Globalisation and recolonisation

Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem

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MODERN Africa’s relationship with the world has been primarily shaped by its continuous contact of more than 400 years with Europe involving slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism and, now, the real threat of recolonisation. It has been a relationship of domination, exploitation and oppression. Whatever happens in Europe tends to have ripple effects in Africa. Therefore, any idea that becomes fashionable in Europe trickles down into intellectual and political discussions/battles in Africa.

There is a sense in which the world has become a village. Thanks to CNN and the radical transformation in satellite broadcasting, many places in Africa where it may be difficult to get a clean cup of water, one can still watch CNN. The irony of this technological advancement is that while Europeans and Americans struggle for supremacy in space, to hoist their flags and compete about who makes it in the shortest time to the highest orbit, in Africa, as in many parts of the Third World, ‘we are still trying to get to the village’.

Thus, while people in Europe may well be obsessed by globalisation, we are still talking of villagisation, getting to the village where the majority of our people work and live. The current discussion on globalisation has a particular context, i.e., the collapse of the previously existing socialist block (USSR and Eastern Europe). This discourse has been influenced by ideas and political conclusions drawn from books such as Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations and Francis Fukuyama’s End of History. The theory of end of ideology has of course been with us before Fukuyama’s annihilation of history and the triumphalism about the hegemony of western values, ideas and civilization.

The collapse of Eastern Europe has instilled a new arrogance in Euro-American imperialist powers, more so since there is no countervailing force. Thus, there is a drive to homogenize the world at all levels (economic, ideological and political) but more perniciously, at the cultural. Western ideologues insist that we must imagine and organize society in accordance with their values and systems without providing space to any alternative ideology. In this hegemonic scheme, the rest of us are seen as non-starters, or at best latecomers, whose only destiny is to follow the path already trodden by the West.



There is a saying, ‘If two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ It is equally true that even if two elephants make love, the grass still suffers. That is the conclusion we, in the Third World, can draw from the Soviet collaboration with the West and the collapse of Eastern Europe. When the USSR and the USA were at each other’s throats during the Cold War, we were victims. Our political groups and movements, governments and states, were judged depending upon whether they were pro-West or pro-East. The tragic consequences of that experience is evident in places like Angola, Ethiopia, Somalia and Mozambique.

What is worrying about the current discourse of globalisation is the absence of a historical context and political responsibility in discussing the Third World, especially Africa. We are seen as the ‘problem continent’, ‘forgotten continent’, as ‘poor cousins of the rich North.’ Without contextualising the various conflicts on the continent, we tend to be classified as a bunch of hopeless people incapable of doing anything for ourselves, a continent and a people needing help, charity cases and humanitarian junkies. Yet our countries and the perennial conflicts did not come out of the blue.



What are Somalia, Liberia or Nigeria but artificial states created by European colonialism. They are the product of a previous globalising mission: one of colonialism. The infamous Berlin Conference of 1884-85 was convened to rationalise European imperial greed. It was an attempt by the then dominant European powers to resolve the colonial question in Africa by reducing competition through parcelling out exclusive markets and labour reserves.

That is why we have 54 odd and ugly countries today with arbitrary borders – a nightmare for any sensible cartographer – many of them straight lines drawn up by drunken colonialists and their cohorts playing around with the odd assembly of maps, rulers and compasses. Where straight lines would not do, they compromised around principles like natural boundaries (i.e. rivers, mountains and lakes!).

There are many anecdotes about the whimsical ways in which European colonialists framed the borders and, therefore, wrote the subsequent history, culture and politics of the colonial peoples. Take for instance the Kilimanjaro mountain (the highest mountain in Africa) and the one million people who live around it. It was part of colonial Kenya until a British monarch, stuck about what birthday gift to give to the German Kaiser, decided on a ‘cute little mountain in Africa.’ And with that the fate of the people was determined. For instance, education which was conducted till then in English had to change to German, the language of the colonial power in Tanganyika (since 1965 called Tanzania). We cannot talk about the problems of nation building in Africa today without understanding or focusing on the way in which these borders were created for the convenience, greed and vanity of Europe’s rulers.

There is widespread concern that this new globalisation, as in the past, is inseparable from westernisation and Americanisation. The collapse of Eastern Europe has helped to popularise a new orthodoxy, that there is no alternative to western capitalism, as a new global religion. In Africa the record of capitalism does not match this myth. While peoples in Eastern Europe may claim that they are running away from socialism/communism (even though current developments there have tempered earlier capitalist optimism with realism), the majority of African states were never socialist. Therefore, our people cannot be running away from it.



