#YNaijaEssays: The West wants the spoils of colonialism, guilt free and served on a platter, but if Africa will progress, there has to be a reckoning


As a presidential candidate, Macron painted a striking picture of a progressive thinker on western imperialism and other sundry African issues. He termed French colonisation a “crime against humanity” suggesting that France should “offer apologies to all those toward whom we directed these acts.”

Granted, this is more than any of his predecessors have publicly conceded or confessed. However, as the new French President, Macron has yet to make good on his promises to offer retributions on his country’s behalfm choosing instead to try to push the blame for colonialism and its enduring effects to African countries themselves. During his visit to one of France’s former colonies, Algeria in 2017, President Macron took a measured tone, extricating himself and his generation from the “crimes” of the past, while urging the youth to quit putting the blame of their present predicament at the feet of the past atrocities of his forebears. Algeria is in the throes of high unemployment, low oil prices, austerity and political uncertainty and Macron would rather its youth focused more on the future instead of the ghosts of the past.

“I’ve already said we need to recognise what we did, but Algeria’s youth can’t just look to its past. It needs to look forward and see how it will create jobs”

…The ambition I have for the relationship between Algeria and France has nothing to do with what was done for decades. It’s a new story that’s being written.”

But Algeria’s present is inextricably linked to the role its former coloniser played in its past – as is the case for former colonised states.

After the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom and the United States of America between 1800 and 1830, European nations set about spreading their empires. Africa was fertile ground, as its peoples were considered uneducated and uncultured and its territory was literally swarming with natural resources, perfect for subjugation and the accumulation of wealth, “European countries negotiated a partition of African territory among themselves (without Africans present) at a conference in Berlin in late 1884-early 1885. Agreements in hand, the countries proceeded to make good on their claims essentially to move up the rivers, trade routes and trade networks to create a greater European presence while eliminating many local African economic arrangements.”  France set its sights on Senegal, Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Cameroon while Britain opted for Nigeria, Kenya, Botswana, Ghana, Gambia, Somalia, Sudan, Zambia, Sierre Leone, Malawi, Namibia, Zimbabwe etc.

Sometime in the 19th century, France developed the doctrine of assimilation to prevent an anti-semitic war within its borders. It was proposed and accepted that Jews could practise their religion privately “in exchange for full participation in the construction of the nation”. France also undertook a “drive to erase regional and linguistic differences in France through free schooling and compulsory military service”, the end goal being forging a collective French identity.

When it came to conquered territories, however, French intellectuals argued that their culture and religion made them “the least assimilable”. France, therefore, presented a doctored version of assimilation to colonised territories. Whereas Jews could vote and become French citizens by embracing French language and culture (and private practice of Jewish religion), colonised peoples (especially indigenous Muslims) could only become full-blown French citizens if they publicly renounced their religion. French nationality was still on the table, though.

Britain, on the other hand, harboured no pretences of trying to make “Brits” or “English” out of its subjects. For its machinations on Africa, it needed to perpetuate the stereotype that Africans were backward and savage and Britain’s invasion  was largely altruistic. But Africans proved far too sophisticated for a simple routing, so they chose instead to infiltrate the continent’s traditional hierarchies. It simply went along with the existing tribal structures and traditions available as conduits for establishing rules and regulations while strategically positioning itself at the top of the hierarchical ladder, complete with veto power. In fact, in instances where there was no hierarchical structure in place, like South Eastern Nigeria, the British invented and enforced such structures. Indirect rule was the system of government the British used to make their rulership more effective.

Whatever preferred terms or systems of governance that were employed (France went from assimilation to association, still birds of the same feather), the goal of the empires remained unchanging: exploit natural resources, oppress the people, use them as free labour (in warehouses and on the frontlines), a situation which although has undergone some metamorphosis, still continues in a more muted form to this day.

At the recently concluded 2018 World Cup tournament, 82 soccer players were not born in the country they represented. Three of the four top countries had teams chock full of African players. Belgium had 9 out of 23 (Dedryck Boyata, Vincent Kompany and Youri Tielemans have parents of Con0golese descent; Romelu Lukaku’s father played for Zaire; Nacer Chadli’s family is Moroccan, and he played a friendly for Morocco before choosing Belgium); England boasted 8 players of black descent (Danny Lee Rose, Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker and Ashley Young all have Jamaican fathers. Danny Welbeck is Ghanaian, Fabian Delph, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek both have Guyanese descent, and Bamidele Alli, Nigerian) while France had as many as 15 African players, two of whom scored goals – Paul Pogba in the 59th minute Kylian Mbappé in the 65th minute – that earned France the World Cup trophy.

