No Easy Path to Economic and Political Stability in Africa

From Decolonization to Neocolonialism in Africa

Africa is not a country, it is a continent formed by different countries hence different people who respectively have different histories and through their history have accumulated different forms of success and distinct sets of issues. That being said Africa as a whole cannot be examined entirely but rather in segments as differing regions have brought about their own problems which are due to their surrounding resources, history, and economic and political wellbeing and stability. One thing above all is clear and across the board for Africa, and that is the direct involvement of global powers with Africa. The international relations between Africa and the world have been evident for centuries, from the slave trade to the rise of imperialism and the immersion of the cold war as African states gained independence to the modern notion of neocolonialism, dependency and the scramble for Africa’s raw materials or in other words their resources as they are crucial for the economic continuation of the world economy. This article looks into the postcolonial period of Africa, which ranges from the post cold war era, and argues that the continent has been involved in political and economic turmoil as its countries fail to develop in a balanced matter due to the dependency they have acquired via the manipulation of multinational corporations and their home states in what has come to be known as the resource curse of Africa. The manipulation of African governments has enhanced mass corruption throughout the continent which hinders the development of its nation states. This paper points out that colonial rule over the African continent was not necessarily a negative for Africa, but it brought about a sense of imbalance as the continent developed unevenly because in a short period of time mass forced development was imposed which caused pros and cons upon the African peoples. Africa has attempted to solve its economic issues internally but these efforts have failed tremendously proving the neocolonial aspect that Africa is evermore dependent on foreign intervention, the struggle for the continent is to begin ensuring stable production within which will ultimately result in a more balanced form of development, this is also halted by the corrupt politicians who flourish under the neocolonial era as wealth is handed to them in order to allow multinational corporations (MNC’s) and their respective governments to continue influencing African economic and political movements in their favor. Africa’s history plays a important role in the current state of affairs as separate regions were handled differently during their decolonization process, the subsequent involvement of the Cold War on African politics left the continent in chaos which ultimately resolved itself in conflict leaving economies shattered by the costs of war, nonetheless one of the major factors to Africa’s current state is the health situation of the continent where millions of people are unable to receive adequate health care resulting in a halt in terms or production and development as growth lags throughout. Ultimately the continent has also been recently involved in the war on terror as states have posed themselves as havens for terroristic organizations to flourish due to their political instability which is an outcome of their political and economic history. Africa is now a main source of raw materials that the world cannot do without, the question lies where Africa needs to become dependent on itself rather than be manipulated by outside forces, but this is not the fault of foreign intervention rather internal forces that are unable to organize themselves in the correct way. Throughout the past two decades foreign aid has been distributed in an attempt to reduce poverty in the continent such as the Structural Adjustment Programs by the IMF and World Bank, but these have always had some sort of influence from the west. One of the major reasons to Africa’s inability to stabilize politically is due to how the country was arranged during decolonization, colonial powers drew up borders on a map integrating into states peoples with different views, opinions, and goals; this has often led to conflict and decision making issues at internal and international scopes. Africa is currently unable to solve its issues, the direction it is taking is the right one but we often see governments take one step foreword and two step backwards as government officials rather better themselves than their people and their nation.

This article breaks down by analyzing the reasons as to why there is really no easy path to economic and political stability in Africa.

One crucial aspect to point out here is that this article is mostly focused on Sub-Saharan Africa where neocolonialisms and dependency towards global powers is much more evident than North Africa. North Africa has been for centuries more attached to the western and middle eastern world, the North African states have been in close contact with the world for millennials. Over the past two hundred years we have seen the nation states of north Africa be under direct rule of the ottoman empire, these states were the first to be involved with the second wave of imperialism in Europe, and ultimately gained independence earlier than Sub-Saharan Africa. North Africa shares with the middle east culture and religion, the Arab world encompasses north Africa making them part of two regions, both the Middle East and Africa. North African states have shown determination to attempt to exclude global powers from interfering with their domestic policies over the past 50 years or so through a range of dictatorships that arose within their states. Although with the Arab spring there has been a lot of political turmoil in the region, I believe that north African politics are much closely linked to Middle Eastern politics and take part of a different discussion all together. Although, North African states are in-between these two political spheres, the north African states are very much engaged with the African Union but also due to a shared religion and culture with the Middle East they partake in Middle Eastern politics as well.

