The aftermath of World war II witnessed the ushering in of a process of decolonization on the African continent. Since then, Africa has been exploited by western imperialist capitalism almost to the scale animated by PLO Lumumba when he said that Africa is being eaten on the dinner table by superpowers.
To understand and appreciate imperialism, it is important to understand the role played by capitalism. Marxist scholar Lenin defined imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. Capitalism in Europe evolved from free competition to the emergence of monopolies, it became necessary for European powers to get colonies where they would get raw materials and market for their surplus produce and capital hence the necessity for imperialism.
When most African countries received independence from their colonial masters during the 1960s and '70s, they became free to determine their social, economic, and political goals as part of the new community of civilized nations, the United Nations (UN). This period was also characterized by the beginning of the cold war era between the Soviet Union and the West.
African countries were caught between two ideological orientations regarding how they could shape their economic development – the struggle between capitalism and communism. The post-colonial African state was characterized by a dearth of an educated working class. Colonial education aimed at producing trained civil servants for post-independent Africa rather than producers of wealth. Some of this educated elite class would go on to become compradors for western capital as Ngugi wa Thiongo's denotes in his book Devil on the cross, that when the white man went, he left behind his agents.
Politically, the post-colonial African states were typically fragile, with constitutions that were not homegrown, almost like a ticking bomb ready to explode with the new ruling class of the educated elite pitted against the traditional oligarchs or monarchs. These contradictions coupled with the East-west cold war politics, militarism made civil war inevitable in post-independence Africa. Coups d’etats characterized newly independent Africa. The former colonial masters preferred brawn military men who could easily be influenced as opposed to the educated elite with Marxist-Leninist views hostile to capitalism.
It is, therefore, no wonder that founding educated elite presidents of post-colonial Africa like Sir Apollo Milton Obote and Kwame Nkrumah were ousted from power after revealing their biases for the left (socialist and communist policies). Obote of Uganda was overthrown by his former army commander Idi Amin Dada after he had declared the move to the left of the national economy in his common man's charter.
Patrice Lumumba, then Prime minister of Congo was overthrown by then army commander Mobutu Sese Seko and then assassinated in a plot contrived between CIA and Congolese authorities. He was viewed as being detrimental to the economic exploitation of Congo by imperial powers. Political instability in post-colonial Africa and poor governance led to further deterioration of small African economies. They, therefore, had to rely on foreign aid from western countries.
Enter the World Bank and Neo-liberal economic policies.
After the destructive effects of civil wars and borrowing, most African countries could not repay their debts. As a result, the world bank suggested that countries undertake neoliberal economic policies like structural adjustment programs in order to revitalize their struggling economies. These policies were to be undertaken by African countries in order for them to qualify for world bank loans.
Under the structural adjustment programs, African countries were to implement free-market economies, reducing government spending on public goods like education, health et al. In Prof. Mahmood Mamdani's article titled scholars in the marketplace, he blames the faltering standards at one of Africa’s best institutions of higher learning located in Uganda – Makerere University, to opening up university education to be influenced by the whims of the market following neo-liberal policies suggested by World Bank.
Prof Mamdani cites the proliferation of interdisciplinary academic programs to attract privately funded students, which he argues devalued higher education into a form of low-level training lacking a meaningful research component. The privatization of public institutions was also a key aspect of neoliberalism. These conditions encouraged the inflow of multinational capital and the strangulation of local banks and industries.
As a result, most African economies became supermarkets for western goods and products. Public institutions that used to function well collapsed after being handed over to an inexperienced capitalist class of government cronies. Most African economies opened up to capitalism and greed. At its worst, capitalism in Africa bred corruption and inequality. Scholars like Ali Mazrui opine that political and economic systems that mirror the West and Eastern influences were not suited to African circumstances.
They state that such systems transplanted root and branch into Africa were bound to fail. Perhaps it’s time Africa defined its own political, social, and economic future without external influence from international institutions like the World Bank, and multilateral treaties that may be detrimental to African interests. Africa needs to define its own future from within. Rather than looking to the external world to define its plight.