The French team, which Trevor Noah hailed as African were able to represent France, thanks to the policy of assimilation. In fact, although Algeria fought a bloody War of Independence between 1954 and 1962 that saw the massacre of 200 pro-independence Algerian demonstrators, “with some of them thrown into the Seine river, by French police”, defeat and the repatriation of close to 800,000 French citizens from Algeria, France remains Algeria’s second major economic partner after China with annual trade “at about 8 billion euros compared with 6.36 billion five years ago.” Moreover, over 400,000 Algerians are given visas for France annually (during Macron’s visit to the former colony, it was reported that many a youth cried out to him for visas as he walked their streets), double the amount in 2012. France also continues to benefit economically from Africa, through a system of “compulsory solidarity”, which requires its former colonies to use the franc of the African Financial Community (CFA) as their official currency, put 65% of their foreign currency reserves into the French Treasury, plus another 20% for financial liabilities, award government contracts first to French companies, give France first right of buy for their natural resources and only if they are not interested, can they reach out to other parties. It’s been reported that at least 500 billion euros from ex-French colonies goes to the French treasury annually. Despite this mind-boggling indentured servitude, President Macron has refused to call it imperialism. In a session with Burkina Faso, he preferred to vacillate:

“On this subject, don’t have a simply post-colonial or anti-imperialist approach, it wouldn’t make sense, that’s not imperialism, it’s not true. France will go along with the solution put forward by your leaders. If they want to change the name, I’m totally in favour of it. And if they consider that this regional stability should be scrapped altogether and they’ll be better off without it, well I think they’re the ones who decide, so I’m in favour of that.”

Africa’s history is not unconnected with slavery. In fact, Africa’s history was altered by slavery and the resultant effects. Africa has four major slave trades – the most studied being the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This, being the largest, shortest in duration and, the most penetrating slave trade began in the fifteenth century where slaves were transported from West Africa, West Central Africa, and Eastern Africa to the European colonies.

It is natural to ask how slavery underdeveloped Africa and helped build Europe, as it was obvious that the ‘New World’ had one agenda in mind: to build cities and economies through the human resources that they found, described as barbaric but strong and eventually used as slaves.

African literary scholars have debated this in their books; one typical example is Patrick Manning’s Slavery and African Life who argued that “Slavery was corruption: it involved theft, bribery, and exercise of brute force as well as ruses. Slavery thus may be seen as one source of pre-colonial origins of modern corruption.”

In a 1983 article, David Eltis posed a striking contrast in the population history of the Americas. By 1820, there had been about 8.4 million African immigrants to the Americas, all of whose jobs were categorised into occupations of mining, plantation jobs, artisanal jobs, transport, and of course, domestic jobs. The domestic work especially allowed a lot of White Britons and Americans focus entirely on creative pursuits and scientific and technical research.

According to Jeremy Ball in his book The Atlantic Slave Trade, in Spanish America, slaves were concentrated most visibly in mining and artisanal jobs until sugar and tobacco plantations began to dominate Cuba. In Brazil, sugar plantation jobs dominated the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while mining jobs expanded greatly in the eighteenth century. The English and French Caribbean focused on sugar production, though coffee and livestock occupied a large number of slaves. The success of these industries came about by nothing but the movement of slaves to the Americas from Africa.

One cannot but agree that, indeed, black slaves (permit the use of the colour specifics) played a crucial role in the economic development of the ‘New World’ – as there was the unavailability of labour. These slaves were particularly indispensable in labour supply for the agricultural revolution that began in the ‘New World’, as they became the backbone of these plantations. The plantations system had begun in medieval times on Mediterranean islands such as Crete and Cyrus and slaves were used to keep it running. Slavery was so pervasive in America that there were slaves that remained in slavery for 100 years after the practice was officially abolished. 

Jacquelyn Derouselle in his article Building America: Contributions of African American Slaves discussed the accomplishments of African Americans in the American society and how these set of people do not even understand the level of impact they had on American history.

Derouselle wrote: The slaves from West and Central Africa imported the knowledge of growing rice, which grew well in their land, to South Carolina and Georgia. The slaves taught the slave owners how to cultivate this crop. Rice did not grow in Great Britain. Other foods that came from Africa were watermelon, black-eyed peas, sorghum, okra, and millet.

He added that many African Americans participated in the American Revolution.

