Here again, few scholars have treated capitalism and imperialism as an integral system involving the transfer of funds and other benefits from colonies to metropoles. And, where there is an awareness of the unity of the system, no detailed analysis necessarily follows. In effect, one is faced with the limitations of a metropolitan viewpoint. Thus, European or white American Marxists who expose the rapacious nature of modern capitalism within their own countries, have not generally integrated this with the exploitation of Africa, Asia and Latin America – except for the very recent neo-colonial period.
G. Padmore, Africa. How Britain rules Africa,
K. Nkrumah, Africa must Unite. Neo-colonialism, the Highest Stage of Imperialism.
W. A. Hunton, Decision in Africa.
The most vociferous remarks about Africa’s contribution to Europe have been made by politically involved Pan-African intellectuals, such as these three.
Grover Clark, The Balance Sheets of Colonialism.
D. K. Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires.
These two texts proclaim that colonialism was not essentially economic, and that the colonisers did not gain. The second book is recent, and the view is still very much alive.
U.S.S.R. Institute of History, A History of Africa 1918-1967.
P. Jalée, The Pillage of the Third World.
These (Marxist) texts specifically about Africa and the exploited sector of the capitalist world do make the point that the metropoles were extracting huge colonial surpluses.
Table of Contents
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
Chapter Six. Colonialism as a System for Underdeveloping Africa
‘The black man certainly has to pay dear for carrying the white man’s burden.’George Padmore,(West Indian) Pan-Africanist, 1936.
‘In the colonial society, education is such that it serves the colonialist.. In a regime of slavery, education was but one institution for forming slaves.’Statement of FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front) Department of Education and Culture 1968.
6.1 The Supposed Benefits of Colonialism to Africa
(a) Socio-Economic Services
Faced with the evidence of European exploitation of Africa, many bourgeois writers would concede at least partially that colonialism was a system which functioned well in the interests of the metropoles. However, they would then urge that another issue to be resolved is how much Europeans did for Africans, and that it is necessary to draw up a ‘balance sheet of colonialism’. On that balance sheet, they place both the ‘credits’ and the ‘debits’, and quite often conclude that the good outweighed the bad. That particular conclusion can quite easily be challenged, but attention should also be drawn to the fact that the process of reasoning, is itself misleading. The reasoning has some sentimental persuasiveness. It appeals to the common sentiment that ‘after all there must be two sides to a thing’. The argument suggests that, on the one hand, there was exploitation and oppression, but, on the other hand, colonial governments did much for the benefit of Africans and they developed Africa. It is our contention that this is completely false. Colonialism had only one hand — it was a one-armed bandit.
What did colonial governments do in the interest of Africans? Supposedly, they built railroads, schools, hospitals and the like. The sum total of these services was amazingly small.
For the first three decades of colonialism, hardly anything was done that could remotely be termed a service to the African people. It was in fact only after the last war that social services were built as a matter of policy. How little they amounted to does not really need illustrating. After all, the statistics which show that Africa today is underdeveloped are the statistics representing the state of affairs at the end of colonialism. For that matter, the figures at the end of the first decade of African independence in spheres such as health, housing and education are often several times higher than the figures inherited by the newly independent governments. It would be an act of the most brazen fraud to weigh the paltry social amenities provided during the colonial epoch against the exploitation, and to arrive at the conclusion that the good outweighed the bad.
Capitalism did bring social services to European workers — firstly, as a by-product of providing such services for the bourgeoisie and the middle class, and later as a deliberate act of policy. Nothing remotely comparable occurred in Africa. In 1934, long before the coming of the welfare state to Britain, expenditure for social services in the British Isles amounted to £6 15s per person. In Ghana, the figure was 7/4d per person, and that was high by colonial standards. In Nigeria and Nyasaland, it was less than 1/9d per head. None of the other colonising powers were doing any batter, and some much worse.
The Portuguese stand out because they boasted the most and did the least. Portugal boasted that Angola, Guinea and Mozambique have been their possessions for 500 years, during which time a ‘civilizing mission’ has been going on. At the end of 500 years of shouldering the white man’s burden of civilising ‘African natives’, the Portuguese had not managed to train a single African doctor in Mozambique, and the life expectancy in Eastern Angola was less than 30 years. As for Guinea-Bissau, some insight into the situation there is provided by the admission of the Portuguese themselves that Guinea-Bissau was more neglected than Angola and Mozambique!
