When the vast expanse of the African continent was colonised by the various world powers, Africans then were very ignorant; in fact, it was the colonialists who turned out to be God sent as black men for the first time discovered that there was much more to life than eating pounded yam with goat meat and a bowl of palm wine to wash everything down, metaphorically.
The white man shipped a lot of generations off to their sugar cane plantations back home, where they were made to work their bones out.
There is a lot to write about slavery but thank God and the industrial revolution, the white men put a stop to shipping black men away when the use of machines rendered manual labour redundant. Of course, just because of mere biscuits, spirits and even mirrors, so many black men ensnared their fellow brothers into slavery out of sheer ignorance or perhaps wickedness.
But when slavery stopped, the white men became more interested in running the affairs of their various colonies. They extended their territorial authorities beyond their frontiers and thousands of miles from their home governments.
African people became subjects of their European lords and by their pleasures and permission, an Oba or Emir, for instance, could hold court. Then, they made sure that their royal conduct did not conflict with their royal superiors like, for example, Her Majesty the Queen of England.
Thankfully after slavery, the colonial masters brought with them social development like education, health and taxation. And then following in their footsteps were various missionaries and adventurers with their religion. The colonial masters deployed education which they tailored towards easy administration of their colonies. So for decades, Africa was partitioned and administered until later when the white men felt that they had come of age and were able to take care of themselves. Then, moves began to be initiated to relinquish governance and one after the other, African countries started breathing freedom in the name of political independence, though some albeit by struggle as in the case of South Africa. For some, the journey to freedom was such a tortuous struggle, while for some, it was just a walk in the park.
Since the colonial leaders were never interested in economic growth or development, the newly independent countries grappled with a lot of difficulties such as widespread poverty, lack of sanitation and the absence of industrial development. According to Angela Thompsell, an associate professor of British and African History, one of the most pressing challenges African states faced at Independence was their lack of infrastructures.
European imperialists prided themselves on bringing civilisation and developing Africa, but they left their former colonies with little in the way of infrastructure. The empires had built roads and railroads – or rather, they had forced their colonial subjects to build them – but these were not intended to build national infrastructures. Imperial roads and railways were almost always intended to facilitate the export of raw materials. Many, like the Ugandan Railroad, ran straight to the coastline.
These new countries also lacked the manufacturing infrastructure to add value to their raw materials. Rich as many African countries were in cash crops and minerals, they could not process these goods themselves. Their economies were dependent on trade, and this made them vulnerable. They were also locked into cycles of dependencies on their former European masters. They had gained political and not economic independence. And as Kwame Nkrumah, the first Prime Minister and President of Ghana, said, political independence without economic independence was meaningless.
The lack of infrastructure also meant that African countries were dependent on Western economies for much of their energy. Even oil-rich countries did not have the refineries needed to turn their crude oil into gasoline or heating oil. Some leaders, like Nkrumah, tried to rectify this by taking on massive building projects like the Volta River hydroelectric dam project. The dam did provide the much-needed electricity, but its construction put Ghana heavily into debt. The construction also required the relocation of tens of thousands of Ghanaians and contributed to Nkrumah’s plummeting support in Ghana. In 1966, Nkrumah was overthrown.
At Independence, there were several presidents, like Jomo Kenyatta, who had several decades of political experience, but others, like Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, had entered the political fray just years before independence. There was also a distinct lack of trained and experienced civil leadership. The lower echelons of the colonial government had long been staffed by African subjects, but the higher ranks had been reserved for white officials. The transition to national officers at independence meant there were individuals at all levels of the bureaucracy with little prior training. In some cases, this led to innovation, but the many challenges that African states faced at independence were often compounded by the lack of experienced leadership.
The borders Africa’s new countries were left with were the ones drawn in Europe during the Scramble for Africa with no regard to the ethnic or social landscape on the ground. The subjects of these colonies often had many identities that trumped their sense of being. For instance, Ghana and Congo. Colonial policies that privileged one group over another or allocated land and political rights by “tribe” exacerbated these divisions. The most famous case of this was the Belgian policies that crystallised the divisions between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda that led to the tragic genocide in 1994.
