The Post-Colonial World Outlook in Africa: From Colonialism to Neocolonialism?
During the colonial era, vast regions of Africa and Asia were taken over and subsequently dominated by the more powerful western nations. In essence, the main agenda of colonialism was exploitative â€“ with economically stronger nations seeking to exert control over weaker and less developed countries so as to exploit both their human and natural resources. Also, colonial powers deemed their colonies as viable markets for their products. The cultural and social aspects of the subjugated countries were affected and adapted in significant ways, with the said countries being forced to embrace the cultural, religious, as well as social ideals of the colonial countries. Most of the dominated countries got their independence back by way of concessions, compromise, or force â€“ giving way to the post-colonial era. During the postcolonial era, former colonies attempted to claim their autonomy back, with some attempting to build systems and structures of governance that were largely indigenous and reflective of their specific situations and needs. Neocolonialism took form during this post-colonial period.
In essence colonialism could be defined as â€œa structured relationship of domination and subordinationâ€¦ where the relationship is established and maintained to serve the interests of all or part of the dominant groupâ€ (Trifonas, 2003, p. 12). In that regard, therefore, colonialism resulted from a foreign ruling stateâ€™s total political dominance over the dominated country. Towards this end, the political power of the society was monopolized by the ruling state and legal structures were established to secure this political power. It is important to note that colonial rule effectively made the dominated countries fully dependent on a foreign power for sustenance (Trifonas, 2003). It is for this reason that gaining independence did not set the newly independent states on a path to self-determination and autonomy â€“ especially from a political and economic perspective. With end of the colonial rule, most of the newly independent states still needed the support of the stronger countries.
Neocolonialism, on the other hand, as Lagan (2017) points out, has been defined as â€œthe continuation of external control over African territories by newer and more subtle methods than that exercised under formal Empireâ€ (4). In that regard, therefore, neocolonialism is perceived when the economic as well as political influence over a given society persists beyond formal domination. In this case, the said persistence occurs despite there being no formal political control over the concerned society. The emergence of neocolonialism in most societies could hypothetically be deemed to be a consequence of the end of colonialism in the 20th century. In this case, Lagan (2017) is of the opinion that it could be argued that former colonial masters and emerging economic powerhouses have systematically sought to reestablish control in some jurisdictions without necessarily assuming actual colonial rule. With their economic authority, such nations have largely been successful in extending their influence in Third World nations.
Like is the case in many African nations, Burkina Faso was historically deemed to be an agrarian state. It is, however, important to note that the country has accelerated its production of various minerals in recent years. These include, but they are not limited to, pumice, granite, dolomite, and marble. Further, the country has sizeable gold reserves. Despite the abundance of natural resources, the country is still largely underdeveloped, with the unemployment rate remaining quite high. It is instructive to note that the countryâ€™s ties to France remain close. Could Burkina Faso, like many other African states that still maintain close relations with former colonial powers, be a case study of modern-day colonialism, or more specifically, neocolonialism? In reference to Burkina Fasoâ€™s situation, Thomas Sankara, Burkina Fasoâ€™s president from 1983-1987, pointed out that â€œthe greatest difficulty we have faced is the neocolonial way of thinking that exists in this countryâ€¦ we are colonized by a country, Franceâ€¦â€ (Harsch, 2014, p. 109). Thus although Burkina Faso, like many other African countries, was regarded an independent country, its former colonial power was still the countryâ€™s modern-day colonial master.
Essentially, the transitions that have been witnessed from the slave trade period to the colonial period, and now the neocolonialism era have done little to remedy the exploitative relationship between developed countries and the less developed nations. As a matter of fact, the said transitions only relate to the mechanics of the unfair engagements. According to Mukhtar, Kura, Abba, and Ahmed (2013), â€œthe external slave trade (especially between Africa on the one hand and Europe and the New World on the other) and colonialism were two important episodes that markedly affected the economic development of the African continent during the last five centuriesâ€ (221). In essence, slavery was largely focused on the exploitation of human capital â€“ whereby captured natives were expatriated to provide labor in diverse settings. For instance, European economies during the slave trade era were in need of sufficient labor to exploit vast and fertile lands they had seized in the Americas.
