Why is independent Africa more dependent?

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African continent

By Tapiwa Gomo
THE year 1960 and onwards marked the beginning of new a political season for most African countries as their fight for independence started to yield results. That period marked the end to colonial rule in most of the French colonies as well as in some of the largest British and Belgian colonies. The wave of change — as it was described then — cascaded down to southern African countries in the later decades of the 20th century.

Independence meant that nations that were previously under foreign colonial rule — largely European — would start governing themselves; with their leadership and its people exercising self-rule as sovereign States.

The implications of political independence go beyond just self-governance. It meant the end of racist or segregationist policies that sidelined Africans from accessing resources and opportunities. It also meant the freedom for States and their citizens to develop themselves and improve the conditions of their lives.

It also gave post-independence governments the opportunity to engage at regional and global level to access markets, resources, knowledge and technology and to influence decisions and policies. In short, independence was supposed to give a new beginning and new lease of life for African societies.

There are varying arguments on whether colonial rule put African countries on a faster lane to economic development or slowed it down by disrupting ongoing progress.

Those who argue for the former point at the Western type of infrastructure and the systems that were left behind by and inherited from the colonial system mainly in those countries where the colonial administrations settled.

Most of those who follow this argument tend to use that as a point of comparison between the economic development between the colonial and post-independence leadership.

It is the same argument that raised dust on social media in the past few weeks when the post-independent administration was compared with that of Ian Smith.

Similar sentiments tend to emerge in South Africa, mainly when it comes to renaming of infrastructure with some white communities arguing that black leadership must build new infrastructure and give them local names.

It is a politically sensitive subject that must, however, be allowed for debate. When people are held in an unhappy situation, they vent their anger in different ways including via those comparisons.

The latter argument posits that colonial rule slowed down development in Africa. Those from this school of thought draw from pre-colonial advancements that were taking place across the continent. Many advances in metallurgy and tool making were made across ancient Africa between 1 500 and 2 000 years ago and had surpassed those of Europeans then and surprised the colonialists when they learned of them. They were also major advancements in the fields of architecture, engineering, medicine and navigation which were thought to be ahead of Europe.

On these and other accounts, this school of thought concludes that earlier contact with Europe, colonialism and the massive use of advanced war technology were disruptive of the unfolding economic and technological development in Africa. Colonialism annihilated the advancements in ancient Africa and reconstructed narratives and discourses in furtherance of their oppressive agenda.

That came with a mental re-orientation exercise via a well-coordinated cultural industry to ensure Africans become submissive and accepted that they need to learn European ways of life before they are accepted as equal human beings. Religion, education and sport largely played these roles.

It further argues that the colonial project was never about developing Africa and its people, but in pursuit of European economic and political interests thus dismissing whatever positive remnants of economic developments left behind by the colonial system.

In addition, they note that economic and political relations that remained between independent African countries and former colonisers favour the latter, which is one of the reasons why the former has remained perpetually poor.

In other words they conclude that the current state of Africa’s development or lack thereof is exactly how Europe wanted it as it continuously suits its economic and political agenda.

For these and other reasons, Africa has remained more dependent than it was in pre-colonial times. One of the ways of ensuring that they remain dependent is to keep them in debt.

By the year 2020, African countries’ debt rose to US$625 billion, while they spend nearly US$60 billion on debt repayments per year. Notwithstanding the vast natural and human resources across the continent, half of the countries in Africa have either bankrupt or at high risk of going bankrupt.

The challenge is combination of factors which includes mismanagement by own leadership and a mental condition that is yet to realise that we adopted a system that is dependent on and controlled by one centre of power.

This system is primarily designed to sustain its power retention agenda and has no interest in our welfare. It is a system we all adopted via religion, education and other socialisation agents to view the foreign ways of life as the prototype to which everyone must aspire.

  • Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.