Realpolitik
Power Politics is a theory of power in international relations which contends that distributions of power and national interests, or changes to those distributions, are fundamental causes of war and of system stability.
As you might be aware the concept of power politics provides a way of understanding systems of international relations. Power Politics is the vehicle through which States compete for the world’s limited resources and it is to the individual State’s advantage to be manifestly able to harm others.
At the heart of power politics is the practice of national self-interest over the interests of others (including the country that is blessed with vast natural resources or technology) and this may include using threats such as economic, political or military aggression to protect one’s national interest.
Inextricably linked to the concept of power politics is the doctrine of realpolitik. Widely viewed as the dark and hidden underbelly of International politics, realpolitik is a system of politics that focuses on pragmatism and is not necessarily swayed, influenced or guided by moral considerations.
Economic Exploitation of Africa
The story of Africa’s history with poverty and underdevelopment cannot be told without taking into account centuries of economic exploitation of her vast resources by the great powers in the global system.
A United Nations Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA) report on the complicity of foreign powers in the economic exploitation of mineral resources in Africa makes grim reading.
According to the author of the report, Dr. G.M Hamid, the exploitation and sale of Africa’s natural resources to Western Corporations have done little to lift Africans out of the clutches of endemic poverty and underdevelopment.
“The rich mineral wealth of Africa, which is briefly examined in Section 1 of this paper, has occupied a prominent place in the capitalist countries for the military conquest, political domination and economic exploitation of the “black” continent.”
“The military conquest of African Countries by the European imperialist powers in the 19th century essentially based on superior military technology was the necessary pre-requisite for the political domination and hence the economic exploitation of their human and natural resources.”
The question is how can a continent whose natural resources have been consistently exploited for centuries through military conquest and other well rehearsed schemes of political domination be able to recover from such wanton devastation of their economies?
Dr. Hamid presents further damning evidence. Read on:
“The foreign companies supported by their colonial governments have used all possible ways and means to extract the maximum possible economic surplus out of the African colonies. The ways and means of exploitation have taken different forms, throughout the century, violent and non-violent, legal, illegal, economic, non-economic forms but the content remained the same.”
Regrettably, several decades later, the approach or methodology (ways and means) being used to extract Africa’s resources for the benefit of countries in the Global North have gone through some alterations but the objective remains the same.
Watch for Part 2.