Section 3 of this chapter dealing with African society is a continuation of Chapter 2; and general books cited there are also relevant in this context. More African writers are involved in this recent pre-colonial period, which is of course one aspect of a national struggle. There are also more and better monographs on given areas and subjects. But, the coming of imperialism has not yet been seriously pursued from an African viewpoint, and there is a marked absence of theory linking together the numerous facts that are now well established about events taking place in Africa between 1500 and 1885.
J. Webster and A. Boahen, The Revolutionary Years: West Africa since 1800.
Davidson with J. E. Mhina, The Growth of African Civilisation: East and Central Africa lo the late nineteenth century.
These two should be added to the list of general texts which provide regional surveys over a long period of time. They have the advantage of being coherent interpretations and not just collected essays.
W. Rodney, West Africa and the Atlantic Slave Trade.
E. Alpers, The East African Slave Trade.
I.A. Akinjogbin, Dahomey and its Neighbours.
The first two are short accounts of the impact of slave exports on the African regions concerned. The third is a detailed account by a Nigerian scholar of Dahomey’s involvement with Europeans.
J. Egharevba, A Short History of Benin.
B.A. Ogot, History of the Southern Luo.
I. Kimambo, A Political History of the Pare.
J. Vansina, Kingdoms of the Savannah.
The first three are good examples of scholarship by Africans concerning historical developments starting before contact with Europe. They are characterised by the use of African oral traditions as a basis for interpretation. The fourth (by a European) was a pioneering work which drew heavily on oral traditions in reconstructing Central African history.
J. Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria, 1845-1891.
E.A. Ayandele, The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria.
One aspect of the imperialist epoch that has been probed by African historians (and many non-Africans) is that of the Christian missionaries, as evidenced by the above works.
Table of Contents
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
Chapter Five. Africa’s Contribution to the Capitalist Development of Europe – the Colonial Period
The colonies have been created for the metropole by the metropoleFrench saying.
‘Sales operations in the United States and management of the fourteen (Unilever) plants are directed from Lever House on New York’s fashionable Park Avenue. You look at this tall, striking, glass-and-steel structure and you wonder how many hours of underpaid black labour and how many thousands of tons of underpriced palm oil and peanuts and cocoa it cost to build it.’W. Altheus Hunton
5. 1 Expatriation of African Surplus under Colonialism
(a) Capital and African wage labour
Colonial Africa fell within that part of the international capitalist economy from which surplus was drawn to feed the metropolitan sector. As seen earlier, exploitation of land and labour is essential for human social advance, but only on the assumption that the product is made available within the area where the exploitation takes place. Colonialism was not merely a system of exploitation, but one whose essential purpose was to repatriate the profits to the so-called ‘mother country’. From an African view-point, that amounted to consistent expatriation of surplus produced by African labour out of African resources. It meant the development of Europe as part of the same dialectical process in which Africa was underdeveloped.
By any standards, labour was cheap in Africa, and the amount of surplus extracted from the African labourer was great. The employer under colonialism paid an extremely small wage – a wage usually insufficient to keep the worker physically alive – and, therefore, he had to grow food to survive. This applied in particular to farm labour of the plantation type, to work in mines, and to certain forms of urban employment. At the time of the imposition of European colonial rule, Africans were able to gain a livelihood from the land. Many retained some contact with the land in the years ahead, and they worked away from their shambas in order to pay taxes or because they were forced to do so. After feudalism in Europe had ended, the worker had absolutely no means of sustenance other than through the sale of his labour to capitalists. Therefore, to some extent the employer was responsible for ensuring the physical survival of the worker by giving him a ‘living wage’. In Africa, this was not the case. Europeans offered the lowest possible wage and relied on legislation backed by force to do the rest.
There were several reasons why the African worker was more crudely exploited than his European counterpart in the present century. Firstly, the alien colonial state had a monopoly of political power, after crushing all opposition by armed force. Secondly, the African working class was small, very dispersed, and very unstable owing to migratory practices. Thirdly, while capitalism was willing to exploit all workers everywhere, European capitalists in Africa had additional racial justifications for dealing unjustly with the African worker. The racist theory that the black man was inferior led to the conclusion that he deserved lower wages; and, interestingly enough, the light-skinned Arab and Berber populations of North Africa were treated as ‘blacks’ by the white racist French. The combination of the above factors in turn made it extremely difficult for African workers to organise themselves. It is only the organisation and resoluteness of the working class which protects it from the natural tendency of the capitalist to exploit to the utmost. That is why in all colonial territories, when African workers realised the necessity for trade union solidarity, numerous obstacles were laid in their paths by the colonial regimes.
Wages paid to workers in Europe and North America were much higher than wages paid to African workers in comparable categories. The Nigerian coalminer at Enugu earned 1/- per day for working underground and 0/9d per day for jobs on the surface. Such a miserable wage would be beyond comprehension of a Scottish or German coalminer who could virtually earn in an hour what the Enugu miner was paid for a six-day week. The same disparity existed with port workers. The records of the large American shipping company, Farrell Lines, show that in 1955, of the total amount spent on loading and discharging cargo moving between Africa and America, five-sixths went to American workers and one-sixth to Africans. Yet, it was the same amount of cargo loaded and unloaded at both ends. The wages paid to the American stevedore and the European coalminers were still such as to ensure that the capitalists made a profit. The point here is merely to illustrate how much greater was the rate of exploitation of African workers.
When discrepancies such as the above were pointed out during the colonial period and subsequently, those who justified colonialism were quick to reply that the standard and cost of living was higher in capitalist countries. The fact is that the higher standard was made possible by the exploitation of colonies, and there was no justification for keeping African living standards so depressed in an age where better was possible and in a situation where a higher standard was possible because of the work output of Africans themselves. The kind of living standard supportable by African labour within the continent is readily illustrated by the salaries and the life-style of the whites inside Africa.
Colonial governments discriminated against the employment of Africans in senior categories; and, whenever it happened that a white and a black filled the same post, the white man was sure to be paid considerably more. This was true at all levels, ranging from civil service posts to mine workers. African salaried workers in the British colonies of Gold Coast and Nigeria were better off than their brothers in many other parts of the continent, but they were restricted to the ‘Junior staff’ level in the civil service. In the period before the last world war, European civil servants in the Gold Coast received an average of £40 per month, with quarters and other privileges. Africans got an average salary of £4. There were instances where one European in an establishment earned as much as his twenty-five African assistants put together. Outside the civil service, Africans obtained work in building projects, in mines and as domestics – all low-paying jobs. It was exploitation without responsibility and without redress. In 1934, forty-one Africans were killed in a gold mine disaster in the Gold Coast, and the capitalist company offered only £3 to the dependants of each of these men as compensation.
