Welcome to Africa, a land of great expanse and full of wonder. With a thriving ecosystem and abundantly blessed with natural resources. Africa is the second largest continent in the world and its potential is unmatched. But Africa is way behind the other continents in terms of infrastructure, development, and standard of living.
In the centuries before its brutal colonization and forceful displacement of its indigenous ethnic groups and peoples, Africa was actually a hub of thriving economies and civilizations. The people enjoyed peace and traded amongst each other within the systems set up by their various leaders. They were governed by rules that promoted justice and equity and this was the prevailing situation for centuries before the first Europeans set foot on African soil.
Rich in minerals, Africa had a glorious past dotted with great civilizations which were wrought by historically magnificent empires. These empires were well governed and had their own systems in place to deal with any kind of situation. One of these empires is the Ghana Empire which lasted from the 4th to 13th century. Another was the Mali Empire which lasted from the 13th to the 17th century is most famous for its eccentric Emperor Mansa Musa who was reportedly worth a whopping $400 billion.
This tells us about the wealth in Africa before colonization. Africa was rich and had systems in place that provided a thriving environment for its people. But the pertinent question is, why does Africa remain poor and under-developed? What could have caused such a drastic turn in fortunes for a mineral-rich continent with a strong and hardworking population?
The answer is simple. Colonization is the singular event in the history of Africa that completely threw it off its tangent. Instead of rubbing shoulders with Europe and North America, the majority of Africa today wallows in a huge debt that it cannot seem to rid itself off.
Colonization was the result of the greed of Europe which could not bear the thought of not having the riches other continents had in abundance and instead of resulting to fair trading, took it upon themselves to enrich themselves at the cost of destroying cultures that had existed for millennia. They divided up Africa amongst them as they pleased with no recourse to the fact they would end up displacing indigenous ethnic groups and would ultimately shatter the fabric of life that had held the peoples together for generations
The level of destruction left in their wake is truly horrifying if you take into account the fact that Europeans only dared to sail further West than they had ever done and chanced upon Africa was a result of the stranglehold that the then Ottoman Empire had over the trade routes to Asia.
The need to find new routes to Asia is what led them to sail West in order to get East. The first successful person was Christopher Columbus and then a few years later Vasco Da Gama. Now this gives us the first impression of how far the Europeans will go to have things that they cannot produce for themselves.
The truth is that when they stumbled upon the endless riches of Africa, they could not resist the urge of displaying their selfish greed and decided to have it for themselves. Trade and conquest have always been close partners throughout human history. Conquest most often facilitates trade but it is not always in that order. Sometimes trade leads to conquest in order gain access to precious minerals. So often trade leads to conquest and conquest lead to trade.
In fact, between 1500 and 1800, Europe saw a meteoric rise in its fortunes due to its trade with and conquest of other lands and established itself as the core of the world. Eric Toussant, Author, and President of CADTM, Belgium in the documentary End of Poverty, speaks about the brutal invasion of Africa by the Europeans and described them as coming with a Bible in one hand and a rifle in another. The Bible to weaken the resolve of the natives to make them submissive and the rifle to force and bend them to their will.
In the entire history of Africa in no period, had such drastic changes happened than they did between 1880 to 1935. This period oversaw the conquest and occupation of almost the entire continent of Africa and the establishment of Colonialism. This was quite unprecedented because hitherto, only a small fraction of Africa had come under the direct rule of Europeans.
In fact, it was only in the southern part of Africa that the Europeans been able to establish themselves and even managed to extend themselves a bit further inland. As late as 1880, up to 80% of Africa was still ruled by their own monarchies and governing systems and yet within the next 30 years, the story had considerably changed. With the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia, the whole of Africa had been colonized by 1914.
As said earlier colonization was as a result of greed on the part of the Europeans to amass wealth that they did not have. During the colonial years, they did not only destroy the systems that used to serve the indigents so well, they also looted as much of the mineral sources they could find and ended up destroying the local economies.
The Europeans turned their colonies into specific production countries that would produce and ship a particular commodity to the ‘mother’ country. This left most of Africa in a locked economy making them dependent on the ‘motherland’, where they have to import food and other materials. Dependency theory is the notion that resources flow from a ‘periphery’ of poor and underdeveloped states to a ‘core’ of wealthy states, enriching the latter at the expense of the former. It is a central contention of dependency theory that poor states are impoverished and the rich ones enriched by the way they are integrated into the world system.
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After centuries of plundering enormous wealth from Africa, enriching themselves and growing their economies and industries, the Europeans refused to allow the Africans to govern themselves when they agitated for their sovereignty. This led to power struggles across the entire continent of Africa and eventually from the late 1950’s to 1963 most African countries had regained their independence.
But independence did not bring economic liberation because, at independence, the accumulated debts of the colonial European masters were transferred to these new African states which were in total violation of international laws. The ‘core’ countries offered a solution which involved more debt with high-interest rates in order to pay off the initial debt. This led to the loss of the true sovereignty of the newly formed African states and made them even more dependent.
Policies are forced upon the periphery countries which is dictated by the core countries which is detrimental to the progress of the periphery countries. Policies in trade, agriculture, customs and others that give special privileges to foreign corporations such as monopoly over mineral extraction.
Assassination Of African Leaders
Aside all these, Europe and the West would constantly take steps to ensure the political landscape of Africa are favorable to their whims and caprices. They manipulate elections and ensure that the leaders of Africa adhere to their demands, any leader that refuses is usually dealt with in one of two ways. These leaders would either be assassinated or thrown out of office by means of a Coup d’état, there are several examples such as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo and more recently Colonel Gadhafi of Libya.
All these instances prove that Africa cannot hope to break free of this chain of dependency and take its rightful place as a world leader if we continue in the mindset that we have as being unfortunate and helpless. There is a lot more we can do to improve ourselves and grow our own economies. It is frankly very shameful how most of our leaders go round the West cap in hand, begging for funds, grants, and loans. There is a wind of change blowing across the African continent though and with great examples of Paul Kagame of Rwanda and John Magufuli of Tanzania, there is surely hope for a better Africa.
Africa will surely rise again and will no longer be the crippled giant it has been for the past few centuries and will become as it has always meant to be, the true cradle of civilization.
Written By: Teddy Simmons