The legacy of colonialism in terms of the areas of territory which were subject to exploitation for resources (human and material) by the former imperial powers in the centuries leading up to today has been systematic and widespread, with entrenched poverty and underdevelopment to varying degrees in nation states across Africa, Central America, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Far-East, particularly some of the poorest nations on Earth such as those within the African continent, and perhaps most staggeringly, Haiti. This underdevelopment in terms of it’s extent being systematic and widespread has been the outcome of centuries of exploitation and economic and societal upheaval which included, the imposition of unequal exchange by the colonial powers on their subjects, transformation of colonised subject communities to monoproduct/monocultural economies, rapid social and cultural dislocation because of slavery, and many other interrelated issues in the diaspora. For Africa specifically, centuries of wealth expropriation including the slave trade and prolonged unequal trade with the imperial powers established Africa’s state of underdevelopment, although in some circumstances amongst some African States, is also in part a legacy of phases in which failed socialist centrally-planned economic policies were followed, causing major inefficiencies which were addressed by the multilateral institutions.
Since the wave of independence across the world after WW2, prospects for growth and progression across the majority of nation-states comprising the “Global South”, particularly in Africa, have been beset by setbacks such as deteriorating terms of trade for many years as “developing countries” or “Less-Developed Countries” (LDCs), naturally in accordance with their development status, geared their economies to specialising in products in the primary production sector for the export-market. Post-independence relations with the developed countries (“the North”) can be described as having transitioned to neocolonialism through a combination of factors. Firstly, the crude, rigid and coercive methodology of the multilateral institutions (the IMF & Bank), most notably exerting pressure upon nations across the Global South to devalue currencies to reduce export prices in order to stimulate export-trade (which, within agriculture, overstated the economic bias against farm product prices – not recognising that they are only one factor among many that discriminate against rural areas). This policy framework was based upon an institutional mindset dominated by reductionist “top-down” macroeconomic analysis, ignoring micro-economic considerations* with an over-reliance on earning export revenues from primary production in economic plans whilst discounting other considerations*, when the situation globally was a plethora of countries across the world specialising in supplying the same relatively narrow range of agricultural products onto world markets, resulting in large supply on world markets leading to downward pressure on commodity prices of several key agricultural exports across the Global South (namely, coffee, sugar, cotton & cocoa – though the latter 3 have seen upswings over the last 10-15 years). World supply of many agricultural commodities is disproportionately appropriated by big transnational agribusiness corporations (TNCs), to the extent that TNCs have largely succeeded in exerting huge control over the world food and agricultural economy, though the structural dynamics of the global food system are such that liberalisation of commodity trading on world markets magnifies market volatility.
[*Exclusion of other remedies has included relatively less weight being given to the economic-multiplier benefits from improvements in domestic agricultural production, with the opportunity cost forgone having been the lost potential economic growth from investments that have consistently not happened – investments such as investment in irrigation, research and development in rural technologies such as advanced propagation techniques and new plant breeding for developing varieties with resistance to pests and diseases and non-export cash-crop varieties, and improving the state of localised institutions of credit, infrastructure ..etc].
Secondly, the distorting effects on world trade from the protectionism of the US and EU trade blocks, with distortions to global markets caused by the US and nation states of the EU benefiting from their respective protectionist agricultural support arrangements by selling their bulk supplies of grains on world markets, driving down price (good for the urban poor across the Global South, bad for grain exporters in the developing world). Downward pressure on market prices for key agricultural commodities negatively affects farming incomes across the world, especially in the Global South through export-dumping (eg: USA corn export dumping in Mexico), flushing small farmers out of the market-driven system the world over. European products in Africa and USA products in Central and Latin America have been rendered more competitive than local production. World market distortions affecting nations across the Global South caused by high tariffs for processed food products for export by countries of the south into developed world markets/trade blocks have additionally historically skewed the playing field of world trade against the Global South.
Thirdly and finally, the seepage of wealth to pay the so-called “Third World debt” (the accumulated compound interest on non-existent capital which – in Africa – was paid to corrupt leaders) a result of loans made in the 1970s.
This combination of disadvantage, dogmatism by the wielders of power and dependency was combined later on from the 1980s onwards with structural adjustment policies which were grounded in the deregulatory, austerity policies of ‘monetarism’ first associated with the Thatcher and Reagan era, concerned with fiscal restraint and with holding down exchange rates (to encourage cheaper exports to improve export revenues), but also privatisation. Structural adjustment policies enforcing privatisation has also undermined the micro-economy and grassroots development and so, domestic economic recovery. For instance, in Ghana in the 1980s, after privatisation of the water parastatals, villages were forced to pay for the upkeep of boreholes and water pumps, or in Malawi, the IMF’s insistence in 1999 on the privatisation of parastatals that managed national grain reserves to protect people from fluctuations in food production, whereby the new privately-owned National Food Reserve Agency formed in 1999 started out severely undercapitalised, borrowing from commercial banks to meet its running costs, leading it to incredibly selling it’s entire 175,000 metric tonnes of strategic grain reserves a few months before the regional drought in Southern Africa kicked in which resulted in famine (source: Briefing Paper on the Food Crisis in Southern Africa, by Action Aid UK, 2002).