According to Mukhtar, Kura, Abba, and Ahmed (2013), agricultural exploits in the Mediterranean, particularly sugar plantations, were largely powered by the trans-Saharan slave trade. At the same time, scores of other slaves were sent to various other regions to serve owners. The slave trade era ushered in yet another exploitative colonial era. As Mukhtar, Kura, Abba, and Ahmed (2013) observe, the abolishment of slave trade was largely spearheaded by Britain in the 19th century. In the words of the authors, the transition from slave trade to colonialism was in essence informed and fueled by â€œthe realization of Britain that instead of transporting the Africans to the New World to work under service condition in white-owned plantations, it was better to leave the Africans where they were and encourage them to produce what was needed by British industriesâ€ (220). During both periods, countries that were once prosperous ended up being impoverished. A perfect example on this front would be India. According to Thompson and Garratt (1999), there are numerous references from early writers that indicate that India was better of prior to the being colonized by the British. One such writer is Tavernier. In his account, Tavernier points out that â€œeven in the smallest villages, rice, flour, butter, milk, beans, and other vegetables, sugar, and other sweeteners, dry and liquid, can be procured in abundanceâ€ (Thompson and Garratt, 1999, p. 424).
Contrary to the expectations of social scientists, former colonies found it difficult to implement sound development agendas on attaining independence. Various viewpoints have been advanced in an attempt to explain this phenomenon. According to Dwyer (2018), most of the former colonies had vast and fertile agricultural lands, which effectively made them agricultural powerhouses. Burkina Faso, like many other Africa countries at the time was largely agrarian. This effectively meant that with the exit of the colonial nations, agricultural produce became the key export and an important foreign exchange earner. Due to the lack of resources as well as capital to produce other goods for continued modernization, specifically electronic goods, most of the said countries became net importers of electronic goods. This led to more dependence on the stronger and more developed nations, and hence the emergence of neo-colonialism. According to Dwyer (2018), there are numerous instances of developed nation interventions throughout Africa, as well as the Middle East, that could thwart Africaâ€™s development agenda. This is known as the dependence theory, and it is largely founded on the resulting negative balance of payments resulting from warped transactions of an economic nature. There is also the foreign aid theory. In this case, neocolonialism is deemed to be a consequence of foreign aid, whereby after the exit of colonial powers, former colonies deemed it fit to enlist foreign aid so as to further advance the development agenda. Soon a veritable link was created between the providers of aid and the countries in need of such aid. Those advancing this point of view, like Lagan (2017), are of the opinion that loans constitute a significant portion of foreign aid. In essence, the said loans bear high interest rates. Accordingly, Sankara was of the opinion that â€œdebt is a cleverly managed re-conquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rulesâ€¦ thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say a true slaveâ€ (Harsch, 2014, p. 174). Towards this end, therefore, it can be argued that the vicious circle of seeking loans and the subsequent repayment of the same has no net benefit on the development agenda of the entire African continent, and only serves to sustain the dominance stronger nations have over weaker third world countries.
In essence, classic colonialism is no longer active in any part of the world. However, neocolonialism has effectively taken hold. Thus although the military as well as political control of regions and territories no longer exists in a traditional colonial sense, the intent and purpose of neocolonialism is identical to that of colonialism, i.e. securing of markets for goods and the exercise of dominance over key resources such as precious metals and oil. It is important to note that at the beginning, neocolonialism as a term was used in reference to sustained dependency upon former colonial powers by countries that had already gained independence. However, after a while, neocolonialism started to be more broadly used in reference to the relationship between former colonies and developed nations that brought fourth modern-day exploitation that was akin to exploitation during the colonial era. As Sankara once quipped, â€œhe who feeds you, controls youâ€ (Harsch, 2014, p. 131) Today, the term has become synonymous with the perpetuation of colonial-like exploitative ideals in the developing world by various players in the developed world (including, but not limited to state actors, multilateral and global formations/establishments, and international corporations). Instead of making use of the colonial-era instruments of exploitation such as direct rule, these players actively utilize various capitalism tenets to further enhance their dominance over target nations in the developing world. In that regard, therefore, for many African nations, independence, thanks to neocolonialism, essentially became what Martin (2012) refers to as flag independence. This is to say that despite being deemed independent, most developed nations do not have actual state sovereignty. Instead, their economic policies and key political decisions tend to be influenced by external players in pursuit of economic gains.
