Monday, May 26, 2008

Now it is time to seek a newer world

AFRICA was never considered to be a partner, let alone an authentic one in the processes that led to the formulation and implementation of the idea of a global village. And it is not the first time. It is not the first time that decisions that concerned Africa, decisions that would shake and change Africa would be taken without asking for Africa's contributions or consent.
Many would recollect the sad story of the obnoxious Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the ugly details of which do not bear mentioning here. For those who may not be familiar with this period, I suggest an excursion to the coastal settlements of West Africa for example. Some of the painful chains of that repugnant act still hang today like a nightmare, nearly one hundred and fifty years after, on an island off the city of Dakar in Senegal, at Elmina Castle in Ghana and at 'the point of no return' in Badagry, near Lagos, Nigeria.
Most of us must wonder today how it was possible for some people to decide to take over for their own use and for the benefit of their families, countries and continent, the resources, the treasures and even the rights of other people, other families, other countries and continent. Today we must shudder at the fact that many of these men returned from the colonies with fat loot as heroes only to be honoured at home with knighthoods and national awards. In Africa, we have in our colonial history, partly due to this perverse way of honouring people, such figures like Lord Lugard, Sir Macpherson, Sir Richards and Lord Kitchener.
Of General Kitchener in particular, it is on record that he never considered himself as a foreigner in Africa. Rather he saw the entire land of Africa as belonging to him and to his masters in the Home Office. After all, was the entire British Empire not one vast kingdom where the sun never set? In the line of duty of expanding the empire, Kitchener led the British forces against a small ragtag army of Sudanese natives with little or no arms but pride in their hearts to defend their motherland against the intruder. When the natives had been routed and Mahmoud Wad Ahmed, the leader of the resistance was brought in shackles to Kitchener after his defeat at the battle of Atbara, Kitchener said to him: "Why have you come among my people to commit arson and plunder?" It was the intruder who asked the man whose land it was that question and the owner of the land, the man whose land it was, bowed down his head and said nothing.
A similar scenario was graphically made to play out for nearly a century in South Africa until the whole world rose against apartheid. Today, the colonial masters are as good as gone. I mean those military, gun-totting invaders are gone. But we have new masters who are no different; although they carry no guns, they are decked only in suits and wield nothing more lethal than the pen, they are all over Africa carrying out the same expansionist mission. Only these days they bear different nomenclature and carry their assignment in the new coded language of enslavement. Many of these economic hit-men you would find in the corridors of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, London Club, the Paris Club and the huge multinational corporations.
These men carry in their suitcases economic packages that were designed not to work anywhere under the sun. They persuade countries to undertake huge projects like power generation, road construction, refineries and encourage African countries to borrow money from foreign institutions to finance these projects: Loans that several generations of Africans will never be able to pay back. Or how else would you envisage the new proposed power project in the Congo? It is reputed to be the biggest power project ever in the world and would cost some 80 billion dollars. Long before the project is completed, the money borrowed for the project would have been repatriated to the United States through project consultants and the rest. How, I ask you, will an impoverished and war-ravaged country like the Congo and its equally poor neighbours ever be able to pay for this? This is all part of the new world order; an order which suits only a few.
Eastern African countries like Kenya and Ethiopia are the largest growers of tea. They sell the raw leaves at peanuts to the foreign companies who sell the refined tea to these peasants at simply unaffordable prices. Anyone who was in Zimbabwe in the early 1980s after her independence would be alarmed at how a few white farmers controlled about 80 per cent of its arable land. Today, the country has the highest inflation rate in the world. The current state of implosion was always a matter of time, for all along Zimbabwe sat on a keg of gunpowder and no one was willing to do anything to defuse it. In West Africa, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria are the largest producers of cocoa. Yet it costs more to buy a pack of cocoa beverage there than in Europe.
Nigeria is one of the world's producers of crude oil. We shall not speak here of the politics of petroleum pricing. But I invite you to the Niger Delta where gas flaring is the norm. Gas is a by-product of petroleum. But rather than trap the gas and sell it for home use, the gas is burnt off under extremely intense heat. The consequence of this is that villages which used to know peace and live in the calming ambience of nature in the creeks, are now made to work in the day and sleep at night under the glare of this furnace emitting out flame and heat of hundreds of thousands degrees Farhenheit. When they experience oil spillage, their rivers are polluted and marine life is sorely afflicted. Hardly could they continue any longer with their traditional fish farming. Now people the world over still wonder when the restiveness in the Niger Delta would end.
Some years ago, as part of the globalization policy, the American government came up with the AGOA Act. This is a legislation that encourages the growth and exportation of certain goods from Africa to America. Any other product even if it was cheaper to produce and fetched more money for the farmer was not to enjoy the same tax relief as products that came under this Act. The idea of globalization where countries abroad are encouraged to produce at low cost and export to America to feed the ever-growing consumer demand just cannot work for ever.
Right from the start there is imbalance in the policy. And wherever there is imbalance will always come a fall. A scale heavily weighted on one side will tip over. It is a law of life. History is replete with such instances. It is surprising that till now people never take note that the side that takes all the goodies, the heavier side, is always the first to tilt over. Where is Babylon and its kings? Where is the Roman Empire, where are its Caesars? Where is the Soviet Union of the 15 republics?
Their histories tell us that anything in life built on imbalance cannot last. The excesses of the present globalization are beginning to have dire consequences worldwide. Greed for other people's resources is unhealthy. Greed, I said, not need. Where there is a genuine need for what a country does not possess and it approaches another country for this in mutual respect in a give-and-take, in a win-and-win manner, this is right. But so many things constitute man's wants and not necessarily his needs. Over time our wants have become insatiable that we seem we cannot do without them. Therein, lies a great danger. 'Appetite, a universal wolf, which perforce must eat itself up' is how William Shakespeare described it.

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