What we are running away from is the brutality and mass poverty that continues to dominate our lives under global capitalism. A majority of our states remain loyal servants of the West and its markets, and yet, most of them cannot show growth, let alone substantial development, even in richer countries like Nigeria, Zaire, South Africa, Senegal or Ivory Coast. This newly received wisdom about the market rings hollow in African ears because capitalism in our countries has neither been democratic or developmental.

The reality is that the West/America controls our economies and exercises politico-military hegemony over the global political economy. Our subordination is supervised and guaranteed under the tight leash of allegedly multilateral institutions of which we are technically and theoretically equal members, such as the U.N., the Breton Woods institutions, the World Trade Organisation and so on.



The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (IMF/WB) directly control of most of the African states and spread western economic gospels to states who cannot afford to resist. They advance global solutions to all problems regardless of local specificities, somewhat like the ever present quack pharmacists and doctors found in our cities peddling concoctions that claim to cure all diseases, from ant bites to high blood pressure! The Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) proposed by these institutions call for deregulation (read devaluation) of currency markets and the monetary system, privatisation of public enterprises, retrenchment of public employees, liberalisation of the economy, cut-backs in welfare programmes and, more generally, a return to a Hobbesian state of nature where human beings become predators on fellow human beings in the name of ‘free competition’ and ‘survival of the fittest’.

Let me give a personal example of the havoc that such policies have created for our people. I was born and brought up in the northern part of Nigeria, a region that is historically less developed (in terms of western education, modern industries etc.) than the southern part of the country. This is largely because colonial trade, commerce and Christian missionaries and their schools came in through the coast, thereby giving coastal populations an advantage in the incorporation into global capitalism. The historically uneven nature of capitalist development accentuated disadvantages that were often exploited politically to buy off opponents, seal up support or neutralise resistance, and thereby prolong colonial rule.

Since Independence, political attempts have been made to bridge the gap between the North and South of Nigeria. My generation and probably the next couple of generations of post-independence children in Northern Nigeria were beneficiaries of that affirmative action. We went to school virtually free (primary/secondary education). There were also generous scholarships for those lucky enough to go up to the university. However, despite education being free, less than 50% of children of school going age actually went to school. Of this proportion only a minority made it to higher education and university degrees. If poor parents did not take advantage of zero-fees to educate their children, is it likely that under IMF/WB liberalization and cost-sharing that has seen school fees sky rocket, they will send their children to school? How can they afford this when education is competing with family food, as the economies are privatized and people become poorer? In such a context, a state policy that relies exclusively on markets can never work to the benefit of the vast majority.



Globalised markets not only work against a majority of workers and peasants, even the local and indigenous capitalist classes suffer from its crushing impact. Small enterprises with a low capital base cannot compete with the big financial and industrial establishments of the West – the multinational corporations –and their enormous political influence. No wonder the beneficiaries of privatization have been foreign business interests. The logic of global markets dictates that we produce what we are best at, just as in colonial times, which condemns us to commodity production for exports. We produce what we do not consume and consume what we do not produce. And the West/USA that dominates the global political economy dictates prices for both.

In the ’50s and ’60s the same western development experts, policy-makers and planners advocated modernization (i.e., import substitution, industrialisation, westernization through education and transfer of technical and non-technical knowledge) as a panacea to our technological backwardness. In those days even the number of radio receivers per head was used as an index of progress, in addition to traditional indices like the rate of urbanization, number of hospitals and doctors, number of schools, percentage of our people who are in ‘modern’ industry as opposed to those in ‘traditional’ sectors such as agriculture.



Now, under structural adjustment policies, the modern sector is being steadily dismantled – witness the collapse of our educational systems and other social services and the continuing deindustrialization of the few industries that we do have. The resultant mass retrenchment of workers is producing sprawling cities marked by high unemployment, a lumpen proletariat that has no industry to work in and is removed from agriculture. This is wiping out the middle class and skilled labour force that only a couple of decades ago, was lionized as indispensable for our development by Samuel Huntington and other modernization theorists.

Our problem was located in not being western enough. If only we could be like them, then nothing could stop our march of progress from the ‘heart of darkness’ to the ‘heart of civilisation’. But things did not quite work out the way this unilinear Eurocentric model envisaged. Colonial capitalism was replaced by neocolonial capitalism without any significant development for a majority of the peoples. What Africa is now experiencing is re-colonisation, not by individual European countries but under the aegis of IMF/WB and the supportive and collaborative service of western bilateral/multilateral aid increasingly run and channeled through western NGOs.



