(Swans - January 31, 2011) When we in Africa condemn imperialism (aka neocolonialism), its apologists and their local trumpeters will hit town with the refrain: "But you have been independent for 50 or so years now; how could you continue to blame the colonial masters for your current woes?"
This argument is as disingenuous as it is wrong: it suggests that there was a time when the colonialists packed their bags and baggage and left Africa alone.
It also denies the simple fact that colonialism was essentially an enterprise undertaken solely for economic gains. We are being asked to believe that the colonialists simply abandoned all their economic investments/interests in their former colonies and went back home. We know that this is simply not true; when push came to shove and the colonised people demanded their freedom, all the colonialists without exception showed their fangs: the Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique; the French in Algeria and Guinea; the Brits in Kenya.
Although the British were more clever and more devious, but as Oginga Odinga informed us, in each and every one of their colonial possessions, the colonial masters handed power over to heirs trusted to maintain the colonial structures in all but name.
In Côte d'Ivoire, Félix Houphouët Boigny was more a Frenchman than an African and he made no pretense that he was not there to satisfy the interests of France. In Nigeria, the British concocted common-sense-defying population figures that ensured that their favoured Northern candidates will maintain political power for a very long time.
Sadly, colonial contract historians would want us to believe that it was all rosy-rosy.
According to Eurocentric "mythorians" (myth-creators masquerading as history scholars), some well-fed European adventurers sailed down the coast of West Africa in their pleasure boats, and chanced upon some naked savage black people, hopping from tree to tree, and their Christian, civilized hearts sank, and they decided to help. Always the altruists, the Europeans set up camp and began the enterprise to bring the savages to God and also to civilization. Mission accomplished, the Europeans left the natives to manage their own affairs, and within fifty years look at the mess the noble savages have made of things! The slave trade, oh, the savages were doing it all the time? And colonialism, oh, that was necessary to teach the Africans the art and science of self-government!
It is this type of make-me-happy interpretation of history that is still being forced down our throats by the ideological institutions the Europeans have created to celebrate themselves. But it just happens not to be true.
Just two well-recorded historical events are sufficient to debunk this silly narrative (from Wikipedia):
(1) The Great Famine of 1315-1322 was the first of a series of large-scale crises that struck Europe early in the 14th century, causing millions of deaths over an extended number of years and marking a clear end to an earlier period of growth and prosperity during the 11th through 13th centuries. Starting with bad weather in the spring of 1315, universal crop failures lasted through 1316 until the summer of 1317; Europe did not fully recover until 1322. It was a period marked by extreme levels of criminal activity, disease and mass death, infanticide, and cannibalism...
(2) Mansa Musa was the grand-nephew of the founder of the Mali Empire, Sundiata Keita, and ruled over the Mali Empire, during which it was the source of almost half the world's gold. Musa was a devoted Muslim, and Islamic scholarship flourished under his rule. With Musa as a benefactor, Sankore University in Timbuktu reached its height. Craftsmen and especially Islamic scholars came from all over the Muslim world to receive a free education at Sankore's guild and madrasas. On the way to Mecca, when he passed through Cairo in July of 1324, he was reportedly accompanied by a caravan that included thousands of people and nearly a hundred camels, giving away so much gold that it took over a decade for the economy across North Africa to recover, due to the rapid inflation that it initiated. On the path to Mecca, Mansa Musa had around five or six slaves or apprentices walking in front of him, sprinkling gold dust before his feet, so that he could walk on gold. He had this done because the Mansa would apparently not take a step without stepping on gold.
When an African emperor was dazzling the people of Arabia with gold, Europeans were dying of famine and plagues. Today we are being told by the children of those whose parents were living in alpine caves when an African king was making his pilgrimage to Mecca that we had no history!
The mistake continues to be made in assuming that the Europe that launched its aggression against the world six hundred years ago was the same Europe of today with its technology and things. It certainly was not: It was Europe in despair and in hunger where famine and diseases were rife. It was a Europe where bathing was considered satanic!
