Neo–colonialism: Its mechanisms and Impacts


Neo–colonialism: Its mechanisms and Impacts

It is necessary that we examine the mechanism and impacts Neo–colonialism. Though the objectives of colonialism and Neo–colonialism are basically similar, but their mechanisms differ. The impacts of both are related since neo – colonialism help in sustaining the conditions created under colonialism.

It is understandable why Neo–colonialism is operating in a subtle form, compared to the open method employed during the colonial era. The reason is that the predominant world values in the second half of the 20th century were not only intolerant of foreign domination, but also rejected alien rule in all its manifestations. This accounted for the change in strategy by the former colonial masters, and their new devise of packaging the old wine in a new bottle. This unit deals with the mechanisms of Neo–colonialism and its impact on African society.

Mechanisms of Neo-Colonialism

Neo-colonial control can be exercised or sustained in a country through many devises. To Nkrumah, balkanization of Africa into small states is the major instrument of Neo–colonialism. The objective is to create small and fragile states with neither the manpower nor resources to provide for integrity and viability. In order to survive, they must cling to the erstwhile colonial masters. France, for example, does not believe in the idea of ultimate independence for her former colonies; she preferred to keep them as tightly closed preserves.

Under the pretext of “aiding economic development” in her former colonies France created financial institutions like F.I.D.E.S and C.C.O.M (Nkrumah 1963:175). In reality those institutions were created to sustain the classical metropolitan-satellite relationship between France and her former colonies. According to Nkrumah, the balkanization of French West African federation and French Equatorial Africa, two large French territories governed as separates entities, during the colonial period, into numerous states at independence, was in pursuit of neo-colonial objectives.

At the Third All-African Peoples Conference held in 1961, which outlined the major manifestations and denounced Neo–colonialism, some of its other mechanisms were identified. These include the propping up of puppet governments like in Congo under Mobutu Sese Seko, or foreign inspired fragmentation as it was the case in the Katanga province, where Moi Tshombe became an agent of Neo–colonialism.

Nkrumah in his book (1967) gave detailed account of the activities of neo-colonial forces in Congo that led to the assassination of Patrice

Lumumba. Apart from using loans, monetary aid or technical assistance to infiltrate African economies, Neo–colonialism also employs military pacts, and the establishment of military bases, to ensure African dependence in military terms. Neo–colonialism is a form of neo-colonial dependency. According to a recent memoir by a French official, France in the 1960s punished and even helped assassinate African leaders who opposed French policies.

France was also given open ended permission to intervene militarily in these countries. It was also reported that France auditioned a potential President of Gabon before allowing him to take office. Emperor Bokassa of Central African Republic was also on record to have called President de Gaule of France, “papa” (Goldstein, 2004:471).


Impact of Neo-Colonialism

We already know that colonialism was a huge economic enterprise, with other dimensions political and socio-cultural. So it is with Neo–colonialism when it transformed to the “Last stage of imperialism” (Nkrumah, 1974). Therefore neo-colonialism has its political, economic, military and cultural aspect which we are now going to separate, for analytical purposes.


1. Political Aspect

We also know that African definition and conceptualization of democracy is Eurocentric. Africans borrowed foreign systems, institutions, and even process, and look toward the examples of the West when they seek to consolidate democracy. So democracy is not consolidated when it does not conform to western tradition or precepts.

To nourish or renew the practice of democracy African leaders travel to western cities to learn about, or rework their political systems. Thus neo-colonial mentality was not accidental; it was deliberately ingrained in the consciousness of African nationalism Basil Davidson (2000) called it “advisory democracy” to enable neo-colonialists retain levers of interest and influence.

a. Retention of Colonial Frontiers

Similar consideration made the former colonial masters to prefer the “moderate and responsible” nationalists to become the favoured recipients of power vacated by Europeans. But the “radicals” and malcontents”, who saw the dangers of “Neo–colonialism, nation-statism” and pressed for inter-territorial federalism for Africa, were carefully identified, and often prevented from assuming power. Because the moderates were eager to assume power, they accepted the frontiers of colonial partition, and embraced the idea of fragmented nation – states.

