US industrialised only after defeating British colonisation

Tapiwa Gomo

IN the last instalments, I have dedicated much space to emphasising the importance of a home-grown projects in driving development.
Last week’s instalment was an acknowledgement that, in the globalised and competitive world we live in, effectively implementing a home-grown project is not a stroll in the park.

By Tapiwa Gomo

And those countries that have successfully done so have had to go through some of painful seasons of revolution, which earned them the freedom and ability to autonomously make decisions.

There are more global forces, mainly the developed countries, who are against developing countries pursuing home-grown policies because that would disrupt supplies of raw materials to their own economies.

It threatens their economic interests.

They want to have all the resources to themselves.

It is a selfish world where the “centre” calls the shots and ensures consolidation of power and global control enabling their hegemony to flourish. While these machinations are not as visible, they mask the reasons why other countries remain poor while others prosper.

Poverty is not a curse.

It is human-made.

Raoul Martinez (2017) in his book, Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth, The Illusion of Consent, and The Fight For Our Future, argues that no one is born poor.

People are born in different environments, including of poverty or opulence.

No one is given a chance to choose where to be born or their parents, but once born, people have a responsibility to change their environment.

Looking at how the world is structured today, it seems not so easy for those born in environments of deprivation to change their situation.

Why have societies such as those in Africa that are endowed with natural resources failed to develop?

This leads to my point of discussion today. One of the major highlights of the Pan-African post-independence discourse was to teach Africans that America and Europe — known as the West — are the enemies.

This is because they colonised us, made our ancestors slaves and they continue to exploit the continent to the detriment of its development.

True as this may be, the discourse, however, has denied Africans a chance to draw lessons from how a country such as the United States — a former British colony — secured independence and industrialised to become the world’s biggest economy. The British colonisation of the Americas had begun in 1607.

However, following disagreements and denial of rights and power by the British colonial administration, a struggle ensued that led to American independence from Britain.
As a colony, America supported Britain’s economic development, mainly providing raw materials such as cotton.

In 1783 at the end of American Revolution, the northern region of the United States struggled for eight decades to achieve economic independence because of Britain’s continued hold on the southern regions.

The Americans, mainly those in the north, were against the idea of Britain leading or dictating their policy agenda for them.

They instead preferred a home-grown model, where their economic independence would be built around their local entrepreneurs gaining access to British industrial and scientific knowledge in order to kick-start new enterprises in America, largely based on beneficiation and processing their own raw materials.

Cotton textile factories were among the preferred ventures that later became the foundation of the Industrial Revolution.

Unsurprisingly, Britain was not prepared to let go, as in their view — which remains dominant in Africa today — the role of a colony was to provide raw materials for British industries.

Their resistance transcended just the refusal to let go but went to great lengths to thwart American efforts from acquiring British technological expertise, including banning their technicians from travelling to the United States.

They also threatened American cotton producers in the southern regions with sanctions if they supported the independence cause.

However, pressure for independence was unrelenting. The battle between the north and south and Britain led to the American civil war in 1861. The defeat of the south, largely controlled by Britain, marked the end of their political and economic hold over the United States.

That freedom from colonisation spawned the industrialisation of the United States, with its local entrepreneurs building on iron and steel, engineering, oil and gas, finance, electric, textile and eventually motor-vehicle industries.

Again, Americans had choice not to fight and remain a colony that would survive on aid and policies from Britain.

This abridged history of the economic development in the United States to become the world’s super power teaches us that development is not donated but is fought for.
Development is an outcome of struggles for power and a result of revolutions and it should be owned and led by locals.

It also helps us to answer the question why United States of America is the richest country in the world, while African countries endowed with abundant natural resources remain trapped in abject poverty.

The Americans fought, conquered and acquired the freedom required to navigate the obstacles put in their way by history by pursuing home-grown industrialisation, which created a genuine capitalist society.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa

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