Where European settlers were found in considerable numbers, the wage differential was readily perceived. In North Africa, the wages of Moroccans and Algerians were from 16% to 25% those of Europeans. In East Africa, the position was much worse, notably in Kenya and Tanganyika. A comparison with white settler earnings and standards brings out by sharp contrast how incredibly low African wages were. While Lord Delamere controlled 100,000 acres of Kenya’s land, the Kenyan had to carry a kipande pass in his own country to beg for a wage of 15/- or 20/- per month. The absolute limit of brutal exploitation was found in the Southern parts of the continent; and in Southern Rhodesia, for example, agricultural labourers rarely received more than 15/- per month. Workers in mines got a little more if they were semi-skilled, but they also had more intolerable working conditions. Unskilled labourers in the mines of Northern Rhodesia often got as little as 7/- per month. A lorry-driver on the famous copper-belt was in a semi-skilled grade. In one mine, Europeans performed that job for £30 per month, while in another, Africans did it for £3 per month.
In all colonial territories, wages were reduced during the period of crisis which shook the capitalist world during the 1930s, and they were not restored or increased until after the last capitalist world war. In Southern Rhodesia in 1949, Africans employed in municipal areas were awarded minimum wages from 35/- to 75/- per month. That was a considerable improvement over previous years, but white workers (on the job for 8 hours per day compared to the Africans’ 10 or 14 hours) received a minimum wage of 20/- per day plus free quarters, etc.
The Rhodesians offered a miniature version of South Africa’s apartheid system, which oppressed the largest industrial working class on the continent. In the Union of South Africa, African labourers worked deep underground, under inhuman conditions which would not have been tolerated by miners in Europe. Consequently, black South African workers recovered gold from deposits which elsewhere would be regarded as non-commercial. And yet it is the white section of the working class which received whatever benefits were available in terms of wages and salaries. Officials have admitted that the mining companies could pay whites higher than miners in any other part of the world because of the super profits made by paying black workers a mere pittance.* [*As is well known, those conditions still operate. However, this chapter presents matters in the past tense to picture the colonial epoch.]
In the final analysis, the shareholders of the mining companies were the ones who benefited most of all. They remained in Europe and North America and collected fabulous dividends every year from the gold, diamonds, manganese, uranium, etc. which were brought out of the South African sub-soil by African labour. For years, the capitalist press itself praised Southern Africa as an investment outlet returning super profits on capital invested. From the very beginning of the Scramble for Africa, huge fortunes were made from gold and diamonds in Southern Africa by people like Cecil Rhodes. In the present century, both the investment and the outflow of surplus have increased. Investment was mainly concentrated in mining and finance where the profits were greatest. In the mid-1950s, British investments in South Africa were estimated at £860 million and yielded a stable profit of 15% or £129 million every year. Most mining companies had returns well above that average. DeBeers Consolidated Mines made a profit that was both phenomenal and consistently high – between $26 million and $29 million throughout the 1950s.
The complex of Southern African mining concerns operated not just in South Africa itself, but also in South West Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and the Congo. Congo was consistently a source of immense wealth for Europe, because from the time of colonisation until 1906, King Leopold of Belgium made at least $20 million from rubber and ivory. The period of mineral exploitation started quite early, and then gained momentum after political control passed from King Leopold to the Belgium state in 1908. Total foreign capital inflow into the Congo between 1887 and 1953 was estimated by the Belgians to have been £5,700 million. The value of the outflow in the same period was said to have been £4,300 million, exclusive of profits retained within the Congo. As was true everywhere else on the continent, the expatriation of surplus from Congo increased as the colonial period wore on. In the five years preceding independence the net outflow of capital from Congo to Belgium reached massive proportions. Most of the expatriation of surplus was handled by a major European finance monopoly, the Societé Generale. The Societé Generale had as its most important subsidiary the Union Miniére de Haute Katanga, which has monopolised Congolese copper production since 1889 (when it was known as the Compagnie de Katanga). Union Miniére has been known to make a profit of £27 million in a single year.
It is no wonder that of the total wealth produced in Congo in any given year during the colonial period, more than one-third went out in the form of profits for big business and salaries for their expatriate staffs. But the comparable figure for Northern Rhodesia under the British was one half. In Katanga, Union Miniére at least had a reputation for leaving some of the profits behind in the form of things like housing and maternity services for African workers. The Rhodesian Copper Belt Companies expatriated profits without compunction.
It should not be forgotten that outside of Southern Africa, there were also significant mining operations during the colonial period. In North Africa, foreign capital exploited natural resources of phosphates, oil, lead, zinc, manganese and iron ore. In Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, there were important workings of gold, diamonds, iron ore and bauxite. To all that should be added the tin of Nigeria, the gold and manganese of Ghana, the gold and diamonds of Tanganyika, and the copper of Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville. In each case, an understanding of the situation must begin with an enquiry into the degree of exploitation of African resources and labour, and then must proceed to follow the surplus to its destination outside of Africa – into the bank accounts of the capitalists who control the majority shares in the huge multi-national mining combines.
The African working class produced a less spectacular surplus for export with regard to companies engaged in agriculture. Agricultural plantations were widespread in North, East and South Africa; and they also appeared in West Africa to a lesser extent. Their profits depended on the incredibly low wages and harsh working conditions imposed on African agricultural labourers and on the fact that they invested very little capital in obtaining the land, which was robbed whole-sale from Africans by colonial powers and then sold to whites at nominal prices. For instance, after the Kenya highlands had been declared ‘Crown Land’, the British handed over to Lord Delamere 100,000 acres of the best land at a cost of penny per acre. Lord Francis Scott purchased 350,000 acres, the East African Estates Ltd. got another 350,000 acres, and the East African Syndicate took 100,000 acres adjoining Lord Delamere’s estate – all at giveaway prices. Needless to say, such plantations made huge profits, even if the rate was lower than in a South African gold mine or an Angolan diamond mine.
During the colonial era, Liberia was supposedly independent; but to all intents and purposes, it was a colony of the U.S.A. In 1926, the Firestone Rubber Company of the U.S.A. was able to acquire one million acres of forest land in Liberia at a cost of 6 cents per acre and 1% of the value of the exported rubber. Because of the demand for and the strategic importance of rubber, Firestone’s profits from Liberia’s land and labour carried them to 25th position among the giant companies of the U.S.A.