Today, the Word Bank and IMF, under the auspices of helping developing countries achieve their development goals, have largely perpetuated neocolonialism through debt â€“ effectively making them the de-facto controllers of most of the said countriesâ€™ economies by way of dictating macro-economic policies, etc. Sankara once argued that debt was being converted into a tool to suffocate the development agenda of undeveloped nations. In one of his speeches, he points out that â€œdebt is neo-colonialism; in which colonizers transformed themselves into â€˜technical assistanceâ€™… we should say â€˜technical assassinsâ€™â€ (Harsch, 2014, p. 107). Basically, as it has been pointed out elsewhere in this text, neocolonialism has in some instances been perpetuated by the self-defeating strategies of developing nations. A good example would be Nigeria, which happens to be the largest oil producer in the continent. Despite this, the country imports a significant portion of its fuel (including diesel and gasoline). In this case, this West African nation offers for sale its crude oil to western countries, which then goes through refinery and is sold back to the said country at a significantly higher price (per barrel) than it sold its crude. Similarly, Zimbabwe happens to be a producer of high quality tobacco, which it exports in its raw form. The country, according to Martin (2012), could more than double the revenue it gathers from the said sale of tobacco if it takes a value addition path and processes the tobacco it produces prior to exportation. The situation is repeated across many African countries. While many nations in the continent ought to be wealthy by dint of possessing key resources, they instead remain in the developing country tier due to warped priorities which effectively perpetuate and aid neocolonialism. The re-importation of value added products as well as an existing negative balance of payments stunts the growth of local industries and floods developing world markets with products originating from the developed nations. As Sankara once pointed out, â€œif you want to know what neo-colonialism is, look at the food on your plateâ€ (Harsch, 2014, p. 174).
Like Thomas Sankara, others who have in the past been critical of the sustenance of economic and political influence over former colonies include Kwame Nkrumah. Amongst his most famed works on this specific subject is Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. In this particular piece, Kwame Nkrumah sought to bring to the fore the issue of neocolonialism in the vast African continent. In his opinion, it is the continentâ€™s â€˜balkanizationâ€™ that has permitted neocolonialism tendencies to take root, while at the same time perpetuating the same (Thompson and Garratt, 1999). The fragmentation of the continent for ease of governance had meant that on gaining independence, each nation had to find a way of fending for itself â€“ with the prices of the various exports lined up for export being negatively affected by localized negotiations between the importing and exporting nations. Thus the lack of cooperation and better coordination efforts between African countries also provided sufficient space for neocolonialism to take root.
It is, however, important to note that there are those who are of the opinion that neocolonialism is yet another excuse to shift the focus away from the real issues hampering growth and development of the African continent. Such issues, according to Martin (2012), include inefficiency, poor leadership, as well as high-level corruption. As per this point of view, neocolonialism becomes a perfect excuse to apportion blame for challenges that the continent encounters on western countries, whereas in effect, sheer incompetence and graft is to blame for most of the challenges faced by most African nations. It should, however, be noted that although neocolonialism is not to blame for all the challenges the continent encounters, the rather systematic external exploitation does indeed hamper growth and development in most modern-day democracies in Africa. Further, it should be noted that as it has been pointed out elsewhere in this text, neocolonialism assumes various forms, and does not necessarily involve nation-states in all instances. Instead, the neocolonialism agenda could be very effectively advanced by international formations and transnational corporations such as petroleum companies and mining corporations. In essence, given their global operations and influence, such formations are able to assume the role of traditional nation-states as far as neocolonialism is concerned.
