Africa: A captured country/continent?

Africa: A captured country/continent?

By Muhammed Haron *

Looking back: Colonialism – a diabolical divisive force

When reflecting upon Africa’s social history, all the evidence reveal that this continent was cautiously conquered and slowly subjugated by the (proverbial) West’s cunning colonial forces (that is: United Kingdom [UK], Portugal, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy). These treacherous imperialist armies, which emerged over time and that competed with one another by laying claim to ‘newly discovered’ African territories, eventually extended their reach across and into the heart of the continent.

Among those mentioned, the Portuguese, French, and British were the most prominent ones from the mid-18th to the mid-20th centuries; and because of their presence continentally, the regions/countries that they colonized were classified linguistically: those under French occupation were called ‘Francophone’ states; those under the ‘Portuguese’ were Lusophone countries, and those under the British were described as ‘Anglophone’ nation-states.

Now the outcome of these linguistic cum political categorizations, led to each country – depending on the language its citizens speak – aligning itself with its former colonial power to whom its citizen showed socio-political and economic loyalty. The British, for example, established the Commonwealth as a post-colonial forum; and under it, all the English-speaking countries gathered and cooperated with one another recognizing the British Queen (now King) as the Commonwealth’s symbolic organizational head.

Compared to the British, the French and Portuguese did not have such structural set-ups or such symbolic figures; nonetheless, they literally imposed a financial element, namely a ‘tax’ on those states so that they remained under their hegemony. The French-speaking African nations were thus enslaved differently, and they have had to pay an annual ‘tax’; and this was, of course, towards the French government’s economic kitty; basically, enriching it and using the funds to keep a firm hand over its former colonies.

For decades, this was a French compulsory custom; and it is only of late that certain Francophone countries argued against it. These Francophone states became acutely aware that while their economies were struggling and suffering, a portion of their revenue were merrily propping up France’s economy forgetting the extent to which it had already gained from their resources for more than a century!

France, like Britain and Portugal, literally stole the resources from these (Francophone) nation-states without seriously considering the societies of these countries/regions. When France ‘withdrew’ or rather ‘granted’ them their so-called ‘independence,’ the following states, inter alia, emerged: Niger, Mauritania, Central African Republic, and Chad. And to this very day, these states remain poor and still suffer socio-politically and economically as a result of France’s stranglehold over each of them without any relief in sight. They are presently impoverished nations that are saddled with unhealthy environments and burdensome debts.  

Colonial thievery and the post-colonial process

Considering these developments and in all of the territories that were cruelly colonized, these colonizers transformed their economic status because of Africa’s rich resources; these included, inter alia, gold, diamonds, copper, nickel, and platinum; since this coincided with the age of invention and scientific discoveries (that is, the 17th – 19th centuries), they made ample use of these resources by substantially using them to their advantage and enrichment.

The colonizers’ industries blossomed and via these, they not only enriched their overflowing capitals, but they helped to maintain their colonial links with the regions that were under their respective reigns. These colonial empires managed to transform themselves into rich domains at the expense of Africa’s communities that were mainly and plainly poor! On top of cheating and capturing these Africans, these colonizers even went so far as to arrogantly describe the Africans as uncivilized, uncouth, ill-informed, and ill-mannered as well as retrogressive and backward disregarding their vibrant ethnic identities and their rich socio-religious cultures.

So, instead of uplifting and empowering these communities that were composed of diverse ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups, these deceitful imperialist forces opted to keep them in an ‘uncivilized’ state, or rather, they made sure that they remained disempowered; the tendentious relationship, which developed and existed, continued throughout the colonial period (circa 1860a-1960s) and spilled over into the post-colonial era (post 1950s-1990s).

As many of the African lands were ‘freed’ because of the intervention of the liberation movements (funded with socialist cum communist funds) that fought against the colonial empires and their militaries to set-up ‘independent’ nation-states, they became acutely aware that it was difficult to cut ties from these empires as they initially assumed. They, in fact, not only remained on these powers’ post-colonial radar but they continued to be directly and indirectly controlled; one of these was commercial cum economic agreements. By and large, they remained under these empires’ hegemonic clutches paying them taxes (for having been colonized[?]). The question that should be asked is: ‘when is ‘pay-back’ time? Or worded alternatively: ‘when is reparations going to begin?’

