Perhaps the most pressing question for Africans in the 21st century pertains to the ownership by Africans of their own resources, political agendas, economic trajectories, cultural, and social dynamics. Who dictates the course of events on the African continent? Are African leaders independent from desiring external recognition? Is Africa externally dominated?
These are pertinent questions to ponder on as Africa is viewed with scorn – being regarded as the backwaters of civilization where poverty is inseparable from defining what Africa is. But here is a continent with everything the world needs – precious stones and minerals, timber, good soils, and human capital. Despite these abundant natural blessings, African countries have struggled to create equal opportunities for their people as regards a dignified existence. And when tackling this sensitive matter, it is impossible not to mention the history of imperial colonialism where the continent was subjugated to European rule through brutal colonial conquests.
Colonialism meant that white private capital dominated the economies of the new African political entities – bundled up together haphazardly via the unilateral Berlin Conference of 1884-85. The colonialists set up vast agricultural enterprises [white commercial farming was not designed to feed Africans but global capitalist markets; and communal farming was inadequate to cater for the needs of African peoples]. These enterprises made super-profits as Africans provided the cheapest labor in the world. The same applied to the establishment of mining ventures – the colonialists extracted all the minerals in Africa via the same cheap labor for global capitalist markets. The value of white-owned mineral companies on stock markets in Johannesburg, New York, and London skyrocketed. The infrastructure [roads, railways, airports, buildings, etc.] laid by the colonialists – using Africans’ cheap labor – was not designed for Africans to benefit but to extract as many private profits as possible.
The triumph of nationalist struggles for liberation did not signal the end of this model. The foreign capitalists retained their entrenched interests over all aspects of African economic life. Political independence did not necessarily usher in true, emancipatory economic freedoms. Although the leaders of independent African countries such as Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere realized that the Global North capitalists retained control over Africa and attempted to implement policies for the universal public good, they were frustrated and sabotaged by international private capital. What was the purpose of nationalizations and equality when this would disrupt the flow of private capital and profits for the colonialists?
This is what Kwame Nkrumah rightly envisioned – neocolonialism. For Nkrumah, neocolonialism was the cruelest and most dangerous form of imperial domination hidden under the pretext of flag independence. The newly independent African countries failed to wean themselves from the domination of their imperial/colonial masters – relying on them for their economies to function. Yet the same colonial masters had little interest in altruistically helping African countries develop social policies in areas such as health, education, and agriculture. The African leaders have no control over their own economies – the economies are controlled from outside.
What is called [foreign direct] investment is a grim material reality for Africa as this investment, through foreign capital, is used to maximize the profits of the rich countries while no development takes place at all. Africa’s abundant natural resources (which are supposed to advance Africa’s industrial prowess) are thus used by foreign capital to enrich the developed nations – in the West and the East. Africa only receives finished goods. All this results in widening inequality and poverty – “neocolonialism is the worst form of imperialism.” Neocolonialism is Africa’s biggest nemesis. The colonial project never came to an end, it just assumed more subtle and nuanced forms of domination that include foreign aid.
Neocolonialism is Africa’s greatest challenge in the 21st century. Nothing has changed from the days of colonialism. The Global North decided to abandon coercive measures to exploit Africa in favor of soft approaches through ruthless diplomacy predicated on unequal bargaining grounds. Neocolonial domination has resulted in institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank imposing privatization, austerity, deregulation, trade liberalization under the cloak of structural adjustment programs. This has only resulted in the alienation of the African population who are economically disempowered.
The answer regarding the question of neocolonialism is found in unity rooted in Pan-Africanism. Africa must adopt a concerted effort to protect its riches from being exploited by foreign private capital. The military bases of foreign powers such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and China must be dismantled so that the continent becomes truly and wholly free in economic and political terms.