In a journal, In the Balance: Themes in Global History (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998. 491-508) there is a belief embedded that two commodities – sugar and slaves – led to the growth of the Atlantic commerce. It states that the history of Atlantic commerce is incomplete without the history of slavery.

Before the sixteenth century, northern Europe’s only local source of sugar was bees. By the fourteenth century, the growing demand for sugar led first to cane sugar plantations on the Mediterranean coast and the Islands of Cyprus and Sicily and then, by the fifteenth century, to Spanish and Portuguese plantations on Atlantic islands such as the Madeiras and Sao Tome and Principe off the west-central African coast, where African slave labour was exploited, and finally in the Americas. Sugar sold for high prices as a rare spice or medicine – Candice Goucher et al – “Commerce and Change: The Creation of a Global Economy and the Expansion of Europe”: In the Balance: Themes in Global History.

There was invariably a lack of labour in the Americas when sugar cultivation required a steady supply of labour and neither the Amerindians nor Europeans adequately answer the labour needs of the plantations of the Americans. Africans became the solution. They were more cost effective as they were agriculturally and technologically skillful, adapted well to weather conditions and weighed against the hostility of European unrestricted and bond labourers who knew the slave master’s language, culture, and weaknesses. At some point in the eighteenth century, Africans outnumbered Europeans in the circum-Caribbean region and when ‘black’ and ‘slave’ became synonymous words, racism was born.

Indeed, Africa’s wealth and resources (both human and material) was the force that drove Europe into the economic boom it has today and history might tamper with this information. It is also noteworthy that millions of Africans in Europe mostly did not go there as tourists. They (their ancestors) were kidnapped from their home communities, bundled together in ships and dragged there as slaves. They were able-bodied Africans whose free labour built the wealth of Europe and America.

For without Africa and its Caribbean plantation extensions, the modern world as we know it would not exist,” wrote Professor Richard Drayton, who teaches extra-European history at Cambridge University (UK), in The Guardian. But this colonial mentality is far from its end.

Among the many negatives in development, none looms larger than the “resource curse”. And the United States, just as it did with slaves and plantations has, arguably, made sure that rich deposits of oil and minerals have more often than not brought insecurity to these nations.

Africa is endowed with an ineradicable volume of natural resources. Unfortunately, the continent is characterised by a paradox of resource curses, depicting a situation where these resources have not been translated into economic growth. Africans blame their leaders quite alright, yes, we should, however, we must not ignore how Europe and America have continued to use their might to ensure instability in Africa, and this is where neocolonialism comes in.

Neocolonialism is the control of less-developed and/or colonised territories through indirect means. It refers to the continuing dependence of former colonies on foreign countries. According to Britannica, the term sometimes refers to a further development of capitalism that enables capitalist powers dominate subject nations through international capitalism.

The United States might not have been a colonial power in Africa, yet, its unreserved interests in African nations through various aid schemes only highlights the pointer that indeed, neocolonialism is not a lost cause. This aid comes in as medical aid or security aid but there’s not much effort when it comes to improving social aspects such as education.

Kwame Nkrumah’s Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism says this aid only aims to further destroy these resource-rich underdeveloped nations by exporting these resources to developed nations such as the United States.

To be more explicit, large-scale attempts at economic and political unification in Africa have failed in modern times due to an insistence on implementing policies according to Western ideologies – ideologies that are passed on from these neocolonialists and threats issued when attempts are made to reject them.

A similar instance of infiltration through aids is China’s decision to invest $200 million in the construction of the African Union’s new headquarters; an offer that has caused many to speculate China’s attempt to buy power and influence over the AU. The AU later accused China of hacking its headquarters computer systems every night for five years and downloading confidential data.

Neocolonialism has wrongly lost its currency as a concept for the development of Africa. There is the real urgency to engage donor governments and foreign corporations’ behaviour in Africa. That way, we can fully understand that the United States and other European countries who use exploitative measures to infiltrate the continent do so, not in the interest of Africa.

Anyone with a basic understanding of colonialism in Africa knows that the French colonised some parts of West Africa as did the British. These two colonial powers used two varying styles. While the British opted for an indirect system of governing its provinces, the French used a rather peculiar system called the policy of assimilation.

The policy simply ensures that their loyal subjects adopt the French language, culture and all elements of French life then they could become French – with no limitations – well asides the colour of their skin (although, research show that the Frenchs were not totally obnoxious to the Africans racially like their contemporaries). Therefore, liberty will be given to a subject of the French empire in West Africa if he presumably jettisoned his indigenous culture and adopted French culture in its entirety.

