Definition, Origins and Features of Neo-colonialism


Definition, Origins and Features of Neo-colonialism

Neo-colonialism is a policy by which a foreign power binds territories to herself by political ties with the primary object of promoting her economic advantage. Rather than attaining genuine sovereign status, a neo-colonial state is granted what is called ‘flag’ independence. With neo-colonialism, it then became almost impossible for African states to translate into concrete terms the pre-independence revolution of rising expectations. Thus, within a few years of independence slogans such as “seek ye first the political kingdom and every other thing shall be added unto it” turned into a mirage, or pipe dream.


Definition of Neo-Colonialism

The concept of neo-colonialism was developed to describe the phenomenon where the attainment of political independence by African States was not accompanied with economic independence.

In other words, it is being applied to describe a situation where the acquisition of juridical independence has not succeeded in eliminating colonial exploitation. In one of his earliest books, written in 1945, but not published until 1962, Kwame Nkrumah (1962) identified three doctrines of colonialism as the doctrine of exploitation, the doctrine of trusteeship or partnership, and the doctrine of assimilation. But with neo-colonialism, the essence of these doctrines was retained in a subtle, but even more effective form. In an earlier book, Nkrumah (1963:173) set the stage for a more profound and incisive definition of neo-colonialism.

In his 1963 publication, Nkrumah attributed the creation of pawn or client states”, who are independent in name”, to the covert subtleties and maneuvers of neo-colonial forces. Also, in his 1965 publication, which drew the anger of the state Department in the United? States, (Nkrumah 1973:311) and which many believed led to his fall in 1966; Nkrumah was more profound and penetrating in his description and exposition of neo-colonial intrigues and maneuvers in Africa. He described neo-colonialism “as the last stage of imperialism” Nkrumah wrote: “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the state which is subject to it is in theory independent and has the outward trappings of sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside”.

Under direct colonialism, where the institution of the colonial powers could be easily identified, colonialists were compelled to justify their rule, like Lord Lugard did, in his Dual Mandate (Lugard 1922). But with neo-colonialism the picture is different. As Nkrumah explained “neocolonialism is also the worst form of imperialism. For those who practice it, it means power without responsibility and for those who suffer from, it, it means exploitation without redress”.

From the writings of other scholars such as Frantz Fanon, Samir Amir, and Julius Nyerere the evils and intrigues of neo-colonialism were revealed. In the early 1960s, in the aftermath of African independence, Frantz Fanon in the “Wretched of the Earth” warned of the dangers posed to true African independence, the un-liberated condition of African States, whose economies were still dominated by the former colonizers.

Juluis Nyerere, also bemoaned the absence of such things as a national economy in African States, and described the neo-colonial status of African States, as reflected in the “various economic activities… owned by people outside its jurisdiction, which are directed at external needs, and which are run in the interests of external economic powers (Nyerere1978).

A Nigerian scholar Iweriebor (1997) in his own conceptualization, argues that neo-colonialism is not simply economic control and exploitation, but a comprehensive phenomenon, whose objective is to fashion subordinate peripheral capitalist societies in the third world”.


Origins of Neo-Colonialism

In his short, but scholarly work on neo-colonialism, Iweriebor (1997) identified four stages in African transition to a neo-colonial status.

During these stages which, according to him, spanned a period of five centuries, Africa was subjected to both open exploitation and subsequently, underdevelopment of her economies. Iweriebor’s classifications are, perhaps a summary of Water Rodney’s How Europe underdeveloped Africa, or Basil Davidson’s book, with the title: The Black Man’s Burden – Africa and the Curse of the Nation-state.

The first epoch of African encounter with the Europeans was the period of slave trade from the 15th Century to the early 19th century, when slave trade was abolished, to pursue what was called ‘legitimate trade’.

During this period Africans were parceled and shipped to Europe and North America to provide cheap labour. The “surplus value” produced as a result of this massive exploitation contributed significantly to the industrialization of Western Europe.

The period of mercantile trade or imperialism from the early to late 19th century constitutes the second era of exploitation. This epoch inaugurated in Africa the operations of British Companies like the British South African Company, British East African Company and the United African Company as well as companies of other colonial powers likes France, Portugal and Spain. But because Western imperialism considered the exercise of sovereignty by Africa as exemplified in several treaties of friendship, signed with African traditional rulers objectionable, they pressurized their home countries to colonies Africa. This was the antecedent to the scramble for, and the eventual partition of Africa in Berlin in 1885; which set the stage for the third epoch.

The era of colonial domination was that of direct political domination, economic exploitation, and cultural imperialism. When it suited the Europeans, this colonial subjugation of Africa by superior firepower was justified on the altruistic ground of “civilizing mission”. In other instances, it was based on the myth of racial superiority. The tenor of this era was the forceful conversion of African land and resources, as well as African rulers as colonial agents, under ordinances issued in the name of the Crown.

