Colonialism And Slavery: Are they the causes of Africa’s woes? (1)

Kofi-AnnanIn August and September every year, Africa and the Diaspora mark the remembrance and an end to slavery. Pan-African speakers at forums and durbars normally mention the unpleasant legacies it left on the continent.

The events show photos and documentaries on how the strong and the healthy breeds of our kinds were chained beaten and dehumanized before being transported to their “destinations” in faraway foreign lands.

The narrations usually begin from the 1880’s when the Europeans subjugated our people, dominated and altered our economic structures, then later our political, social and cultural establishments.

The events would explain to us, or rather try to convince us that colonialism is still in existence; it is only that the perpetrators are not taking our lands as was in the colonial days, but they are working through our leaders, through the grants and benefits, education and media to dominate our minds with their modes of thinking as well as their culture.

Every year, Pan-Africanists would repeat the same slogan which is ‘emancipation, freedom and the need for self-discovery as Africans. The general theme year after year is the same on emancipation day celebrations in Ghana.

The perpetrators of slave trade and colonialism, the Europeans, have deprived us of our self-identity; they have infiltrated our culture and have succeeded in clogging our minds from self-discovery.

It will further emphasize that, the whiteman has impeded our ability to the management of our political, social and cultural affairs. It would address the causes of the continuous slavery by other methods, and may suggest very feeble mechanisms for their abrogation.

On 2nd December, 2005 in a message delivered on the International Day for Abolition of Slavery, former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan urged “all states to ratify and implement existing instruments’’ to make efforts that will end women and children trafficking and other transnational organized crimes.

According to his message, he was not bitter about the past. And if the conciliatory tone was as a result of his position as the General Secretary of a world body mandated to ensure corporation among all countries in the world, then that should be the tone of all lovers of the African continent.

No doubt, events in the past of any person or group of persons, to a large extent determine the subsequent events of such a person or groups. But it must be stressed that the look-back into, and memories of the past should serve as positive guide to the future. Such events should not necessarily arouse bitter feelings or excite hatred.

When we Africans understand that the world is not leagued against us, but are series of events through which we must live courageously, we would therefore not be blocked by sentimentalities and sensitivities; for such sensitivities obstruct proper judgment, hence deprive appreciation of events around us.

Our flaws in the past, the wrong choices and steps and our mistakes should embolden us to deal with the present and plan for the future. The ingredient for this is the maturity in mind and soul.

Exploitation of people by other people on the basis of the quest for economic advancement whether in the form of enslavement or domination abounds in the history of pre-colonial Africa.

Ancient Egypt was essentially an African power that depended on slaves for the construction of many of their national monuments.

We are told in Europe; and the people without history’ a book by Eric Wolf that, “almost all African states depended upon slave labour, occasionally provided from their own citizens as a result of a person being ‘pawned’ into slavery for debt or consigned into slavery by judicial offenses or more frequently acquired through the military conquest of neighbouring states”.

The pursuit of wealth is the right of every group of persons or nations. However, in the ancient world, global laws were not stringent, neither were they in existence.

Hence, in pre-colonial Africa, the powerful people in society therefore relied on slaves in every aspect of human endevour. In the same vein, the European countries who score highest when it comes to issues on human rights today, were busy strangling each other in their various attempts for colonies in Africa and Asia.

The reasons why Europeans were seeking colonies so fervently in Africa are numerous among academic circles, but I do not think cruelty, greed or evil- heartedness were some of their objectives.

For instance, Lenin, a Russian leader, (who himself would come to be the single most destructive figure in Russia) proposed that in view of the capitalist evolution, capitalism has reached a stage where control of capital would be concentrated more and more in few hands which might leave too little power in the home market for the commodities which could be produced.

Hence it created a situation of over consumption in the home market. There was therefore the need to export to under-developed regions to acquire raw materials in return.

The abundance of such raw materials in the under-developed regions might have caught the eye of the Europeans. And seeing that the under-developed regions obviously were not putting these vital materials into use as they would, which ‘every natural human being’ would have done, they put in mechanisms to dominate these resources. So with upper hand in weaponry and no international laws to guard against attempts to control and subjugate Africans, they settled and dominated all facets of the African.

Another explanation borders on the prestige and honour it brought to Europeans on territorial acquisition. Once again it must not be forgotten that there were no international laws to make domination and settling illegal, nor were there any global laws which spelled the rules of trade engagements.