The long-running ‘Washington Consensus’ which existed for decades, long recommended programmes of privatisation, liberalisation and economic stabilisation measures – which have been all about making Third World economies more dependent on (or “integrated into”) Western/Northern needs and in particular more open to exploitation by Northern multinationals; structural adjustment policies (SAPs) also effectively guaranteed the North a massive supply of cheap labour.
It is the sophisticated use of SAPs by the IMF and World Bank, which ensured that the neocolonial process was both systematic and widespread. The universal enforcement of SAPs imposed by the IMF & World Bank can be considered a continuation of the imperialist manipulation which occurred in colonial times to achieve the domination of the colonial economy. SAPs, to use their abbreviation, do just that; they ‘sap’ the vitality of domestic economies. There is a wide gulf between the rhetoric and the reality of globalisation and between the rhetoric and reality of the proclaimed benefits of IMF and World Bank operations. The rhetoric promises progress toward broad-based prosperity and environmental stewardship. Many citizens see a different reality: pockets of obscene wealth in the midst of growing human misery, social dislocation, and environmental devastation [WDM June2000]. SAP’s lengthen the duration of the famously coined phrase ‘trickle-down’ to the extent of a dripping tap, while skewing the playing field in favour of multinational capital, consigning domestically-led economic recovery firmly to the back-seat.
The same underlying process of expropriation and profit for the benefit of a few has been the driving-force underpinning both the ruthless colonial looting that occurred in Africa, Asia, Eire, Latin America and the West Indies, and present-day corporate investments that rely on speculation without respect of labour or environmental standards. For instance, the “explosion” in Export Processing Zones over recent decades across the poorest parts of the world, employing as an approximate aggregate more than 30 million people. In most of these places the companies’ hired workers endure the vulnerability of getting fired if involved in a labour union or if they’re pregnant or ill. The companies get tax exemptions and leave no support for the local/national government where they operate. Often these exemptions last for 5 years, and by then the company changes names or can even switch production to another EPZ in another country.
The majority of the population in countries of the South remain largely disenfranchised from the whole process of economic growth, being as they are increasingly dispossessed of having the ability to attain a decent livelihood within agriculture because of downward pressure on prices of key cash-crop export commodities which have traditionally been relied upon by many countries across the Global South (such as coffee in countries across Central and Latin America and Africa), and conversely, with those economically active subjected to the suppressed multiplier effect on the domestic economy from the simultaneous stranglehold of debt, neoliberal fiscal restraint, and the overbearing appropriation of profits and enclosure of markets by multinationals.
Additionally, the most fundamental deceit is how financial liberalisation (opening a nation’s financial sector up to the encroachment of global finance capital) hand-in-hand with a general push for privatisation in the south, has meant that these same countries are gradually being held more hostage to rampant forces of global capital. Periodic attempts to cancel debt such as at the 2005 G8 Summit at Gleneagles, Scotland are nothing more than a small necessary sacrifice to ensure the economic path of each country is financially secure enough to withstand continued corporate globalisation. The international evidence indicates that the fall in popular living standards and employment levels is not a temporary but a permanent and increasingly intense characteristic of neo-liberal policies. Particuarly in many Africa nations, struggle for everyday existence is the norm for people on this continent – a legacy which it’s people do not deserve.
Economic recovery can only be realistically attained in LDCs if the whole agricultural sector – and not just agricultural production geared for export – is revitalised because growth in food production remains the best way to ensure the active participation of the majority of the population in the development process. This means that smallholders must be encouraged to increase productivity with improved research, infrastructural investment, improvements in output marketing operations and credit systems. Researchers in plant breeding must take into account the diversity of multicropping arrangements. Revitalisation of land-based livelihoods is complimentary to worldwide efforts to mitigate the effects of future economic growth on climate change by embedding economic growth within climate-friendly constraints/enhancing local economic systems to enhance more opportunities for carbon-neutral development such as through facilitating more dedication of resources to adapting research in field trials at the farmer level in a variety of environments and social structures (traditional leadership structures, cooperatives ..etc), for eg. indigenous agricultural systems such as mesoamerican milpa manual production which produces more food produced per unit of land and utilises organic residue carbon recycling. For the export trade, greater research priorities may identify new agricultural products for newly emerging market opportunities overseas.
