Africa Betrayed: How Neo-Colonialism And Dictators Continue Retarding the Continent’s Growth and Development


Handshake of blood. Dictator Museveni, right, has taught South Sudan’s Salva Kiir the lessons of death and destruction well. Photo-Flickr

[African Renewal]

The cold and plain fact is that the African continent, the cradle of humankind and the largest continent with abundant minerals, natural resources and arable farming land, is experiencing crises on a revolutionary scale.

To a considerable degree, the crises have been compounded if not generated by the treacherous conduct of neo-colonial rulers who, guided by parochial self-interests, have been more committed to foster agendas of their foreign patrons than to promote the common good and welfare of their fellow compatriots.

If the promise of Africa is to be redeemed, we should not only describe the particulars of the crises, but it is necessary also to diagnose the nature of the crises, before proposing appropriate measures to address the problems disclosed.

It should be recognized from the outset that the crises are partly structural in nature, as they are a function of the continent’s incorporation into a capitalist global system over which Africans have virtually no control and in whose grips they are more or less entrapped. The system functions on the basis of self-interest and profit maximization.

Although the crises might have a global dimension, African rulers –not leaders– cannot be divested of moral responsibility in exacerbating them. From the last quarter of the twentieth century until now, most African countries have been governed by mercenary-type rulers who have chosen to serve more the interests of foreign patrons who supply them with weapons of destruction than to advance the welfare of their fellow compatriots. It is this effective indirect control of Africa by foreign forces that is called neo-colonialism.

In the past three decades, Africa’s outstanding neo-colonial rulers have included, though not limited to: Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko of the country he had renamed Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic; Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon; Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo; Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea; Paul Biya of Cameroon; Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda; and Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville. All of these rulers –some still in power– had long tenure in power more because of the military and financial backing of foreign patrons than the support of their own citizens.

Equally complicit in the growth of crises in the continent are African intelligentsia who, instead of analyzing and speaking up against the corruption of power and its impact on ordinary people, have more often than not oiled the very machinery of corruption either by their thunderous silence or by offering their services to legitimize the neo-colonial rulers or by working directly with outside neo-colonial forces.

As a result of the moral bankruptcy of the neo-colonial rulers and servile intelligentsia, all over the continent, the buoyant optimism that characterized the decade of decolonization (1960-1970) has been dwarfed by the hijacking and betrayal of the aspirations of the great majority of people.

The betrayal of the aspirations of the great majority of people can be illustrated specifically, for example, by what the rulers have done or not done to advance or frustrate the future of the continent’s most precious and yet vulnerable group. These are the youth, on whose shoulders rest the prospects for the continent.

In a rapidly changing technological world, where skills in science and technology tend to determine quality of life, Africa’s neo-colonial rulers have siphoned off ill-gotten wealth to offshore accounts for their private use or that of family members; and they have used their countries’ resources to purchase weapons to repress and kill their fellow citizens, instead of building first-class educational and health infrastructures to empower Africa’s youth.

The dreadful logic of prioritization of means of destruction over investment in productive sectors of society has afforded neo-colonial patrons of the continent’s rulers boundless opportunities to make huge profits at the expense of the people. The fact of the matter is that although it might be in the interest of foreign manufacturers of weapons to sell what fuel conflicts in Africa, so that they can sell more, the more devastating civil conflicts are, the more dim become the prospects for Africa’s development.
In conflict-ridden regions of the continent, children and women bear the brunt and burden of the upheaval and atrocities more disproportionately than most in society. During conflicts, most of them barely know whether there is life before deaths.

For the ones not in civil-conflict areas, the policies of neo-colonial rulers have fed children a diet of despair that subject them to an inferno of life worse than death. It is not atypical to see malnourished children in the streets of many African cities with skeletal frames that can barely carry the weight of their bloated bellies. Weighed down by misery, they die many times over by the loss of hope. Many African rulers are excellent candidates worthy to be indicted and put out of circulation for the countless Africans who have perished and for the millions of young Africans who have had their future reduced to ashes.

For young Africans lucky enough to attend schools, most of them live in glorified misery. To begin with, as though to make a mockery of their future, children in schools are subjected to serious miseducation due to under-funding of learning institutions, appointment of barely literate people to run ministries of education and under-training and remuneration of teachers. The lack of seriousness to prepare young people for the challenges of the future is perhaps poignantly captured by the fact that almost every African country has recruited and trained more people in the military than teachers and doctors combined.

At the general level, the crises have manifested themselves in a variety of ways: in cancerous corruption; in tragic attempts at migrations across the Sahara to Europe at the risk of perishing in the high seas; in catastrophic civil conflicts; in explosive birth rates not matched by rising productive socio-economic activities; in shrinking democratic space for free expression and self-realization; and above all, in loss of hope for a better tomorrow.

As the human tolls of the crises escalate, politically conscious Africans agonize about both the nature of crises and what to do about them. Broadly, some attribute it to the personalization of power, while others ascribe the crises to lack of internal legitimacy, and yet some blame the crises on insufficient assimilation of Western values. Although there is a hint of truth in these assertions, they are not grounded in critical historical perspective.

Two twin and critical factors that have received inadequate attention are, first, as indicated above, the neo-colonial status of most African States; and the second is linked to the issue of values and means in politics.

In as far as the issue of means and values is concerned, it is a historical truism of universal significance that politics not liberalized by ethical values, as embodied for example in the rule of law and democratic accountability, have more often than not subverted social peace and unity, human rights, sustainable human security and economic development; with devastating consequences for the great majority of ordinary people. African countries cannot be exempt from this iron law of history. In fact, the lack of ethical compass to guide African rulers in whatever they do have led them to betray African aspirations, as they commit themselves not to the common good but to personal enrichment and political longevity in office.

The term ethics is used here to refer in general to moral conduct and values that prioritize and are anchored in qualities such as truth-telling, freedom, fairness, respect, dignity and compassion.

It is quite apparent that the lack of ethical values among African rulers has contributed mightily to the escalation of crises in Africa in the past several decades. Although they have used the military and Machiavellian guile to keep themselves in power, the bankruptcy has wreaked havoc to socio-political processes of the continent with devastating consequences.

The conduct of African neo-colonial rulers has proved the validity of the truism that there is an intricate link between ethics and good governance, which the philosopher, Albert Camus (1913-60), captured in the aphorism that: “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon the world.” The fact of the matter is that ethical values are a sine qua non of any meaningful and sustainable development that enhances the welfare of people.

However, the issue of values should not be looked at abstractly. Values, of course, develop in a socio-political context of power relations. In Africa, values have developed and been molded by centuries of trafficking in Africans by European merchants, followed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by European colonial conquest. These twin phenomena corrupted African communitarian values, which was captured in the inclusive notion of ubuntu that meant: “I am because we are.”

Surveying the African socio-political and economic landscape, it is fair to conclude that none of the rulers whose conduct has devastated African lives and hopes has demonstrated faith in the African fabled spirit of ubuntu.

Yet, if we are to arrest the crises that have bedeviled the great majority of African people and left them without fundamental freedoms and basic amenities that should enhance their welfare and dignity, it might be necessary to both rediscover and put into practice affirmative African communitarian values, as well as renounce neo-colonialism.

Professor Amii Omara-Otunnu
University of Connecticut, Storrs
Chairman, Freedom and Unity Front of Uganda

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