Those who argued that we have been independent are disingenuous and not very clever. How could any honest analyst or commentator ignore the imperialists' continuing intrusions into African affairs? How could the continuing stranglehold of France over its colonies be ignored in any serious analysis or commentary? How could the intervention of Western secret services and multinationals in Africa be ignored in any serious discussion about bad governance in Africa?
The gods know that we have not spared African leaders in our criticism of the bad situation on the African continent. In fact, most of our efforts are geared towards pointing out to our leaders the folly of their ways in believing that the same people that inflicted us with our painful affliction are ever going to provide the antidote.
Common sense alone dictates that the imperialists are never to teach us the tricks that will run them out of business. Our leaders ought to know that the imperialist Western powers will continue to evolve the tricks that will enable them to keep their strangulation on our resources, which they need for their economic survival.
But flogging these African leaders is crediting them with more authority than they actually possess. It is akin to flogging the puppets rather than going after the puppet masters. Of course, they benefit personally from the policies they are pursuing on behalf of their Western masters; the truth is that the sad caricatures of leaders are also victims, as many of them have admitted at moments of lucidity.
Imperialism is the scourge of the world, and it is foolish to suggest that the continent that has over the centuries been pillaged in the interests of capitalism will somehow be spared the ravages a redounded capitalism has unleashed on the world.
Thanks to the whistleblowers at WikiLeaks, we now have some inkling about how deeply African nations have been penetrated by those whose mouthpieces are telling us that we alone have been irresponsible in mismanaging our affairs.
According to one of the leaked cables released by WikiLeaks, a top executive of Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell, told US diplomats in Nigeria that Shell had seconded employees to every relevant department and so knew "everything that was being done in those ministries."
According to the cable, Ann Pickard, then Shell's vice president for sub-Saharan Africa, sought to share intelligence with the US government on militant activity and business competition in the contested Niger Delta.
The cable also revealed that the Anglo-Dutch oil firm on one occasion swapped intelligence with the U.S., providing US diplomats with the names of Nigerian politicians it suspected of supporting militant activity, and requesting information from the U.S. on whether the militants had acquired anti-aircraft missiles.
Pickard was said to have disclosed the company's reach into the Nigerian government when she met US ambassador Robin Renee Sanders in Abuja on 20 October 2009.
At the meeting, Pickard reportedly related how the company had obtained a letter showing that the Nigerian government had invited bids for oil concessions from China. She said the minister of state for petroleum resources, Odein Ajumogobia, had denied the letter had been sent but Shell knew similar correspondence had taken place with China and Russia.
One of the cables quoted Ambassador Sanders saying: "She (apparently Pickard) said the GON [government of Nigeria] had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries."
Shell was also said to have put a request to the US consulate for potentially sensitive intelligence about its possible rival.
Confronted with these damning revelations, Shell responded by saying: "You are seeking our views on a leaked cable allegedly containing information about a private conversation involving a Shell representative, but have declined to share this cable or to permit us sufficient time to obtain information from the person you say took part in the conversation on the part of Shell. In view of this, we cannot comment on the alleged contents of the cable, including the correctness or incorrectness of any statements you say it contains."
Another leaked cable discussed the U.S. asking then acting president Goodluck Jonathan to publicly distance himself from former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
Based on points developed telephonically with Assistant Secretary Carson (ref B), Ambassador encouraged Jonathan to change the perception that he is a regional figure, and be seen, rather, as a national figure who has the best interest of the nation at heart. Ambassador expressed that given that the U.S. and Nigeria are very best friends, we feel the need to share our concerns, as any good friend would do, and that we are counting on him to steer Nigeria through this troubled and uncertain period. At the moment, Jonathan's detractors believe he is a surrogate for former President Obasanjo. Ambassador advised the AgP that he needs to publicly demonstrate that he is the sole executor of national issues, not being directed or serving a political purpose for Obasanjo or others, so that his leadership would not be in question and the polity would accept that he had the best interest of nation at hand. The AgP said he appreciated our advice, including publicly holding Obasanjo at arms length. He said he would consider taking steps, including possibly convoking the entire diplomatic corps to brief them on the current political climate, using this and other events to demonstrate that he is his own man, and diminish the appearance he is a regional leader.
