By Sewale Belew
Introduction – Neocolonialism as a tool to prolong dependency in Africa
Neocolonialism is the practice of using economic domination applied by rich Western countries through globalization, cultural domination and interventionist tactics like providing food and technical development assistance. Such dominations are usually tied to conditional strings to influence most of the developing countries to those providing technical assistance in the name of humanitarian or development aid. Instead of applying the previous direct colonial methods imposed through direct military control, covert methods or indirect political control (hegemony) are used.
Neocolonialism differs from the standard mutual globalization and development aid in that it typically results in a relationship of dependence, subservience, or financial obligation towards the neocolonialist rich nation. This may result in an undue degree of political control or solidifying the debt obligations, functionally imitating the relationship of traditional colonialism. Neocolonialism frequently affects all levels of society, creating neo-colonial systems that put disadvantages on local communities.
As a concept, neocolonialism has been in existence since the 1960s as a covert (or as an indirect) form of economic and societal control by a superpower through economically and culturally devised control means. It also is an indirect continuation of colonial policies under the guise of achieving freedom (Udodilim 2016). Kwame Nkrumah, in his book Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, articulated the concept as:
“… an indirect source of exploitation rather than for the development of the less developed parts of the world. Investment under neo-colonialism increases rather than decreases the gap between the rich and the developing nations. Moreover, the struggle against neo-colonialism is not aimed at excluding the capital of the developed world from operating in the less developed countries. Instead, it is aimed at preventing the financial powers of the developed countries to be used in a way to impoverish the less developed ones.” (Nkrumah 1965, 30)
In this definition, Nkrumah appears to have proposed the view that because African nations did not wholly change their past colonial-based relationship with the colonial powers, this continued link gave room for dependency on and exploitation by the rich neocolonialist countries. This neocolonial economy left the African countries at the mercies of rich Western countries. For example, one of the main goals of the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) was to reduce the trade deficit to a sustainable level. However, this was not achieved, and, instead, the program gave rise to many economic problems, which are still witnessed in Africa today (Gbara 2008, 107).
Despite varying policies and strategies put in place, Africa continues to face multifaceted web of challenges from the persistent state of misery (poverty), disease, unsecured living conditions, civil strife and all other forms of negativity that continue to plague the continent. Hence, the neocolonial conditioned development path devised and imposed by the rich western countries continues to be operational. Rich countries enter into African countries tasked with providing technical support in such areas as poverty alleviation, educational improvement, health care and foreign financial aid, while at the same time, having some inclined thoughts to exploit these African countries’ natural resources or to subject them to policies that are against their national interests.
For instance, the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ali, maintained that the interference of the UN but especially US’s intervention in Libya was an indirect opportunity to seize Libya’s oil. In Ali’s words, ‘the US and Western allies claim they want to defend people by carrying out military operations. Instead, they came for Libyan oil’ (Phillips 2011). Similarly, multinational corporations owned by companies based in Canada, USA, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and other European countries continue to exploit the natural resources of poor African countries. For instance, British companies have had access to large areas of Africa’s mineral resources, just as they had had during the colonial era. Records from the London Stock Exchange show that 101 British companies have mining operations in 37 sub-Saharan Africa countries, and they collectively control over $1-trillion worth of Africa’s most valuable resources (Curtis 2016). Hence, neo-colonialism encourages the dependency syndrome where developing nations remain dependent on developed nations.
Foreign Aid – The underlying reasons why Africa lags behind in its economic growth
The deceptive foreign aid culture has left African countries more debt-burdened, more inflation-prone, more susceptible to the impulses of the currency markets and more repellant to higher-quality investment. … Aid is a far-reaching political, economic and humanitarian disaster. To date, many African countries still rely heavily on foreign aid. However, recent studies have shown that foreign aid has failed to deliver sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction (see: International aid to Africa needs an overhaul. Tips on what needs to change. May 17, 2021).
Historically, the World Bank has been led by an American, while the International Monetary Fund has been headed by a European. This is the function of a “gentlemen’s agreement” forged by Western powers in the post-war period. The agreement has prevented candidates from other world regions taking leadership roles. In a previous race for leadership of the World Bank, for example, the former Minister of Finance in Nigeria Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala wasn’t selected. The US has used its leadership of the World Bank to project its power and interests.
