The age of classical colonialism in Africa changed the course of history. Exploited trade agreements and pseudo alliances between African nobility and European merchants led to heightened warfare, looting, and genocide across the continent. No mineral or raw material was safe, from gold to palm oil to diamonds. The transatlantic slave trade emptied the continent of capable hands, bodies, and minds to the tune of 12 million Africans. The developing European capitalist class burned their way across Africa from all sides, exploiting every contradiction and weakness they could find. Then came the 1884-85 Berlin Conference, which was an exercise in land carving and border creation for the European powers because the wanton theft of Africa had gotten to be almost too much for even thieves! They needed a more organized manner to pull off their robbery so 14 European nations put aside their differences to sit down at a table and carve Africa up like a turkey. Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Britain, Italy, and Portugal all left the affair with packed to-go plates.
Those Africans trafficked to “The New World” away from their homeland embarked on a devastating and gruesome struggle against the evils of human bondage— forced labor, forced reproduction, and forced family separation. Forced to forget— their names, their customs, their religions, their lovers, and their histories. Formal slavery for them would be “abolished” and morph into a system known as “Jim Crow”. The descendants of those that survived Jim Crow would go on to navigate the terrors of forced assimilation, red-lining, vigilante terrorism, and gentrification. Colonization. Back in Africa where it all began, similar systems and structures put in place by those countries around the table of the Berlin Conference would reign for centuries. Colonialism. But everywhere these Africans were, across Africa herself, and around the world where they had been trafficked, they fought back.
Enter the post-WWII 1960s. The world saw the rise of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, The African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, The Liberation Front of Mozambique, The Convention People’s Party, the African Democratic Assembly and African Democratic Rally, and many other organizations across the African world, all with a common agenda: the total liberation of African people from colonialism and all of its vestiges. The post-WWII era would turn history on its head. It saw Spain tossed aside, the British crown reduced to museums and parades, and Portugal written in as a cheap footnote in the common memory. The 1960s were for the dream of revolution in Africa and around the world. For building, for looking to the future, for independence.
But on their way out, these European countries took the same door that they came in. The first people they saw were the last people they saw, the nobility; the chiefs, and the kings who by then had morphed into the national bourgeoisie. Using the power they granted themselves under the Mandate System of WWI, they made their whispers, they made their deals and they exploited the remaining contradictions and left a window open for their return. The royalty went home and some of the militaries fled back to Europe, but what remained was a hand in the cookie jar of the politics and finances of these newly independent countries: neo-colonialism. That was the 1960s. Today there exist 54 “independent” African countries and countless African cultures around the world. And yet, these African nations which fought to the bone more than 60 years ago are no more free from colonization today than they were yesterday. The Africans of now have a historical duty to SMASH neo-colonialism, but before we can fight effectively we must understand the terrain we fight upon. In this statement, we seek to clarify some of the confusion that exists today about neo-colonialism and emphasize why Kwame Nkrumah warned us that unless we can rid ourselves of it, it will drown us.
Neo-colonialism and the Exploitation of Labor
The very definition of neo-colonialism in operation is a system where the human and material resources of the exploited country/people are set up to be the main conduit for the benefit of the outside colonizing power. A primary example of this is cocoa production in Ghana. In 2022, chocolate products produced from Ghanaian cocoa account for 75% of all chocolate products consumed within the U.S. The benefactors of this system are the multinational corporate entities that dominate cocoa production in Ghana. From Cargill International to Hershey, Nestle, and Godiva, these companies hold complete control over cocoa production all throughout Ghana. Receiving slave wages to produce cocoa, the overwhelming majority of Ghanaian cocoa workers, who toil for 10 to 12 hours daily, seven days per week, will never themselves generate enough cash flow to afford to enjoy even one Nestle chocolate bar in their entire lifetime.
Another example is the production of columbite-tantalite, or coltan for short, in the Congo. Coltan is the rare earth mineral that is absolutely necessary for ensuring devices that give and receive a signal are able to function. Coltan, when ground down into a powder, has the capacity to hold an electrical charge. This ability makes it valuable in serving as the necessary conduit to facilitate the giving and receiving of signals that are required for internet devices like laptop computers, cell phones, and flat-screen smart televisions. Upwards of 70% of the world’s reserves for coltan exist in Central Africa with the majority of that being in the Congo. Children as young as eight years old work in Congolese mines digging coltan out by hand. These children are paid no more than about $35.00 U.S.D. per week, working seven days per week and at least 12 hours daily. Just like chocolate from Ghanaian cocoa, none of these children will ever be able to afford internet, not to mention a cell phone. What they will receive is the black lung disease that results from working in poorly ventilated mines for long hours each day. These terrible conditions are the reason that the medium life expectancy for Congolese mine workers hovers around 40 years old.
Meanwhile, like Nestle, Godiva, and Hershey in Ghana, multinational corporations like Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Sony, and RCA make billions from exploiting the labor of African youth in the Congo. Another similarity between this exploitation of labor in Ghana, the Congo, and all of Africa, is that all of this cheap labor (and cheap resources) are bled out of Africa and into the hands of these capitalist corporations, who are based in Europe and the U.S., on a daily basis.