Though the question ask is a rhetorical and indeed a critical one, what was posed implied that even though these nation-states ‘gained’ their ‘political’ independence, they were and still are rather heavily reliant on their former colonists’ aid; this politico-economic connection resulted in these African states developing ‘a dependency syndrome’ for, at least, two generations (if not more); in other words, they were captured and continued to depend on the assistance of their former colonial masters from technical know-how to other matters. Besides that, they too contributed financially – through various economic agreements and commercial packages – and this amounted to ‘legal thievery’! This also meant they indirectly aided their former colonizers’ economies, and this is a disgrace to say the least.  

So, they were not only historically and sociologically influenced by the fiendish forces of colonialism, but they were also psychologically affected and economically subjected; the different methods that were used by these colonialists caused deep-seated trauma among the young and the old of Africa’s communities. The eventual outcome of the colonial policies has had a profound effect on diverse segments such as the (colonial) educational system; one that the colonialists controlled, managed, monitored, and manipulated. In addition to this, the imperialist/colonizers’ project resulted in many having had to deal with post-colonial trauma and suffering; an issue that they experience to this day and because of it, there has been a clamor for a ‘process of decolonization’ using the educational system as its vehicle.

Captured colonial minds and the process of decolonization

The colonial powers consciously implemented policies that forced the subjugated colonized communities to serve loyally and show submissive mannerisms to these devious manipulative forces; the ulterior motives of these colonial masters were to essentially enslave these communities both physically, mentally, and of course, financially; and they did so through other ways (such as exporting the ideas and practices as well). Their exportation of their ideas via the book and media (film, documentaries, and electronic/print) industries were ways of capturing the African mind without the African person realizing to what extent he/she was and is captured and, of course, imperiled by these diabolical services.

African communities came to realize rather late – with exceptions of course – to what extent they were and continue to be captured; those who realized from the onset began circulating negative views about the colonial powers’ devious intentions and questionable acts. During the earlier days, the colonized communities lived in fear and opted not to openly critique these powers; and this behavior patterns continued in the post-colonial period too. As these opinions gained traction during the latter period, leading members such as academics and the intelligentsia continued to critically assess the colonial forces’ influence and impact; they narrated their critical thoughts via their academic and educational systems.

The writings of various critical African thinkers such as Franz Fanon influenced members of the liberation movements and their leaders who helped to educate their communities about the colonizers’ toxic teachings and thoughts; these educationists assisted in redirecting their thinking and their focus. One need to read the writings of critical scholars such as Edward Said who penned Orientalism; a process that demonstrated to what extent Arab communities were represented by others and not themselves. Apart from these intellectual input, African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba expressed their disdain for the forces of colonialism; and they critiqued the demonic role that these forces played in keeping the African mind disengaged and disempowered stopping any form of decolonization taking shape.

Since their criticisms were conveyed via various media platforms, their influence became stronger, and the populace identified with these. At the same time, the socio-political landscape radically changed but the umbilical cord that connected the former colonial empire with the former colonized could not easily be cut. For that reason, the ties between the former colonial powers and the independent nation-states continued but with slight modifications; as the nations – and the states – worked towards decolonizing the African minds, they noted numerous challenges.

But amidst these, they sought a variety of methods to find ways of severing the bonds that existed. The coup leaders in Niger, for example, were quite satisfied in kicking France out because they realized the psychological and financial hold it had on the country’s citizens, and the same happened in a few other Francophone states. Similar trends were observed in the Anglophone and Lusophone regions respectively. When the Mozambiquans ousted the Portuguese after a long struggle, they felt relieved and worked as a nation towards reconciliation among rival groups such as Frelimo against Renamo. While similar scenarios were found in other post-colonial nation states, one of the issues that seem to have hampered them from advancing in transforming their societies was the fact that when colonial powers withdrew, they stoked fires for liberation groups to get embroiled in internal conflicts; the Frelimo-Renamo conflict is a case in point. 