(b) European Trading Companies versus the African Peasant
So far, this section has been dealing with that part of the surplus produced by African wage earners in mines, plantations, etc. But the African working class under colonialism was extremely small and the vast majority of Africans engaged in the colonial money economy were independent peasants. How then can it be said that these self-employed peasants were contributing to the expatriation of African surplus? Apologists for colonialism argue that it was a positive benefit for such farmers to have been given the opportunity to create surplus by growing or collecting produce such as cocoa, coffee, palm oil, etc. It is essential that this misrepresentation be clarified.
A peasant growing a cash crop or collecting produce had his labour exploited by a long chain of individuals, starting with local businessmen. Sometimes, those local businessmen were Europeans. Very rarely were they Africans, and more usually they were a minority group brought in from outside and serving as intermediaries between the white colonialists and the exploited African peasant. In West Africa, the Lebanese and Syrians played this role; while in East Africa the Indians rose to this position. Arabs were also in the middleman category in Zanzibar and a few other places on the East African coast.
Cash crop peasants never had any capital of their own. They existed from one crop to another, depending on good harvests and good prices. Any bad harvest or fall of prices caused the peasants to borrow in order to find money to pay taxes and buy certain necessities. As security, they mortgaged their future crops to moneylenders in the middleman category. Non-payment of debts could and did lead to their farms being taken away by the moneylenders. The rate of interest on the loans was always fantastically high, amounting to what is known as ‘usury’. In East Africa, things were so bad that even the British colonial government had to step in and enact a ‘Native Credit Ordinance’ to protect Africans from Asian businessmen.
However, in spite of some minor clashes between the colonialists and the middlemen, the two were part and parcel of the same apparatus of exploitation. On the whole, the Lebanese and Indians did the smaller jobs which Europeans could not be bothered with. They owned things such as cotton ginneries which separated the seed from the lint; while of course Europeans concentrated on the cotton mills in Europe. The middlemen also went out to the villages, while Europeans liked to stay in towns. In the villages, the Indians and Lebanese took over virtually all buying and selling; channelling most of the profits back to Europeans in the towns and those overseas.
The share of profits which went to middlemen was insignificant in comparison to those profits reaped by big European business interests and by the European governments themselves. The capitalist institution which came into most direct contact with African peasants was the colonial trading company: that is to say, a company specialising in moving goods to and from the colonies. The most notorious were the French concerns, Compagnie Française d’Afrique Occidentale (CFAO) and Societé Commerciale Ouest Africaine (SCOA) and the British controlled United Africa Company (UAC). These were responsible for expatriating a great proportion of Africa’s wealth produced by peasant toil.
Several of the colonial trading companies already had African blood on their hands from participation in the slave trade. Thus, after French merchants in Bordeaux made fortunes from the European slave trade, they transferred that capital to the trade in groundnuts from Senegal and Gambia in the middle of the 19th century. The firms concerned continued to operate in the colonial period, although they changed hands and there were a lot of mergers. In Senegal, Mauretania and Mali, the names of Maurel & Prom, Maurel Brothers, Buhan & Teyssere, Delmas & Clastre were all well known. Several of them were eventually incorporated into SCOA, which was dominated by a consortium of French and Swiss financiers. A parallel process in the French port of Marseilles led to the transfer of slave-trade capital into direct trade between Africa and France. After the end of the first World War, most of the small Marseilles firms were absorbed into the massive CFAO, which imported into French West Africa whatever European goods the market would take, and exported in turn the agricultural produce that was largely the consequence of peasant labour. CFAO also had British and Dutch capital, and its activities extended into Liberia and into British and Belgian colonies. It is said that SCOA and CFAO made a profit of up to 90% in good years and 25 % in bad years.
In Britain, the notorious slave-trading port of Liverpool was the first to switch to palm oil early in the 19th century when the trade in slaves became difficult or impossible. This meant that Liverpool firms were no longer exploiting Africa by removing its labour physically to another part of the world. Instead, they were exploiting the labour and raw materials of Africa inside Africa. Throughout the 19th century and right into the colonial era, Liverpool concentrated largely on importing African peasant produce. Backed by the industrial districts of Manchester and Cheshire, this British port was in control of a great proportion of Britain’s and Europe’s trade with Africa in the colonial period-just as it had done in the slave trade period. Glasgow also had a keen interest in the colonial trade, so did the merchants and big business interests of London. By 1929, London replaced Liverpool as chief port dealing with African import/export.
As indicated, the UAC was the British company which was best known among the commercial concerns. It was a subsidiary of the giant Anglo-Dutch monopoly, Unilever; and its agencies were found in all the British colonies of West Africa and on a smaller scale in East Africa. Unilever also controlled the Compagnie du Niger Français, the Compagnie Française de la Cote d’Ivoire, SCKN in Chad, NOSOCO in Senegal, NSCA in Portuguese Guinea, and John Walken & Co. Ltd. in Dahomey. Certain other British and French firms were not found in every colony, but they did well in the particular area in which they were entrenched. For example, there was John Holt in Nigeria.
In East Africa, the import/export business tended to have smaller firms than in West Africa, but even so there were five or six which were much larger than the rest and appropriated the largest amounts. One of the oldest was Smith Mackenzie, which was an offshoot of the Scottish company of Mackinnon and Mackenzie which had spearheaded British colonisation in East Africa and which also had interests in India. Other notable commercial firms were those of A. Baumann, Wigglesworth and Company, Dalgetty, Leslie & Anderson, Ralli Bros., Michael Cotts, Jos Hansen, the African Mercantile and Twentsche Overseas Trading Co. Some of them amalgamated before colonial rule was over, and they all had several other subsidiaries, as well as themselves being related to bigger companies in the metropoles. The UAC also had a slice of the East African import trade, having bought up the firm of Gailey and Roberts which was started by white settlers in 1904.
The pattern of appropriation of surplus in East Africa was easy to follow, in that there was centralisation of the extractive mechanisms in Nairobi and the port of Mombasa. All the big firms operated from Nairobi, with important offices in Mombasa to deal with warehousing, shipping, insuring, etc. Uganda and Tanganyika were then brought into the picture via their capital cities of Kampala and Dar es Salaam, where the big firms had branches. Up to the start of the last war, the volume of trade from East Africa was fairly small, but it jumped rapidly after that. For instance, the value of Kenya imports rose from £4 million in 1938 to £34 million in 1950 and to £70 million in 1960. The value of exports was of course rising at the same time, and the commercial firms were among the principal beneficiaries of the growth in foreign trade.