The cable further revealed how the U.S. requested that Professor Maurice Iwu be asked to proceed on terminal leave as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in return for technical assistance from America for the electoral process in Nigeria.
The leaked cables also reveal the level of corruption at Nigerian officialdom to which the U.S. is privy.
One of Ambassador Sanders's dispatches read:
Pickard said that Nigerian entities control the lifting of many oil cargoes and there are some "very interesting" people lifting oil (People, she said that were not even in the industry). As an example she said that oil buyers would pay Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) General Managing Director Yar'Adua, (Note: not related to President Yar'Adua. End Note) Chief Economic Advisor Yakubu, and the First Lady Turai Yar'Adua large bribes, millions of dollars per tanker, to lift oil. The IOCs control the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cargos, so GON actors do not have the same opportunity for illicit gain. Pickard also said a former associate of hers (protect) had told her he had been present when Attorney General Aondoakaa had told a visitor that he would sign a document only if the visitor paid $2 million immediately and another $18 million the next day.
The most revealing part of the cable was the point where Jonathan confessed to his ineptitude, "I was not chosen to be Vice President because I had good political experience," he said. "I did not. There were a lot more qualified people around to be Vice President, but that does not mean I am not my own man."
Another leaked cable had Jonathan naming political enemies whom he accused of destabilising the government. "This terrible situation in the country today has been created by four people: Turai Yar'Adua, (the ailing president's wife), his chief security officer (CSO) (Yusuf Muhammad Tilde), his aide-de-camp (ADC) (Col. Mustapha Onoedieva), and Prof. Tanimu Yakubu (his chief economic adviser)."
Asked to comment on the leaked memos, Ambassador Sanders went diplomatese: "We believe the US government is firmly placed to advance our bilateral agenda, including the creation of an enabling environment conducive to free, fair and credible elections with the approval and assistance of Nigeria's de facto head of state. Even if he decides to contest for the presidency, Jonathan seems sincere in wanting to leave a lasting legacy of electoral reform for Africa's most populous nation."
According to another leaked cable, US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer wanted to "put pressure" on Nigeria's minister of justice and attorney general, Michael Aondoakaa, who was heading a lawsuit against the company over a 1996 drug trial during a meningitis epidemic. The trial allegedly led to the deaths of 11 children in Northern Nigeria.
Pfizer reached a $75m settlement with Nigeria's Kano government in 2009 over the case, which also allegedly left dozens of children disabled.
The leaked cable quoted conversations said to have taken place between US embassy staff and Pfizer's head in Nigeria, Enrico Liggeri. "According to Liggeri, Pfizer had hired investigators to uncover corruption links to Mr. Aondoakaa to expose him and put pressure on him to drop the federal cases. He said Pfizer's investigators were passing this information to local media."
Pfizer released a statement that was published by the UK's Guardian newspaper, which said that it "negotiated the settlement with the federal government of Nigeria in good faith and its conduct in reaching that agreement was proper."
WikiLeaks' disclosures are not everything, but at least they lend credence to our claim that many of the dreadful happenings on the continent are not due to any innate incapability of the black man to govern himself. The external factors must also be included in any analysis, at least to render a balanced picture.
The sad fact from which we cannot run away is that most of the nations in Africa are still firmly under the control of their former colonial masters who, in furtherance of economic interests, have so deeply penetrated (that word, again) them that their so-called "independence" is hardly worth the paper it's written on.
A voice from Africa worth hearing... Please consider a
Feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Femi Akomolafe 2011. All rights reserved.
Have your say
Do you wish to share your opinion? We invite your comments. E-mail the Editor. Please include your full name, address and phone number (the city, state/country where you reside is paramount information). When/if we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country.
About the Author
Femi Akomolafe (see his profile on Swans) is a computer consultant, a writer and social commentator, an avid reader, and a passionate Pan-Africanist who lives in Kasoa, Ghana. Femi is known to hold strong opinions and to express them in the strongest terms possible. As he likes to remind his readers: "As my Yoruba people say: Oju orun teye fo, lai fara gbara. It means that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly without touching wings." Femi Akomolafe's views, opinions, and thoughts can be accessed on the blog he maintains: http://ekitiparapo.blogspot.com/. (back)