The “Keep Africa Poor and Dependent” Project
— International Children
EXPLOITED and abused for generations by white colonial powers and manipulative economic structures, there is a growing sense of solidarity within parts of the African continent, as evidenced by the #NoMore movement. Covid vaccine inequality and environmental injustice, as well as recent events in Ethiopia, have galvanized people.
The ideas of African unity and rage against the old imperial forces are not new; the chain of repression and exploitation of African nations is long, from slavery and colonialism, including colonial extraction, to wealth and climate inequality, to racial capitalism and now to Covid vaccine apartheid .
Despite the fact that many would say that Africa was united long before Europe – family to tribe, tribe to nation, nation to continent with 54 countries spread over a vast area – establishing a definite union of Africa seems unlikely, or even impossible. However, standing in solidarity, rejecting Western intervention and challenging the exploitative status quo and reductive notions of development based on a defunct Western model are not. Indeed, if African nations are to prosper and create vibrant economies that allow its burgeoning young population to fulfill its enormous potential, they must.
Poverty amid abundant resources
Blessed with rich environments and vast natural resources, Sub-Saharan Africa certainly should not be poor. But for many people across the continent, poverty and overwhelming hardship are the norm.
According to the World Bank report “Accelerating Poverty Reduction in Africa”, while the number of people living in extreme poverty—less than $1.90 a day—has declined over the past 20 years, the number of “poor people living on $5 a day or less…has grown from 278 million in 1990 to over 413 million. More than 80% of those living in stifling poverty are in rural areas where education and health care are scarce.
Natural resources dominate many African economies and, along with agriculture, are central to the livelihoods of the rural poor majority. African natural resources that are owned by multinational mining companies and extracted from the ground by grossly underpaid local workers are exported to produce goods that are sold in wealthy developed countries. This has been the role of sub-Saharan Africa for generations, and it is fundamental for the prosperity of advanced countries: they need raw materials and they need them to be cheap.
The handful of dominating conglomerates agree to allow monopolistic buying structures. Contracts concluded at the national level are administered by intermediaries, often corrupt, in the pockets of the company; the local workforce has little choice but to accept the “terms of employment” offered to them; poverty traps and silences rebellion.
It is a crippling pattern of suppression and exploitation; a form of wage slavery that not only holds the workers in its stifling grip, but the nation and the continent. This is one of the main reasons why African nations overly dependent on raw materials, be it cotton or oil, coffee, diamonds or cobalt, are poor. Poverty is political, the result of short-term political and economic decisions made in the West by fraudulent corporate-controlled governments.
Other reasons why Africa remains poor and dependent are historical and economic: colonization, which persists as economic and cultural imperialism, and a certain superiority/inferiority mindset. A mindset that consciously or unconsciously maintains that some people – black, brown – are worth less than others and, as the inequalities of the Covid vaccine demonstrate, can be sacrificed. The economic structures, global institutions and economic ideologies championed by abusive self-serving governments and promoted in business schools around the world are all designed to ensure that Africa remains poor: imperialism never ended, it just changed shape.
When the colonial powers withdrew from the global south, they needed new ways to maintain the enslavement of Africa and Africans. Three interrelated weapons have been used to create dependency: aid, debt, and toxic structural adjustment programs, or SAP, the overall control framework.
In the 1980s, structural adjustment programs were introduced; the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have granted highly conditional loans to African nations to help their “development”; in fact, loans and/or structural adjustment programs, which destroyed African economies and agriculture, were only forms of debt trapping. Once a country is in debt, it becomes easy to control. Structural adjustment programs have gutted national economies and brought Africa into the global economic political system, dominated by the United States. This is economic warfare: rich countries have set up these irresponsible institutions and systems to control poor nations.
The IMF, World Bank, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization have been given enormous political influence and control over African governments and economies. Funding for public services, such as education and health care, has been cut to repay loans; countries were forced to “liberalize” their economies and privatize, selling key areas such as utilities to Western or Western-backed companies.
