It has been nearly 42 years since 1977, the year the last African country, Djibouti, gained its independence from its European colonizer. Yet, within these 42 years, European colonialism upon the African Continent has not ceased; it has simply taken a new form.

Kwame Nkrumah – the first president of an independent Ghana –  warned Africans of the potential regressive impact of unregulated forms of aid, trade and foreign direct investment.

While modern practices of Neocolonialism do not directly undermine the sovereignty of African States, these destructive practices are directly impeding economic growth on the African Continent.  For example, Niger exports enough uranium to France to generate 50 percent of the latter’s electricity supply. But ordinary Nigériens reap little benefit from France’s control of their country’s uranium resources, with over three-fifths of the population living below the poverty line and reports of radioactive contamination of water, air and soil by multinational mining operations.

In addition, over 100 British companies listed on the London Stock Exchange collectively control over $1 trillion worth of Africa’s most valuable resources including gold, diamonds, and platinum in 37 countries.

Under the pretense of helping Africa in its economic development through providing “aid,”  approximately  $134 billion flows into the continent each year in the form of loans and foreign investment. But at the same time, an estimated $192 billion is extracted from Africa mainly in the form of profits by large multinational foreign companies and their avoidance of paying taxes.

It is clear that colonialism has not ended. Puppet governments were put in place to perpetuate the economic effect of colonialism on behalf of the former colonizers. Many of Africa’s greedy leaders such as Mobutu Sese Seko, Blaise Comparoe, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and José Eduardo dos Santos, have continually impoverished their own peoples while promoting the interests of European businesses.

In the present day,  examples continue of French billionaire Vincent Bollore, who was arrested and detained a year ago over allegations that he indirectly influenced election outcomes for governments in West Africa and secured lucrative port contracts for his company in return, as well as Israeli-French billionaire Beny Steinmetz successfully obtained the rights to mine Simandou – a mountain range in Guinea’s remote southeast containing millions of tonnes of iron ore of the highest grade. According to some estimates, the ore from Simandou could generate around 140 billion dollars over the next 25 years; more than double the country’s GDP.

In addition, Burkina Faso has become Africa’s fourth biggest producer of gold, yet a significant portion of that is owned by Canadian companies such as IAMGOLD, who’s Burkina Faso mines are expected to yield almost 400,000 ounces of gold in 2019.That is approximately half a billion dollars worth of gold annually leaving the country of Burkina Faso.

Further examples of direct involvement by the state include the British government’s active support of exploitative British companies such as Cairn Energy in the oil rich country of Western Sahara, where native Saharawis have consistently protested against the  activities of oil companies. Successive British governments have consistently opposed African countries putting up regulatory or protective barriers and backed policies promoting low corporate taxes.

Everything, including agricultural resources are being exploited. The European Union enters into highly imbalanced trade agreements with some African countries.

Industry experts have repeatedly criticized trade deals between the EU and some African, states known as the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), saying they primarily benefit the EU to the detriment of African companies. When Kenya, for example, refused to sign a deal in 2014 out of fear that subsidized agricultural products from the EU would ruin its food sector, the EU threatened to impose import tariffs on one of Kenya’s biggest foreign exchange earners, the cut flower sector. Kenya gave in and signed the agreement.

High EU import tariffs on processed foods force African farmers to export agricultural products raw, instead of adding value to them to increase profits. Raw foods that cannot be grown in Europe, such as coffee, are exempt from tariffs, while roasted beans have a 7.5 percent surcharge. As a result, Africa, a key coffee grower, earned 2.4 billion dollars from the sale of green coffee beans in 2014, while Germany earned 3.8 billion dollars from coffee re-exports after roasting the beans, according to a blog from Calestous Juma, professor of international development at Harvard University. 

Now, while it is true that the blame is just as much internal corruption’s as it is colonialism, European powers are not exempt of the blame for many of Africa’s most corrupt governments as well as the assassination of certain of its most promising leaders. Between 1961 and 1973, six African independence leaders were assassinated by their ex-colonial rulers, including Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Amilcar Cabral, and Ben Barka. In addition, several coup d’etas have taken place with the indirect aid of European military forces. One example of such being the assassination of Thomas Sankara–known as Africa’s Che Guevera– who’s foreign policies included eschewing all foreign aid, pushing for debt reduction, and averting the power and influence of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. These policies earned him nothing but disapproval from former colonizer France. While the orchestrator of his assassination is unknown to this day, there have been several links to French inolvement.

Despite these challenges, the future is looking bright for the continent of Africa. Five out of the ten fastest growing global economies are located in Africa. The rate of return on foreign investment is higher in Africa than in any other developing region. Every day, infrastructure grows and cultural institutions such as Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilizations are erected.

As the great Kwame Nkrumah said,

 Freedom is not something that one people can bestow on another as a gift. Thy claim it as their own and none can keep it from them.

Ultimately, the push for forward progress is the responsibility of Africans. It is our duty, and the duty of our lawmakers, to combat corruption and create policies limiting the influence of foreign powers on our resources. Already there are promising leaders such as Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed and Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo. Working together, business, governments, and civil society can confront the continent’s many challenges and lift the living standards of its people.

Photo: Karol Boudreaux via The Foundation for Economic Education

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