For nearly three quarters of a century, Africa has lagged behind Asia and Latin America merely because it has had extremely misguided economic growth plan that firmly relied on ‘foreign aid’, which has been, and still remains to be, disadvantageous to Africa’s advancement. Africa’s constant government-to-government foreign aid relationship (be it bilateral or multilateral), that held a greater share of the national GDP, has proved itself as a failed economic growth approach in Africa. According to few renowned economists, foreign aid and investment usually slows African economic growth, prolongs a dual economy for the elite and the poor, and increases income differences between the poor and the elite. Regardless of the obvious fact of contextual complexity, aid agencies continue to be devoted to their predetermined guidelines of how to “implement” development programs or project activities. To date,
The aid venture’s drive has increased as evidenced in several critical findings including: Ha-Joon Chang (2002), Thomas Dichter (2003), William Easterly (2006), Roger Riddell (2007), Dambisa Moyo (2009), Derek Fee (2012), Ben Ramalingam (2015). Among these authors, especially, Dambisa Moyo, in her book Dead Aid: 2009, demolishes all the most appreciated myths about aid being a good thing stating that: “One of the greatest myths of our time is that billions of dollars in aid sent from wealthy countries to developing African nations has helped to reduce poverty and increase growth”.
As stated by Moyo, the three main vehicles of aids and handouts on which Africa’s dependency syndromes are regulated include: (a) humanitarian aid, which is slightly operational, but inspires African countries to rely on food aid, its safety net and handouts; (b) generosities made in cash and in kind by renowned rich associates around the globe, which is a bit more at work, but still motivates African countries to depend on charities, gifts and handouts; and (c) bilateral and multilateral government to government aids provided from Rich countries to poor countries, which has already exceeded $2 trillion offered to African countries to date.
Most of the arguments against aid point to gaps existing in the management of foreign aid. Customarily, recipient countries transfer foreign assistance money into poor and inefficient white elephant projects that neither foster growth and development nor build good institutions. As a result, poverty levels in Africa (especially in countries labeled as being located South of the Sahara) continue to deteriorate and the economic growth rates have steadily dropped—and millions continue to suffer.
Provokingly drawing a sharp contrast between African countries that have rejected the aid route and prospered on their own and others that have turn out to be aid-dependent and seen poverty increase in their respective nations, Moyo (Dead Aid: 2009) illuminates the system in which overreliance on aid has trapped these developing African nations in a vicious circle of aid dependency syndromes, corruption, market distortion, and further poverty, leaving them with nothing but the “need” for more aid. Exposing the current model of Western foreign aid, Moyo offers a bold new road map for financing development of the world’s poorest countries (without reliance on foreign aid or aid-related assistance) that promises economic growth and a major drop in poverty levels.
Dependency traps caused by development assistance schemes
Looked at the global governance body operations and how they impact on development interventions in Africa, there is a new form of colonialism, by the same western countries, disguised under the pretext of economic support for Africa, directly imposed or institutionalized in the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The policies enforced on poor African countries by these globally designated establishments have chained Africa to continued dependence on western economies for ordinary subsistence, by preventing self-sustenance to the continent’s economic problems. Likewise, the same policies seem to favor a trade imbalance to the already wealthy Western economies over the besieged economies in Africa. This economic colonization of Africa has done and continues to do as much damage to the continent as imperial colonialism and its after effects did.
Among the three global establishments run by Western countries’ joint interests, the World Bank is the largest public development institution in the world, lending around US$ 25 billion a year to developing countries for the financing of development projects and economic reforms. It comprises 188 member countries, including 52 in sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, African countries are governed by the WTO regulations not only when involved in international trade, but also within their respective borders. This means that WTO rules become a part of a country’s domestic legal system. The membership to the WTO currently stands at 148 with 41 of these being in Africa.