In his book Confessions of an Economic Hitman, John Perkins calls this process of economic terrorism “predatory capitalism”: he describes how, in an earlier period, in the 1950s, the IMF, the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department American created a faceless bank to lend money to African countries that produced raw materials; any National President who refused the loan risked being handed over to the “jackals”, as Perkins describes the CIA thugs who accompanied him.
At the time of independence, many African countries were self-sufficient in food production and were, in effect, net food exporters; structural adjustment programs and the WTO agreement on agriculture have changed all that. Countries have been forced to withdraw state subsidies to agriculture while farmers in Europe and the United States receive huge subsidies; farmers suffered, food prices rose, food insecurity was created, dependence on Western aid and benefactors was secured and with it the control by the United States and its puppets of Africa, its direction and its “development”, or, as these paranoid selfish states would have it, its non-development.
Development as Westernization
WITHIN the narrow socio-economic paradigm that dominates global affairs, “development” and perpetual economic “growth” are seen as essential. Dominated by quarterly national GDP figures, it is a reductive model designed by “donor” nations to serve not the peoples of Africa or Asia, but Western corporations and defunct unjust ideology. greed, so dear.
The very idea of development has become synonymous with “Westernization”, including the way of life, values, behavior and attitudes of the rich and “prosperous” nations of the West: a hollow and profoundly materialistic way of life rooted in division, selfishness and conformity that has poisoned and vandalized the natural environment and created unhealthy and unequal societies of oppressed anxious human beings.
To develop, economists say Africa must industrialize and manufacture – no country has ever “developed” without manufacturing. This is all true, and some African countries, like Ethiopia, which has a vibrant leather industry, are starting to do so. But this is true only within the suffocating limits of the existing model of extreme capitalism based on unsustainable consumerism.
There must be another way; perhaps in this time of transition, not only for Africa, but for the world as a whole, there is an opportunity to rethink socio-economic structures, to re-imagine civilization and, in doing so, to save the planet. And perhaps Africa, unburdened, energized and dynamic can play a leading role; working with the West, but rejecting the compliance and exploitation model and the conditionality of support.
The existing development paradigm is located in the global political-economic system, a system of global monopolies, centralized control, massive inequalities, crushing poverty, financial insecurity and stress. Not only should this development model be rejected by Africa, and it would be without the vice of debt, and the fact that it is presented as the one and only spectacle in town, but the poisonous source from which it springs – market fundamentalism, as some call it, must also be radically dismantled.
It may seem impossible to argue, but there are alternatives to the current unjust political-economic system. And as the environmental and social impact of the neoliberal experience becomes more apparent, along with the economic pain of the majority, more and more people around the world, especially in Africa, where the environmental emergency has inspired powerful activism movements recognize the urgent need to reject this way of organizing life and demand change.
Western powers, or dried up imperial forces, do not want Africa and Africans to flourish and grow strong, that is clear to all. Africa’s destiny must rest in the hands of Africans, especially young Africans – the median age in Africa is around 20, Europe is 43 grizzled, the US 39 complacent – who are increasingly on their feet, organizing themselves, particularly in terms of the environment, and calling for change.
But what should this change look like? Not a shadow of Western nations, but a creative and evolving movement of development in which peoples have a voice; social and environmental responsibility is upheld and sustainable human happiness is at its heart. Unity is essential, African unity is essential; together, not necessarily within a defined structure, but coordinated cooperation and support through the African Union and civil society.
The first and most fundamental step towards establishing a less brutal and fairer system would be the equitable distribution of the world’s resources – water, land and food; the machinery needed to build the infrastructure; skills, knowledge and expertise.
The world is one: we are brothers and sisters of a single humanity. And if we are to collectively, within Africa and the world, establish an alternative path, this fundamental fact must form the foundation and provide the touchstone for new systems and ways of life. Only then will we begin to build a global society in which the values of unity, compassion, tolerance and sharing, found in tribal societies across Africa, can flourish.
DissidentVoice.org, February 24. Graham Peebles is a freelance writer and charity worker. He established The Create Trust in 2005 and has led education projects in India, Sri Lanka, Palestine and Ethiopia.