Is there Need for a Second Liberation for the African Continent?
In the final analysis, it is clear that in addition to being underdeveloped, most of the African countries exposed to modern-day colonial tactics and ideals in the form of neocolonialism, are also overexploited. The exploitative trend has been present all through â€“ from the slavery period, to the colonialism period, to neocolonialism in the modern day. It is also clear from this discussion that although there are significant differences between colonialism and neocolonialism, both have a similar modus operandi. This is more so the case given that in both instances, the relationship between the countries under consideration is unequal, and still exploitative. Thus while colonialism could be seen as being more explicit in its economic, political, and social control; neocolonialismâ€™s involvement happens to be more subtle and indirect. Today, Africa has 54 independent states. However, most of the states still struggle with overdependence on foreign aid in an arrangement that reeks of oppression and exploitation. As Sankara observes in one of his speeches, â€œhe who does not feed you can demand nothing of youâ€ (Harsch, 2014, p. 207). For the continent to move towards sustainable development, one of the dragons it has to slay is neocolonialism. The continent is ripe for the second liberation â€“ from neocolonialism to economic empowerment.
Seeking to protect third world independent states and nations from the harmful effects of neocolonialism does not merely involve the locking out the developed world capital from finding its way into less developed economies. Instead, the struggle against neocolonialism should involve attempts to ensure that the financial as well as political power of the more developed nations is not, by any chance, used in an exploitative manner. The activities of all the parties involved should be aligned in such a manner that they allow for mutually beneficial engagements. It has been argued that developed nations have a responsibility to assist in the development and growth of poorer nations though the provision of aid. It should, however, be noted that this particular â€˜welfare stateâ€™ mentality is not likely to provide long-term solutions. Debt and grants could cause more harm than good â€“ with the former perhaps being the more dangerous. As a matter of fact, Sankara in one of his speeches points out: â€œletâ€™s create the Addis Ababa Club for cancelling our foreign debtâ€ (Harsch, 2014, p. 170). Focus should be on strengthening the various institutions of governance in the less developed countries. Localized solutions should also be sought for challenges hampering growth, with countries borrowing from the Sankara-era policies that, for instance, sought to stimulate local production. Sankara, in his brief tenure as Burkina Fasoâ€™s president managed to implement major reforms that set the country firmly on a path to sustained development. This was particularly the case in several major fronts including education and healthcare. His policies were largely geared towards economic self-sufficiency and environmental protection â€“ effectively reducing western dominance over Burkina Faso. Modern-day leaders ought to, like Sankara, reject western dominion via the application of localized solutions to the challenges their countries encounter. This can be made possible via the implementation of policies that are in full support of self-dependence so as to avoid the debt cycle and promote self-sufficiency. Once this is done, then the said states can be set on a firm path to prosperity â€“ whereby they are able to solve their own internal challenges and problems, while at the same time engaging their more developed allies on equal terms on matters trade and development.
Dwyer, M. (2018). Soldiers in Revolt: Army Mutinies in Africa. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Harsch, E. (2014). Thomas Sankara: An African Revolutionary. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
Lagan, M. (2017). Neo-Colonialism and the Poverty of ‘Development’ in Africa. New York, NY: Springer.
Martin, G. (2012). African Political Thought. New York, NY: Springer.
Mukhtar, H.Y., Kura, S.M., Abba, Y. & Ahmed, M.A. (2013). The Slave Trade, Colonialism and Africaâ€™s Underdevelopment. International Journal of Innovative Research & Development, 2(2), 220-228.
Thompson, E.T. & Garratt, G.T. (1999). History of British Rule in India. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Dist.
Trifonas, P.P. (Ed.). (2003). Pedagogies of Difference: Rethinking Education for Social Justice. New York, NY: Routle
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