True independence requires a change in trade relations with former colonisers


THE key reason for the colonisation of Africa by the Western countries was not the joy experienced by the colonial powers of subjugating the African peoples and ruling them and depriving them of the positions of their monarchs and their chieftainships, No! The major reason was economic.

The European countries as a result of the industrial revolution and their discovery of machinery that could speedily process products resulted in them needing more and more raw materials from agriculture and minerals to process. Such resources were getting in short supply in the then industrial countries. Ideas to look elsewhere for raw materials, therefore, emerged and abounded. 

The ploy started innocent, with foreign overseas charters established by overseas countries with European merchants sailing to Africa to trade with African chiefs through exchanges of their finished products for mineral resources such as gold, other minerals and fruit products such as palm fruits in West Africa. 

Such trade was, however, conducted at the mercy and pace of the African chiefs, and tended to be slow at times.  It, therefore, could not benefit European traders as they would have wanted. 

Therefore, did not for a start prosper as much and as quickly as the Europeans would have liked.  Populations in Europe also began to grow. 

More mouths had to be fed.  Along that, there was the need for labour to meet the required increase in demand. 

The approach of acquiring raw materials and the requirement for increased labour necessitated a change in the approach of acquiring both raw materials and labour.  The approach changed from gentle negotiations to brutal.  Slavery began.

 African chiefs and monarchs were solicited to provide both raw materials and labour.  The requests had to be granted.

No, could not be taken for an answer.  As time went on, slavery was abolished because it was condemned by many even in Europe and the United States of America.  It was eventually seen as brutal and embarrassing, so it was stopped.

The crux of the matter now came to ensuring the supply of overseas industries with raw materials.  Slavery had been abolished, of course, but the fact that slaves could not be returned to their motherlands meant that the overseas industries still had sufficient labour force even though it was no longer forced labour. 

What was needed the most were raw materials and mineral resources for processing by the industries of the Western countries.

Some strategy, therefore, had to be crafted —  the partitioning of colonies from which raw materials and mineral resources could be sourced was the answer.  That is how the Berlin conference of the partitioning of Africa in 1844 developed. 

In the established colonies, whatever little infrastructure was developed, it was developed to facilitate the supply of raw materials to the colonising powers overseas.

 Proper roads were constructed from the centres of raw materials leading to the ports from which the resources could be shipped to  Europe for processing. 

Processing factories for raw materials in the colonies were heavily discouraged.  All the emphasis was put on extraction of mineral resources and the growing of produce in the case of agriculture. 

Countries that had fertile lands for growing tobacco would never have cigarette processing factories.  Those that had mineral resources such as gold and diamonds were encouraged to concentrate on digging and thus improve the outputs for export to developed countries.

When independence was attained by most if not all the African countries, the status quo of production — extraction and trading in primary resources was maintained.  Independence to attain human rights and free movement to whatever places once prohibited for the African peoples was readily granted. 

Even the acquisition of land, a key component of means of production, even though resisted strongly, has not been seen as crucial. But African countries need to shift from being mere producers of primary products to the processors or benefactors of such products.

The processing of primary products has the multiplier effect.  It generates revenues geometrically and results in super profits which when ploughed back create plenty employment.  That is why Western countries have less unemployment.  They benefit immensely from processing primary products from African countries.  The anomaly is that such Western countries do not have nearly as much as the raw materials they are processing as the African countries.  

They defined their role of trading with colonised countries since colonial days.  Since independence, African countries have  maintained the status quo. They have not migrated their industries from extraction to beneficiation.  Even rich countries such as South Africa, so rich in gold and other resources, have maintained the status quo.

There should be awareness among African countries that the role assigned them from colonial times by former colonial powers of extracting and exporting primary products to the former colonies is an inferior status that brings no benefit to the former colonies. Such status has been maintained by our countries. 

It is paradoxical that the former colonies themselves that are rich in such products get little benefit from them, but those who do not have such raw materials in abundance obtain maximum benefit. The former colonial powers as a result of the wealth they obtain from processing primary products, get super net profits that they plough back to the former colonies through establishing multinational corporations. 

The profits from those Western multinational corporations are ploughed back to the Western countries. 

No wonder Western countries have strong economies in general and their currencies hardly depreciate as much as our African currencies.  Our role as former colonies to trade in primary resources with developed countries is an indirect and sure way of transferring our wealth to developed nations.

In conclusion, if anything, our major priority as former colonies should be to focus on beneficiating the resources we are plentifully endowed with.  The role of our trading should not be defined by those who get resources from us.  The African Union needs to look into this matter with the urgency and seriousness it deserves. 

Those with plenty of resources should not be receiving aid continually from those who do not have such resources.  Our status as developing countries can only change for the better if our role in trading with what we trade changes. 

No country on planet earth can improve its wealth and get richer when it trades on primary resources without ever beneficiating them.

˜ Reinford Khumalo is professor of leadership and organisational behaviour.  He is a management consultant.  He writes here in his personal capacity. 


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