This is the simple and irrefutable explanation for why Africa is poor and the Western capitalist world holds all of the wealth. And this all results from the mechanisms of control that were established by the colonial systems hundreds of years ago and the subsequent establishment of neo-colonial gatekeeping to ensure capitalism continues to reign supreme at the end of the day while Africa and her children continue to suffer.
Neo-Colonialism and Re-Conquest Through Debt
Neo-colonialism operates primarily through tactics of soft power and indirect control. For this reason, it can often be difficult to recognize its hand at work. What can look on the surface like a generous act of solidarity between Western capitalist countries and poor African and global south nations— whether an aid package, loan or foreign investment, is most often a clever concealment of what Thomas Sankara described as debt-driven reconquest:
If we understand that the African continent and the earth’s poorest nations are not poor by accident; that their underdevelopment is a consequence of a campaign of looting and destruction by the capitalist-imperialist system and its agents that has spanned centuries, we can also understand, as Sankara explains, that the practice of wealthy countries swooping in with checks to “save” poor countries is a farce. These wealthy countries, the ongoing colonizers and exploiters of the majority of life on this planet, are doing nothing less than creating and maintaining the problem while at the same time posing as the solution.
One of the most powerful institutions of the debt-driven reconquest of Africa and poor nations is the IMF or International Monetary Fund. The IMF is an international financial institution (a giant bank) headquartered in the U.S. that is sustained by dues paid by 190 member countries. Because the amount of dues paid are determined by the size of a country’s economy, wealthy Western capitalist countries pay for the largest proportion of the IMF’s budget and get proportionally more voting power within the institution. This means that wealthy countries, first and foremost the U.S., are able to set the agenda and policies of the IMF. In spite of this clear bias, the IMF is responsible for the management of the global monetary system and thus has operations in or some kind of financial agreement with the majority of countries on the planet. On paper, the IMF is a special wing of the United Nations with the objective of preventing global economic crises. In practice, it is, alongside the World Bank, the finance arm of global imperialism.
The IMF distributes trillions of dollars in aid and loans to nations around the world annually but that money is never freely given. IMF deals always come with strings, most famously in the terms of SAPs (structural adjustment programs) that are essentially conditions nations must meet before receiving any kind of funding from the IMF. The conditions are always developed with the intention of “liberalizing” the economy of the country seeking aid. In layman’s terms, this means destroying social programs, privatizing industries, and disempowering poor and working-class people in order to make a targeted nation more hospitable for exploitative foreign investment. We can see this clearly using the example of Ukraine.
In 2014, democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych turned down a $17 billion IMF agreement that came with an SAP that would have required his government to pass harsh austerity measures. Yanukovych, correctly describing the agreement as an attack on the nation’s sovereignty, instead turned to Russia who offered a $15 billion aid package that included the cancellation of Ukraine’s debt and a 25% discount on Russian natural gas. Yanukovych’s refusal to play ball with the institutions of Western finance capital proved to be a fatal blow to his capacity to hold on to power. A color revolution broke out and within months he was deposed in a neo-Nazi and fascist-led coup orchestrated by the U.S.and NATO powers. After Yanukovych was safely out of the picture, the hand-picked by the U.S. far-right post-coup government wasted no time in returning to the table with the IMF and agreeing to the deal he had declined. The terms of that deal included:
- Closing 60% of Ukraine’s public universities
- Privatizing its nationalized healthcare
- Raising the retirement age for Ukrainian workers and making their pensions smaller
- Raising household heating taxes by 40%
- Raising household gas taxes by 56%
- Reducing Ukraine’s federal budget for social assistance programs
It was nothing less than the systematic economic destruction of Ukraine and a clear attack on the capacity of the masses of Ukrainian people to resist domination. In the years since their safety net was dismantled, Ukrainian workers have suffered through the banning of workers’ organizations and progressive parties, violent attacks on their ability to organize and unionize, and the forced imposition of rule by militarized fascist forces. In this example, we can see the soft power strategies of neo-colonialism at work— the conditioning of aid to poor countries on their committing acts of economic suicide and the orchestration of destabilization to discredit and dispose of leaders that refuse to play along.
As Kwame Nkrumah explains:
Neo-Colonialism & Military Domination
With over 800 military bases in more than 80 nations, the U.S. has carved up the entire world into military commands. The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), as a U.S. neo-colonialist occupation force in Africa, shows that “flag independence” on the continent is starkly different from sovereignty. Established under George W. Bush in 2007 and expanded under the first Black president, Barack Obama, AFRICOM has situated itself as a neo-colonial occupying force utilizing both hard and soft power to expand U.S. hegemony. And as the so-called purveyors of truth and justice, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has held no quantifying objection to the expansion of AFRICOM, instead going along with the underlying subtext of protecting “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market.” But the true neo-colonial mission of AFRICOM is more sinister. “Let there be no mistake,” Vice Admiral Robert Moeller wrote in 2010, “AFRICOM’s job is to protect American lives and promote American interests.” Currently, there is an AFRICOM presence in 53 out of 54 nations on the African continent. The broad network of AFRICOM military bases, in collusion with NATO nations like France and the UK, illuminates the ways African government’s relationships with the West are developed through the surrender of sovereignty. For instance, AFRICOM’s role in guaranteeing the “free-flow” of resources includes U.S. interests in fostering “water security”. As Salome Paul notes, over 1/3rd of the permanent and semi-permanent AFRICOM bases are in the Horn of Africa region.