As we return our focus upon Sub-Saharan Africa it is essential to understand the reasons of its economic crisis over the past few decades. The period post WWII engulfed Africa into the Cold War as African nations began decolonizing, the Soviet union and the west began involving themselves in African decolonization processes which cause much of the turmoil on the continent in that era. The turmoil lead to chaos, instability, and ultimately violence in many of these nation states, as a result the social and economic costs of two decades of war and turmoil showed to be enormous. Apart from a few nations where foreign investment tended to be high, Africa was encompassed in a period of very poor growth, growth that still lags today. Economic decline throughout the continent in the 80’s and 90’s was evident as international prices for raw materials the continent exported fell dramatically, this not only halted production but development as well, leaving the continent in the state of unbalanced affairs as it had always been. The IMF and The World Bank had been, for decades, rebuilding Europe after the destructiveness of WWII, but in 1980 they began shifting focus on attempting to reduce the poverty factor in Africa by implementing Structural Adjustment Programs, we will observe these programs in more depth shortly. Economic and social improvements were visible where MNC’s would operate but overall there was slow economic growth, sluggish agricultural performance where agriculture makes up 70% of how land is used in Africa making it a major cash return for the continent, a rapid increase of population and balance of payments and fiscal crises. In Africa and The West we can deduce that the structural factors concerned with the issue of lagging growth are the historical circumstances and the physical environment, the underdeveloped human resources as there is a lack of trained manpower, economic disruption that accompanied decolonization and postcolonial consolidation, climate and geographical factors hostile to development, and finally the rapid increase in population. Underdeveloped human resources is a major issue to the African continent as the majority of important roles in business oriented sectors are upheld by expatriates, in fact much of the trade and industry sectors of the continent are owned by foreigners, this is a clear outline of how these nations are dependent on the rest of the world for them to move foreword economically. The problem here is that these African countries, rich in natural resources, are unable to extract the resources and refine them in order to produce, sell and trade them; this means that without the intervention of MNC’s that extract, refine, and produce the raw material, all the wealth these countries are receiving would amount to none. The next step for these nation states is to have a solution in which they themselves can do the process of extracting their own natural resources and not be engulfed in the resource curse that drives corruption and failed leadership in the country because money is making government officials blind to the problem. Without African people in charge of industry and trade within Africa one can only depict the fact that Africa is dependent on the world not on itself.

Africa has developed unevenly as colonial powers operated at their own speed and interest in the efforts to develop their area in order to gain the most wealth from it. Imperialism in Africa had many negatives such as the brutalities that occurred upon the African peoples and the dependency it left upon them, Imperial powers drew up the map of Africa without the consultation of African leaders in terms of seeing what tribes of people would end up fitting into these borders, colonial powers prepared their areas and conquered people in different ways for decolonization leaving some more prepared than others; what we cannot forget is the positive imperialism brought to Africa through colonialism. To view the positive one must blind the negative and only observe and imagine what Africa would be like today without colonialism. Colonialism helped spark and force development in a continent that was behind, it aided the development of 1000 years into a time frame of 100-150 years. What people fail to understand is that rapid and uneven development comes with pros and cons, a nation that develops that fast has no time to learn from mistakes and in reality it is just going through the motions set in place by colonial powers to reach a certain level of development and then it all starts… then the mistakes begin and African countries are still new and are still in the phase of making mistakes and learning, unfortunately they are at the centre of global economics as they possess resources that make the world go round. Colonialism brought the continents development up to a certain standard where it allowed for the imperial powers to be able to extract, exploit, refine, produce, sell and trade in order to gain and accumulate wealth for the empire. During decolonization some countries were better prepared to take on the feat of being a newly independent country more than others, especially French and British territories, others were not trained at all and fell into severe chaos and turmoil attracting the USSR or the USA to their rescue. On the contrary of France and Britain who attempted to prepare their territories for decolonization, Belgium on the other hand left its territory of The Congo within 6 months of the decolonization period leaving the territory unprepared for independence; in fact the Belgians left not one single doctor, lawyer, engineer, or army officer in the territory later to be known as Zaire and today known as the D.R. Congo. The Belgians left the Congo with no trained manpower at the time of independence. Colonialism set in place guidelines in which the imperial powers developed African countries, upon the end of colonialism these countries really did not have much of an idea how to rightfully proceed as the majority of African peoples were uneducated.