Then there is this feeble reason I hated the most which is still taught in our history in the Senior High School level, which is that, the Europeans saw most of the practices in Africa and some parts of Asia as uncivilized, hence they took it upon themselves to embark on a mission to civilize the continent. This proclamation by some of our historians even betrays us, before the advent of the Europeans.

It only shows how we have been brainwashed to think that, we do not have history and culture and I personally think a slight justification should only be taken serious per the mission to civilize when we consider human sacrifices made by some chiefs in Africa which was inhumane. For that I agree.

But whatever the reason, or ethnocentrisms, the world has reached a stage where a look back into the past with pain is unnecessary. If thoughts determine actions, then by extrapolation, the dominant ideologies in any period of time determines the phenomena of the world at that time.

Europeans burnt women who exhibited strange behaviours through illness in the era of witch-hunting between 1480-1750, a phenomena, which occurred due to the ideas of superstition; The God of the Witches (1960). This practice which was borne out of the belief in a supernatural being does not exist any longer in these European countries.

The people who pursued acts like these and those of similar nature have gained maturity in knowledge. However, in Africa and perhaps in Ghana, we are yet to enlighten people involved in human rights infringements like housing ‘innocent’ women at the Gambaga witch camp, ‘trokosi’, female genital mutilation, child abuse and others.

According to history, life in pre-colonial Africa itself facilitated the Europeans conquest and the enslavement of our people. The internal dissension and conflicts in Africa in those days were said to have been capitalized on by the colonizers, thereby alienating hitherto unified and organized African people, in the era of pre-colonial Africa.

History attests that, the States in pre-colonial Africa were plagued by internal dissonance because there were no widely accepted methods of transferring political power. The Ancient mali empire was said to have been conquered and collapsed as a result of non-existence of proper mechanisms to control the throne.

Also in the case of expanding powers, the Hausa city-states and Kanem-Bornu were in constant warfare. These eventually weakened their defenses against European mercenaries. In the fifteenth century A.D, when the European ‘powers’ arrived to trade in goods, they realized that some conducive atmosphere for trade in humans beings had already been created; they realized that, the native rulers themselves were willing to cooperate to meet the demand for slaves for export, through barter trade.

Between 1450 and 1810, African rulers supplied the major part of the estimated 7.6 million slaves exported to the European colonies, as well as the unknown numbers sent by Muslim traders across the Sahara and the Indian Ocean. But somehow, the Muslim contribution to African slavery has not gained prominence in the minds of many Africans; neither do they see the equally devastating effect it had on Africa when we take a look into the past of events which led to colonialism and slavery on the continent.

This exposition does not suggest in any way that because the slave trade occurred a long time ago, its consequences should be forgotten, nor is my anticle downplaying the effects of colonialism which has altered our social, political, economic and cultural make-up.

I think there is much more reasons for Africa’s lateness to attaining socio-economic growth in the measure expected, than her colonial domination and enslavement in the past.

The chunk of the reasons of Africa’s underdevelopment; which includes low productivity, stagnation, poverty, and corruption in this present era, cannot be blamed on our enslavement and colonial past.

As the standpoint of most people who are abreast with issues of contemporary Africa, majority of Africa’s leaders have failed their subjects in providing the relevant leadership quality which is needed to turn things around.

Former President Jerry John Rawlings has always been a critic of bad leadership and corruption at governmental positions, where civil servants and leaders in authority have amassed wealth for themselves through state funds.

Ex-President John Agyekum Kufour also dissected Africa’s woes and laid the blame on bad leadership when in 2009, he inaugurated his foundation which recognizes the persistent challenge of leadership and governance in Africa.

In the 4th annual sandwich conference this year on social behavior and conflict management organized by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Cape Coast, Dr. Vladimir Antwi- Danso, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy at the University of Ghana, said Africa needs visionary leaders who could initiate ambitious projects and policies to propel the continent to the required standards.

He wondered why political leaders make promises to the electorates when they are aware that, resources are not ‘available’; and with that, I strongly disagree with him. Who said Africa and for that matter Ghana, does not have resources? May be I need some education on that.

In my candid opinion, our leaders have failed us and it is time we begin to seek positive changes, and remind ourselves about the need to adopt strategies to ensure our development.

It is also rather unfortunate that, we live on a continent where majority of initiatives meant for development, are mostly politicized and trivialized in many of her countries.

It is time for African leaders to note that, ‘men are governed only by serving them; this rule is without exception’- (V Cousin); our leaders must rise to meet the challenges of the continent, serve with integrity and have the welfare of their citizens at heart.


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