Both our reality and the history of how we got there have conditioned our responses. This has created distrust, suspicion, anger and bitterness towards the West and whatever new or repackaged issues it now seeks to impose on the rest of the world. Surprisingly there is an even greater distrust of America (giving rise to anti-Americanism) among those who uncritically consume CNN – most of all the American arrogance, its strutting around the world as global policeman, and its selective use and abuse of the UN to further its narrow interests.

The first direct evidence of this was provided by the American invasion of Somalia in the winter of 1992, shortly after George Bush proclaimed the new world order, which we know is a new world disorder. Somalia provided the first test of how this disorder would work out in Africa.

There was Bush, a president who had been roundly defeated by a relative newcomer inspite of ‘winning’ the Gulf War. Keen to counter the tag of being a ‘wimp’, he wanted to go out, literally, with a bang. The humanitarian tragedy occasioned by the clan warfare in Somalia provided the excuse. To prove that he was a ‘real man’, Bush decided to sort out General Aideed and put in place a ‘responsible government’. He planned for the boys to be back home before X’mas to salute their retiring commander-in-chief before he bowed out of office in January 1993. With that Bush hoped his reputation would be enhanced and he would be rehabilitated as a commander for conflict resolution around the world, making the world safer for democracy, a grand delusion that has afflicted every American president since 1945.

Not surprisingly, he read the situation upside down. Somalia was no Iraq, and Aideed was no Saddam Hussein who provided Americans an opportunity for what J.K. Galbraith called ‘painless patriotism’ (i.e., a war without or with negligible American casualties) by allowing America and the Allied powers to bomb the country back into the Middle Ages. Somalia was different: laser missiles, collateral bombing and aerial high tech were of no use. It was a street brawl, literally, man to man. The Americans, overloaded by the arsenal of the latest high-tech military hardware were trapped by roving bands of clansman with primitive weaponry.



As is the case with the politics and diplomacy of the new globalisation, the Americans then sought to convert their unilateral intervention into a UN mandate, even though they had gone in without consulting the UN, let alone the African states, the OAU and least of all the Somalis they claimed to be helping. Had they succeeded it would have been another victory for the leader of the Free World. Their failure, however, became a global failure, an emergency for the so-called international community. Whatever concerns America and its allies is a global issue; what they are not interested in becomes by definition a ‘threat to world peace and security.’

For instance, in February 1996 there was a big conference in Cairo. It was attended by all the African states who, after a lot of arms twisting, force, bribery and intimidation, were persuaded to sign the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). There was also another meeting in Geneva. It was also about arms, specifically, a ban on the manufacture and sale of landmines throughout the world. This meeting produced no consensus because landmines were not seen as a threat to the West.



None of the African states (apart from a couple) who assembled like school pupils in Cairo had any nuclear capacity, nor can they ever develop one. But the issue of nuclear arms concerns the West; they must not be in the wrong hands (meaning non-European/American hands apart from China and Israel). Therefore, a legal framework for their restriction had to be guaranteed internationally so that any breach could be punished under international law and a liberal use of coercion (economic sanctions, military threat) by the West/USA.

However, when it comes to landmines (which all the African states and the Third World have unlimited access to from the western arms industry; some of those who cannot feed themselves are self-sufficient in landmines!) there could not be a universal ban. Instead, a curious compromise was reached. It was decided that the current landmines which have a long life would be phased out, only to be replaced by a new generation of landmines which self-detonate after a couple of years. What a compromise for global security! Pray, what is to happen in the two years before the new mines automatically detonate themselves? Is this a solution for the people of Angola who reportedly have over ten million mines strewn across their country?

A majority of our peoples are being killed or maimed by so-called conventional light weapons, including landmines, most of which are imported from western armament industry, extended as part of military/security aid or procured by private arms dealers. Only a few African countries like South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe have a sizeable domestic arms industry. The West dominates the industry (inspite of competition from a few Latin American and Asian countries like Brazil, China, India, Chile and Pakistan). That is why there can be no agreement on light weapons and landmines.

These ambiguities and blatant hypocrisy in the globalisation processes is fuelling distrust and suspicion in Africa. Of course, the West is not the only profiteer in this deadly game. African and other Third World despots, arms dealers and rogue regimes too are beneficiaries of the blood industry, both materially and politically. They can use them to keep their people down.



Almost without exception, the despots who have messed up their countries and looted the treasuries, keep their investments and maintain real estates in Europe and America. For instance, Mobutu of Zaire (in power since 1965 thanks to the CIA, the French and Belgians and the UN who actively supported or just looked on as he allegedly assassinated the elected prime minister of his country, Patrice Lumumba) was one of the richest individual presidents in the world.