During the 1980’s and 90’s and still today the majority of the African population is unable to receive forms of higher education. Primary and secondary education was and in rural areas is still scarce today, Ghana’s and Nigeria’s people lead as they are the populations who receive greater amounts of higher education. Education creates and trains the necessary manpower that is needed to have African individuals run affairs in the African continent. Strong effects on public administration, industrial development, wage levels and costs were caused by the scarcity of managerial and technical cadres. “The lack of education among the population reduced the stimuli for progressive change generally experienced where education is more widespread”.

Political fragility is common in Africa and it all ties back to its decolonization period, we can start by detailing that during colonial times the imperial governments had produced subregional organization that for the newly independent countries were no longer viable, the reorganization of these multinational organizations presented a hefty cost for these nation states and ended up not being as successful as it was during colonial times. Fragility of these states is due in large amounts to the violent internal conflicts that presented themselves in the wake of independence leaving millions of people displaces and having short term politics with high economic costs on military operations that drove the continent into economic despair. Today because of decades of war and now the increase of corruption in Africa we see that governments are unable to develop their country, the restructuring of local national institutions has proves a difficulty still seen today and the fact that bars infrastructure is still inexistent in many areas is sign of concern. Not only, we have outlines internal conflicts, education, corruption and more… but what is also at the core of this development issue in Africa is the Health concern where basic health needs are neglected, populations that constantly get sick end up halting production hence halting development which feeds the notion of dependency and neocolonialism in Africa because with halted proaction and development the country has to look for outside help in order to keep the country from failing and not accumulating wealth. Economic growth is crucial to the development of Africa, production is crucial. Africa and the West outlines that internal structural issues and external factors impeding growth are made worse by domestic policy inadequacies. The book outlines three of them: Trade and exchange rate policies have overprotected industry, little attention has been paid to administrative constraints in mobilizing and managing resources for development, and there has been a consistent bias against agriculture prices, tax, and exchange-rate policies.

We cannot not talk about structural adjustment programs if we are examining the post cold war period in Africa. Structural adjustment programs or SAP’s were programs in Africa where the World Bank and the IMF would attempt to institute and Economic Recovery Program or ERP in a nation that was struggling with its economic and political stability. The goal was also to reduce poverty in the continent but the outcome of ERP enabled more foreign investors to get a foot within the country it was operating in by acquiring ownership of private enterprises that were once public as the program leads to the privatization of the market economy. This increases the sense of dependency as more foreign investors hold the trading rights and production rights within the country. It was soon seen that ERP and SAP’s were quite detrimental on the poor as the policies did not favor them at all. A great example of ERP is the intervention of the World Bank in Ghana. Ghana was going through difficult times politically and economically, it had suffered a series of coups, the last one being lead by Jerry John Rawlings. Rawlings agreed to adopt the recommendations of the World Bank by instituting ERP in 1983. The World Bank views its intervention in Ghana to have been a success but there are records that show otherwise. The ERP is supposed to allocate and budget costs into the various sectors of government, it is said that the ERP ended up budgeting less that 5 percent of estimated expenditures on the social sector while the large bulk of funds was allocated to the sectors that favored the economy and those involved in it, hence the export sector, other market oriented parts of the economy, and development of the physical infrastructure of the economy. After this imports were encouraged thus undercutting local producers, a value added tax or VAT was introduced which ultimately increased prices for consumer goods, and most importantly state owned public enterprises were sold off to build the private sector rather than the public, these enterprises were both by foreign investors for the most part. These policies hurt the poor Ghanian population, making Ghana more dependent of the world as enterprises became foreign owned, prices rose as the poor could afford less and less due to the VAT and since only 5% was allocated to the social sector which includes health, and education the development of the country was headed a different direction, a direction that implements Ghana’s dependence on the outside world.