But the more enduring consequences of the colonial era were the establishment of the structure, and institutions to foster African economic and ideological dependence on the West. This was achieved through the development of export crops tied to external vagaries, commerce “base” tied to Western outlets and “investment” in extractive industries. Colonialism also created a bourgeois class which Nkrumah (1970:10) called “African bourgeoisie,” and described them as a “class which thrived under colonialism”, and benefiting still “under post-independence, neo-colonial period”.

This class-political, economic and intellectual – have been mentally and psychologically subjugated that it could only conceive its own society from Europe prisms, and apply models and tools provided by Western Imperialism. This class, ironically, also include some of the nationalists who championed the anti-colonial struggle but were yet to wean themselves from imperialist grip. This class in Iweriebor’s words: “represented African rejection of Colonialism; but as a class it did not reject the Western Colonial model. The colonial era inexorably, set the stage for the fourth epoch, the neo-colonial stage, which is focus of this cite.

The root of neo-colonialism in Africa therefore has both internal and external dimensions. The ideologically backward, and reformist nationalist leadership that succeeded the colonial powers, and pursued economic and political interests against the common interests of the people, constitutes the internal dimension. The external dimension is represented by Western “neo-imperialism” represented by Western Capitalist States which offer various tempting financial, educational, and advisory aids to the new African States” (Iweriebor, 1997).


Features of a Neo-Colonial State

A neo-colonial is a client or pawn state, which enjoys nominal independence, but lack the essential attributes of a sovereign state. In other words a neo-colonial state is independent name, but is bereft of power to pursue independent action that will result in self-reliant development. According to Nkrumah, because it was no longer possible to reverse the momentum generated by anti-colonial nationalism, “old fashioned Colonialism” was everywhere on the retreat. In order to safeguard and preserve their economic interest, the imperialists took a retreat and resorted to a neo-colonial arrangement, as a tactical expedient.

In a neo-colonial state, the power exercising control is often the former colonial power as it is in most Franco phone African countries. The only exception was Guinea, under Sekou Toure, with a single dissenting No Vote to a proposal for a French Community at the 28th  September, 1958 referendum, organized at the instance of General de Gaulle. For this courageous decision, Guinea was made to suffer reprisals. It is also possible for another country, apart from the mother country to maintain a neo-colonial relation with another. A case in point is South Vietnam, which was colonized by France, but maintained a neo-colonial relation with U.S.A. Also, Congo, a former colony of Belgium, whose economy in the 60s was controlled by a consortium of foreign financial interests, is another variant of a neo-colonial relationship.

A neo-colonial state is also, usually, faced with internal contradictions.

According to Nkrumah, to make it attractive to the citizens of such states, it must be shown to be capable of improving their standard of living. But this can only be achieved at the expense of neo-colonial interest, which is to keep African countries, economically subjected. A state in the grip of neo-colonialism is also not a master of its own destiny, and this constitutes a threat to world peace. In the Cold War era, the two super-powers employed neo-colonial states as pawns or proxies to fight their limited wars. The crisis, which engulfed Congo on attainment of independence, was a manifestation of neo-colonialism.

Being the final and perhaps, the most dangerous stage in the capitalist development, neo-colonial powers are never sensitive to the interests of the people of a neo-colonial state. Indeed, authority to govern is not from the people, but from the metropolitan power. It can even come from multi-national corporations, which dominate economies of African countries, because of their pervasive, and often, negative mode of operations.

The pervasive impact of these new global actors which operate across national frontiers has been illustrated by Joseph Nye (2000) thus: presently at least 12 transnational corporations have annual sales that are larger than the gross national product (GNP) of more than half of the states in the world. The turnover of companies such as Shell, IBM, or General Motors is larger than the GDP of countries such as Hungary, Ecuador or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Neo-colonialism is not an exclusively African phenomenon. Rather, it has been an established practice in other parts of the world, especially in Asia and Latin America.

Since neo-colonialism, according to Lenin (1917), is imperialism in its “Last stage”, or in the words of Nkrumah (1964) in its’ highest stage”. It is based on exploitation, fragmentation and penetration. This was further elaborated by John Galtung in his structural theory of imperialism. The process includes an uneven trade pattern or flow of an asymmetric or unfair trade relations, and protective tariffs.

The second component of dominance is fragmentation. The picture here is that of coordinated and united rich counties versus a disorganized and dis-united periphery.

Also, while the center countries establish links in different directions, the poor countries concentrate their activities to the center. This was achieved, for example, in the early years of independence, by given African countries associate membership of bodies like the European community, which in actual fact amounted to de facto second class membership.

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