This was how neo-colonial intrigues laid the political foundation favorable for the sustenance of its interests in Africa.

b. Acceptance of Language of Domination

An uncritical view of the imposition of foreign language may be considered merely as a cultural aspect of Neo–colonialism. It however has a deeper political connotation. The unwritten law of the decolonization process in Africa was that new nationalists had to be fluent in at least one European language particularly that of the colonial master, as well as the culture and history of that language (Davidson 2000). This was a pre-requisite before an African could be considered as having been “mordernised” or westernized, without which he was not qualified for political leadership in independent Africa. This was to demonstrate the unbroken chain between the colonial era and the present era, the use of language as a weapon of political domination, and to further re-classify Africans today as “Anglophone,” Francophone or Lusophone.

Apart from the imposition of foreign languages as the lingua franca in most African states, including some North African States where there has been a strong Arab language renaissance, the use of language in a non – innocent form, began with the dawn of colonial rule in Africa.

When Europeans came on their expeditions, they claimed to have “discovered” a “Dark” continent, as if Africa never existed before they came, and with all the connotations the label dark, or black suggest.

Africans were also “pacified” when colonial rule stopped “inter-tribal” wars, as well as the urgency to “westernize” the “natives” so as to “detribalize Africans. The import of this was to portray the Europeans as the standard of humanity, to which Africans, even after independence must aspire. As argued by Iweriebor (1997:63) the designation of Africa, along with Asia as third world includes “assumed political, social, cultural, and probably even mental underdevelopment, each of which has its descriptive sub-categories.”

The idea of second liberation of Africa from neo-colonial grip which is being canvassed today is recognition of the limitations of “Flag” independence and to dismiss as a fiction what Harold Macmillan, a former British Prime Minister, described in 1960 as “a wind of change” blowing across Africa. Kwame Nkrumah was to later discover the emptiness of political independence without economic freedom. He wrote: “political independence is but a façade if economic freedom is not possible also (Nkrumah 1961:162)”.


2. Economic Aspect

Having succeeded in the political aspect, it was then easier for Neo–colonialism to accomplish its economic object, and consequently Africa’s sustained exploitation, dependence and underdevelopment.

Neo-colonialism has therefore deepened African trade trap/gap, unequal exchange as well as resource and wealth depletion. In an article entitled “Looting Africa” in the Time magazine, its authors acknowledged that the tradition which began when Africans were “plundered by Slavers, its animals by Poachers and its mineral wealth by Miners”, continues today under neo-colonialism (Bond; 2006). Africa’s unfair integration into the international capitalist system has also promoted export dependence, and falling terms of trade; due to high levels of price volatility, associated with primary production.

In the 1980’s, prolonged economic down turns forced many African States to embrace Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) as a strategy for recovery. Iweriebor described SAP as the “Highest Stage of Neocolonialism”, because it was an attempt to re-colonise African countries.

From Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and other African countries where SAP was accepted as neo-liberal orthodoxy, the programme converted the states “into the executive agencies of Western imperialism”. By accepting IMF package the sovereignty of these states was therefore compromised through the activities of the IMF.


3. Military Aspect

Through military ties, Neo–colonialism succeeded in enforcing and consolidating its grips on African States. The military aspect of triple – neo-colonial strategy was speedily affected in the early 1960s. Nkrumah (1967) revealed that in 1966, there were seventeen foreign air bases, nine naval bases, owned and operated by members of the North Atlantic Organization (NATO).

In addition, foreign military missions were established in Kenya, Morocco, Liberia, Libya, South Africa, Senegal and Ivory Coast. Key NATO countries also possessed three rockets sites, and atomic testing range in North Africa.

In Nigeria, though Tafawa Balewa was forced by domestic pressure to abrogate the Anglo – Nigerian Defence Pact, his and subsequent Nigeria administrations depended on British military institution (for example Sardhurst) for the training of the country’s military officers. Balewa was not restrained in his patronizing remarks about Britain: “we are grateful to the British officers whom we have known, first as masters and then as leaders and finally as partners, but always as friends “we shall never forget our old friends”. Not a few post - independence African leaders were of this frame of mind. This mind set was critical in the recolonization of Africa’s leadership, peoples and society, under the invisible regime of neo-colonialism.


Neo-Colonialism and Africa’s Dependence

1. Multinationals as Engine of Growth

Multi-national corporations emerged on the world scene in the post -World War II era. These global giants became an economic necessity when it dawned on the colonial masters that direct rule was no longer realistic; and they needed a replacement that would serve the goal with equal, if not greater efficiency. Though America was a forerunner in the global penetration of trans-nationals, but in Africa, European countries leveraged on the ties they maintained with their former colonies, to reestablish informal control, through these corporations. Thus in Africa Unilever, B.P and Royal Dutch shell, Philips and Peugeot Automobile took over European manufacturing, petroleum, electronics and automobile business interests in Africa. Just like colonialism, the regime of multinational was promoted by the West as “engine of growth”. This is based on the assumption that their operation generates what economics call “positive externalities” in the host country: promote foreign investment, transfer of technology, and management expertise, and efficient allocation of resource.