Structural adjustment programs were the mission the west took in order to attempt to reduce Africa’s poverty, which former South African President Mbeki reports on saying that poverty in Africa is the fundamental cause of ill health, which can be physical, social, and economic for the African people. SAP’s were not welcomed by all countries such as Ghana, many countries did not favor the west intervening into their own issues, but as proven before Africa was unable to solve them by itself. During these missions carried out by the IMF and World Bank, Africa accumulated massive amounts of debt towards the west that, according to Adu Boahen, Africa is presented with the danger of not being able to payback its debt of over 200 Billion Dollars and be forever in control of foreign investors in the continent. With this danger the continent could be looking at a prolonged poverty issue which gives freedom for sickness to spread and the need of foreign intervention further implementing Africa’s dependency on the West.

The resource curse is defined as a paradox where countries with an abundance of natural resources, tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources. Africa is the perfect candidate for this curse, and cursed she is. Africa is mother to many natural resources and raw materials used in the production of many gadgets, appliances, military technology, and etc. the mother of all of this resources is Oil. Oil extracts in Africa began in the 50’s whilst exploration occurred before then, but the unprecedented attention to Africa’s oil is fairly new as the discoveries of petroleum in Africa between 2005 and 2010 have been quite extraordinary, 20% of the World’s new production capacity is expected to come from Africa. The race for Africa’s oil has coined the phrase  “The Scramble for Africa’s Oil”, imitating the original Scramble for Africa during the second wave of European imperialism. African Oil attracts businesses because the oil is special, the quality of African crude oil is like no other, in fact they call it “sweet crude” because it is comparatively easier to refine therefore cheaper as a refining process. Africa’s oil is of high quality with a high, low sulfur grade, this allows the refining process to be unproblematic, this attracts the major multinational corporations of the oil industry stationed in the the west where environmental laws make it hard from them to process heavier crude oil without paying huge amounts of funds, in the profit driven industry of oil, African oil makes commercial sense. With Middle Eastern politics being the way they are, African oil is going to become ever more important. Oil has presented the problem of the curse everywhere that it is found on the continent of Africa, showing how these countries have suffered more underdevelopment that their non-oil producing counterparts. Oil does not contribute to development, it is part of a intrinsic extractive and exploitative enterprise, in fact only 5% of the Billions of Dollars invested in oil industry have been re-invested in Africa, with that 5% going mostly into the pockets of those in power to ensure smooth business. In 1970 about 19 Million Nigerians lived below the poverty, this was right before the oil boom that took place; now with millions upon millions earned in state earning from the oil industry about 90 Million Nigerians are living under the poverty line. This shows how the resource curse corrupts those in power to be manipulated by MNC’s via money so that MNC’s can exploit at will and gain their wealth, politicians are satisfied by the amount of personal wealth they receive and forget about their country and their people. Today the nature of MNC’s is changing, 10 years ago people could state the fact that oil companies had little to no concern about the development of a country in which they operated in or the poverty level of its population, before it was all about damage control and not helping reform. Today we can observe how Oil companies are beginning to give back to the countries in which they exploit and extract. Nothing in economics is free, therefore you do not see MNC’s go to a country where there is no Oil and feel the need to help a that country develop, MNC’s in the oil industry in todays world have began developing the country in order to better their production but also better the lives of the people living in that country, the role of MNC’s today is crucial to Africa as MNC’s are the new colonial powers in this neocolonial world where Africa no longer depends on countries but on private institutions that allow for their economy to stay alive. MNC’s have started to care more about the environment and have begun urbanizing rural areas, make health care accessible in remote location by building blue chip clinics and hospitals. Normally when a company finds Oil they also find Gas and what happens today is that the company refines and produces the Gas for the country so that they can use it as a means of energy to power the country, Oil on the other hand gets refines and is sold on the world market. What is important to notice is that in todays world MNC’s have begun to give back to the country by improving their standard of life and favoring development as not only will it be a step foreword for the country but it would also better bushiness as well.