Trading companies made huge fortunes on relatively small investments in those parts of Africa where peasant cash-crop farming was widespread. The companies did not have to spend a penny to grow the agricultural raw materials. The African peasant went in for cash-crop farming for many reasons. A minority eagerly took up the opportunity to continue to acquire European goods, which they had become accustomed to during the pre-colonial period. Many others in every section of the continent took to earning cash because they had to pay various taxes in money or because they were forced to work. Good examples of Africans literally being forced to grow cash crops by gun and whip were to be found in Tanganyika under German rule, in Portuguese colonies, and in French Equatorial Africa and the French Sudan in the 1930s. [These facts came most dramatically to the attention of the outside world when Africans resorted to violence. For example, forced cultivation of cotton was a major grievance behind the outbreak of Maji Maji wars in Tanganyika and behind the nationalist revolt in Angola as late as 1960.] In any event, there were very few cases where the peasant was wholly dependent on the cash for his actual sustenance. The trading companies took full advantage of that fact. Knowing that an African peasant and his family would keep alive by their own food shambas, the companies had no obligation to pay prices sufficient for the maintenance of a peasant and his family. In a way, the companies were simply receiving tribute from a conquered people, without even the necessity to trouble themselves as to how the tributary goods were produced.
Trading companies also had their own means of transport inside Africa, such as motor vessels and lorries. But, usually they transferred the burden of transport costs on to the peasant via the Lebanese or Indian middlemen. Those capitalist companies held the African farmer in a double squeeze, by controlling the price paid for the crop and by controlling the price of imported goods such as tools, clothing and bicycles to which peasants aspired. For example, prices of palm products were severely reduced by the UAC and other trading companies in Nigeria in 1929, while the cost of living was rising due to increased charges for imported goods. In 1924, the price for palm oil had been 14/- per gallon. This fell to 7/- in 1928 and to 1/2d in the following year. Although the trading companies received less for every ton of palm oil during the depression years, their profit margin increased – showing how brazenly surplus was being pounded out of the peasant. In the midst of the depression the UAC was showing a handsome profit. The profits in 1934 were £6,302,875 and a dividend of 15% was paid on ordinary shares.
In every part of colonial Africa, the depression years followed the same pattern. In Sukumaland (Tanganyika) the price of cotton dropped in 1930 from 50 cents (6d) to 10 cents per pound. The French colonies were hit a little later, because the depression did not make its impact on the French monetary zone until after 1931. Then, prices of Senegalese groundnuts were cut by more than half. Coffee and cocoa dropped even further, since they were relative luxuries to the European buyer. Again, it can be noted that French firms such as CFAO and SCOA faced lower prices when they sold the raw materials in Europe, but they never absorbed any losses. Instead, African peasants and workers bore the pressure, even if it meant forced labour. African peasants in French territories were forced to join so-called co-operative societies which made them grow certain crops like cotton and made them accept whatever price was offered.
Hardly had the depression ended, when Europe was at war. The Western powers dragged in the African people to fight for freedom! The trading firms stepped up the rate of plunder in the name of God and country. On the Gold Coast, they paid £10 per ton for cocoa beans as compared to £50 before the war. At the same time, the price of imported goods doubled or trebled. Many necessities passed beyond the reach of the ordinary man. On the Gold Coast, a piece of cotton print which had sold before the war for 12/6d was 90/- in 1945. In Nigeria, a yard of khaki which was 3/- in pre-war days went up to 16/- ; a bundle of iron sheets formerly costing 30/- went up to 100/-, etc.
Urban workers were hardest hit by rising prices, since they had to purchase everyday necessities with money, and part of their food was imported. Worker dissatisfaction highlighted this exploitative post-war situation. There were several strikes, and in the Gold Coast, the boycott of imported goods in 1948 is famous as the prelude to self-government under Nkrumah. However, peasants were also restless under low prices and expensive imports. In Uganda, the cotton-growing peasants could stand things no longer by 1947. They could not get their hands on the big British import/export firms, but they could at least deal with the Indian and African middlemen. So they marched against the Indian-owned cotton ginneries and demonstrated outside the palace of the Kabaka – the hereditary ruler who often functioned as a British agent in Uganda.
To ensure that at all times the profit margin was kept as high as possible, the trading firms found it convenient to form ‘pools’. The pools fixed the price to be paid to the African cultivator, and kept the price down to the minimum. In addition, the trading companies spread into several other aspects of the economic life of the colonies, in such a way as to introduce several straws for the sucking out of surplus. In Morocco, to give one example, the Compagnie General du Maroc owned large estates, livestock farms, timber workings, mines, fisheries, railways, ports and power stations The giants like CFAO and UAC also had their fingers in everything. CFAO’s interests ranged from groundnut plantations to shares in the Fabre & Frassinet shipping line. The people of Ghana and Nigeria met the UAC everywhere that they turned. It controlled wholesale and retail trade, owned butter factories, sawmills, soap factories, singlet factories, cold storage plants, engineering and motor repair shops, tugs, coastal boats, etc. Some of those businesses directly exploited African wage labour, while in one way or another all operations skimmed the cream produced by peasant efforts in the cash crop sector.
Sometimes, the firms which purchased agricultural products in Africa were the same concerns which manufactured goods based on those agricultural raw materials. For instance, Cadbury and Fry, the two foremost English manufacturers of cocoa and chocolate, were buyers on the West African coast, while in East Africa the tea manufacturing concern of Brooke Bond both grew and exported tea. Many of the Marseilles, Bordeaux and Liverpool trading companies were also engaged in manufacturing items such as soap and margarine in their home territories. This applied fully to the UAC, while the powerful Lesieur group processing oils and fats in France had commercial buyers in Africa. However, it is possible to separate the trading operations from the industrial ones. The latter represented the final stage in the long process of exploiting the labour of African peasants – in some ways the most damaging stage.
Peasants worked for large numbers of hours to produce a given cash crop, and the price of the product was the price of those long hours of labour. Since primary produce from Africa has always received low prices, it follows that the buyer and user of the raw material was engaging in massive exploitation of the peasants.
The above generalisation can be illustrated with reference to cotton, which is one of the most widely encountered cash crops in Africa. The Ugandan farmer grew cotton which ultimately made its way into an English factory in Lancashire or a British-owned factory in India. The Lancashire factory owner paid his workers as little as possible, but his exploitation of their labour was limited by several factors. His exploitation of the labour of the Ugandan peasant was unlimited because of his power in the colonial state, which ensured that Ugandans worked long hours for very little. Besides, the price of the finished cotton shirt was so high that when re-imported into Uganda, cotton in the form of a shirt was beyond the purchasing power of the peasant who grew the cotton.
