Multinational corporations: The new colonisers in Africa

Written by admin on April 8th, 2011

Before the end of the first period of colonialism African nations were properties of their colonial masters who did what they could to rape the continent of whatever resource they deemed good for the development of their citizens in Europe.

Out of nowhere and without any consultation with the people of the African continent, the Europeans met and divided the continent amongst themselves in what has been termed ‘The Scramble for Africa’.

Through this scramble France, Britain, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy all went on a looting spree, raping Africa of her resources without putting any of the proceeds back for the development of the continent.

When US President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Gambia on 13 January 1943, he was so appalled by the conditions of Gambians that he made this lamentation:

‘It’s the most horrible thing I have ever seen in my life… The natives are five thousand years back of us… The British have been there for two hundred years – for every dollar that the British have put into Gambia, they have taken out ten. It’s just plain exploitation of those people.’

He continued, telling his son Elliot, ‘I must tell [Winston] Churchill what I found out about his British Gambia today. This morning, at about eight-thirty, we drove through Bathurst to the airfield.’ (Elliott notes that it was here that his father began speaking with ‘real feeling in his voice’.) ‘The natives were just getting to work. In rags … glum-looking…They told us the natives would look happier around noontime, when the sun should have burned off the dew and the chill. I was told the prevailing wages for these men was one and nine. One shilling nine pence. Less than fifty cents.’

‘An hour?’ Elliott asked.

‘A day! Fifty cents a day! Besides which, they’re given a half-cup of rice. Dirt. Disease. Very high mortality rate. I asked. Life expectancy – you’d never guess what it is. Twenty-six years. Those people are treated worse than the livestock. Their cattle live longer!'[1]

And the exploitation was not peculiar to Gambia. The Gold Coast (now Ghana), Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)), Namibia, South Africa, Congo and Angola all suffered from the same colonial exploitation and underinvestment.

For almost 300 years the Europeans, who were supposedly civilised, devout Christians, irresponsibly looted Africa’s resources and made slaves of its natives without developing their colonies. When the local population protested against this exploitation without reciprocal investment, they were brutally crushed, as happened in the Congo, where King Leopold II of Belgium looted the resources, made slaves and killed close to 10 million Congolese.

Martin Ewans, co-author of ‘European Atrocity, African Catastrophe: Leopold II, the Congo Free State and its Aftermath’ has described in detail the horrors committed by Leopold II, the State of Belgium and the companies that exploited the resources of Congo.

He writes: “Leopold’s exploitation of the territory (Congo) and its peoples that ensued was merciless to the point of genocide. Large tracts were declared to be ‘vacant lands’ and the inhabitants were debarred from profiting from them. Concessions were granted to a small number of companies, which were given a free hand in procuring rubber by whatever means they chose. Leopold himself created a Domaine de la Couronne from which the profits of the rubber regime went to him personally. The local inhabitants were forced to collect rubber for minimal returns, and were subjected to a variety of compulsions if they failed to deliver the quotas demanded. Hostages were taken against deliveries, chiefs killed or intimidated, individuals slaughtered and whole villages razed. A potentially lethal whip of dried hippopotamus hide, the chicotte, was widely used, and the regime’s soldiers were ordered to produce severed hands, to prove that they had used their weapons effectively. The populations of the rubber producing areas were decimated, partly as a result of these practices, partly through flight, and partly as a result of the malnutrition and disease that followed. Overwhelmingly, Belgium chose not to know about what was going on. Strict secrecy was in any case imposed on those who worked in the Congo, and it was a simple matter to deal with any who stepped out of line. For a long time, even the missionaries who worked in the Congo said little or nothing publicly, fearing that they might prejudice their evangelical activities”.[2]

Altogether the atrocities that Leopold II and Belgium perpetrated against Africans claimed more than ten million lives. The crimes committed were so monstrous that its records have been sealed away from the public and even serious researchers have been denied access to them. It is important to state that the underlying cause of the slaughter of Africans was resources: land, rubber, gold and diamond. Peter Bate’s film the ‘White King, Red Rubber, Black Death’ is a reconstruction of what really happened in Congo.

Despite having looted Congo’s resources for more than seven decades the country was virtually left undeveloped: without roads, schools, hospitals, good drinking water and rail lines. There was a deliberate policy to keep the people uneducated and undeveloped. According to Martin Ewans when Congo gained independence in June 30th, 1960 ‘there were a mere seventeen African graduates, and not a single qualified African doctor, lawyer or engineer. There were no Africans in the senior judiciary and not a single army officer, while in the senior administrative ranks, out of a total of nearly 5,000, the numbers of Africans barely ran into double figures. There were no experienced political leaders, no educated citizenry, no indigenous administrators, no professional, commercial or military elite, no established middle class with a stake in the stability and well-being of the country’ [3].

In 1904 to 1907 the German, led by Commander-in-Chief Lothar Von Trotha, committed their first genocide of the 20th century by killing 90 per cent of the Herero and the Namaqua people of South West Africa (now Namibia) when the people protested against the exploitation of their resources. And the sad stories of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Algeria, Namibia, Kenya and Angola, where people were denied access to land, citizenship and basic rights and had to take up arms before they were granted independence, are in many history books. We know how Nelson Mandela (now a hero in Europe) and a number of freedom fighters endured long prison sentences, torture, exile and deaths in the hands of their ‘devout Christians’ and ‘civilised’ European colonisers. The idea was that through The Scramble for Africa they had bought Africa and had power to do as they wish, hence the rape, torture, genocide and mass killings.

While Europeans became richer, Africans became poorer. For example, with the looting of the Congo’s resources, enslavement, the amputations of hands and 10 million deaths, Brussels – which now doubles as the capital of the European Union – and Belgium were built.

When they were given their ‘freedom’, the fathers of independence inherited nothing more than empty treasuries. They realised that after more than 300 hundred years of colonial rule their colonial masters had left them nothing; no money and no infrastructure.

This bad situation and their eagerness to improve the lives of their peoples forced them to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank for assistance, and when they went lo and behold their former colonial masters were there waiting for them. The colonisers used their majority votes to dictate to the World Bank and IMF about how these former colonies should be helped. Of the 185 members that make up the IMF, six colonial masters and their allies – comprised of the United States, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, France and Italy – control 42 per cent of the votes.

The colonial masters dictated to the IMF and the World Bank that for Africans to be helped, they had to open their economies to allow European and American corporations in. This underscores the numerous conditionalities that are associated with loans from these institutions. The conditionalities are nothing more than a smokescreen designed to ensure that Europeans never lose their grip on the resources of their former colonies. Some of these conditionalities include instituting secret memorandums of agreement, subsidies to foreign corporations and massive tax concessions (such as income tax, usage fees and property tax) – the primary source of revenue for ‘export-oriented’, developing countries.

The sad thing is that Africans thought independence would give them respite to develop, but this was never to be as the colonial masters used their corporations and intelligence services to deliver vengeance on the people. They encouraged and financed civil wars, unashamedly polluted rivers, wells and the soil through their oil and mineral activities, deliberately understated their profits and falsified profit documents, as well as undervaluing their goods, indulging in smuggling, theft and the falsification of invoicing and non-payment of taxes, and employing kickbacks and bribes to public officials. They also overpriced projects, provided save havens for looted funds, promoted the sale of guns, overthrew African leaders, supported dictatorships and assassinated those who disagreed with them. We know, for example, the tragedy of Patrice Lumumba of Congo and the support the West gave Mobutu.

The corporations forced onto Africa by the IMF, the World Bank, the US and Europe have been implicated in a number of cases for corrupting African leaders and stealing trillions of dollars

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