Africa is a beautiful continent, a continent so rich it is home to some of the poorest populations in the world. This is a result of history and currently due to internal politics with corrupt politicians who favor themselves with wealth and disregard the promises made to the people for bettering their countries. Africa cannot do without the world and the world cannot do without Africa, there is a dependency on both sides as the West is in need of Africa’s resources in order for the world to keep moving foreword; now with Middle Eastern politics being so fragile, Africa’s main recourse which is Oil will gain even more attention than it already has. On the other hand Africa is unable to refine, produce, extract its own riches, it is unable to solve its political and economic issues always resulting as unstable states, it is unable currently to do as it pleases disregarding the interests of the West because the West is the one solving issues for Africa and enhancing trade with them keeping their Economy alive and making those in power wealthy, therefore ensuring the presence of the West. The presence comes in shapes of MNC’s which are multinational corporation or private enterprises that extract, exploit, refine, produce, and trade, and recently have helped develop the country at hand to create a better standard of living and better business. Colonialism had many pros and cons but one cannot rule out the positive things it did for Africa which were develop a continent in an incredibly short period of time. Decolonization occurred differently all over and resulted in the outcome of the fates of these newly independent nation states as the USSR and USA attempted to spread their spectrum of influence on these newly formed governments. As imperial powers leave their soon to be ex-territories they draw up the African map without consulting African leaders and end up putting different tribes together into multiple countries which leads to domestic disagreements and inequalities as different tribal groups want different things from other tribal groups, this ended up speaking violence and bloodshed throughout the continent. Wars and political turmoil left the continent in an enormous economic crisis as funds were focused on military operations for over two decades. To attempt to remove African countries from their economic problems the West decides to intervene with SAP’s which ultimately leave the continent in more debt and more dependent on the west for problem solving. Health issues are persistent and needs are neglected as poverty is a main root to Africa’s problem. During the post cold war period we realize that there is a new scramble in Africa and its the scramble for Oil and other African resources. As unstable states continue to present themselves in Africa, we see Africa become part of the War on Terror as terrorist groups see in Africa breeding grounds for their ideology and operations. This triggers USA military involvement into the continent by having military bases and training local militia in the fight against Terror. The closing argument of this paper is that Africa goes from having imperial forces colonies them during the second wave of European Imperialism to a period where they test themselves out as newly independent countries but unfortunately are quickly influenced by the Cold War that finds way into the continent, today after years of turmoil, Africa fails to show it can do without the west, and the west fails to show it can do without Africa. Africa’s dependence on the west does not lie on colonial powers anymore but on MNC’s and private institutions that control the economic market of Africa, in this neocolonial era Africa is conquered by the wealthy oil companies rather than by imperial powers. Africa is not a country, its a continent with a many countries who share share distinct histories and have different problems and issues; Africa is a beautiful country that one day will become a key player in decision making politics, one day Africa will be the one extracting, refining, producing and trading its own resources rather than being manipulated by the west into doing what favors them, one day the corruption wont be a blatant as it is today which only hinders the continent and projects a negative connotation of its people. One day Africa will be able to voice something of its own and people will listen to her. Nkosi Sikelel’ iafrika.

Works Cited

Taylor, Ian. The International Relations of Sub-Saharan Africa. New York: Continuum, 2010. Print.

Worger, William H., Nancy L. Clark, and Edward A. Alpers. Africa and the West. a Documentary History: From Colonialism to Independence, 1875 to the Present. N.p.: n.p., 2010. Print.

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