Furthermore, the limited social services within Africa during colonial times were distributed in a manner that reflected the pattern of domination and exploitation. First of all, white settlers and expatriates wanted the standards of the bourgeoisie or professional classes of the metropoles. They were all the more determined to have luxuries in Africa, because so many of them came from poverty in Europe and could not expect good services in their own homelands. In colonies like Algeria, Kenya and South Africa, it is well known that whites created an infrastructure to afford themselves leisured and enjoyable lives. It means, therefore, that the total amenities provided in any of those colonies is no guide to what Africans got out of colonialism.
In Algeria, the figure for infant mortality was 39 per 1.000 live births among white settlers; but it jumped to 170 per 1,000 live births in the case of Algerians living in the :owns. In practical terms, that meant that the medical, maternity and sanitation services were all geared towards the well-being of the settlers. Similarly, in South Africa, all social statistics have to be broken down into at least two groups — white and black — if they are to be interpreted correctly. In British East Africa there were three groups: firstly, the Europeans who got the most, then the Indians who took most of what was left, and thirdly the Africans, who came last in their own country.
In predominantly black countries, it was also true that the hulk of the social services went to whites. The southern part of Nigeria was one of the colonial areas that was supposed to have received the most from a benevolent ‘mother country’. Ibadan, one of the most heavily populated cities in Africa, had only about 50 Europeans before the last war. For those chosen few, the British colonial government maintained a segregated hospital service of 11 beds in well-furnished surroundings. There were 34 beds for the half-a-million blacks. The situation was repeated in other areas, so that altogether the 4,000 Europeans in the country in the 1930s had 12 modern hospitals, while the African population of at least 40 million had 52 hospitals.
The viciousness of the colonial system with respect to the provision of social services was most dramatically brought out in the case of economic activities which made huge profits, and notably in the mining industry. Mining takes serious toll of the health of workers, and it was only recently in the metropoles that miners have had access to the kind of medical and insurance services which could safeguard their lives and health. [n colonial Africa, the exploitation of miners was entirely without responsibility. In 1930, scurvy and other epidemics broke out in the Lupa goldfields of Tanganyika. Hundreds of workers died. One should not wonder that they had no facilities which would have saved some lives, because in the first place they were not being paid enough to eat properly.
South Africa’s large working class African population was in a sad state. The Tuberculosis Commission of 1912 reported that in the shanty towns
Scarcely a single family exists in which at least one member is not suffering or dying from tuberculosis. Hospital services are so inadequate that incurable tuberculosis and other cases are simply sent home to die and spread the infection. In some areas, a single doctor has to attend to the needs of 40,000 people. The natives must pay for medical treatment. There is no provision for pauper patients. About 65% of the native children die before reaching two years.
That was as early as 1912, when the basis of the South African gold and diamond empire was already laid. Since then, the shanty towns increased, the slum conditions grew worse, and the government committed itself to pursuing the odious policy of apartheid, which meant separation of the races so as better to exploit the African people.
Many Africans trekked to towns, because (bad as they were) they offered a little more than the countryside. Modern sanitation, electricity, piped water, paved roads, medical services and schools were as foreign at the end of the colonial period as they were in the beginning — as far as mast of rural Africa was concerned. Yet, it was the countryside that grew the cash-crops and provided the labour that kept the system going. The peasants there knew very little of the supposed ‘credits’ on the colonial balance sheet.
Because even the scanty social services were meant only to facilitate exploitation, they were not given to any Africans whose labour was not directly producing surplus for export to the metropoles. That is to say, none of the wealth of exploited Africans could be deployed for the assistance of their brothers outside the money economy.