But along the line, some African countries found a way round their problems and prosperity soon appeared to smile on them. In Nigeria for example, oil was discovered at the cusp of independence and despite the teething independence challenges, it built some refineries and the economy boomed.
Apart from oil, Nigeria at independence developed rapidly in the agricultural sector. While the Western region was synonymous with cocoa, the northern part was proud with their legendary groundnut pyramids. In the Eastern and Southern parts, oil palm produce remained the mainstay.
Industrial estates sprang up in all regions of Nigeria. In the Kaduna axis textiles industry was the major strong sector. In Enugu, it was coal. No wonder the place was named Coal City. Still in the same region, automobile industries were striving, which employed thousands. In the West, areas like Ikeja Industrial Estates in Lagos State and Oluyole Industrial Estate in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, and others held sway. In places like the Benin axis, there was rubber.
In transportation, there was the famous Nigeria Railway Corporation, Nigeria Airways with its large fleet and Nigeria shipping line. And there was electricity to power industries and homes.
But before the turn of the millennium, successive administrations watched as all these withered away. The obsolete electricity infrastructure installed at inception of the hydroelectric power plant in Kainji, Niger State were left without any refurbishment for decades until they began to break down irrevocably. The refineries were cannibalised and run down while authorities chose to ship out crude very cheaply and used hard currency to buy it back as refined products for domestic use.
And the wasteful regime of fuel subsidy was embarked upon, which has completely wrecked the weak economy. It is so interesting that a country that showed early great potential towards the time of independence turned out to become a mono-product entity/economy.
Everybody just wanted to have their bite of the oily pie no matter what it takes. And nobody cared that none of the refineries was working. The country’s leaders preferred to use the scarce resource to pay subsidy on each litre of refined product imported.
Incidentally, oil is just one out of so many mineral resources Nigeria is endowed with. The mining industry is so huge, but everybody wants to drink oil. And just because the fuel subsidy was removed, a giant now appears to be at the throes of death.
Other African countries are not doing better either. Almost all of them are battling with underdevelopment, internal strife, corruption and debt. Lately, it has been a coup detat galore along the French speaking West African region and down south Gabon. And most of the military insurrections are instigated by external influences that bear the business interests of these foreign powers.
In Niger Republic, where the soldiers seized power on July 26, 2023, the crisis in the supply chain of uranium between the European Union and Russia is part of issues at the heart of the military takeover.
Maybe our leaders are not realising that the continent is on the verge of second colonisation. In their first coming, the colonial masters met cavemen, so to say, who knew next to nothing about modernisation. But the impending imperialism is being invited by Africans themselves.
When you ship your crude abroad very cheaply and practically beg the buyer to take it at prices he dictates, what follows is better imagined. Recently in a report of mining in the jungle in Zamfara State, video footage showed white men doing “point and kill” at mining sites. Africans are still subjected to menial jobs either at home or when they leave their shores in search of what to eat.
The “japa” syndrome has nearly destabilised Nigeria’s social system as countrymen leave in droves in pursuit of the fabled greener pasture. In the hospitals, so many capable hands have left for other continents to ply their trade.
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And ironically, Africans in these foreign places “run the show” in any sphere of human endeavour. In football, Africans dominate major leagues in the world. The same thing in athletics as they burn the tracks.
African doctors are recording feats in rare areas of medicine. Ironically, fellow Africans cater for the medical needs of the political/elite class who prefer to check their temperature or blood pressure in Europe anytime they have a slight headache.
African leaders, including Nigeria’s President, Bola Tinubu, have been going to different places in search of investors amidst a wide and deep ocean of debt and corruption. The continent indeed needs investors, but caution should be taken not to lead Africans to second slavery of the whites coming to practically run our governments and decide for us who stays in power.