The differences between the prices of African exports of raw materials and their importation of manufactured goods constituted a form of unequal exchange. Throughout the colonial period, this inequality in exchange got worse. Economists refer to the process as one of deteriorating terms of trade. In 1939, with the same quantity of primary goods colonies could buy only 60% of manufactured goods which they bought in the decade 1870-80 before colonial rule. By 1960, the amount of European manufactured goods purchasable by the same quantity of African raw materials had fallen still further. There was no objective economic law which determined that primary produce should be worth so little. Indeed, the developed countries sold certain raw materials like timber and wheat at much higher prices than a colony could command. The explanation is that the unequal exchange was forced upon Africa by the political and military supremacy of the colonisers, just as in the sphere of international relations unequal treaties were forced upon small states in the dependencies, like those in Latin America.
The unequal nature of the trade between the metropole and the colonies was emphasised by the concept of the ‘protected market’, which meant even an inefficient metropolitan producer could find a guaranteed market in the colony where his class had political control. Furthermore, as in the preceding era of pre-colonial trade, European manufacturers built up useful sidelines of goods which would have been sub-standard in their own markets, especially in textiles. The European farmer also gained in the same way by selling cheap butter, while the Scandinavian fisherman came into his own through the export of salted cod. Africa was not a large market for European products, compared to other continents, but both buying-prices and selling-prices were set by European capitalists. That certainly allowed their manufacturers and traders more easy access to the surplus of wealth produced in Africa than they would have had if Africans were in a position to raise the price of their own exports.
Channels for the exploitation of surplus were not exhausted by the trading companies and the industrial concerns. The shipping companies constituted an exploitative channel that cannot be overlooked. The largest shipping companies were those under the flags of the colonising nations, especially the British. The shippers were virtually a law unto themselves, being very favourably regarded by their home governments as earners of super profits, as stimulators of industry and trade, as carriers of mail, and as contributors to the navy when war came. African peasants had absolutely no control over the freight rates which were charged, and actually paid more than citizens in other lands. The rate for flour from Liverpool to West Africa was 35/- per ton as compared with only 7/6d from Liverpool to New York (a roughly equivalent distance). Freight rates normally varied with the volume of cargo carried, but the rate for cocoa was established at 50/- per ton when amounts exported were small at the beginning of this century, and the same high figure remained when exports increased. Coffee carried from Kenya to New York in the 1950s earned the shippers $40 (about 280/-) per ton. Theoretically, it was the merchant who paid the shipper the freight charges, but in practical terms it meant that peasant production was bearing all the costs, since the merchants paid out of profits made by buying cheaply from the peasants. Alternatively, white settler planters paid the costs as in Kenya, and then regained their profits through exploitation of rural wage labour.
Shipping companies retained a high profit margin by a practice similar to the ‘pools’ of the commercial firms. They established what were known as ‘Conference Lines’ which allowed two or more shippers to share the freight loads between themselves on the most favourable basis possible. Their returns on investment were so high and their greed so uncontrollable that even the merchants of the colonising powers protested. From 1929 to 1931, the UAC (backed by Unilever) engaged in an economic war with the West African Lines Conference – comprising the British shipping firm of EIder Dempster, the Holland West Africa Line and a German West Africa Line. In that instance, the trading monopoly won a victory over the shipping monopoly; but it was a fight between two elephants, and the grass was trampled all the more. At the end of it all, the African peasant was the greatest loser, because both traders and shippers adjusted their differences by lowering prices of primary products as paid to Africans.
In the background of the colonial scene hovered the banks, insurance companies, maritime underwriters and other financial houses. One can say ‘in the background’ because the peasant never dealt directly with such institutions, and was generally ignorant of their exploiting functions. The peasant or worker had no access to bank loans because he had no ‘securities’ or ‘collateral’. Banks and finance houses dealt only with other capitalists who could prove to the bankers that whatever happened the bank would recover its money and make a profit. In the epoch of imperialism, the bankers became the aristocrats of the capitalist world, so in another sense, they were very much in the foreground. The amount of surplus produced by African workers and peasants and passing into the hands of metropolitan bankers is quite phenomenal. They registered a return on capital higher even than the mining companies, and each new direct investment that they made spelt further alienation of the fruits of African labour. Furthermore, all investment in the colonies was in effect the involvement of the big finance monopolies, since the smallest trading company was ultimately linked a big banker. The returns on colonial investment were consistently higher than those on investments in the metropoles, so the financiers stood to benefit from sponsoring colonial enterprise.
In the earliest years of colonialism, the banks in Africa were small and relatively independent. This applied to the Banque de Senegal, started as early as 1853, and to the Bank of British West Africa which began as an offshoot of the shipping firm of Elder Dempster. However, the great banking houses of Europe, which carried on remote control of developments ever since the 1880s, soon moved in directly on the colonial banking scene when the volume of capitalist transactions made this worthwhile. The Banque de Senegal merged into the Banque de L’Afrique Occidentale (BAO) in 1901, acquiring links with the powerful Bank of Indo-China, which in turn was a special creation of several powerful metropolitan French bankers. In 1924, the Banque Comerciale de 1’Afrique (BCA) emerged in the French territories, linked with the Credit Lyonais and the BNCI in France. By that time the Bank of British West Africa had its finance backed by Lloyds Bank, Westminster Bank, the Standard Bank and the National Provincial Bank – all in England. The other great English banking firm, Barclays, moved directly into Africa. It purchased the Colonial Bank and set it up as Barclays DCO (i.e., Dominion and Colonial).
The Bank of British West Africa (which became the Bank of West Africa in 1957) and Barclays held between them the lion’s share of the banking business of British West Africa, just as French West and Equatorial Africa were shared out between the BAO and the BCA. There was also a union of French and British banking capital in West Africa in 1949 with the formation of the British and French West Africa Bank. French and Belgian exploitation also overlapped in the financial sphere, since the Societé Generale had both Belgian and French capital. It supported banks in French Africa and the Congo. Other weaker colonial powers were served by the international banks such as Barclays, as well as using their colonial territories as grazing ground for their own national banks. In Libya, the Banco di Roma and the Banco di Napoli operated; while in Portuguese territories the most familiar name was that of the Banco Ultramarino.
In Southern Africa, the outstanding banking firm was the Standard Bank of South Africa Ltd., started in 1862 in the Cape Colony by the heads of business houses having close connections with London. Its headquarters were placed in London, and it made a fortune out of financing gold and diamond strikes, and through handling the loot of Cecil Rhodes and De Beers. By 1895, the Standard Bank spread into Bechuanaland, Rhodesia and Mozambique; and it was the second British bank to be established in British East Africa. The actual scale of profits was quite formidable. ln a book officially sponsored by the Standard Bank, the writer modestly concluded as follows:
Little attention has been paid in the text of this book to the financial outcome of the Standard Bank’s activities, yet their profitability was an inevitable outcome of survival and was therefore bound to be a primary objective from first to last.