Multiple examples exist to substantiate the above proposition. The most ‘wealthy’ colonies received greater social services under colonialism. Thus, the Rand in South Africa and Katanga in Congo had to provide for their relatively large working class. For many years, they approached the whole matter indifferently, but, in the final analysis, enlightened self-interest made the colonialists realise that more could be gained out of the African worker who maintained basic health and who had some degree of literacy in industrial contexts. This was the same line of reasoning which had previously led the capitalist class in Europe to be somewhat freer in allowing part of the workers’ production to go back to keeping the worker alive and well.
In the cash-crop producing countries of Africa, a similar situation existed whereby the tendency was for socio-economic services to decrease in colonies or areas which produced few goods to be shipped abroad. That accounts for the fact that Africans in Gold Coast, Uganda and Nigeria could be considered as having been ‘better off’ than those in Dahomey, Tanganyika and Chad.
Within individual countries, considerable regional variations existed, depending on the degree to which different parts of a country were integrated into the capitalist money economy. Thus, the northern part of Kenya or the South of Sudan had little to offer the colonialists, and such a zone was simply ignored by the colonising power with regard to roads, schools, hospitals and so on. Often, at the level of the district of a given colony, there would be discrimination in providing social amenities, on the basis of contribution to exportable surplus. For instance, plantations and companies might build hospitals for their workers, because some minimum maintenance of the workers’ health was an economic investment. Usually, such a hospital was exclusively for workers of that particular capitalist concern, and those Africans living in the vicinity under ‘subsistence’ conditions outside the money economy were ignored altogether.
The Arusha Declaration powerfully and simply expressed, one of the deepest truths of the colonial experience in Africa, when it stated that:
We have been oppressed a great deal, we have been exploited a great deal, and we have been disregarded a great deal.
The combination of being oppressed, being exploited, and being disregarded is best illustrated by the pattern of the economic infrastructure of African colonies: notably, their roads and railways. These had a clear geographical distribution according to the extent to which particular regions needed to be opened up to import/export activities. Where exports were not available, roads and railways had no place. The only slight exception is that certain roads and railways were built to move troops and make conquest and oppression easier.
Means of communication were not constructed in the colonial period so that Africans could visit their friends. More important still, there were not laid down to facilitate internal trade in African commodities. There were no roads connecting different colonies and different parts of the same colony in a manner that made sense with regard to Africa’s needs and development. All roads and railways led down to the sea. They were built to extract gold or manganese or coffee or cotton. They were built to make business possible for the timber companies, trading companies and agricultural concession firms, and for white settlers. Any catering to African interests was purely coincidental. Yet in Africa, labour rather than capital, took the lion’s share in getting things done. With the minimum investment of capital, the colonial powers could mobilise thousands upon thousands of workers. Salaries were paid to the police officers and officials, and labour came into existence because of the colonial laws, the threat of force and the use of force. Take, for instance, the building of railways. In Europe and America, railway building required huge inputs of capital. Great wage bills were incurred during construction, and added bonus payments were made to workers to get the job done as quickly as possible. In most parts of Africa, the Europeans who wanted to see a railroad built offered lashes as the ordinary wage and more (ashes for extra effort.
Reference was earlier made to the great cost in African life of the (French) Congo railroad from Brazzaville to Pointe Noire. Most of the intolerable conditions are explained by the non-availability of capital in the form of equipment. Therefore, sheer manpower had to take the place of earth-moving machinery, cranes, etc. A comparable situation was provided by the construction of the Embakasi airport of Nairobi. Because it was built during the colonial era (starting in 1953) and with U.S. loans, it is customary to credit the imperialists for its existence. But it would be much more accurate to say that the people of Kenya built it with their own hands under European supervision.
Embakasi, which initially covered seven square miles and had four runways, was described as ‘the world’s first handmade international airport.’ Mau Mau suspects numbering several thousand were to be found there ‘labouring under armed guard at a million-ton excavation job, filling in craters, laying a half million tons of stone with nothing but shovels, stone hammers and their bare hands.’
The financial institutions of colonial Africa were even more scandalously neglectful of indigenous African interests than was the case with the European-oriented communications system. The banks did very little lending locally. In British East Africa, credit to Africans was specifically discouraged by the Credit to Natives (Restriction) Ordinance of 1931. Insurance Companies catered almost exclusively to the interests of white settlers and capitalist firms. The policy of colonial reserves in metropolitan currencies can also be cited as a ‘service’ inimical to Africans. The Currency Boards and central banks which performed such services denied Africa access to its own funds created by exports. Instead, the colonial reserves in Britain, France and Belgium represented African loans to and capital investment in Europe.
