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Untangling legacies of imperialism in modern Africa

Opinion & Analysis
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AFTER suffering for a long time from Western imperialism, Africa entered a period of decolonisation in the mid-20th century where it was granted its partial freedom, which came as a result of protracted liberation struggles.

Unfortunately, the granting of independence did not see the continent secure its economic freedom, as the means of production were retained by the West. They never left Africa, but continued to be active on the continent in all spheres.

As Kwame Nkrumah indicated, neo-colonialism is the highest stage of imperialism, and thus whatever trials and tribulations Africa is going through in contemporary times are inextricably linked to the legacies of imperialism by the hegemonic Westerners.

The International Criminal Court is a colonial institution being used by modern-day imperialists to execute political decisions behind closed doors. The United States’ activities within the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) indicate the aggressive nature of the globalists towards weaker regions.

The United States itself is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, yet under the powers vested in it through the UNSC, it can still refer any member to the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression, and crimes of impunity, as enshrined in Article 8 of the Rome Statute.

All these injustices in the international legal order expose the hegemonic dominance of the West and the misguided notion by the Westerners that they are superior to Africans.

As most cases involve African governments and the law primarily applies to Africa and not to hegemonic States, imperial institutions have persisted in oppressing Africa. Perhaps with less concern for the diverse interests of African governments, Western legal systems were established in response to demands made by Western commerce, business and politics. As a result, this is what led to the African Court on Justice and Human Rights.

Humans are self-centred and egoistic by nature, as emphasised by Hobbes, and national interest always supersedes States, push for absolute gains. Thus, whoever is in Africa in the 21st century, whether the Chinese, Westerners or Arabs, is there for their own personal interests, not for the development of Africa. The manner in which the whole world is flooding Africa is a telling phenomenon that there is a contemporary global rush for African resources.

There is a current worldwide scramble for African resources. This has made it clear that Africa has not been able to free itself from the shackles of neo-colonialism.

Resources are at the centre of global industrialisation, and thus Africa is a target and playing field for the leaders of global industries in the 21st century.

The world desperately needs the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’s cobalt and Zimbabwe’s lithium for the upcoming 5th industrial revolution, which is the internet of things in the era of the 5G network, and these are found in Africa. Ironically, in every African country where a semblance of importance seems to exist, unrest becomes the norm.

Mozambique’s Calbo Delgado has turned into a resource-rich war zone. Neo-colonial projects are centred around resources. ExxonMobil, Eni, TotalEnergies, and other Western gas operations add to the disruption created by this resource curse.

As per Mukpo, such massive multinational corporations have the dual advantage of enriching themselves at the expense of the poor while rendering poverty deeper. Conflicts over resources have destabilised States and have granted the West the opportunity to continue plundering African resources.

The legacy of such instability has been the same in Mali with its oil and gold reserves as it has been in the DRC with Western companies like Glencore and Apple mining cobalt and gold.

“Everyone, right from traditional allies to new entrants, are looking to make partnership with Africa because of the opportunities they see,” Dirk Kotze, a political scientist at University of South Africa, told Anadolu Agency.

The global rush for African resources has given Western companies control over Africa’s key mineral resources, securing their economic national interests, while threatening African sovereignty.

Hegemonic interest in Africa’s resources has also left the continent facing land degradation amid other problems. This has gone against section 24A of the 1996 Constitution of South Africa and section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe whereby everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being; to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation.

Western perceptions have exacerbated global racism and have rendered their imperialism in Africa justifiable as a “mission of civilisation”.

Western perceptions have exacerbated global racism and have rendered their imperialism in Africa justifiable as a “mission of civilisation”.

Africa is currently experiencing a sense of inferiority as a result of the West. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread globally, the African continent witnessed “vaccine apartheid”, wherein Westerners denied developing nations' requests for temporary waivers to enable them to use cost-effective means to fulfil pandemic demands, which had the unfortunate consequence of not attempting to prevent racial inequality and human rights abuses.

“As of June 2022, 72,09% of people in high income countries had been vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, whereas only 17,94% of people in low-income countries had been vaccinated,” said ET Achiume, the United Nations rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, in an open letter to the World Trade Organisation’s Twelfth Ministerial Conference.

Intellectual property protection laws under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement prevented countries in the Third World from delivering COVID-19 vaccines, which ultimately resulted in cash flows for Northern companies at the expense of people’s lives. Hence, States in the developing world lack reasonable access to life-saving treatments.

This superpower imbalance can, indeed, be related to the worldwide racist acts and exploitation. Additional instances of racism are seen in South Africa, where it further divides the continent into North and Sub-Saharan Africa. Initial racism of the West during the colonial era has greatly extended throughout Africa and other continents, deepening the racial tensions and divide which caused distractions on the African continent towards prosperity.

Racial inequalities inhibits Africa from attaining sustainable developmental goals said Office of Astronomy for Development director Kelvin Govender and his fellow Tawando Chingozha in the article Impact for Breakfast. The African Union Agenda 2063 and African National Strategies could potentially be analogous in this regard.

As Western imperialism in Africa has been tactically efficient, it has provided a foundation for all hegemonic countries, including China, to solidify their geopolitics there. They have set up a framework to progress their economic and national security on the continent.

As a consequence, it is a prerequisite that African member States move towards solidarity while decolonising the African perspective in order to get rid of racial connotations. International policymakers as well as implementers must reimagine international law in a manner that encompasses African cultural and traditional interpretations of the law.

For the continent to attain significant prosperity and surpass capacity and technological restrictions, it requires unprecedented policy flexibility and State capacity to dismantle imperialist colonial legacies.

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