State of underdevelopment in Africa traceable to its colonial past? Yes, and too much more…the crisis of identity

It is well known that Africa is home to most of the world’s poorest countries. Last year, the newspaper USA Today published a list of the world’s poorest countries

It is well known that Africa is home to most of the world’s poorest countries. Last year, the newspaper USA Today published a list of the world’s poorest countries. It showed that 18 of the world’s 20 poorest countries are in Africa. In developed countries, people frequently attribute Africa’s problems to corruption, lack of good governance, and civil wars.

Undoubtedly there is some truth to these accounts. But they do not tell the full story. The full story is adapted from an article written by Thabang Matona, a South African student at the African Leadership Academy. He is a member of the International Relations Council.

Many current “African problems” are not unique to Africa. Corruption exists all over the world. And civil wars have taken place in developed countries too. Yet the economic consequences of such plights are generally of a much greater magnitude in Africa.

The question is: why?

It is far-fetched to believe that heightened levels of corruption are simply a result of the culture of Africans; that it is simply “the African way of life” to be corrupt or in a state of constant disagreement. It is inconceivable that a group of people spread across 30 million square kilometers of land, with very little contact with each other, could have adopted a similar way of life by chance. Clearly, Africa’s economic struggles must be rooted in something else.

Most countries in Africa possess enormous reserves of natural resources. However, to this day, decades after they gained independence, many of these countries do not have real ownership of their resources.

Gold mines in South Africa, coal mines in Madagascar and Zimbabwe, oil and gas deposits in Nigeria, and diamond mines in South Africa, to name a few examples, are owned by companies listed on non-African stock exchanges such as the London Stock Exchange.  

Foreign ownership stems from the economic control that countries like Britain, one of Africa’s biggest former colonizers, had over natural resources in Africa. During its years as a colonial power, the United Kingdom deprived the countries of Africa of the economic advantages of their natural resources. Trade with Africans was almost non-existent. Africa’s resources were exploited for the purpose of export.

Today, the West continues to reap the benefits of that past advantage in the form of transfers of wealth through inheritance laws and the absence of systems to redress the past destabilization of African economies.

The story is slightly different for former French colonies in Africa. These countries are still tied by the neck to France. Most of them continue to pay tax to France for infrastructure developed by France in their countries, and most pledge military allegiance to France and use a currency, the CFA that is pegged to the euro.

France put these tactical advantages in motion when negotiating the “independence” of its colonies. Burkina Faso or Senegalese taxpayers, for instance, help pay for train stations in France rather than schools in their countries.

France justifies the arrangement, saying it helped develop these countries’ infrastructure. But this infrastructure was not built to benefit Africans. It was built to help France export these countries’ natural resources.

In effect, when the French government claims it’s due, they get repaid. But when an African does the same, he is told to forget about the past and look towards a better future.

And so they exploited the African people, who were more than happy to accept their terms in the name of peace and “independence.” On top of that, this independence was awarded to leaders who had no experience running countries.

So, once again, what role does colonialism play on African economies today? Of course, modern issues like corruption are a factor. But many of our issues are rooted in African’s colonial past.

There is also the challenge of identity. We are Africans, but Africa is a continent of fifty-two countries with thousands of different cultures and dialects.

There is popular talk about remembering the past to prevent making the same mistakes in the future. But, what happens when your past is connected to chattel slavery and the very name which determines your identity is the name of the people who owned, tortured, mutilated, raped, separated, and enslaved your ancestors? How do you negotiate your self-worth when every time you say your name you imprint your essence and the world with being the property of others?

Almost every descendant of slavery living in America carries the name of slave masters; this includes immigrants from the Caribbean. I’ve spent hours and hours trying to find the exact numbers to no avail. But every African American Jackson, Johnson, Jefferson, Smith, Adams, Jones, Murray, Flowers, Williams, Cooke, Brown, Miller, Davis, Thomas, Anderson, Taylor, Moore, Robinson, James, Brooks, etc carries the name of the Europeans who owned their ancestors. Most of us don’t know the names of our ancestors prior to being bought and sold. How has that impacted our self-worth and ability to be resilient?

Beyond the importance of a family name, in many West African cultures, it is very important for a child to receive a name from the ancestors and deities. The naming ceremony is a process of determining the entire destiny of that child since it is believed that a child eventually lives out the meaning of his or her name.

Names are important to indigenous people. With this in mind, will it help if Africans in the Diaspora make a naming ceremony visit to the Motherland and receive their birthright; a name that encompasses all of their potentials and gives direction for their journey in the physical world?

The crisis of identity, on a personal as well as corporate level, muddles every conceivable effort to incubate and substantiate any noble or high philosophy for the development of the continent.

But, come to think of it, who are Africans actually? From where did Africans migrate? Could the economic atrophy and poverty of modernization in Africa be traceable to any curse, biblical or otherwise? Does the state of Africans bear any resemblance to that of the Hispanics?

Africa is fading away without economic independence


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