It is necessary to re-evaluate the much glorified notion of ‘European capital’ having been invested in colonial Africa and Asia. The money available for investment in the capitalist system was itself the consequence of the previous robbery of workers and peasants in Europe and the world at large. In Africa’s case, the capital that was invested in 19th century commerce was part of the capital that had been derived from the trade in slaves. The Portuguese government was the first in Europe to ship captives from Africa and the last to let go of slave trading. Much of the profit slipped out of Portuguese hands, and went instead to Britain and Germany; but the Portuguese slave trade nevertheless helped the Portuguese themselves to finance later colonial ventures, such as joint capitalist participation in agricultural and mining companies in Angola and Mozambique.
As indicated earlier, many of the entrepreneurs from the big European port towns who turned to importing African agricultural produce into Europe were formerly carrying on the trade in slaves. The same can be said of many New England firms in the U.S.A. Some of the biggest ‘names’ in the colonial epoch were capitalist concerns whose original capital came from the trade in slaves or from slavery itself. Lloyd’s, the great insurance underwriting and banking house, falls into this category, having been nourished by profits from the slave territories of the West Indies in the 17th and 18th centuries ; and the ubiquitous Barclay’s Bank had its antecedents in slave trading. Worms et Compagnie is a French example of the same phenomenon. Back in the 18th century, Worms had strong links with the French slave trade, and it grew to become one of the most powerful financial houses dealing with the French empire in Africa and Asia, with particular concentration on Madagascar and the Indian Ocean.
The example of Unilever and the UAC which was highlighted in the previous chapter also reinforces the point that Africa was being exploited by capital produced out of African labour. When Lever Brothers took over the Niger Company in 1929, they became heirs to one of the most notorious exploiters of 19th-century Africa. The Niger Company was a chartered company with full governmental and police powers during the years 1885-1897. In that period, the company exploited Nigerians ruthlessly. Furthermore, the Niger Company was itself a monopoly that had bought up smaller firms tracing their capital directly to slave trading. Similarly, when the UAC was born out of the merger with the Eastern and African Trading Company, it was associated with some more capital that grew from a family tree rooted in the European slave trade. The capital at the disposal of the big French trading firms, CFAO and SCOA can also be traced in the same way.
The process of capital accumulation and reproduction in East Africa lacks the continuity of West Africa. Firstly, Arabs as well as Europeans were participants in the slave trade from East Africa. Secondly, the Germans intervened in 1885, although they had not been previously involved; while the French (who had led the European stave trade in East Africa during the 18th and 19th centuries) concentrated on colonising the Indian Ocean islands rather than the East African mainland. Thirdly, German colonialism did not last beyond the — 1914-18 war. Even so, on the British side, the capital and profits of the colonising East Africa Company reappeared in the trading firm of Smith McKenzie.
The capital that was invested in colonial Africa in later years was a continuation of the colonial capital of the 19th century, along with new influxes from the metropoles. If one enquired closely into the origins of the supposedly new sources, quite a few would have been connected very closely to previous exploitation of non-European peoples. However, it is not necessary to prove that every firm trading in Africa had a first-hand or second-hand connection with the European slave trade and with earlier exploitation of the continent. It is enough to remember that Europe’s greatest source of primary capital accumulation was overseas, and that the profits from African ventures continually outran the capital invested in the colonies.
A conservative bourgeois writer on colonial Africa made the following remarks about the South African gold and diamond industries:
Apart from the original capital subscribed (in the diamond industry), all capital expenditure was provided for out of profits. The industry also yielded large profits to the international firms which dealt in diamonds. These had a peculiar importance, because a considerable portion of the wealth accumulated by diamond firms was later used in the development of the (gold industry) of the Rand.
Similarly, in Angola the Diamang diamond company was an investment that quickly paid for itself, and was then producing capital. The combined profits of that company for the years 1954 and 1955 alone cam to the total of invested capital plus 40%. The excess over investment and maintenance costs was of course expatriated to Portugal, Belgium, and the U.S.A., where the shareholders of Diamang were resident; and Angola was thereby investing in those countries.