It is perhaps important to reiterate a few points as regards the role of the colonial powers: First, they were cunning and shrewd when they devised their policies in Africa. Second, they ensured that whatever policies were implemented that the outcome would be in their favor and not in the interest of the colonized communities. Third, they made certain that whatever resources they discovered belonged to them and that none of the profits were channeled to the indigenous communities.

Fourth, they trained a handful of locals knowing that if they mentored large numbers then they might lose control of their business/commercial projects. Fifth, as they succeeded to fatten their purses through excavation and other methods, they left small amounts for the locals so that they can continue to manipulate them; this implied that the economy was indirectly retained by them and the appointed post-colonial regime could not get out of the signed agreement; they were, albeit, captured!

And the last is that this ‘legal thievery’, which took place over decades, functioned within the internal legal structures that allowed the financial flow to continue unabated as if the set of transactions was and is ‘above board.’ They made sure that the other related acts were in accordance with the(ir) law; they knew that practices could not be challenged by the locals because of their weak and ineffective legal status. It, as a matter of fact, implied that they were legally protected by the legislation that they, of course, subjectively enacted.

Let it be categorically stated that each of these colonial powers have harmed numerous communities across the continent financially, materially, psychologically, and otherwise. If one is asked to produce a list, then several can be generated and itemized to demonstrate tangibly the extent of the mutilation and massacres; terrible acts that were caused over the decades. If one takes the Germans’ Southwest Africa (that is, Namibia) genocide as a case in point or the Italians’ indiscriminate killing in the Northeast African region, then it appears that none of these former colonial forces have had any conscience for what they did then. In fact, instead of making attempts to redress these acts despite the passage of time, they tried to paper over it thinking that current communities will forget about. With the recent genocide of the Zionists in the apartheid state of Israel against the Palestinians, it so happened that the Germans sided with the Zionists. In this instance, the Namibians questioned the German’s unacceptable support for that apartheid regime!   

The post-colonial turn: African nation-states in the global village

As the attention shifts to the post-colonial phase and status of selected Africa’s nation-states, several questions should be posed and some of these are: Since these colonial powers have literally taken – nay ‘stolen’ – African wealth, they made as if these officially belong to them and not to Africa’s indigenous communities from where they were taken/extracted. So, one of the questions is: what about reparations? What amount should be paid? How should these be compensated if an agreement is reached? Who are its beneficiaries? And what amount would be considered enough? What timeframe should be looked at? Though no attempt will be made to answer each one here, they are raised to underscore the nature of reparations if agreed upon.

Leaving these questions aside and reflecting on current developments as well as attitudes, it should be restated that the former colonial empires have been responsible for much of Africa’s severe suffering and horrible heartaches. As a result of these, current nation-states in Africa continue to find themselves at loggerheads with their former colonizers; this has been and still the case with France and its former colonies (such as Algeria and Niger); and this is for good reason. The same occurred with Portugal and its ties with Mozambique and Angola, and with Belgium and its bonds with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.  

Unfortunately, the African Union that represent these nations’ interests has fallen short on delivery and basically failed; in other words, they have not successfully raised Africa’s issues at the international level; they, for example, did not place on the agenda the former colonial empires’ unlisted damages. In essence, the AU has not acted pro-actively in the interest of each and every nation-state across the continent to ensure that relations among the nation-states are smooth running. In this regard, the world has observed over the decades the extent to which regional conflicts unsettled nation-states.

When focusing on North Africa, the thorny relations between Morocco and the Spanish Sahara is an ongoing unsolvable issue; and as one shifts one’s attention to Northeast Africa, the Ethiopians are in a tug-o-war with the Egyptians regarding the dams and waters of the Nile. Turning to West Africa similar conflicts are witnessed between the states and with ECOWAS trying to find solutions with great difficulty. Moving to Central Africa, related conflicts have been recorded. Amidst the growing tensions and conflicts among neighboring Africa states, other extraneous issues were also brought on board the AU’s agenda.

One of these is the fact that the AU political leadership for some weird reason decided to conveniently invite the Zionist state of Israel to join as an observer at all its meetings. This was an unacceptable decision considering the Zionist state’s diabolical role in global affairs and being shielded by the USA whose position in Africa is also of concern. As one evaluates the AU’s stand regarding this apartheid state, the question that one needs to ask is: does the AU leadership not know about this state’s scheming tactics and plans in the international arena? Does the AU not have any knowledge of its divisive role among Africa’s nation-states? It seems strange that it would overrule its members who did not agree on this matter.