Experience in Africa has shown that multi- nationals, rather than promote growth operates as instruments of capitalist domination. Oattey lamented:” it seems incongruous to achieve political independence from colonial powers and yet continue to struggle under the economic dominance of the colonial powers multinational firms”. From the list of the multinationals already mentioned it is obvious that they always engage in critical areas of national economy, in which the government is more interested and where conflict of interest often arise. This conflict of interest sometimes push multinationals, to dabble in the domestic politics, or try to undermine the security of the host country: the extreme is their strategy of beating around codes established to regulate their operations.

Vernon (1998: 28) provides a clue why this conflict of interest cannot be avoided: “the regime of nation-state is built on the principle that the people in any national jurisdiction have the right to maximize their wellbeing, as they define it…. The MNC, on the other hand, is bent on maximizing the wellbeing of its stakeholders from global operations”.

And more often than not, they succeed in this contest of power through devices such as “inter-locking directorship and cross-shareholdings:

In 1979, Nigeria took a rare, but bold step when it nationalized the assets of the British Petroleum. The official reason given for the action was to prevent Nigeria oil from getting to the enemies of Africans in apartheid South Africa. But the un-stated and more convincing motivation was to force the hands of Margaret

Thatcher led British government in the then protracted negotiation for Rhodesian (now Zimbabwe) independence (Aluko; 1981:212)


2. Aid Programmes and African Indebtedness

Aid programme has been consistently promoted as a means of promoting growth and development in Africa. This is through the expected inflows of capital into recipient from donor nations or aid agencies. A more critical analysis has, however revealed that Africa’s indebtedness is directly linked to what is called “phantom” aid. Beham in “Economic Aid to underdeveloped countries” wrote “it is pleasant to feel that you are helping your neigbours, and at the same time increasing your own profits” (quoted in Nkrumah 1774: 51). Beham’s notion of aid is closer to President John Kennedy’s admission of the goal of American aid programme around the world. He defines foreign aid as “a method by which the United States maintains a position of influence and control around the world” (Effiong, 1980:143:144).

Therefore, apart from foreign debt and balance of payment problems, foreign aids have far reaching political consequences. After American failure in her direct military intervention in Southeast Asia (Vietnam in particular), contemporary imperialism has learnt a big lesson. Through aids programmes effective informal political control is assured when donors give specific directives on how aids funds are used. A good example was the food for peace aid programme under which U.S created business for its corporations (Effiong 1980). However in the present post –cold war era, when ideological competition between USA and the former Soviet Union, has receded, what we now experience is aid fatigue. There is also no need now, to use foreign aids to retain in offices unpopular African leaders, who are no longer relevant in the present world power equation. Fair trade rather than phantom aid is now bong promoted.


Strategies to Combat Neo-Colonialism

This analysis of neo-colonialism is not complete, if we fail to recommend “a correct and global strategy” to defeat it. Therefore the only way to discover and expose neo-colonial intrigues is to examine the nature of the struggle for independence. If the liberation movement is firmly established, the colonial power invariably resorts to a “containment” policy in order to stop any further progress, and slow or deaden its impact.

But the machinations of colonial power were bond to fail if the nationalist leaders maintained a clear spirit of vigilance and cultivated genuinely revolutionary qualities. The correct strategy should be preventive in nature; aimed at preventing a state from becoming a puppet or client state. But where neo-colonialism has become established African states must unite and deal with neo-colonialism on a pan-African basis, otherwise, Euro-American forces will continue to undermine, selectively, African core interest.

For obvious reasons, Kwame Nkrumah’s advocacy of a continental union for Africa was unpopular in the early sixties. The reason is not far fetched. Most African leaders were conscious and jealous of their newly won independence and were not prepared to compromise it in the name of African unity. But in this age when efforts are being made to convert the barrier of colonial imposed boundaries into a bridge of opportunities for cooperation among nations, Nkrumah’s suggestion, in retrospect, has probably proven to be too attractive an idea to be totally ignored. Indeed the establishment of the African Union in 2001 is a step in this direction.

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