Abuja, Nigeria – As Nigerians protest against SARS, similar protests are also underway in Guinea, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa, and various other African countries. In fact, this report by IRC ranks the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria among the world’s top five countries facing humanitarian crisis in 2020 followed closely by Burkina Faso, Burundi, South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Chad. Hundreds of African protesters and refugees continue to stage peaceful demonstrations all over the continent, despite being met, in many cases, with bullets from their country’s armed forces.
There are so many dictatorships masquerading as democracies on this continent, alongside economic crises that never seem to go away. The question, Why does Africa have so many problems? comes up more frequently, and in much broader circles. In most cases, it is rhetoric, in various others, it is whispered in confusion and accompanied by uncertain shrugs. In my culture, we believe firmly in the power of history in shaping the present. You need to know where you came from to figure out where you are headed. As Africans, our history is tainted by the ills of colonialism.
Before the coming of the white man, Africa already existed in its glory and completeness. Contrary to most depictions, we weren’t naked and living on trees. There was trade, the arts were thriving, and there were complex administrative systems. In Nigeria for instance, the Igbos of the present Southeastern region ran a comprehensive democratic system of government while in Benin, trade and arts flourished like never before.
With the arrival of the colonizers however, most of these, if not all, were destroyed. The most well-known ill of colonialism was of the Slave Trade because colonial monsters literally kidnapped millions of Africans, the very human resource of the continent, and shipped them away to serve and build their empires for them. What is less known is what was done to the land and people that they left behind; a case of exploitation, pillaging and rape of a continent.
With the onset of the scramble for and partition of Africa, white men from France, the USA, Germany, Britain, and Portugal had a meeting to carve up Africa. They decided that for a colony to be regarded as part of the country, the colonizing country had to exercise total administrative control over the majority of that colony region. Put differently, even slave trade was no longer enough. They resolved to –and indeed went on to– wage a different terrifying round of conquests aimed at suppressing all existing and independent peoples in Africa in their homeland. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was how many African countries, as we know them today were born.
The colonial governments manufactured modern Africa and if you look closely, you will find multiple instances of the continuing effects of the colonial systems in modern African countries today. Colonialism left more than a bitter aftertaste behind; it also left us with a mixture of hastily manufactured countries, civilian-unfriendly armed forces, a nepotism fuelled bureaucracy, and a patronage-based political system. This is hardly surprising because for years under colonial rule, these were the only type of systems that modern Africans knew and understood. And so, even until now, they remain the norm.
The formation of the United States –asides from the atrocities committed on the native Americans– was based on the ideals of liberty and freedom. African countries have no such illusions because ours was a one-way relationship of exploitation. Both human resources and raw materials alike were exploited and shipped to Western countries for their selfish gains. African countries were begun as downright criminal entities set up by buccaneer whitemen seeking the exploitation of black men for their own benefit.
While all these were going on, there was in addition, a conscious effort to ensure that no capacity for human and industrial development was built on these regions. No factories were built. Schools that were not built or managed by the colonial governments and the missionaries were forbidden. Nigeria, for instance, did not get its first University until the 1940s despite the fact that there were thousands of young people eager for higher education. People who were to be educated were carefully chosen by the colonial governments and sent to England to receive their education. This has immensely helped the colonial Masters maintain an intellectual lien on Africa’s future.
Now of course, African governments have a share in this blame. Postcolonial governments across Africa had the opportunity to tear down these flawed structures and start afresh. They could have redrawn their national maps, renegotiated the basis of the nationalities, and begun anew. Instead, all they did was to simply step into the shoes of the colonists to inherit their powers and privileges. All they did was to aspire to the colonial lifestyle, and since they were backed by the military machinery founded and left behind by these Western governments, they only got worse with time. The consequences of this are the bloody civil wars, genocides, coups and counter coups that have followed most African countries until now.
There is a difference between leaders and dealers; a difference the colonial masters know only too well. They ensured that the more radical individuals could not get into power under the colonial administrations and they employed all tactics known to man to achieve this. For instance, when Nelson Mandela was to be released from jail, he initially stuck to his guns about the inability of his people to share power with the whites; but as ‘negotiations’ developed, time dragged on and the violence against blacks continued unabated. That is until he agreed to power sharing, a significant reason as to why the native South Africans would be treated as second-class citizens in their own country for years to after.
The reason for a vast majority of problems faced by African countries today is not the bad leadership structures in place. Things are more complicated than that because the root cause of our problems is that when the good or radical leaders show up, they are quickly silenced and replaced with puppets whose strings can be tugged at the whims of the ex-colonialists. Instances of this abound. From Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Congo’s Patrice Lumumba to Burundi’s Louis Rwagasore and Morocco’s Mehdi Ben Barka down to Mozambique’s Eduardo Mondlane and Libya’s Gaddaffi, African leaders who have attempted to deviate from the structures left by the colonial ‘masters’ have been either removed through alleged CIA-sponsored coups, cut down through alleged NATO-championed assassinations or eliminated by their ex-French, or Portuguese colonial masters.
To protect their interests after the ‘independence’ of African countries, these colonial masters put in place systems that will continually ensure that their interests of exploitation were guaranteed. Countries such as Congo, Cameroon colonized by France still paid to France what is known as the colonial tax; payment by these countries to France for the seeming ‘development’ that they brought with them. This was not a mutual agreement; it was the response to France’s threat of comprehensively destroying all that had been built in the country (schools, hospitals and churches) in the event of non-payment.
It’s difficult to totally erase the systems and structures that were built by the colonial governments. In 1929 during the Aba Women’s Riots, on the orders of the white colonial regional governor, the army opened fire on peaceful women protesters who were protesting against the new tax imposition killing about 58 women and injuring many others. Such legacies were handed down as “administrative systems” and still haunt us until today, a glaring example of which is the Lekki massacre of a few days ago, from which Nigerian youths are still reeling from. Presently, most African countries are simply trying to find a steady balance between the sociocultural norms, the legacies of the colonial systems and the modern aspirations of their citizens.
So today, most of the problems and protests occuring in Africa are reflections of the valiant attempts to topple these systems that have held us hostage for generations. Previous generations have attempted to do the same thing. In most cases their attempts have been suppressed by the neocolonial systems still in place. The methods might have changed but the end results remain the same. The tool may no longer be military and political, rather it is now more economic and financial. Take a look at Congo for instance. Today, for every iPhone you use, the materials are sourced from Congo, a country which has been embroiled in conflicts over the past 24 years. The same country where King Leopold of Belgium committed unspeakable atrocities while exploiting their raw materials.
So, when you ask why Africa has so many problems, understand that the source of nearly every problem on this continent is the white man, all that he has done on our continent and all he continues to do. A child raised in an abusive household even when they leave that house most likely will become damaged and perhaps abusive on their own. And when and if such abuse continues despite having left the house then the likelihood that they will remain damaged and abusive increases.
This is the summation of the problem with Africa.
We are victims of abuse by white men and after all this time, they still won’t let us be free.
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Cover image of Lagos state police shooting at residents during the curfew in Adekunle Yaba on October 21, 2020. Photo: Ayanfe Olarinde.