One does not need any super intelligence to deduce who owes whom. Yet Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) and its future generations is loaded with a debt crisis created by Mobutu and his hirelings. The story can be repeated for many other African countries. These fortunes are kept in Europe and America whose governments and aid agencies continue to lecture us on financial probity, transparency and accountability in managing our economies and polities. Consequently, these issues are seen as yet another western ploy. The distrust is so great that many of us have an almost instinctive reaction to anything western. It is a new Cold War. If the West says come this way, our scarred memories of previous obeisance impel us to go the other way.



Another aspect of globalisation is the prospect of creating global citizenship and governance and removing borders and barriers to trade and investment. Borders have indeed come down for Europeans. However, they have gone up in Europe against Africans and other Third World citizens. While Europeans and Americans are truly global citizens because their passports give them unhindered entry into all parts of the world, the same is not true for us even on our own continent.

One does not have to go to the Third World in order to ‘discover’ it. Every major city in Western Europe has its own Third World within – immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers or ‘guest workers’ as they call them in Germany. They are often the poorest of the poor, victims of all kinds of racist discrimination in medical care, housing, law and order. In some states of America, children of immigrants are denied education or medical care unless they can prove the legal immigration status of their parents. Whatever the economic, social or political problems facing the working people of Europe and America, the Third World within them suffers even more. And their status in Europe is a reflection of the place of their countries of origin globally.

Thus the globalisation hysteria can only legitimise the right of the advanced capitalist states and their citizens to dominate the rest of humanity. It affirms the right of capital to move around the globe but restricts the freedom of labour (people). Those who desire a global humanity must, therefore, struggle to humanise the globe, such that free human beings can live, work or settle anywhere they wish.

Globalisation also calls for a respect for human rights and demands steps towards democratisation in Africa – a call to liberalise the economy as also the politics. True, Africa needs democracy, just like it needs clean air. We cannot have development, social progress and democracy without the fullest participation of the greatest number of our people. However, there is suspicion about both the intention and the arrogant manner in which the West is pushing its pro-democracy agenda.



How come, people ask themselves, that those who kept our despots and dictators in power in the Cold War era because they were ‘moderate’ pro-western puppets, now tell us that they want democracy. People also ask why human rights and democratisation are now a condition for aid, grants and loans? Why is nobody asking Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states or the authoritarian states of Southeast Asia to democratise? In Southeast Asia, lack of democracy and gross abuse of human rights do not seem to have affected the growth of capitalism, whereas the Gulf states with their abundant oil wealth can dispense with democracy and human rights altogether. Otherwise, why would America and the so-called Allied powers have gone to war in the Gulf only to restore feudal family rule?

In addition to its lack of consistency in applying the democracy and human rights test in all regions of the world, is the inconsistency in supporting the democratic process in countries where the outcome threatens to bring into power forces/interests that are seen to be anti-West. Algeria is a case in point. Throughout the Cold War era, the West and its allies (especially the governments of the USA and Saudi Arabia) put pressure on the ‘communist’ FLN regime by fuelling agitation among the non-Arab Berber minority and the Islamist forces. But as soon as the Berlin Wall fell and the one-party system in Algeria converted into multi-party politics, the tune of the West changed. When it became clear that the ‘so called’ Islamic fundamentalists, Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) were going to win in the national parliamentary elections, a military coup with the support of the USA and France halted the process.



The issue is not whether or not one likes the policies of the FIS but the efficacy of the principle of people electing those whom they wish to. It seems that the West only prefers a ‘democratic’ outcome that does not, as the Americans say, upset the applecart. That means democracy with a western veto. Such an attitude can hardly promote long lasting democratic institutions or culture. The misguided short-term interests of imperialism in Algeria resulted in driving the FIS underground with extremists seeking martyrdom acquiring dominance. Any rational outlook is now treated as treachery, a selling-out to the enemy. All this strengthens anti-democratic revolts because democratisation is seen as yet another western import and imposition.

The rise in religious fundamentalism in large parts of Africa is partly a response to the excruciating misery that structural adjustment is imposing on our people. But equally it is a result of a growing anti-western political culture. The West’s new obsession with Islam is helping spread the view that ‘Islam is the answer’, the ‘only true’ force against western domination and unipolarism. Fundamentalism in western political and intellectual discourse and media always invariably means Islam, though there is a general rise in religious fundamentalism: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, American charismatic churches and so on.



The basic misconception about fundamentalism is that non-Islamic fundamentalisms pose no problem particularly if under western control. The problem for the West is that Islam, Arab and oil seem to coincide. For as long as there is no economic alternative energy source to oil and the Middle East remains the biggest supplier, anything that threatens the cozy relationship between the feudalist aristocracies of the area and their western ‘partners’ will become a ‘global’ issue. If a majority of Arabs were non Muslims and they had no oil, they would be of no interest to the West. Politically motivated Islamic leaders, denied entry in the political affairs of their country, are able to combine this naked western opportunism and corrupt and despotic local regimes to package simple religion-based welfarist solutions as Allah’s will.