In 1960, the Standard Bank produced a net profit of £1,1810000 and paid a 14% dividend to its shareholders. Most of the latter were in Europe or else were whites South Africa, while the profit was produced mainly by black people of South and East Africa. Furthermore, European banks transferred the reserves of their African branches to the London head office to be invested in London money market. This was the way in which most rapidly expatriated African surplus to the metropoles.
The first bank to be set up in East Africa in the 1890’s was an offshoot of a British bank operating in India. It later came to be called the National & Grindlays. In neighbouring Tanganyika the Germans established the German East African Bank in 1905, but after the first world war the British had a near monopoly of East African banking. Altogether nine foreign banks were in existence in East Africa during the colonial period, out of which the big three were National & Grindlays, the Standard Bank and Barclays.
East Africa provides an interesting example of how effectively foreign banks served to dispossess Africa of its wealth. Most of the banking and other financial services were rendered to white settlers whose conception of ‘home’ was Britain. Consequently when the white settlers felt threatened towards the end of the colonial period they rushed to send their money home to Britain, For example, when the decision to concede self-government to Kenya was taken by the British in 1960, a sum of Shs. 40 million was immediately transferred to ‘safety’ in London by whites in Tanganyika. That sum, like all other remittances by colonial banks represented the exploitation of African land resources labour.
(d) The Colonial Administration as Economic Exploiter
In addition to private companies, the colonial state also engaged directly in the economic exploitation and impoverishment of Africa. The equivalent of the colonial office in each colonising country worked hand in hand with their governors in Africa to carry out a number of functions; the principal ones being as follows:
(a) To protect national interests against competition from other capitalists.
(b) To arbitrate the conflicts between their own capitalists.
(c) To guarantee optimum conditions under which private companies could exploit Africans.
The last mentioned objective was the most crucial. That is why colonial governments were repeatedly speaking about ‘the maintenance of law and order’, by which they meant the maintenance of conditions most favourable to the expansion of capitalism and the plunder of Africa. This led the colonial governments to impose taxes.
One of the main purposes of the colonial taxation system was to provide requisite funds for administering the colony as a field of exploitation. European colonisers ensured that Africans paid for the upkeep of the governors and police who oppressed them and served as watchdogs for private capitalists. Indeed, taxes and customs duties were levied in the 19th century with the aim of allowing the colonial powers to recover the costs of the armed forces which they despatched to conquer Africa. In effect, therefore, the colonial governments never put a penny into the colonies. All expenses were met by exploiting the labour and natural resources of the continent; and for all practical purposes the expense of maintaining the colonial government machinery was a form of alienation of the products of African labour. The French colonies were especially victimised in this respect. Particularly since 1921, the local revenue raised from taxation had to meet all expenses as well as to build up a reserve.
Having set up the police, army, civil service and judiciary on African soil, the colonising powers were then in a position to intervene much more directly in the economic life of the people than had been the case previously. One major problem in Africa from a capitalist viewpoint was how to induce Africans to become labourers or cash-crop farmers. In some areas, such as West Africa, Africans had become so attached to European manufactures during the early period of trade that, on their own initiative, they were prepared to go to great lengths to participate in the colonial money economy. But that was not the universal response. In many instances, Africans did not consider the monetary incentives great enough to justify changing their way of life so as to become labourers or cash-crop farmers. In such cases, the colonial state intervened to use law, taxation and outright force to make Africans pursue a line favourable to capitalist profits.
When colonial governments seized African lands, they achieved two things simultaneously. They satisfied their own citizens (who wanted mining concessions or farming land) and they created the conditions whereby landless Africans had to work not just to pay taxes but also to survive. In settler areas such as Kenya and Rhodesia the colonial government also prevented Africans from growing cash-crops so that their labour would be available directly for the whites. One of the Kenya white settlers, Colonel Grogan, put it bluntly when he said of the Kikuyu: ‘We have stolen his land. Now we must steal his limbs. Compulsory labour is the corollary of our occupation of the country.’
In those parts of the continent where land was still in African hands, colonial governments forced Africans to produce cash-crops no matter how low the prices were. The favourite technique was taxation. Money taxes were introduced on numerous items – cattle, land, houses and the people themselves. Money to pay taxes was got by growing cash-crops or working on European farms or in their mines. An interesting example of what colonialism was all about was provided in French Equatorial Africa, where French officials banned the Mandja people (now in Congo Brazzaville) from hunting, so that they would engage solely in cotton cultivation. The French enforced the ban although there was little livestock in the area and hunting was the main source of meat in the people’s diet.
Finally, when all else failed, colonial powers resorted widely to the physical coercion of labour – backed up of course by legal sanctions, since anything which the colonial government chose to do was ‘legal’. The laws and by-laws which peasants in British East Africa were required to maintain minimum acreages of cash-crops like cotton and groundnuts were in effect forms of coercion by the colonial state, although they are not normally considered under the heading of ‘forced labour’.
The simplest form of forced labour was that which colonial governments exacted to carry out ‘public works’. Labour for a given number of days per year had to be given free for these ‘public works’ – building castles for governors, prisons for Africans, barracks for troops, and bungalows for colonial officials. A great deal of this forced labour went into the construction of roads, railways and ports to provide the infrastructure for private capitalist investment and to facilitate the export of cash-crops. Taking only one example from the British colony of Sierra Leone, one finds that the railway which started at the end of the 19th century required forced labour from thousands of peasants driven from the villages. The hard work and appalling conditions led to the death of a large number of those engaged in work on the railway. In the British territories, this kind of forced labour (including juvenile labour) was wide-spread enough to call forth in 1923 a ‘Native Authority Ordinance’ restricting the use of compulsory labour for porterage, railway and road building. More often than not, means were found of circumventing this legislation. An international Forced Labour Convention was signed by all colonial powers in 1930, but again it was flouted in practice.
The French government had a cunning way of getting free labour by first demanding that African males should enlist as French soldiers and then using them as unpaid labourers. This and other forced labour legislation known as ‘prestation’ was extensively applied in vast areas of French Sudan and French Equatorial Africa. Because cash-crops are not well established in those areas, the main method of extracting surplus was by taking the population and making it work in plantation or cash-crop regions nearer the coast. Present day Upper Volta, Chad and Congo Brazzaville were huge suppliers of forced labour under colonialism. The French got Africans to start building the Brazzaville to Pointe-Noire railway in 1921, and it was not completed until 1933. Every year of its construction, some 10,000 people were driven to the site – sometimes from more than 1,000 kilometres away. At least 25% of the labour force died annually from starvation and disease, the worst period being from 1922 to 1929.