Perhaps it is instructive to take South Africa’s recent appearance at the International Court of Justice in The Hague against the Palestinians. At the ACJ, it was proven that the Zionist state had committed and continues to commit genocide; its army massacred thousands of women and children and still arrogantly defends its case! That aside, it is of interest to note that the Zionist companies and businesspersons have been channeling funds into the coffers of a few oppositional political parties; the rationale for this is to get the ANC out of its powerful political seat and have it replaced by the DA and those with whom it cooperates.

They essentially use their monies to pit the political parties against each other. It is an established fact that those with Zionist financial backing are the ones that push its political agenda with the intention of serving the Zionists’ interest handsomely. The question that should be posed is: is the AU leadership so blind about the infernal Zionists’ role that is akin to the role of the former colonial empires diabolically played? The same scenario is playing itself out but in a different way on the world stage.

World stage: New powerful political players and Africa

The current world stage, which consists of 55 African nation-states, has been challenged by new sets of global powers; they include Russia, China, and India that are all members – with Brazil and South Africa – of BRICS (that is, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). With BRICS as a powerful political and economic player, the global stage is somewhat different; when compared to earlier times in which the colonial masters were in charge of Africa’s affairs and outcomes, this time round new political players have emerged; some of them have challenged the USA as the established superpower.

Now that we are going through the process of decolonization that has been hanging over the post-colonial nation-states’ heads, the African nation-states – and those on other continents – appear to have better opportunities in leveraging their sovereignty – or that is how it appears to be. That aside, these nation-states are part of the global village; by implication, this is an expansive environment where two superpowers (USA and USSR) were once in full control of international affairs; during the Cold War period, both of them cunningly conducted proxy wars to protect their respective interests. This scenario has since changed and during that era the nation-states – including all African states that gained independence – were caught up and captured in a geo-political situation in which they had to either side with capitalist USA or with communist USSR.

From the mid-20th century onwards until the post-Cold War period (circa 1989), these states were either pro-USA or pro-USSR; this implied – and simply put – that the trade relations were restricted and that certain attitudes were adopted towards those that were not in their respective camps. Communist Angola, for example, thus did not have ties with capitalist Kenya, or communist aligned Mozambique did not cooperate with capitalist-oriented Botswana; these may be attributed to their ideological differences. The same was witnessed in other parts of the continent where the communists have had a strong influence as compared to the capitalists that lured some nation-states towards their camp; that is, away from wanting to forge ties with communist nation-states.

But as the socio-political landscape altered in the late 20th century and early 21st century, Africa’s nation-states were able to opt for new partners; the global platform was open to various political formations. Egypt, as an example of an independent state, hovered between the USA and Russia (former USSR) for a while; but because of its financial requirements, it naturally leaned towards the USA and its allies. It preferred to have a relationship with the USA instead of Russia because its global status in international affairs. Egypt’s neighbor, Ethiopia, too was challenged in a similar fashion and it too has strengthened its bonds with the West (USA and its allies) but still holding Russia’s commercial hands.

Setting aside Egypt and Ethiopia by taking two other nation states, one finds that both Nigeria and Algeria, which have had historical ties with capitalist Britain and France respectively, had related relations with the USSR; anyhow, their respective relations took a turn by the early 1990s (in the post-Cold War period). They, respectively, struck bilateral relations with Russia – as well as the emerging Central Asian nations – that was finding its feet during the final decade of the 20th century. Nigeria and Algeria, two emerging African economic power houses, thus saw the need to reform and expand their international relations portfolios. Nigeria, which was in the Anglophone camp, had its relationship with the UK, and Algeria had a very thorny relationship with France.

