Nkrumah enjoys a light moment with Kennedy during U.S. visit. The CIA under President Johnson-backed the 1966 coup. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
[Message To Africa’s Youth]
Most of Africa’s socio-political and economic woes could be solved if most African countries were able to determine their own destiny–that is currently not the case.
How is it that Congo can have mineral and natural resource wealth estimated at anywhere from $24 – to $30 trillion and remain impoverished? How is it that it can have the world’s major supplies of coltan and cobalt and be classified as a “poor” country? Why is it that most African countries have failed to rise to the occasion? How is it that the African continent, with so much wealth potential, remains the sick-child of the world?
There is nothing paradoxical about this condition. The reasons behind this condition are very clear, including to the men who now run African countries. In 1967 the Kenyan independence leader Jaramogi (a.k.a. Jolamogi) Oginga Odinga, father to Raila Amolo Odinga, wrote his life story, “Not Yet Uhuru.” That title captures today’s African condition.
In 1884 Africa was formally partitioned and eventually colonized by the European powers of the day at the Berlin Conference. Africa was turned into a large plantation: providing minerals, natural resources, and cheap labor to fuel Europe’s rapid industrial growth; and, providing consumer markets for Europe’s manufactured products. Uganda produced cotton which was shipped to Europe to produce textiles sold at significantly marked up prices; Ghana produced cocoa, converted and sold as expensive chocolates in fancy packages; South Africa produced diamonds, cut and polished in Europe into expensive jewelry; and, Congo’s minerals helped produce the atomic bomb and other manufactures. Other African countries produced various raw materials to power growth in Europe.
So how can anyone be surprised that Europeans grew richer while Africans were impoverished? This exploitative relationship was maintained by the colonial dictatorships — European governors and military commanders and African foot-soldiers subjugated under efficient colonial divide-and-rule policies as the enforcers on the ground. (Recall Steve Biko’s wise words: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”)
Today African countries have African presidents. But in essence they are leaders on paper alone. They are actually enforcers on behalf of Europe, the United States and, today, China the new neo-imperial power. Kwame Nkrumah explained it best in “Neocolonialism The Last Stage of Imperialism” (1965), writing, “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.” Every African, regardless of his or her political ideological orientation must read Nkrumah’s enlightening and informative well-researched book filled with timeless observations and economic data.
The structural relations between Africa and the former colonial powers remain as they were in 1884. Africa remains a large plantation. Africa provides Europe with: mineral and natural resources; cheap labor for multinational corporations; and, consumer markets for manufactures and debt at exorbitant interest rates.
In the 1960s Nkrumah warned against what has now become entrenched neocolonialism. He declared that Africa would only be able to protect its sovereignty and control over its riches by uniting as one continental government. A united continent with a government representing the interest of hundreds of millions of Africans at the time, with a unified military command, would then engage with the world on its own terms. Africa would decide which products it wanted to sell to the world, and at a price determined by Africans. Don’t let anyone fool you about prices being dictated “by the laws of supply and demand.” If you need a good example, look no further than OPEC and Saudi Arabia; they determine the supply of petroleum and thereby the global price of oil.
Yet today African countries have no control over the price at which they sell their mineral riches. That’s how Congo can possess abundant quantities of coltan, used in the manufacture of billions of cell phones around the world, yet have nothing to show for it.
Nkrumah wrote: “Unless small States can combine they must be compelled to sell their primary products at prices dictated by the developed nations and buy their manufactured goods at the prices fixed by them. So long as neo-colonialism can prevent political and economic conditions for optimum development, the developing countries, whether they are under neo-colonialist control or not, will be unable to create a large enough market to support industrialization. In the same way they will lack the financial strength to force the developed countries to accept their primary products at a fair price.”
Nkrumah argued that African countries who tried to pursue independent paths alone would face financial retaliation by being denied access to investment capital and credit (Zimbabwe) or they could be subjected to direct military invasion (Congo) or destabilization from other African countries working in the interest of Western capital (Congo, victimized by multiple invasions from Uganda and Rwanda).
Nkrumah was a victim of the phenomena he outlined in “Neocolonialism The Last Stage of Imperialism.” Nkrumah tried to break from the neocolonial model by not only preaching industrialization but practicing it. He built the Volta hydroelectric and aluminum production project, ironically with U.S. funding. A few months after the project became operational in 1966, Nkrumah was deposed in a CIA-backed military coup.
Other Africans who challenged the neocolonial model have been eliminated. In the 1980s Thomas Sankara came to power in Burkina Faso and preached mental, economic and political independence from France and the West. He reminded the Burkinabe that they had been growing their own food for centuries. Why then were they importing rice in the 20th century? “Consume what you produce, and produce what you consume,” he said. In July 1987 at the Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting in Ethiopia he urged African countries to collectively renounce the massive international debt overburdening their economies. He predicted that if Burkina Faso did it alone he would not be alive to attend the 1988 OAU meeting. Sankara was assassinated three months later on October 15, 1987.
Africa will never be able to create wealth and prosperity unless African countries use their resources to produce value-added goods. This will create more employment, an increasingly expanding skilled labor force, value-added exports, increased output of goods and services, and increased exchanges within and between African countries. These developments don’t occur accidentally. They can only come about when African leaders make collective decisions to pursue coordinated policies for integrated development resulting in multiple beneficiaries.
African countries are today beholden to either the World Bank or China for credit. The World Bank is controlled by the West and the U.S. is the largest shareholder. Does anyone really believe that the U.S. and the Europeans want to help Africa become a competitor in the international market by exporting manufactured products? Does anyone believe China wants Africa to produce industrial goods and cut into China’s own profits?
So what is the lesson here for the youth of Africa?
Nkrumah’s generation knew its mission. With intelligent, dedicated, determined, and diligent agitation he and his contemporaries removed European colonial rule. They failed to steer Africa on a path to prusue independent political and economic strategies; not for lack of trying. Neo-Imperialism aligned with the Mobutus and Tshombes established the current neocolonial status quo.
Of course those who benefit from Africa’s balkanization will always do everything to undermine African unity, as Nkrumah observed: “Neo-colonialism is based upon the principle of breaking up former large united colonial territories into a number of small non-viable States which are incapable of independent development and must rely upon the former imperial power for defense and even internal security. Their economic and financial systems are linked, as in colonial days, with those of the former colonial ruler.”
The mission of the youth of Africa must be clear–To remove from power the African dictators and puppet presidents who govern Africa for the interest of European governments, corporations, and China. These must be replaced by governments for Africans, by Africans, of Africans.
Then the decisive phase is building Pan-African unity. This can be achieved by supporting regional Pan-African organizations now growing in East Africa, Central Africa, North Africa, West Africa, and, Southern Africa. These regional bodies’ commissions must eventually come together through the AU. Only a United States of Africa will be able to protect Africa’s wealth.
Global socio-economic and political conditions have changed dramatically since Nkrumah’s days.Today even in the United States the majority of the citizens are decrying corporate greed and income and wealth inequality. U.S. youth are terrified by the tremendous college debt burden clouding their future. The youth of Africa must align their struggles with those of young people in the industrialized world and elsewhere. They must cross-fertilize action plans by exchanging ideas via social media. We have already seen how enlightened citizens of the world have been supporting the resistance in Sudan.
The old corrupt order in Africa must fall so that a new Africa can rise.