The heavy debt trap keeps Africa on a dependency position
Resulting from its heavy debt burden, Africa is currently in an economic crisis. Rudimentary infrastructure in most African countries is broken-down, economic growth is at its minimal, access to basic necessities like food, health and education is scarce and expensive, arid dry areas are encroaching into formerly arable land sites. In the meantime, Africa is deeply ingrained in the webs-of debt to the developed Western countries, much of which was acquired to fight the ongoing economic hardships, but have obviously failed to make any marked improvement in the situation. This African debt problem is the biggest hindrance to any possible solutions to the overall economic crisis of the continent. To one’s dismay, the purpose of the loans offered in the first place, was to help relieve economic adversities in the receiving African countries. Most African countries were in debt almost immediately after they gained independence. The amount persistently continued increasing since that time. Currently African governments spend a huge chunk of their annual revenue just to service loans obtained from the World Bank and IMF. That means, much of Africa’s wealth is being repatriated to the richer Western countries, just like it was during the colonial past, but disguised under “debt servicing”, and thus the notion of “economic neocolonialism”.
The bitter pills of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) were prescribed for Africa beginning in the early 1980s, when it became apparent that African economies were unable to service the huge debts that they had acquired. To ensure debt repayment and economic restructuring the IMF/World Bank imposed Structural Adjustment Programs modeled on the neo-liberal ideology that the optimal economic system is achieved by giving free reign to market participants, privatization, free trade, and the shrinking of government intervention in the economy. The Structural Adjustment Programs became a precondition to new loans from the World Bank and renegotiations of current debts. As Many African governments were reluctant to the policies prescribed from the onset, the policies have neither relieved the huge debts nor upgraded the economies of the developing countries. If at all anything, poverty in African countries increased drastically as a direct result of SAPs of 1986 (Shah 2001, 2; Orji 2005, lxxviii–lxxxi).
On its part, the United Nations (UN), in its claim to fast track development processes, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, came up with a strategy with a range of goals, targets, and indicators known as Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000. These goals sought after to bring about development and foster a close-up relation between the developed North and the under-developed South (Ogunrotifa 2012). The fundamental issues mitigating against the actualization of the UN-subscribed MDG goals, targets, and indicators are not Africa-bound as seen in the latter part of this paper. Ogunrotifa (2015) affirmed that the developmental goals do not reflect the actual picture of what is happening on the ground in Africa or what it takes to promote development in Africa, as a result of the neo-colonialist technique put in place by the superpowers and the UN in developing the goals. In other words, the implementation of the MDGs can be regarded as a reflection of neo-colonialism that seeks to strengthen Western economic power and its mainstream development discourse.
As regards world governance circumstances viewed from globalization perspectives today, the world governance bodies can possibly be classified into three. Firstly, economically speaking, we find the G20 nations. Secondly, politically speaking, we find the G7 nations in the helm of the global governance structure (i.e., the G& is a club designated for those nations leading world politics). Thirdly, speaking from the UN perspective, we find the United Nations Security Council, classified as the P5 member nations who have the right to veto on any global issues coming to the Council. Fourthly, we find the IMF and the World Bank (concerned on development and investment loans matters); plus, the WTO concerning matters pertinent to trade. Notwithstanding the fact that these above indicated establishments manage the overall governance of the world, with its 1.3 billion population size, Africa is not represented fairly among these powerhouse controlling bodies.
If we examine the situation in the hitherto UN Security Council representation status, Africa is marginally represented with only three members, and without a veto right. The three members out of a total of fifteen representatives who meet each time, when a case arises, Africa is represented by these three, which is a very small minority compared to its population size of 1.3 billion. But if we take a look at Europe, roughly speaking it has a total population of about 400 million. Geographically, Europe’s size is about 1/10th of that of Africa. But in the UN Security Council, Europe has two permanent members with veto right (i.e., the UK and France). Plus, Europe is represented by some others who are not permanent. Of these, Germany has been claiming to get one more permanent seat with the right to veto. So in this regard, Africa has been totally marginalized thus far.
Among the G20member countries, only South Africa and lately Ethiopia are represented as Africa’s emerging economies, and not as African nation representatives. On this matter, African leaders have been petitioning to be represented. But only some were invited to attend meetings but only at the invitation of the host country. If a country decides not to invite any African nation, then it would not matter; and not considered as a problem. Only possibilities of receiving invitations to attend upcoming G20 meetings are promised for some more African countries but they are not yet officially admitted as full G20 members.
