As we watch a few of the surviving Mau Mau “rebels” take the government to court over a long history of torture, one question has been hushed up by the press – can ex-colonies ever overcome the brutality or western colonialism? There are hushed silences – and supposedly the emergence of hidden documents from FCO’s deep vaults is a slice of evidence that the time of postcolonialism has passed.
Yet, in Nigeria, where “democratic” elections have gone with overflowing amounts of corruption and violence – the lingering failures of colonial democracy and resource exploitation continue. Furthermore, the Wikileaks’ evidence has clearly shown how Shell has infiltrated the Nigerian government to secure their interests.
There is a clear question at hand that needs to be answered on Africa, and the continents diversity of problems – a question that the belief in ‘progress equals development’ silences: Are our demands for democracy in Africa all wrong?
The only way to answer that seems to be to start at the very beginning – understanding the way in which colonies were made and managed.
What is Colonialism?
There is an argument by proposers of “neocolonialism” that African Imperialism has turned into economic imperialism, disguised under the hegemony of capitalism. The argument goes that in the flush of the Washington Consensus reforms, the privatisation of resources, services and goods ensured that external, Western companies monopolised access to the goods, sending profits and taxes back home. In Samir Amin’s words, the wealth of the West has been sustained through capital “accumulation by [African] dispossession.”
There is logic in that argument – even during the Cold War battles in the Congo, there were points where Soviet troops were protecting American companies from the destruction by American/Belgian troops. The absurdity doesn’t end there – oil companies like Shell have a history of killing civilians in coalition with national governments.
But these interventions were not new. If history is anything to go by, the Scramble for Africa had little to do with liberating the masses or providing mutual benefit. It was resource exploitation that was the interest of colonialists – whether that be in natural resources, slaves or “obscurities”. And it was Social Darwinism that allowed for it.
Congo is an elaborated example of this – famous for being rich in natural resources, it was taken as King Leopold’s private grounds. Within his reign, the acts of brutality recorded are comparable to genocide. Leopold’s desire was rubber and gold, and he gained it through fierce violence – killing children, and the infamous six-tailed pigskin whip.
Since independence, Congo has faced continual efforts to destabilise the government. Apart from the war against Lumumba pursued by the Belgian-American coalition, the leadership of the nation has been of continual American and Western interests. The latest infiltration is of course then puppet leader, installed by the neighbouring Rwandan leader, Kagame – whose relations with right-wing Western leaders is more than well documented.
Desiring True Democracy
The Congo case is not unique. A study of Gabon’s past shows that their elections have faced the same brutality of interference. Firstly, the French installed Omar Bongo – a French educated aristocrat – to lead the populace in return for Oil. Now, 50 years later, while the Gabonese population suffer from hunger and poverty, his family have a £85 Million mansion in Paris and his son leads the country. All of this is praised by the West – from Sarkozy for France to Hillary Clinton for USA. Meanwhile Ali Bongo oppresses opposition with tear gas, rubber bullets and other weapons that we have sold him.
In Kenya, years of dictatorships by Kenyatta, Moi and now Kibabi is heavy in corruption and mismanagement. The vast areas of land rich in natural resources, such as the Aberdares, are still owned by British families who have paid no compensation to the lands original owners, the Maasai. The rich carnation factories in Naivasha remain in the hands of western companies, and the Nakuru locals are paid by day – depending on who comes first that morning. Faced with elections that only represent different faces of the same corruption game – Kenyans are tired of increasing food prices, increasing unemployment and increasing poverty. In the meanwhile, Kenya is praised for its rise in GDP.
In all of these countries, elections are sparred with violence; violence that is paid for by the middle classes, and that which the poor men are happy to enact. Why? Because they have no sovereignty over their own lives, the aggressive nature of warfare seems like the only way to empower themselves. In the meanwhile, the women are forced into passivity, using networks within their own groups to try and heal the wounds that effect their family, and friends.
The Role of China
The West is scared on one big fish taking the bait from them – China. Yet to African peoples, China rests clearly in the middle. While it does exchange resources for infrastructure that helps the country’s long-term asset investment, they refuse to employ local people. They also only negotiate with governments and do not respect the rights of the local people. China’s role may not be part of the old gang, but its increasing power is just as threatening to grassroots democracy as the others involved.
The Right to Democracy, Sovereignty and Independence
There is always a solution to poverty and poor health – . Those solutions will not come through giving more aid, or asking private companies to “invest” in African nations. That solution comes through the empowerment of the African peoples. By this I don’t mean microfinance initiatives, but political and economic reform. African nations need real Independence.
Democracy will not come through the enforcement of Washington or Westminster parliamentary models. Like our own forms of governance, the structure of democratic governance in each of those countries will only come through the most suitable system for those people.
Africans need the end of vulture funds and long-term debt, compensation for those materials stolen from them, and ownership over their own natural resources. If international NGOs really want to solve the problems of “Africa”, they need to support real political change and lobby our governments to pull out.