Pambazuka News | September 16, 2018
Photo credit: Eyetrodigital
The Zimbabwean’s own correspondent is absolutely right to warn Zimbabwe (as well as all Africa) of the dangers of China’s colonising activities. In this article, we are extending his warning to Western de facto colonialism, which still wields immense power over all Africa’s 54 nations.
This is not the old style political colonialism, but the one we call “commercial colonialism”: the control exercised by powerful foreign (mainly Western and Chinese) commercial and financial interests across Africa. Independence did not end all colonialism, only political colonialism or colonial government. But commercial colonialism merely carried on uninterrupted, and it is not only a major factor in continuing poverty in Africa, but also in helping to keep all Africa’s corrupt, oppressive governments in power – and that is the most dangerous of these factors.
At the moment, Western commercial colonialism is not as prominent in Zimbabwe as in most other African countries. One of the few good things Mugabe did was to greatly reduce Western or White control over businesses in Zimbabwe (but he made a massive error in not ensuring they were replaced by strong, viable Black Zimbabwean businesses, most prominently in agriculture, and it is that which caused Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown).
However, the situation is about to change. Mnangagwa’s drive for Western investment to rebuild Zimbabwe will open the doors to commercial colonialism in Zimbabwe unless he ensures that this investment will actually benefit ordinary Zimbabweans. This must be specified because the way it has been used across Africa so far has been incredibly counterproductive to the vast majority of Africa’s citizens, and largely benefits only the mainly corrupt elite and a tiny percentage of Black African business people.
About to exacerbate that is Theresa May’s recent tour of Africa, pledging to heavily promote the United Kingdom (UK)’s business and financial interests in Africa. However, very noticeably, she said nothing about helping Africa to export more to the UK and, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation, “she was ‘unashamed’ that it had to work in the UK’s own interests”.
If our warning sounds like scaremongering or a conspiracy theory, the African Union (AU), in its Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, supports it. The AU is absolutely clear and unequivocal that no African nation can progress at the rate required “to catch up” with the West unless commercial colonialism is destroyed. It wants all foreign (mainly, of course, Western and Chinese) aid cut by 75 percent by 2023 – only five years away – and African investment to replace 75 percent to 90 percent of all foreign investment. And it wants Africa to become “self-reliant” (i.e., to become free of foreign dependency – again of course mainly the West and China), using such statements as:
“Africa financing its own development”… “the importance of African unity and solidarity in the face of continued external interference”… “minimise Africa’s dependence on the global financial system”
And the AU shows African nations exactly how to achieve this.
The vital point about Agenda 2063 is that every African nation including Zimbabwe has signed up to it. Yet our government is totally ignoring it.
Far from commercial colonialism helping to eradicate poverty, it has actually helped to prolong it for far longer than it should have done.
First, many Western multinational corporations could have paid their African staff and workers the same rates as their employees in the West many years ago – some from as long ago as our independence. Or, if they genuinely were unable to pay full Western rates, at least a great deal more than they do now. In fact, if they attempted to pay their employees in their own countries as badly as they pay us in Africa, they would be prosecuted for breaking the law.
Western investments also are based on paying Africans at poverty rates. When David Barber, one of the authors, attempted to set up a business in two African countries based on paying African workers and staff at Western rates (as opposed to African poverty rates), all investors including African ones refused to back him, even though most of them were prepared to do so if he agreed to pay typical African poverty wages. Both governments also forced him to give up his attempts.
Western multinational corporations and investors are assisted in this exploitation by the United Nations (UN), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), any one of which could stop this any time they wanted to.
In fact, and very much more worryingly, Western non-governmental organisations, the UN, the World Bank and the IMF – the organisations most dedicated to ending poverty in Africa – also pay Africans far less than Westerners.
Second, commercial colonialism is actively helping to keep Africa’s corrupt, oppressive governments in power. Yet, of course, these are the governments least interested in taking their citizens out of poverty, and the West knows it.
For example, despite Mugabe’s rants against “Western imperialism”, “Western imperialism” has given our government US $16 billion since independence. That is nearly half a billion US dollars a year! For the last nine years, they have increased that to US $3/4 billion a year.
On top of that, we have received huge sums of money and aid from Western non-governmental organisations and China. Just for 2016-2018, China promised Zimbabwe US $4 billion.
So where has all that money gone?
Far from “Western imperialism” causing our problems, it has been remarkably generous to us, and it continues to be so. The only thing that went wrong is that we, the citizens of Zimbabwe, did not see the money because Mugabe and other corrupt people in our country took it.
The reason the West and China support the worst possible governments we could have is to preserve the status quo at all costs, because that is vital to their continuing exploitation of us.
Finally, we should point out that keeping us in poverty is vital to commercial colonialism surviving and flourishing. If we were to become prosperous citizens, we would soon see commercial colonialism for what it is, and do what the AU wants us to do – drive it out.
It is also well-recognised that the only thing corrupt, oppressive governments cannot stand against are prosperous businesses, middle and working classes because they simply will not tolerate such governments.
* David Barber and Tendai Ruben Mbofana are Co-Principals of The Arise-Africa Initiative
* This article first appeared on The Zimbabwean as a reaction to the newspaper’s editorial piece: see https://www.thezimbabwean.co/2018/08/china-accused-of-colonialism/ accessed on 16 September 2018.