In summary, “#No More Foreign Aid: Africa must be self-sustaining” is a clarion call to a new, more hopeful vision, and for a new approach in Africa, on how to address abject poverty that gets millions out of living in harsh conditions. Time is of the essence. So it is time for Africans to assume full control over our own economic and political destiny. We should grasp the many potential resources and opportunities available to us for improving the quality of life in Africa.
Proposals for pulling Africa out of the ‘vicious circle of poverty’ and aid dependency
For equitable economic growth in Africa and for understanding how to create sustainable solutions to poverty, African nations ought to move in the right direction by considering the ten likely proposals provided below:
- Empowerment. Opt for African solutions for African problems. African leaders, through the existing blocs like the African Union and the African Economic Union, must come up with Africa’s own development approach that centers on a free African society and on the cultures and beliefs of the African people, and that also aligns with the political, economic and social beliefs of Africans. Africans must look inwards and develop homegrown solutions by working with local economists, African development experts, social scientists, policymakers and people from the judiciary, to tackle problems of poverty, hunger, malnutrition, healthcare crisis, environmental hazards and other issues confronting the continent. This will benefit the African continent to chart their own path and keep up with their needs which are free from external pressures. In doing this, Africans can cease to rely on a colonialist type of approach by the developed countries and the global-institutional- agencies such as the UN-organs, IMF, EU and the World Bank.
- Africa should be duly represented at the UN Security Council. The working methods of the Security Council must be revised to ensure democratization, and its membership must be expanded to include new permanent and non-permanent members of the developing world.
- Africans should stop receiving any form of aid and start to strive for their own innovative entrepreneurships. Africa must learn from China on how to break out of the yoke of poverty and move on its own path towards prosperity and self-sufficiency.
- Africans ought to consider inclusive participation: If comprehensive developmental policies are to be adopted by African countries, then there must be all-round participation in their formulation, which is more inclusive and involves the participation and opinion of the grassroots. Also, there should be more research and interactions, where every developmental stakeholder in each municipal or local level works hand in hand with local activists, community leaders and civil societies to map out the real problems faced by the people and identify sustainable solutions in solving such problems.
- Africa must set up its own independent development authority which would serve as a part of the United Nations, and yet, should be empowered to work independently, without interference from any national governments or the international institutions. As an African authority, this institution may ideally consist of each country’s political and economic activists, developmental observers and experts, community development leaders, academicians, officials from various international agencies and from the government, who would be burdened with national development issues and matters relating to development financing, funds distribution with respect to developmental projects, as well as implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development projects.
- Each African nation has a duty to develop its own yardstick for measuring the actualization of its developmental targets. As such, checks can be put in place to identify the existence of weak institutions and mismanagement which undermine the accurate measurement of achievement towards national goals.
- Each African country ought to change the existing aid dependent trade policies and focus on increasing foreign direct investment.
- Consider microfinance as an alternative to aid by expanding small scale entrepreneurs as one of the most essential and “powerful economic growth tools”.
- Focus on strategies that enable access to microloans and even expansion into “a host of other financial services related to microenterprise ventures like housing programs, skills and capacity building, and related educational scholarship opportunities.
- Consider micro-savings products as a likely crucial step and introduce credible, formalized financial banking systems, whose outcomes may impact on transactional efficiency among financial markets in each country and within Africa as well.
It is high time that Africa requires to break free from the hitherto existing unequal and exploitative global economic system that will linger to do more harm than good to the continent (like the SAPs did), and look beyond the contracted lens of foreign aid and development support. Also it is high time for African countries to equip themselves with homegrown solutions with respect to their developmental agenda, and firmly engage themselves in purposeful networks through their blocs, such the African Union.
Finally, with a population of about 1.3 billion people, Africa must get its righteous place in the international system, including having equal representation and veto rights in the UN Security Council to be able to initiate a process of political and economic integration on equal footing. In the current unrestrained globalization setting, aggravated privatization, institutionalized interference by rich countries and the generalized deconstruction of states, most African countries, individually and collectively, must become aware of and strive to take on with courage to empower Africa out of the yoke of neocolonial domination and injustice.
In Africa, foreign aid has been dominated by corporate interests, has created an unreasonable debt burden, and has forced African nations to avoid using strategies that might protect their economies from the open market. Especially, the foreign aid provided by the U.S. gives due importance solely to its geopolitical and economic interests over the recipient nation’s developmental concerns.
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