Someone said that all that the black race has been through is testimony to its resilience.
That, if black people continue to exist despite the ravaging effects of both Arab and Atlantic slave trade; the exploitative and denigrating impact of colonialism; the ugly ‘postcolonial’ machinations by the West and Africa’s own leaders, then Africans have a high survival potential.
In one way, his observation manages to draw some ‘positive’ out of Africa’s unfortunate past. But it as well raises questions as to why it has to be Africa to suffer all this. It is not really a position of pride to boast about being tortured without dying. Why allow to be beaten, in the first place?
Many arguments have been advanced to explain Africa’s predicament. Some have said that Africa is mainly suffering because of her invaluable resources; the rich homestead from whom everyone wants to steal. But then, why has it been easy to steal from this homestead by almost everyone else for centuries?
Could it be that this homestead has not cared enough for its security? President Museveni is one of the proponents of this argument – often arguing that Africa was subdued into being colonised due to her weakness and lack of cohesion. There could be some merit in this thesis, but only thinly.
I will come back to this later. In many cases in the past, we could say that African pre-colonial leaders were coerced into submission and collaborations. Many that refused to collaborate were handled with utmost ruthlessness. This could as well be said to be proof that the invading forces were more powerful.
Not to allow room for claims of racial superiority, in his seminal book titled ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’, Walter Rodney argued that Europe gained the technological superiority behind her power by ‘arresting’ (disrupting) the technological progress she found in Africa at first contact in the 15th century. Whereas his evidence is appealing and explanatory in some ways, it leaves behind a number of comparative questions that I won’t delve in here.
Many people who have visited the slave trade sites in Ghana, especially after seeing the dungeons and ‘Door of no return’ have not been able to hold back tears – imagining the horrors that the captured slaves went through. Among other discomforting details is that some African chiefs voluntarily participated in this trade in exchange for beads, guns, mirrors, cloth, etc.
Some could have been forced, but I doubt if all. Which takes us to another hypothesis about the reasons for Africa’s predicament. Even where not necessarily out of options and not under duress, the watchmen/watchwomen of this homestead connive with the invading thieves for a share on the loot!
But what does this speak of the members of this homestead that can surrender their own people into various forms of bondage and suffering at any opportunity? At times I’m more outraged by these self-centred traitors than the predatory invaders.
Signs of this were clear in the first scramble for Africa’s labour through slave trade. Perhaps there were less cases of this kind under the colonial scramble (not disregarding leaders that fought so hard to protect their people from marauding foreigners). We also saw some few indicators of self-centeredness during the cold war scramble for African ideological alliances in the early years of independence. But these were less pronounced.
Generally, with a few exceptions, most African leaders of this epoch were not as greedy as the lot that followed them. Where they made mistakes, many were genuinely mistaken. Nyerere even had the humility to admit that although he was convinced about his Ujamaa policy, it had economically failed – and he bowed out for other alternatives to be tried. Some of those who came after wouldn’t mind dying with their countries, which they treat as personal property.
The current scramble for Africa appears to be subtle to the unsuspecting eye, but it could turn out to be one of the most devastating. It is performed in apparently non-violent often sophisticated ways, but disguising untold violence, destruction, subjugation, and exploitation.
Much of it is through conspicuous collaboration with African leaders by which Africans are alienated from their resources and stripped of agency, capital is flown off to foreign lands, the natural environment is terribly degraded, and countries are tied up in enslaving sums of debts.
These greedy leaders do not mind being in Western pockets, as long as their bottomless bellies and grip on power are fed. This way, they are more eager to receive policies handed down from Western centers for their countries, often leading to disastrous outcomes. Effects of Structural Adjustment Programmes are still biting us.
African leaders are more prompted to act when the West threatens to withdraw aid, not when their people express dissatisfaction and pain! Foreign ‘investors’ have rented all their ears, thereby winning themselves tax holidays and waivers that African investors hardly ever access!
I am not quite sure what the outcome will be, but soon the entire face of Africa might be imprinted with China. Certainly there are numerous benefits from the rise of China, especially in neutralising Western hegemony.
However, this wouldn’t justify the rate at which our wetlands are being dished out to them (and their local patrons in the background). Gambling with the environment could be one of the worst mistakes of our times. It is like burning one’s only home in order to get warmth.
Seeing what is happening in several wetlands in Uganda where Chinese flags are flying above factories is so devastating. Meanwhile, the Middle East is also scrambling for our cheap labour and we proudly make bucks out of exporting our people there – even into slavery and death. Africa thus continues being ‘a sore on the conscience of humanity’. It’s not Afropessimism, it is reality!
The author is a teacher of philosophy.