The legacy of colonialism, then, has been a familiar pattern starting with the straight swap of power from the colonialists to elite dictatorships, through to subjugation of national economies to the dictates of multinational power aided by the “unholy trinity” of the IMF, World Bank and WTO/GATT. There pervades a global adherence to neoliberalist dogmatic perspective, while being intellectually backward in that it is the fastest way to undermine the claimed objectives which are actually sought and hypocritical (we can subsidise our production through the military industrial complex, but you in the South can’t), as-it-is-implemented, the “unholy-trinity” of the WTO, WB and IMF are fundamentally complicit in the process of neo-colonial appropriation and resource exploitation.
Countries in the North are increasingly reliant on investments abroad to sustain their own economies. The stark reality is that as the US and EU push for further financial liberalisation abroad with the entry-gates to external investment and multinational encroachment being lowered in regions such as Africa perfectly highlighted by the terms and conditions of the NEPAD agreement (the New Partnership for Africa’s Development), it is plain to see that the process determining the flow of profit from the South to the North is being set-in-stone, consolidating the neocolonial process.
And what is the driving engine of this continued neocolonial subjugation of country after country around the world? For ex-colonising nation states of the post-industrialised world whose citizens are no longer cheap-labour for the manufacturing industry, it is the need to earn rates of return on investments abroad which can balance their own trade-deficits which exist because goods are no longer produced and are instead being imported. But, while national economies the world over fight to live within their means and remain economically competitive in relation to their competitors, around the world they fight to ensure the necessary source of speculative investment for wealth accumulation, just like it was in the days when the first slave-ships ventured out, financed by banks such as Barclays. Within the North, the virtual monopoly that private banks have to undertake money creation through the liquidity ratio means that a national debt is not only unavoidable, but essential to sustain economic growth. However, as the leading world economy with seinorage status of it’s currency, the USA enjoys premium advantages in being ahead of the pack in the world economy, such as the benefit of the subsequent net capital inflows generated from the flood of US Dollars into the world financial system, permitting them the luxury of perpetually running up trade deficits and enormous budgets for defence spending (how long this precise arrangement will remain in place is questionable in years to come). Together with it’s domination of the multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and IMF, where voting rights are weighted in their favour as the largest member economy, the US penalise countries of inferior wealth who even attempt to implement policies which are long established within US economic management. It is effectively a delicate combination of factors complicit in ensuring the continued neo-colonial subjugation of countries in the South, particularly nations within Africa.
The same enclosure of local markets by the global market which occurred through the spread of the imperialist empire occurs now, except now it is happening at a colossal scale and at a furious rate, underwritten by a monetary system that is utterly demand-led by a world financial market that is driven by market signals generated from the collective might of this “casino stampede”. Countries of the South, infact, having embarked on a frantic re-run of our own history – propelling their societies into the modern world instead of being given the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and avoid the injustices of our history – have been forced through a fast-track version of that history, involving land enclosures, dispossession and wage dependency and industrialisation at the expense of rural development.
Mike Rowbotham in “The Grip of Death”: “The failure by the Western world to grasp the validity and importance of the criticisms put forward by Douglas and the other monetary reformers must rank as a terrible missed opportunity for us to steady our own social development. But history will surely one day draw attention to the greatest missed opportunity of all time: a missed opportunity which has had the most tragic consequences for generations in the Third World. There was a chance for the imperial powers to end their imperialism with a gift; a gift which is truly beyond measure, and which would have cost the western powers absolutely nothing. The chance existed for the developing nations to learn from our history; to see us choose a different path to economic progress and themselves take a less destructive and more peaceful path to development” (p-257, ).
I close with the remarks of Elenga M’buyinga taken from his paper entitled “Pan-Africanism or Neocolonialism – the Bankruptcy of the OAU”:
The essential requirement: A Break with the World Capitalist Market
“All the fundamental features we have outlined previously point to one inescapable conclusion. Since the mechanisms of the world capitalist market, operating through unequal exchange, are at the root of the pillage of Africa, the only way out, the only way to establish the necessary conditions for authentic economic liberation, is to break with the world capitalist market. This does not necessarily imply economic autarchy. It is simply the elimination of the mechanisms of domination through which international imperialism subordinates the economies of the dominated countries, including the African countries, to it’s own economic laws. A geopolitical settlement within Africa would protect domestic industries from outside competition, and indeed, for individual nation states, include a degree of protection within bi-lateral agreements between countries.”
He continued: “There is a lesson from what occurred in 19th century France in the situation of free-trade between Britain and France. The effects of France’s liberal foreign trade policy between 1860 and 1892 were very negative and the precise opposite of those predicted by liberal and neoliberal theories. Economic growth was seriously slowed down, even once external factors have been discounted. The rate of growth was slower than in the equivalent periods which proceeded and followed the free-trade interlude. Indeed, it was the slowest rate of growth France has ever known, if one excludes the troubled years of the revolution and first empire and the great crisis of 1930.”