Quite apart from the fact that the ‘public works’ were of direct value to the capitalists, the colonial government also aided private capitalists by providing them with labour recruited by force. This was particularly true in the early years of colonialism, but continued in varying degrees up to the second World War, and even to the end of colonialism in some places. In British territories, the practice was revived during the economic depression 1929-33 and during the subsequent war. In Kenya and Tanganyika, forced labour was re-introduced to keep settler plantations functioning during the war. In Nigeria, it was the tin companies which benefited from the forced-labour legislation, allowing them to get away with paying workers 5d per day plus rations. For most of the colonial period, the French government performed the same kind of service for the big timber companies who had great concessions of territory in Gabon and Ivory Coast.
The Portuguese and Belgian colonial regimes were the most brazen in directly rounding up Africans to go and work for private capitalists under conditions equivalent to slavery. In Congo, brutal and extensive forced labour started under King Leopold in the last century. So many Congolese were killed and maimed by Leopold’s officials and police that this earned European disapproval even in the midst of the general pattern of colonial outrages. When Leopold handed over to the Belgian government in 1908, he had already made a huge fortune; and the Belgian government hardly relaxed the intensity of exploitation in Congo.
The Portuguese have the worst record of engaging in slavery-like practices, and they too have been repeatedly condemned by international public opinion. One peculiar characteristic of Portuguese colonialism was the provision of forced labour not only for its own citizens but also for capitalists outside the boundaries of the colonies. Angolans and Mozambicans were exported to the South African mines to work for subsistence, while the capitalists in South Africa paid the Portuguese government a certain sum for each labourer supplied. [The export of Africans to South Africa is still continuing.]
In the above example, the Portuguese colonialists were co-operating with capitalists of other nationalities to maximise the exploitation of African labour. Throughout the colonial period, there were instances of such co-operation, as well as competition between metropolitan powers. Generally speaking, a European power was expected to intervene when the profits of its national bourgeoisie were threatened by the activities of other nations. After all, the whole purpose of establishing colonial governments in Africa was to provide protection to national monopoly economic interests. Thus, the Belgian government legislated to ensure that freight to and from the Congo would be mainly carried by Belgian shipping lines; and the French government placed high taxes on groundnuts brought into France by foreign ships, which was another way of ensuring that groundnuts from French Africa would be exported in French ships. In a sense, this meant that Africans were losing their surplus through one straw rather than another. But it also meant that the sum total of exploitation was also greater, because if competition among Europeans were allowed, it would have brought down the cost of services and raised the price paid for agricultural products.
Africans suffered most from exclusive trade with the ‘mother country’ in cases where the ‘mother country’ was backward. African peasants in Portuguese colonies got lower prices for their crops and paid more for imported items. Yet, Britain, the biggest of the colonialists in Africa, was also faced with competition from the more vigorous capitalists of Germany, the U.S.A. and Japan. British merchants and industrialists lobbied their government to erect barriers against competition. For example, Japanese cloth exports to British East Africa rose from 25 million yards in 1927 to 63 million yards in 1933; and this led Walter Runciman, President of the British Board of Trade, to get Parliament to impose heavy tariffs on Japanese goods entering British colonies in Africa. This meant that Africans had to pay higher prices for a staple import, since British cloth was more expensive. From the viewpoint of the African peasant, that amounted to further alienation of the fruits of his labour.
A perfect illustration of the identity of interests between the colonial governments and their bourgeois citizens was provided by the conduct of Produce Marketing Boards in Africa. The origins of the Boards go back to the Gold Coast ‘cocoa hold-up’ of 1937. For several months, cocoa farmers refused to sell their crop unless the price was raised. One apparently favourable result of the ‘hold-up’ was that the British government agreed to set up a Marketing Board to purchase cocoa from the peasants in place of the big business interests like the UAC and Cadbury which had up until then been the buyers. A West African Cocoa Control Board was set up in 1938, but the British government used this as a bush to hide the private capitalists and to allow them to continue making their exorbitant profits.
In theory, a Marketing Board was supposed to pay the peasant a reasonable price for his crop. The Board sold the crop overseas and kept a surplus for the improvement of agriculture and for paying the peasants a stable price if world market prices declined. In practice, the Boards paid peasants a low fixed rate during many years when world prices were rising. None of the benefits went to Africans, but rather to the British government itself and to the private companies, which were used as intermediaries in the buying and selling of the produce. Big companies like the UAC and John Holt were given quotas to fulfil on behalf of the Boards. As agents of the government, they were no longer exposed to direct attack, and their profits were secure.
The idea of the Marketing Boards gained support from top British policy makers because the War came just at that time, and the British government was anxious to take steps to secure certain colonial products in the necessary quantities and at the right times, given the limited number of ships available for commercial purposes during war. They were also anxious to save private capitalists who were adversely affected by events connected with the war. For example, East African sisal became of vital importance to Britain and her war allies after the Japanese cut off supplies of similar hard fibres from the Philippines and Dutch East Indies. Actually, even before fighting broke out, sisal was bought in bulk by the British government to help the non-African plantation owners in East Africa who had lost markets in Germany and other parts of Europe. Similarly, oil-seeds (such as palm produce and groundnuts) were bought by a Board from September 1939, in preparation for shortages of butter and marine oils.
With regard to all peasant cash-crops, the Produce Marketing Boards made purchases at figures that were way below world market prices. For instance, the West African Produce Board paid Nigerians £16.15s for a ton of palm oil in 1946 and sold that through the Ministry of Food for £95, which was nearer to the world market price. Groundnuts which received £15 per ton when bought by the Boards was sold in Britain at £110 per ton. Furthermore, export duties were levied on the Boards’ sales by the colonial administrators, and that was an indirect tax on the peasants. The situation reached a point where many peasants tried to escape from under the Boards. In Sierra Leone in 1952, the price for coffee was so low that growers smuggled their crop into nearby French territories. At about the same time, Nigerian peasants were running away from palm oil into collection or timber felling which did not come under the jurisdiction of the Produce Boards.