The intense presence of AFRICOM in the Horn serves as a means to circumvent China’s approach to infrastructure-led economic development with its railways and water pipelines. AFRICOM’s mission statement insists that its purpose is to counter “transnational threats and malign actors.” However, in the G5 Sahel countries, it is all about the capture and maintenance of African resources and Western interests. How else could it be explained that in spite of heavy western military presence and joint training operations between the French military, the U.S., and locals, Africa’s Sahel is no more stable than when NATO-backed the collapse of Libya in 2011? The G5 Sahel is rich in oil and while U.S dependency has declined, that is not the case for its NATO ally, France. As members of NATO, the military presence of France and the U.S. in the Sahel is a reminder of the western hegemonic bloc across the region.
Another reminder? The most recent HR 7311 bill, sponsored by the Black comprador U.S. Congressman Gregory Meeks, pushed through the House of Representatives with unanimous support from the bootleg Rainbow Coalition fondly known as ‘The Squad’ (including proud Somali Ilhan Omar), to eventually become law. While Africans in the U.S. are thrust into the brink of austerity with zero safety nets during an ongoing and increasingly devastating pandemic, The CBC and ‘The Squad’ rushed through a bill that is set to target African nations that did not condemn Russia’s military operation in Ukraine and also ward off any more actions like those which forced out the French military in Mali. And for what? As the bill states in Sec 2, “It is the sense of Congress that the United States (1) should regularly assess the scale and scope of the Russian Federation’s influence and activities in Africa that undermine United States objectives and interests.” What interests does the U.S. have in Africa? Africans in the U.S. must understand the importance of struggling against a Black Misleadership Class that is currently obstructing our own paths towards liberation by tying itself and colonized communities to U.S. colonialism. At every turn, this class is justifying their collaboration with the enemy state obstructing the liberation of Africa. The only objective and interest the U.S. has is maintaining a stronghold on Africa and its resources. Africa is their interest NOT African people, neither in the U.S. or abroad.
As the contradiction of a dire material reality for Africans continues to sharpen, $40 billion has been signed off unanimously by the CBC for the Nazi militia, Azov Battalion in Ukraine, to continue a war that has huge ramifications for the African world. As these class collaborators give political cover to ultra-nationalism in Ukraine that is making its way back to haunt Africans in the US, African nations are being punished for having clarity on the geopolitical situation and the role NATO has played in creating it. It should be noted that while condemning an “invasion” of Ukraine, the U.S was simultaneously drone striking Somalia. Currently, it’s seeking to invade Somalia again with the approval of the new Western-backed Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, with not one African member of congress speaking against it. The African world is in a crisis as the contradictions of “independence” under Western rule come to a head. For Africans in the U.S. and globally, the war against neo-colonialism and its agents must be organized, must be fought, and must be WON together because it is one colonial-capitalist system.
Put the “Liberation” Back in African Liberation Day
Since its founding in 1958, there has been a concerted effort to take the “Liberation” out of “African Liberation Day,” with many around the world pushing the promotion of a depoliticized “Africa Day”, designed to celebrate the “beauty of Africa and African people.” But we must understand that while romantic, these celebrations are not realistic. How do we, as African people, close our eyes to the ongoing theft, exploitation, and military occupation of our homeland? How do we continue to wrap ourselves in neo-colonial flags to participate in online diaspora wars, while tangible xenophobic movements are attempting to take off in places like occupied Azania? How long will Africans in the U.S.continue to vote for the “lesser evil” which has only found ways to accelerate the evil in our homeland? There is no amount of cryptocurrency, Africa-themed Spotify playlists, or capitalist resort vacations to Ghana branded as “returning home” that are going to end this current phase of our struggle. This year we must fight to put the “Liberation” back in “African Liberation Day” because Africa is not free and neither are we.
On this African Liberation Day, we must recommit ourselves to the task of organizing the masses of our people toward the objective of true Pan-Africanism: one unified socialist Africa. This means that every African, everywhere in the world MUST JOIN AN ORGANIZATION that is fighting for justice. Our ability to unify around common political objectives is strengthened when we stop navigating the world as individuals and become serious bodies of people. Organizations must also begin to coalesce and work together where relevant, as in the example of the Pan-African Congress of Azania (PAC) and the Azanian People’s Organization (AZAPO). In February, the two organizations came together and signed a declaration of cooperation agreement, with the aim to contest future elections together and champion the needs of the people on the ground. This move demonstrates an awareness among African people of the need to unify. It is only the organized masses that will liberate themselves from neo-colonialism today.