Now to a less known topic called Cultural Appropriation. It is simply the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society. However, Everyday Feminism puts it in a better light by stating that unlike cultural exchange where there is mutual interchange, appropriation refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.

The world of sports is a clear case of how Africans have been used to aid the cause of other nations. France, the 2018 FIFA World Cup champions benefited from African assimilation/appropriation as 15 of its 23 players are of African descent. The truth remains that western countries and more recently Arab nations have been benefiting from the natural athletic abilities of Africans to record sporting triumphs for a long time. People of African origins who under normal circumstances will be marginalised and looked down upon in the society are now called national heroes.

But as Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku, speaking to Players Tribune ahead of the World Cup said, “If things are going well and I am scoring goals, the newspapers will say Romelu Lukaku the Belgian striker, but if things are going badly on the pitch – it will be Romelu Lukaku the Belgian striker of Congolese descent.” That is the irony of life for many athletes of African descent in Europe, America and the Middle-East.

Raheem Sterling, an immigrant from Jamaica playing for the English National team is always bullied by the press for his life outside football. It was once reported he had about three kids and he was not even 21 yet – ultimately a lie, because Sterling refuted the claims and stated he had just one child. In the eve of England’s World Cup preparation, Sterling was negatively profiled for having a gun tattoo on his leg. The British press criticised the player for endorsing gun violence and support gangs, without putting proper thought to find out the reason behind the tattoo. Because the player later said, “When I was 2 my father died from being gunned down to death I made a promise to myself I would never touch a gun in my lifetime, I shoot with my right foot so it has a deeper meaning N still unfinished.” The truth therefore for many immigrant athletes representing these colonialists is that once you stop being relevant and entertaining to them – they throw you off the curb.

One will think that this kind of behaviour is only limited to African immigrants in Europe, however, it appears, it is the general sentiments for all immigrants. Mesut Ozil, a footballer who gained worldwide acclaim at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, was instrumental in the Germany team that lifted the World Cup trophy four years later in Brazil.

A Turkish immigrant in Germany, Ozil was heavily criticised for taking a picture with Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan. He was then heavily vilified by the German public and some persons in the Football Federation for Germany’s disappointing 2018 World Cup – an easy victim. Ozil in an open letter published on his social media accounts lamented his treatment by some parts of the German society, and that his achievements for Germany have all been forgotten, stating that “I am German when we win and Immigrant when we lose.”

Ozil added that “when high-ranking DFB officials treat me as they did, disrespect my Turkish roots and selfishly turn me to political propaganda, then enough is enough. That is not why I play football, and I will not sit back and do nothing about it. Racism should never, ever be accepted.”

There’s also the case of repatriates in Africa. Individuals who grew up or went to foreign lands to achieve the career success they desired but found it difficult to reach the required levels they anticipated. In football, the likes of Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong in the Super Eagles team, Wilfred Zaha from England to Ivory Coast, Kevin Prince Boateng from Germany to Ghana and in music Tiwa Savage, Banky W, Davido, D’Banj, Don Jazzy at one point pursued musical careers in the USA but did not seem to make the headlines until they returned home.

The victory of the French national team at the World Cup was celebrated by many in Africa simply because of the African roots of majority of the French players. French citizens also took to the streets to celebrate the team’s victory, and no one spoke about the African roots of the players, choosing to focus on them being French. But this should not be the case. However, the reality is that Africans have been assimilated by Middle Eastern countries, used and dumped by European and American countries. Those who are celebrated are the ones who are gifted and bring some form of honour to these countries.

The above picture may be a pointer to how blacks are treated after the victory has been secured.

But beyond this, European nations have been unable to come to terms with their colonialism because Africa is yet to develop to the point of having such honest conversations. The case is different in India

Laya Maheshwari in a culture piece on the BBC titled, How Bollywood stereotypes the West recounted aides of former US President Barack Obama during his visit as the guest of honour at India’s Republic Day parade spent hours discussing and researching which Bollywood line the President should quote in his speech. But this situation of foreigners adopting Indian ways is not limited only to the arts. Western nations in recent years have been unable to take its people and culture to India like they are wont to do in Africa, rather they send their money to India. India is currently listed among the top fifty countries with the best computer programmers and developers in the world.

Emmanuel Macron may have a point telling Africans to remain in Africa but if he wants to be taken seriously he should accompany his advice with some real retribution.

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