Tuesday, March 30, 2010


When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.

— Bishop Desmond Tutu

In most areas colonial administrations did not have the manpower or resources to fully administer the territory and had to rely on local power structures to help them. Various factions and groups within the societies exploited this European requirement for their own purposes, attempting to gain a position of power within their own communities by cooperating with Europeans. One aspect of this struggle included what Terrence Ranger has termed the “invention of tradition.” In order to legitimize their own claims to power in the eyes of both the colonial administrators, and their own people, people would essentially manufacture “traditional” claims to power, or ceremonies. As a result many societies were thrown into disarray by the new order.

— History of Africa, Wikipedia, accessed February 2005

We must remember that the European agreements that had carved up Africa into states paid little attention to cultural and ethnic boundaries and ethnic groups had little opportunity or need to form political alliances or accommodations under repressive colonial rule.… Think of countries such as Canada, which has been trying for hundreds of years with mixed success to accommodate only two linguistic groups — English and French — and you get an idea of the problems of African states with far greater cultural and linguistic divisions.

— Richard H. Robbins, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, (Allyn and Bacon, 2002), p. 302)

Consider the extent to which he Second World War of just 6 years duration has pervaded the consciousness of our developed world for 2 generations and imagine how 4 centuries of enslavement might have seized the entire social and cultural ethos of an undeveloped continent.

— Bob Geldof, Why Africa? Bob Geldof Speaks at St. Paul’s Cathedral, DATA.org, April 21, 2004

An interview with former Tanzania President, Julius Nyerere captures some of this:

I was in Washington last year. At the World Bank the first question they asked me was “how did you fail?” I responded that we took over a country with 85 per cent of its adult population illiterate. The British ruled us for 43 years. When they left, there were 2 trained engineers and 12 doctors. This is the country we inherited.

When I stepped down there was 91-per-cent literacy and nearly every child was in school. We trained thousands of engineers and doctors and teachers.

In 1988 Tanzania’s per-capita income was $280. Now, in 1998, it is $140. So I asked the World Bank people what went wrong. Because for the last ten years Tanzania has been signing on the dotted line and doing everything the IMF and the World Bank wanted. Enrollment in school has plummeted to 63 per cent and conditions in health and other social services have deteriorated. I asked them again: “what went wrong?” These people just sat there looking at me. Then they asked what could they do? I told them have some humility. Humility — they are so arrogant!

… It seems that independence of the former colonies has suited the interests of the industrial world for bigger profits at less cost. Independence made it cheaper for them to exploit us. We became neo-colonies.

— Julius Nyerere interviewed by Ikaweba Bunting, The Heart of Africa, New Internationalist Magazine, Issue 309, January-February 1999 (Emphasis Added)

It is undeniable that there has been poor governance, corruption and mismanagement in Africa. However, the briefing reveals the context — the legacy of colonialism, the support of the G8 for repressive regimes in the Cold War, the creation of the debt trap, the massive failure of Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed by the IMF and World Bank and the deeply unfair rules on international trade. The role of the G8 in creating the conditions for Africa’s crisis cannot be denied. Its overriding responsibility must be to put its own house in order, and to end the unjust policies that are inhibiting Africa’s development.

— It’s the “Blame the Victim” Summit, Action for Southern Africa, June 25, 2002. (You can see the briefing in full (PDF format) from this link.)

Anup Shah, Conflicts in Africa—Introduction, Global Issues, Updated: November 30, 2009

1 comment:

  1. Very well put snippets from different sources to highlight Africa's plight!