At the advent of the industrial revolution, the Slave Trade and slavery had fulfilled their basic function of providing the primitive capital. The quest for the investment of the accumulated capital and the need for raw materials led to the colonization of Africa. “Through direct control of African economy and political administration under colonialism, Africa was compelled or forced to accept the international division of labour which assigned her the compulsory role of production of agricultural raw materials and minerals required by the industries in Europe,” according to Professor Chinweizu.
On attainment of independence by most African states from their colonial overlords, it was extremely very difficult to disentangle from the colonial perfected role for the State because of the systematic disarticulation in the indigenous economy and the intrinsic tying of same with the external economy of the colonizers.
Her need to take African manpower to the Americas declined. She needed instead to put African labour to work in Africa, digging up for her the riches of African mines; the trading companies that had for centuries bought and sold on Africa’s coast were found inadequate for seizing and carting off the raw materials of the African hinterland. Europe now felt a need to export her power into Africa’s interior to reorganize the farms, mines and markets for Europe’s greater profit.”
The new breed of European merchants, however, wanted “direct access to the hinterland markets so that, by eliminating the profits of the African middlemen, they could enlarge European profits and directly supervise African production.” To guarantee sufficient supply of raw materials for their industries the colonial authorities set out to “exercise wholesale takeover and direct control of the economy and administration of the African enclaves and states.”
This was executed in such a way as to “compel Africans to produce commercial quantities of only raw materials which Europe required.” For example, if the colonialists required palm oil for their soap making industry, they had to compel Africans to concentrate on the production of this commodity in commercial quantities so that the industry concerned could have adequate and steady supply of this product. If the colonialists did not take full control and direct production in the economy, the African people who are the producers might decide to produce yams more than palm oil, because this might be what was in high demand within the local economy.
Control of colonies was initially exercised through charters. The Royal Niger Company was granted a charter to administer by the British government until 1900 when it was revoked and the British government had to take full control and administration of Nigeria.
The colonial authorities introduced the monetary system, consistent with the European market and the international trade standard, to override Africa’s barter system. Money became the only official and acceptable medium of exchange and to enforce this, there was need for the colonialist to take direct control of the administration of the African colonies.
The capital brought in by the European merchants had to be protected through direct control and administration of the colonies in order to create a conducive atmosphere for its operation.
It was therefore in the colonial interests to reorganize and reorient the African labour force to adapt to the requirements and demands of the exported capital. To get Africans interested in working for the Europeans or the industrialists/merchants who had exported the capital, there was need for compulsion or use of force.
The capital transported and industrial organizational life associated with it were alien to the African economy and labour force. It was therefore hard for the Africans to voluntarily and willingly move to seek for job in the new industries developed with the exported capital.
The problem or question then was how the Africans could be compelled to work in the new industries and change their work attitude to that of industrial life without revolt or with minimum violence. The only option was to take direct control of their economy and political administration and then use government machinery through the proclamation of laws to compel them to move from their enclaves and to abandon their traditional system of production in preference to that of their colonizers.
Commenting on the assault and conquest by Western Europe upon the rest of us, Chinwezu aptly notes: “For nearly six centuries now, Western Europe and its Diaspora have been disturbing the peace of the world. Enlightened, through their Renaissance, by the learning of the ancient Mediterranean; armed with the gun, the making of whose powder they had learned from Chinese firecrackers; equipping their ships with lateen sails, astrolabes and nautical compasses, all invented by the Chinese and transmitted to them by Arabs; fortified in aggressive spirit by an arrogant, messianic Christianity of both the Popish and protestant varieties; and motivated by the lure of enriching plunder, white hordes have sailed forth from Western European homelands to explore, assault, loot, occupy, rule and exploit the rest of the world. And even now, the fury of their expansionist assault upon the rest of us has not abated.”
As elsewhere around the world, with the British in the lead, European insistence upon dominating trade brought gunboat diplomacy to the shores of Africa. European industrial power, embodied in the gunboats, had come to overawe Africa. The general effect was to undermine the power and sovereignty of African states.
Africans were forced to work in the colonial plantations and industries. First they began to take out of African use of occupancy whatever land they wanted, and they simultaneously assembled African labour to mine the land for gold, copper, diamonds, asbestos, tin, iron an zinc, or to farm it for wool, sisal, palm-oil and kernels, cotton, cocoa, rubber and groundnuts.
Having been dispossessed of their lands, they had no other means of survival or livelihood than to work for the colonialists unwillingly.
Legal coercion was also employed. In Sierra Leone, for example, a high and burdensome “hut-tax” was imposed. Its collection was harshly enforced. In other to earn money to pay it, Africans had to sell their labour to white men. Where taxation failed to turn out an adequate supply of African labour, compulsory labour ordinances made it “obligatory on persons of the labouring classes to give labour for public purposes on being called out by their chiefs or other native superiors.”
In 1895 such an ordinance was passed in the Gold Coast to compel chiefs to furnish carriers for a military expedition against Ashanti. But where, as in South Africa, the chiefs did not, for whatever reason, provide their allotted quotas of labour, native police were sent out to ‘collect the labour.’
Another effective strategy which the colonialist used to maintain direct control of the economy and domination of African territories was taxation. Taxation in the form introduced by the European colonizers was alien to most African people. Some African communities such as in Northern Nigeria paid tax to their rulers but this could be in cash or kind. The colonial authority insisted that Africans should pay their tax in colonial currency. The implication of this was that Africans would be compelled to work either in the colonial civil service or in the industries and plantations in order to earn the colonial currency to pay their tax obligation.
The colonialists imposed taxes on Africans for two reasons. The first was that it was a source of labour for their industries and plantations. The second reason was because they wanted the colonies to bear the cost of the personnel and the administration. The colonialists were not interested in using their own funds to run the colonial territories and administration. Their policy was that whatever was spent for running the colonial administration must be raised and generated locally.
By making the currencies introduced in the African territories the same as those used by the colonialists back home, it became easy for them to regulate the use and value of the currency as a means of maintaining effective control of the African economy and their administration.
The colonialists made the currency too difficult for Africans to obtain. The way they did this was to make the prices of raw materials and agricultural products produced by Africans to be too cheap. On the other hand, the colonialists made the prices of goods manufactured by them to be too dear or high, so that an African would spend all he had toiled for, for a year or more, to purchase a little of the foreign goods.
The implication of this was that Africans kept on working hard and making their labour service available to the colonialists in order to enjoy some of the foreign manufactured goods they required, in the contrived fancy to enjoy a bit of the Occidental culture which had been made attractive and a status symbol.
The endgame, which is sustained in postcolonial Africa today, is the disarticulation of the economy- a misalignment in the production of goods, markets, traders, transport, provision of social amenities and pattern of urbanization etc. By compelling Africans to concentrate on the production of goods meant for export. Africans were forced to abandon the production of food items required to feed the teeming and growing population. The effect of this was food shortage and escalation in food prices. The present day situation where Africans now import their food is a carry-over from colonialism, and more concerted industrial efforts need to be made to change this narrative.