The G20 will hold its annual meeting this year (2010) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. There is a usual tendency to separate the African condition from the practices of the western World. I submit that the African condition and the pratices of the western World are intricably intertwined.
A famous Canadian journalist and columnist once published an article that commented on the historic and unprecedented success of Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian writer’s first book entitled Things Fall Apart. The book is now over 50 years old. Chinua Achebe is an unmitigated success according to the journalist, compared to the “colossal failure of Africa.” “The down-trodden colonial Nigeria depicted in his first book has evolved into the downtrodden post-colonial Nigeria of today, afflicted by corruption, militarism, hunger, tribal warfare and AIDS”. The journalist extended this Nigerian tragedy to the rest of Africa.
I have no quarrel with the journalist’s depiction of Nigeria and Africa as marred in tragedy, corruption, militarism for the most part, poverty, and AIDS among other ills. There is simply no excuse for Africa’s failure to get its act together and aggressively address the problems that it faces. I however question his utter failure and silence, like most western scholars, to comment on the western governments’s and western institutions’s complicity in aiding and abetting of African corruption, militarism, poverty and other ills not only in contemporary terms but in historic perspective as well. One example is the well-known and well documented corruptive activities of the Canadian Talisman Company in the Sudan.
Problems caused by African leaders’s practices and corruption as well as ineptitude are serious enough on their own. But western complicity and duplicity makes them absolutely unsolvable and bleak. Martin Meredith’s much heralded book, The Fate of Africa: From The Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair: A History of 50 Years of Independence is along the lines of the journalist’s article. It eschews historical antecedents that have shaped Africa’s future. (Meredith like the journalist are capable of transcending parochialism as can be learnt from Meredith’s biography of Nelson Mandela). A film like Lumumba also tells part of the story. The West still meddles in Africa as can be gleaned from films like Blood Diamond and books like Dirty Work: The CIA in Africa and Gordon Thomas’ Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence Inside M15 and M16.
The western countries have already cast a long pole on African conditions which I refer to as akin to Post-Colonial Traumatic Stress Disorder Syndrome (PCTSDD), a condition which cannot be solved without addressing its historical origins and continuing reverberations. If you would like to know the trauma that the west imposed on Africa and how that trauma continues to echo into the present, please read Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa; David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire;Frantz Fanon’s, The Wretched of the Earth and Rene Dumont’s False Start in Africa to just mention a few publications that make the point most poignantly. The first and the last two books deal with Africa as a whole, the second with the Congo and the third deals with Kenya. I won't even mention South Africa.
Not only did the west bequeath Africa with the current problems, it has continued to exacerbate them. Oil companies like Shell Gas have continued to wreck havoc, environmental pollution and poverty in Nigeria. Nigerian dictators have continued to stash away billions of ill-gotten money into western banks without recourse. Western governments have continued to arm every African dictator in history with impunity. Western governments armed and supported the economic and military might of the South African Apartheid regime until the late 20th century.
When a few African governments tried to provide economic stimulus packages to their impoverished citizens, western governments through their institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund cried wolf, condemned the so-called subsidies, threatened to stop economic loans and imposed all types of conditionalities. The result was and is the continuing unprecedented poverty that we see in Africa. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are now silent when western governments are dishing out economic stimulus packages to financial and other institutions. Where is the outrage they displayed when it came to a few African governments that were trying to help their people?
Just like western governments maintained a blind eye to corporate institutions and corporate criminals that have now caused the financial and economic disasters of this era beginning in the first decade of the 21st Century, so did western governments keep a deathly silence when their corporations and governmental institutions wrecked havoc in Africa, with the complicity of corrupt African leaders!
Western journalists, columnists and scholars have a duty since they have assigned themselves the task of commenting on Africa, to deal with the impact of western practices on the worsening of African poverty, corruption and other ills. In 1995, I attended the Seventh International Anti-Corruption Conference in Beijing, China which was attended by representatives from African, Asian and Western countries. Every participant was afterwards given the 1650 page publication (proceedings of the conference) entitled, Anti-Corruption For Social Stability and Development. This book is the only most comprehensive global study on corruption and how to combat it, in history. The study shows the interrelationship between corruption in one country and corruption in other countries. And governments have done nothing about it to date. Journalists and policy makers and scholars are well advised to look at the broader and bigger picture. We are all in this together. Hopefully.
By Munyonzwe Hamalengwa
Munyonzwe is a Toronto-based lawyer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Comment on this article!