In the post-communist era, they naturally searched for partnerships. Now since Russia had shed its identity as a communist country, the idea of forging ties with Russia was automatically on their cards and they did that without fearing being penalized by their former colonial powers and their western allies. The latter group of allies, however, took advantage of the Russia-Ukraine war (circa 2022-2024) by siding with Ukraine. As far as one could assess, the West’s position was that they wanted to keep Russia in check for two reasons: the one was to weaken Russia economically and the other was to force it to back off politically considering its decline politically. The West had hoped that after the Cold War thawed Russia’s status would have rapidly declined and would not have been in the position to influence developments; this was not to be.

Since the Cold War has long gone, countries seem to find that they have been granted fresh opportunities to choose their commercial and political partners in the international arena. Whilst the USA retained it superpower spot and went unchallenged for a few years, it somehow did not get rid of Russia and it had to deal with it within a changed environment and not as an old foe but as a revived one, a foe that has slightly lost its ability to reshape the world amidst USA’s dominant and challenging hegemony. Apart from Russia, other political players also made inroads into the international arena to challenge the USA and its allies.

Over the past few decades, China gradually opened its borders to pursue commerce and trade, and this was amidst China reshaping its communist image; instead of holding onto traditional communist ideals, it has undertaken reform these by reaching compromises with the capitalist world. So far, this has worked in its interest and the west has welcomed its presence as a manufacturing and producing country. The capitalist environment could not ignore what China brought to the table and many western based companies were even eager open up their manufacturing plants in China because of cheap labor and other factors.

Since China’s industrial sector expanded and transformed rapidly, its companies spread their commercial tentacles across the globe and Africa was included on their agenda. Their Chinese footprints are conspicuous and visible in various parts of Southern and Eastern Africa; they are found in, amongst others, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia, and South Africa. While there was a degree of joy among the Southern African communities, there was also a degree of disgruntlement as regards the Chinese work ethics and its relationship with the locals.

Many encountered problems with the quality of their workmanship and goods; in certain areas, they produced goods such as clothing for cheap; initially they were imported but of late they opened up factories to manufacture their good locally. The downside, despite South Africans being employed, is the fact that the workers were paid salaries that were below the standard rates and this added to the heartaches. The point that one wishes to underline is that China is in Africa and upon evaluation, they fell and continue to fall short of meeting the stipulated standards; and this in spite of the argument that they bring into Africa’s coffers large sums of money, the quality of products leaves much to be desired.  

Apart from the traditional superpowers, a brief word about the emergence of other powerful nation-states would be in order. History records that when one turned the spotlight back to the mid-20th century, the two countries that were often mentioned in the political environment were the USA and the USSR (now Russia [and Central Asia]). In the post-Cold War, few other countries with an interest in Africa, because of the continent’s resources, also joined the fray to get a hand in the continent’s resources. With the Cold War’s disappearance, a fresh concern for some of the strong nation-states is how to lay their hands on Africa’s resources. These few economically and politically powerful states flexed their economic muscles with the purpose of wanting to access these African resources and use it for their projects. While a few of these states were already on the continent as investors, others were opening their pathways to reach the continent’s heart where various minerals are located.

One of the strong emerging powerful countries is South Asia’s India. During the colonial areas India was part of a larger whole but because of the British’s decisions, it split that continent into several nation-states; India, being one of them, exercised its powers as it emerged as one of its most powerful countries not only in that region but on the Asian continent. Despite the country’s sprawling poor communities, India’s economic status has been on an incline. Since India is a BRICS member, it has used this position in various ways; one of it is to extend and deepen its roots onto African soil.

Earlier decades, it has had peripheral bonds with the inner regions of that continent; it had, however, reasonably strong ties with the coastal nation-states such as Kenya and Indian-ocean islands that included Mauritius, Re-Union, Seychelles, Comoros, and the Maldives. Since India has moved up the ranks economically, it had the necessary weight and clout to also wield its powers politically in and beyond that region. Since it needed to feed its large population, it has had to find agricultural land and where did it go? It went to Africa where it secured agricultural lands to produce for them the necessary crops; this was, moreover, viewed as a challenge by the African nation-states that are also in need of the same produce.  

