Africa’s national liberation struggles continue on. While overt, in your face, imperialism has gradually faded away, there has been a more covert, secretive type of imperialism that has been haunting the continent for decades now. This type of imperialism is harder to track and challenge due to its elusiveness. However, the contradictions created by relative political autonomy and economic dependence compel Africans to question just how independent are these so called independent states with black leaders. Kwame Nkrumah wrote in Neo-Colonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism that while countries in the 60s and 70s were able to regain some political power from Western imperialists, they remain subjected to these same powers due to African balkanization (redrawing of the map into small nation-states), black imperialist proxies and capitalism which leads to economic dependence, impoverishment and subjugation to global predatory lenders and speculators.
Nkrumah lead the nation of Ghana from 1957 to 1966 when he was overthrown in a military coup. He was a socialist committed to serving his people and ensuring that resources went to those in need. Prior to this, Ghana was known as the Gold Coast, a colony of Britain that was used precisely to extract gold and other resources. Obviously, this became intolerable for the Africans who revolted and gained “independence”. Nkrumah and the Convention Peoples Party realized the limits of political independence without economic liberation. While Africans now controlled the state, the imperialists had retained a number of ways to continue to control the country. For example, imperialists had de-industrialized much of Africa and forced African peoples to export raw materials to the imperialists centers in Europe, America and beyond. The Africans, through a number of colonial means, were disconnected from the subsistence economy and forced to buy imports from the imperialist centers to meet their needs.
In a nutshell, they had lost the capacity to produce for themselves and had to rely on money and markets, controlled from elsewhere, to meet their needs. In order to build large infrastructure projects like dams and highways, African leaders were forced to borrow from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank at high interest rates. These predatory lenders imposed Structural Adjustment Programs on African countries; they had to introduce market friendly reforms (deregulation, liberalization, privatization) at the expense of local populations. This economic dependency limited the political autonomy of nations like Ghana because if they refused to cooperate with imperialism, they risked loosing access to money and goods they relied on. This is a very old way to control someone. You make them dependent on something you control (money, credit, markets, goods, life and death) and you use this as leverage against them. “Do fill in the blank , or else, you’ll lose fill in the blank ”
The imperialists are still willing to use barbaric military force when necessary. The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) is an illegal military operation that is being used to conduct regime change and try to control the destiny of the continent. AFRICOM/NATO attacked Libya and murdered its leader Muammar Gaddafi. They continue to engage militarily in that country, contributing to the chaos that remains there. France and Canada have sent troops to Africa to protect mining interests. Germany hosts AFRICOM’s headquarters. AFRICOM has been building bases across the continent and making deals with deep state actors in various countries. Through African armed forces, imperialism hopes to intimidate African nationalists and assassinate activists/revolutionaries if necessary. Recently, AFRICOM assisted in the removal of Gambia’s former leader Yahya Jammeh. Fortunately, countries such as Eritrea and Zimbabwe have refused to cooperate with AFRICOM.
Fast forward to today and we are witnessing a New Multipolar Order; the re-emergence of multiple power centers. Africa is uniting, just as Bob Marley had urged her children to do. This process is at times slow and challenging but there’s signs that Africans want to accelerate the process of integration. The African Union (AU) has established political and economic integration as a top priority. The AU website highlights the organization’s commitment to forge a path “Towards a Peaceful and Prosperous & Integrated Africa”. While the union is not perfect, there’s a force within the continent committed to peace and development. On a recent trip to Africa last fall, I saw first hand this beautiful, rising pan-africanism. Everyone I spoke to demonstrated a love of the continent as a whole. The cities were filled with optimistic references to “Africa rising”, “Afrique émergente” The music I listened and danced to were filled with pan-african sentiments pointing to a growing continent wide African consciousness.
W. E. B. Du Bois famously stated “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line – the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea”. It is still a challenge in the 21st century. The world is now multipolar with the rise of China, Russia, Iran, the progressive pivot of parts of Latin America and many other developments. Many countries are choosing to drop the dollar for international transactions. While US hegemony is in decline, its military-industrial complex still poses a threat to global peace. Western imperialism, the product of capitalist development, has always been tied to white supremacy. The imperial centers, European and American, stole resources and people from Africa and much of the world. Through capitalism, these resources were concentrated within a few families, with some benefits trickling down to the white working class of the world.
During the 20th century, unions and anticapitalists in the West fought for higher wages and benefits. The system needed allies so capitalists gave higher wages to whites to create a base of support. This created a middle class loyal to capitalism/imperialism. The welfare state was a result of super-profits made through the super-exploitation of the darker people in the global south. Western corporations could pay higher wages in the West/North because they had access to cheap labor and resources in the South. Till this day, more money leaves Africa then enters it through investments and aid. Much of that money is siphoned away in western banks. Some of that money is invested in the west in the form of money laundering. Recently, the contradictions have come home as the system is no longer able to sustain the higher wages of the largely white North, many companies are moving more production, even of high value items, to the South.
The globalization of production and the free movement of goods and capital has created resentment among white workers in Canada, the US and Europe. The contradictions between workers and capitalism are intensifying. Fascistic sections of the ruling elite are using white nationalism to channel anger away from capitalism to create scapegoats; muslims, mexicans, immigrants, and other groups that can be blamed for the loss of wages and jobs. Despite this, many are becoming more critical of capitalism and the wars fought in its name. The system’s prospects are further impacted by the rise of an anti-imperialist alliance of countries including Iran, Syria, China, Russia, many Latin American nations and more. This geopolitical shift is creating a window of opportunity for Africa. While previously African nations were dependent on Western controlled financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, they can now choose alternative sources of investment. The continent is developing a strong bond with China and others through win-win agreements founded on mutual respect and benefit. China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ infrastructure plans have created opportunities for African nations, particularly the ones in East Africa along the proposed ‘New Silk Road’ initiative to connect Eurasia to Africa through transportation highways, rail lines and more.
Africans value independence above all else. We cannot replace one imperialist with another. While China’s contributions to Africa are undeniable, the country is still dealing with its own capitalist contradictions. While the Communist Party leadership states its desire for socialist development, since the early 90s it has been embracing a form of state- led capitalism. Millions have been lifted out of poverty, but millions remain exploited by private as well as state enterprises. China has more billionaires then the US, extreme inequality, financial bubbles, large amounts of debt, corruption and an over-reliance on exports. There is a struggle taking place in that country. The peasants and workers are rising up. The Chinese capitalist class is looking for markets and investment opportunities abroad. Capitalists have historically been notorious for looking out for their own self-interest and using military force to protect their investments. If the balance of forces tilts further in their favor in China, Africans need to reconsider their relationship to this country. If China can continue to democratize the economy then the China-Africa relationship will flourish on a foundation of inclusive development.
Africa is rising, building new ways of living and thriving. Africans are uniting, becoming more conscious, serving other groups impacted by imperialism (Indigenous, Palestinian, and others), remaining independent and anti-imperialist. It is also necessary to democratize the African economy and transcend capitalism, markets, money, exploitation, fear and materialism. The choice is ours: democracy or neocolonialism. Many Africans like myself are choosing the former, marking the end of neocolonialism.