This simple philosophical outlook is attractive to the multitudes of the unemployed, disaffected professionals and even nationalist bourgeois elements who are looking for a way out of western clutches. In places like Egypt or Algeria, as in the rest of the Maghreb (and indeed the Arab world), it is often difficult to distinguish between Arab nationalism and Islamism. The more the West hates Islam and does its utmost to protect, defend and maintain corrupt undemocratic ‘Islamic’ regimes in North Africa and the Middle East, the greater is the revolutionary appeal of Islam. The West’s obsession has replaced the old anti-Communist hysteria with anti-Islam in its periodic reassembly of enemies within and without which need to be crushed.

While Islam represents (among Muslim majorities) both a cultural and spiritual revolt against the Eurocentric cultural orthodoxy of the current globalisation, there are other cultural responses. In many African countries where the neocolonial state system is being replaced by direct control of the state by IMF/WB and western NGOs, both harmony in civil society and loyalty to the central state system (which had never been strong because of the artificial nature of the postcolonial state) is fast waning. Centrifugal forces are growing with people seeking a more realistic collective identity in either precolonial identities or, in some cases, colonially determined regional identities. Being Kenyan, Nigerian or Liberian means little to people when the states cannot protect them, safeguard their property, nor guarantee their security.



The push and pull of the global capitalist restructuring is making many of the African states realise that they have become irrelevant in the international system, save for a few rich or strategically important countries like South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Libya.

The African leaders look back with nostalgia to the Cold War era because ‘the search for friends and allies’ in the play of the West against the East provided opportunity for self importance. It prolonged the lives (and therefore the misery of the people) of these lifeless states. They could always threaten to go to the other side if their demands were not met. There are now no sides (at least in the emerging global power nexus) to defect to. The Red Bear of communism has been tamed. The last surviving big communist power, China, had made its peace with imperialism long before the Soviet edifice crumbled. It is only interested in promoting trade, not its ideology. It is in no position to compete with the West for political influence over the Third World.



Therefore, Africa’s cold warriors are left out in the cold. Their response is a renewed interest in regional organizations, which they had earlier paralysed due to lack of political will. Thus, there is a renewed enthusiasm in regional economic and political institutions like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern Africa Development Cooperation Council (SADCC), East African Cooperation (EAC), Preferential Trade Area of East, Central and Southern African States (PTA), COMESA (Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa states) and the Maghreb Union. Even the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), through the Abuja Treaty of 1991 and the Harare summit declaration of 1997, is committed to the establishment of an African Economic Community during the first quarter of the next century.

These institutions are not functioning as they should for many reasons, but mainly because most African states remain neocolonial economies under the control of both the former colonial masters and the MNCs. Their economies are structured to serve the needs of foreign capital, as competitive instead of being complimentary. They are tied to the production of primary commodities like cotton, groundnuts, cocoa, rubber, gold, diamonds and so on. These are commodities with insignificant internal markets; rather they serve as raw materials for western countries who in turn sell most of our finished products to us. This political economy of ‘producing what you do not consume and consuming what you do not produce’ has made our economies vulnerable to external shocks given the unfair terms of international trade that is dominated, fixed and manipulated by the rich industrialised countries.

The Cold War had distorted this reality and mediated it with pockets of ‘developing’ enclaves to produce import-substitution goods on behalf of MNCs. Now that globalisation is forcing a painful restructuring in the North and a brutal adjustment in the South, we are witnessing a rationalization of industry, trade, commerce and a growth of investments necessitating new intracontinental and intercontinental adjustments.

The European Union, the NAFTA agreement by the USA, and the Japanese/Chinese push for dominance in the Asia-Pacific region are examples of this new reality. African states too hope to be relevant by promoting regional trade, commerce and investment.



The reality of today dictates bigger unions. Therefore, if Pan Africanism did not exist earlier, it would have been invented now. This reality is forcing a confluence of Pan African ideas in many sectors of our society – civil and governmental, business and professional. This regionalisation is different from what people in Europe are talking about. They (the West) want local control and autonomy in the face of over-weaning states and corporations. We, on the contrary, need to renew the capacity and legitimacy of our state structures within a wider Pan African framework. Our motto, therefore, is not ‘small is beautiful’; our historical circumstances demand that we become big enough (economically) so as to advance the collective interests of our many small states.