Besides India having expanded its tentacles across the seas and land to enter and crisscross African soil, other relatively competitive nation-states such as Türkiye (formerly referred to as Turkey) have also extended its wings to create partnerships with the continent’s countries. Since Türkiye’s forbears, i.e., the Ottoman Turks, had ties with North African countries and also made previous forays into east African countries, it was not unfamiliar territory. Türkiye, in fact, used these historical ties as a basis for renewing its commercial connections. Under Tayyib Erdogan’s current reign as president, Türkiye managed to strengthen its ties with several of them; and these thus enhanced its African profile.

Being a Muslim state as compared to India and China that are driven by their dominant religious-cultural traditions, namely Hinduism and Confucianism, Turkiye helped to shape the views of Islam across Africa. On the one hand, Muslim Africa – if one may be permitted to describe parts of it in this manner – has been inspired and spurred on by Türkiye’s presence. They thus deepened these through various structures. Türkiye’s commercial companies and educational institutions used these diplomatic cum economic ties as a foundation for building and transforming Turkiye-Africa relations. If one takes South Africa as an example, it is quite interesting to observe that Turkiye has increased its relations on different levels and this thus bodes well for their bilateral relations.

On the whole, Türkiye’s presence or representation is witnessed in all parts of the African continent and its relations is qualitatively different from that of the Chinese; a nation that struck a different relationship with African nation-states through strong economic ties. China, since its rise as an economic power over the past few decades, succeeded to increase its export of goods to Africa; though some question the quality of their goods, they have maintained to export a variety of products ranging from cars to textiles. In a sense, China has not only been competing with India and Türkiye for the African market, but it has also been competing with the USA (and its allies) that has had and continues to have a strong hold over many African states.

From the time the former colonial powers slackened their bonds with the continent, the USA increased its ties. As a result, the relationship via imports and exports have helped to construct an acceptable relationship. But apart from exporting products such as cocoa and others to the USA, the latter had shrewdly set up military bases across the continent; these were to maintain its dominance and influence across the continent. It has employed its military resources to maintain and sustain its relations. Because of its interest in Africa’s rich resources, the USA has cleverly created AFRICOM as its military representative.

This military structure was established to basically secure the USA’s interests wherever it needed military support. It, for example, increased its presence in the SAHEL where lots of new minerals were discovered; it thus employed AFRICOM to cordon off areas that prohibited nomads to roam; the outcome of these restrictive policies gave rise to several groups being categorized as ‘terrorists’; it was a convenient pretext to continue with their activities such as extracting resources from certain areas illegally. This reminds one of the colonial powers’ questionable activities that revealed that they did exactly what the USA and its allies are doing at present. 

Having provided a fairly detailed discourse about Africa and the political powers that vied with one another for the resources of the continent, the essay ends with a controversial issue. In certain post-colonial circles and during the global village era, it is rather strange to hear individuals making reference to the continent as if it is one country! For this reason, a website was set up with that title and subsequently a book was published with that title. Now considering these developments, one was of the view that it might be useful to conclude with the focus on this title.

Towards a conclusion: ‘Africa is not a country’

As one wraps up this essay, there are a few points that disturb one. The first is that when the west and east – at times – refer to Africa, there is a tendency to describe it as a ‘country.’ The mere fact that the continent is pictured in this manner smacks off a degree of arrogance if not self-righteousness! The second is that both the west and east adopt the view that they can enter the continent and pick and choose from it whatever they desire and whenever they wish. They assume that since they are far better off financially, they can waltz into an African country and demand bilateral relations that suite them and short-change the host.

The third is that while they are aware that the African country with which they have ties is poor – as a result of colonial thievery and superpower debauchery through proxy structures and other means, they ignore the plight of the continent’s citizens and their cultures without setting up empowerment structures to transform them. They can by and large strike agreements that is a win-win situation for both instead of the other way round where the investor gains and the host country/company loses out.

From what one could gather in the international relations arena, there seems to be the notion that Africa is there for the taking and that all of Africa’s communities have one identity, one culture, and one ethnic grouping. It suggests that this arrogant attitude and understanding has led to treating Africa in a scornful manner. The outcome of this resulted in the media outlets – past and present – persisting in perpetuating negative notions of the continent; these types of responses and understandings should come to an end, and it is time that the west and east respect the continent and its peoples!

* Director of International Relations: International Peace College of South Africa

United World International

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May 2024