When Amilcar Cabral delivered his speech at the Tricontinental Conference in Havana, Cuba in 1966, he warned that the attainment of independence was not the end of imperialism. The Conference was a gathering of the people from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The purpose of the gathering was to address the struggle against colonialism and imperialism faced during the Cold War. He also referred to the “struggle against our own weaknesses,” arguing that Africa’s educated elite had to be wary of filling the bourgeoise shoes worn by white colonizers.
He advocated for what he termed “class suicide,” for any revolution to make meaning for its people. In contemporary times, Africa finds itself at the mercy of global capital as they are being recolonized again by China, Russia, Europe, and America. This time, the recolonization is taking place with the full assent of Africa’s leadership – the political and business elite.
Kwame Nkrumah, the first leader of independent Ghana, warned against the emergence of neocolonialism. He indicated that this is where the former colonizer of a particular territory still exercises control over that territory. He made a referral to South Vietnam, whose former imperial power was France, but that power was later exercised by the United States especially during the Vietnam War.
Neocolonial control may be exercised by syndicates of financial interests which are not specifically identifiable with any particular State. As such, foreign capital is used in the less developed parts of the world for exploitation and not development. Financial power is used to enrich the already rich while the poor continue to suffer. Nkrumah said that a State under the grip of neocolonialism is “not a master of its destiny.” He unequivocally stated that neocolonialism is the worst form of imperialism.
Nkrumah termed neocolonialism as the last stage of imperialism. He was concerned that the independence of African countries would be reduced to mere “flag independence.” He noted that there wouldn't be the true economic liberation of the African peoples.
With neocolonialism, African leaders do not necessarily derive their authority to govern from the will of the people. But they get this from the approval of their neocolonial masters. This explains why African leaders are desperate for attention from the United States and European countries. It is as if they do not have an agency. They have an overwhelming desire to please foreign capital by entertaining private foreign firms. These African leaders have little interest in developing education, transport, healthcare, housing, water supply so that these become affordable and reliable for their people.
A worrying feature of neocolonial states is their inability to refuse foreign aid. Nkrumah warned that aid to a neocolonial state is a “revolving credit, paid by the neo-colonial master. It passes through the neo-colonial State and returns to the neo-colonial master in the form of increased profits.”
Nkrumah was against the notion of unregulated forms of aid, trade, and foreign direct investment. This is despite that poverty soared, and the wellbeing of Africans was neglected. Aid has done nothing to Africa. It has regressed the organic growth of the continent. Aid has created dependence in Africa as if the continent cannot produce its solutions. It has become an avenue for the leaders to spread and live their neoliberal agendas through egregious, unabated corruption.
Africa has become a home of extreme forms of capitalism spread by foreign capital, which are destructive on the welfare of the people as well as their collective national consciousness. Although this hyper-capitalism is gradually being eschewed in the global north countries where it originated.
The leaders keep courting foreign capital in the hopes that promoting free-market ideologies will make economic problems disappear. This is done to get the support of such neocolonial masters. The same private firms who are courted to “invest” in Africa do more damage to the continent than any good. They pay local workers low wages and salaries, while at the same time leaving a devastating trail of environmental degradation. They influence policy making to reduce the regulatory role of governments so that such policies are favorable to them. Perhaps this is what is now termed as “ease of doing business.”
Chinese firms assist African countries with various infrastructural development programs. Especially with the rapid urbanization witnessed in African countries. Many African leaders are concerned with the superficial development that fits well within their neoliberal template to assuage global capital. There are megaprojects unveiled while the people are hungry. They do not have universal access to healthcare, water supply, transport, and housing – basic rights that must be afforded to everyone.
The debt trap is getting serious too, and it is not a secret that China influences a lot of decision making among Africa’s politicians. For example, the $4 billion Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway ended up costing Ethiopia nearly a quarter of its total 2016 budget.
China is seeking control of mining assets as collateral for Zambia defaulting on its loan payments. China has helped Zambia with electricity supply as well as several road construction projects. Uganda is also a victim of Chinese purported benevolence. The 51-kilometer expressway from Kampala to Entebbe Airport built by the Chinese Communications Construction Company (CCCC) cost a mammoth $450 million. This debt is footed by Ugandan taxpayers.
Zimbabwe is also selling away the country to global capital to China. Recently, the country granted coal mining concessions to several Chinese companies so that they can mine in the heart of Hwange National Park. China is investing in renewable energy projects at home but is encouraging its private firms to hunt for coal abroad. The government is ignoring the potential dangers posed to the environment through their irrational decision. The government and Chinese firms have since been challenged by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association so that Hwange National Park can be saved from permanent, irreparable ecological degradation.
Several African countries are failing to escape the tentacles of Chinese sponsored state capitalism. In the midst of this, western gatekeepers of global capital like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank keep giving loans to African countries at the behest of Africa’s political elite. For instance, South Africa was recently granted a $4.3 billion loan from the IMF as a response to Covid-19, with the latter saying in return the country must “reform.” The reforms refereed to are an instruction to South Africa (and its neighbors) to rigidly follow neoliberalism.
The overtures from America, Europe, and China are not made with altruistic intentions. Africa is abundantly blessed with natural resources and these neocolonial masters, spreading their neoliberalism to Africa, want a piece of the cake. As it has always been since the advent of colonialism. There is a heavy military presence of foreign powers in Africa as if there is some sort of dystopian anarchy in Africa. The United States has soldiers in Africa, including China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France. The recolonization of Africa is happening and regrettably, the African leaders are letting this happen right under their noses.
Amilcar Cabral and Kwame Nkrumah words remain true and powerful. Neocolonialism in Africa continues to gain momentum, while the people languish in an endless cycle of poverty and conflicts. The new scramble for Africa must not be ignored and cannot be wished away. With neoliberalism in Africa affecting consumerist attitudes and increasing inequality, there must be collective efforts aimed at stopping these foreign powers from swallowing up the continent.
According to Nkrumah, the grim reality is that Africa will cease being a master of its destiny if this neocolonialism, aided with the unabated neoliberalism is not stopped. African governments need to be people-centered economics with an emphasis on providing for social services and not outsourcing these to private firms. Leaders should firmly rejecting foreign aid.