If one accepts that the government is always the servant of a particular class, it is perfectly understandable that the colonial governments should have been in collusion with capitalists to syphon off surplus from Africa to Europe. But even if one does not start from that (Marxist) premise, it would be impossible to ignore the evidence of how the colonial administrators worked as committees on behalf of the big capitalists. The governors in the colonies had to listen to the local representatives of the companies and to their principals. Indeed, there were company representatives who wielded influence in several colonies at the same time. Before the first World War, the single most important individual in the whole of British West Africa was Sir Alfred Jones – chairman of Elder Dempster Lines, chairman of the Bank of West Africa, President of the British Cotton-Growing Association. In French West Africa in the late 1940s, the French governor showed himself very anxious to please one Marc Rucart, a man with major interests in several of the French trading companies. Such examples could be cited for each colony throughout its history, although in some of them the influence of the white settlers was greater than that of individual metropolitan businessmen.
Company shareholders in Europe not only lobbied Parliament but actually controlled the administration itself. The Chairman of the Cocoa Board within the Ministry of Food was none other than John Cadbury, a director of Cadbury Brothers who were participant in the buying ‘pool’ which exploited West African cocoa farmers. Former employees of Unilever held key positions in the Oils and Fats Division of the Ministry of Food, and continued to receive cheques from Unilever! The Oils and Fats Division handed over the allocation of buying quotas for the Produce Boards to the Association of West African Merchants, which was dominated by Unilever’s subsidiary, the UAC.
It is no wonder that the Ministry of Food sent a prominent Lebanese business man a directive that he had to sign an agreement drawn up by the UAC. It is no wonder that the companies had government aid in keeping prices down in Africa and in securing forced labour where necessary. It is no wonder that Unilever then sold soap, margarine, etc. at profitable prices within a market assured by the British government.
Of course, the metropolitan governments also ensured that a certain proportion of the colonial surplus went directly into the coffers of the state. They all had some forms of direct investment in capitalist enterprises. The Belgian government was an investor in mining, and so too was the Portuguese government through its part-ownership of the Angolan Diamond Company. The French government was always willing to associate itself with the financial sector. When colonial banks were in trouble, they could count on rescue from the French government, and, indeed, a proportion of their shares passed into the hands of the French government. The British colonial government was perhaps the least anxious to become directly involved in everyday business enterprises, but it did run the Eastern Nigerian coal mines – apart from railways.
Marketing Boards helped the colonising power to get its hands on some immediate cash. One finds that the Cocoa Board sold to the British Ministry of Food at very low prices; and the Ministry in turn sold to British manufacturers, making a profit that was as high as £11 million in some years. More important still, the Board sold to the U.S.A., which was the largest market and one where prices were very high. None of the profits went back to the African farmer, but instead represented British foreign exchange in American dollars.
From 1943, Britain and the U.S.A. engaged in what was known as ‘reverse lend lease’. This meant that wartime United States loans to Britain were repaid partly by raw materials shipped from British colonies to the U.S.A. Tin and rubber from Malaya were very important in that context, while Africa supplied a wide range of products, both mineral and agricultural. Cocoa was third as a dollar earner after tin and rubber. In 1947, West African cocoa brought over 100 million dollars (£38 million) to the British dollar balance. Besides, having a virtual monopoly of the production of diamonds, (South) Africa was also able to sell to the U.S.A. and earn dollars for Britain. In 1946, Harry F. Oppenheimer told his fellow directors of the De Beers Consolidated Mines that ‘sales of gem diamonds during the war secured about 300 million American dollars for Great Britain’.
It was on this very issue of currency that the colonial government did the most manipulations to ensure that Africa’s wealth was stashed away in the coffers of the metropolitan state. In the British colonial sphere, coins and notes were first issued through private banks. Then this function was taken over by the West African Currency Board and the East African Currency Board established in 1912 and 1919, respectively. The currency issued by those Boards in the colonies had to be backed by ‘sterling reserves’, which was money earned by Africa. The manner in which the system worked was as follows. When a colony earned foreign exchange (mainly) through exports, these earnings were held in Britain in Pounds Sterling. An equivalent amount of local East or West African currency was issued for circulation in the respective colonies, while the Sterling was invested in British Government Stock thereby earning even more profit for Britain. The commercial banks worked hand in hand with the metropolitan government and the Currency Boards to make the system work. Together they established an intricate financial network which served the common end of enriching Europe at Africa’s expense.
The contribution to sterling reserves by any colony was a gift to the British treasury, for which the colony received little interest. By the end of the 1950s, the sterling reserves of a small colony like Sierra Leone had reached £60 million; while in 1955 the British government was holding £210 million derived from the sale of cocoa and minerals from Gold Coast. Egypt and the Sudan were also heavy contributors to Britain. Africa’s total contribution to Britain’s sterling balances in 1945 was £446 million, which went up to £1,446 million by 1955-more than half the total gold and dollar reserves of Britain and the Commonwealth, which then stood at £2,120 million. Men like Arthur Creech-Jones and Oliver Lyttleton, major figures in British colonial policy-making, admitted that in the early 1950s Britain was living on the dollar earnings of the colonies.
The British government was outdone by its Belgian counterpart in exacting tribute from its colonies, especially during and after the last War. After Belgium was overrun by the Germans, a government-in-exile was set up in London. The Colonial Secretary of that exiled regime, Mr. Godding, admitted that,
During the war, the Congo was able to finance all the expenditure of the Belgian government in London, including the diplomatic service as well as the cost of our armed forces in Europe and Africa, a total of some £40 million. In fact, thanks to the resources of the Congo, the Belgian government in London had not to borrow a shilling or a dollar, and the Belgian gold reserve could be left intact.
Since the War, surplus of earnings by the Congo in currencies other than the Belgian franc have all accrued to the National Bank of Belgium. Therefore, quite apart from all that the private capitalists looted from Congo, the Belgian government was also a direct beneficiary to the tune of millions of francs per annum.
To discuss French colonialism in this context would be largely to repeat remarks made with reference to the British and Belgians. Guinea was supposedly a ‘poor’ colony, but in 1952 it earned France one billion (old) francs or about 5.6 million dollars in foreign exchange, based on the sale of bauxite, coffee and bananas. French financial techniques were slightly different from other colonial powers. France tended to use the commercial banks more, rather than set up separate currency boards. France also squeezed more out of Africans by imposing levies for military purposes. The French government dressed Africans in French army uniforms and used them to fight other Africans, to fight other colonised peoples like the Vietnamese, and to fight in European wars. The colonial budgets had to bear the cost of sending these African ‘French’ soldiers to die, but if they returned alive they had to be paid pensions out of African funds.
To sum up briefly, colonialism meant a great intensification of exploitation within Africa – to a level much higher than that previously in existence under communalism or feudal-type African societies. Simultaneously, it meant the export of that surplus in massive proportions, for that was the central purpose of colonialism.