In this sense, the colonies were the generators of the capital rather than the countries into which foreign capital was ploughed.
Capital was constantly in motion from metropole to some part of the dependencies, from colonies to other colonies (via the metropoles), from one metropole to another, and from colony to metropole. But because of the super-profits created by non-European peoples ever since slavery, the net flow was from colony to metropole. What was called ‘profits’ in one year came back as ‘capital’ the next. Even progressive writers have created a wrong impression by speaking about capital ‘exports’ from Europe to Africa and about the role of ‘foreign’ capital. What was foreign about the capital in colonial Africa was its ownership and not its initial source. Apologists for colonialism are quick to say that the money for schools, hospitals, etc., in Africa was provided by the British, the French or Belgian taxpayer, as the case may have been. It defies logic to admit that profits from a given colony in a given year totalled several million dollars and to affirm nevertheless that the few thousand dollars allocated to social services in that colony was the money of European taxpayers! The true situation can accurately be presented in the following terms: African workers and peasants produced for European capitalism goods and services of a certain value. A small proportion of the fruits of their efforts were retained by them in the form of wages, cash payments and extremely limited social services, such as were essential to the maintenance of colonialism. The rest went to the various beneficiaries of the colonial system.
There can be little dispute over the credibility of the data which is available to amply demonstrate that colonialism for the most part aimed at developing the metropoles, and only allowed certain crumbs to the colonies as incidental by-products of exploitation. British colonial records are full of reports of Royal Commissions investigating this and that, the reports (upon which action was seldom taken) provide the best evidence of the appalling indifference of the colonial regimes to the needs of Africans. In the 1930s, there were riots throughout the West Indies because of the insupportable suffering of the African descendants who were left stranded in those parts after slavery. The Royal Commission investigating the grievances found them so shocking that the full findings were not published during the war, lest they reveal that colonialism was hardly any better than the fascism against which Britain was fighting. It was out of that investigation that the idea of establishing Colonial Development and Welfare (CD & W) was advanced. An act to that effect was passed in 1940, although it was not until 1944 that funds became available for CD & W loans to colonial administrations.
The French also had their counterpart to CD & W in the form of FIDES, set up in 1946. From the earliest days, of colonial expansion, there were two kinds of explanations of motives coming out of the metropoles. One was very frank, and appealed to the various Chambers of Commerce in European towns. It said simply that Europeans were in the colonial game because it was damn profitable, and that was that. However, there were other elements who thought it necessary to peddle a line about the welfare of the ‘uncivilised natives’. This was a continuation of earlier justifications of slavery on the grounds that it carried the heathen Africans to Christian lands. As colonialism came under heavy criticism during the last decades, more deliberate efforts were made to whitewash it. Both CD & W and FIDES were part of the public relations propaganda of colonialism, striving to mask and deny its viciousness.
Above all, both FIDES and CD & W were born of post-war conditions in Europe, at the time when Western European capitalist nations were desperately falling back on colonies to save them vis-à-vis Socialism and even from the competition of the U.S.A. Mr. Bevin, a noted labour leader turned traitor to his class and spokesman for British capitalism, made the observation that ‘The other two world Powers, the United States and Soviet Russia, have tremendous resources. If Western Europe is to achieve its balance of payments and to get a world equilibrium, it is essential that (African) resources should be developed, and made available.’ Any close study of the operations of CD & W and FIDES reveals clearly that they had nothing to do with African development but a great deal to do with the welfare of capitalist Europe.
The so-called development funds for Africa went almost exclusively into the building of economic infrastructure and into the provision of certain social services. Of the CD & W grants between 1946 and 1956, less than 1 %, was allocated to industries In the case of FIDES from 1949 to 1953, the corresponding figure was less than 0.50%. Agriculture fared very little better, although that was of course the principal activity in which Africans were engaged. The colonial administration of Nigeria set up a Ten Year Plan, with hopes of borrowing heavily from CD & W funds. In that Plan, the sum of £1,824,000 was voted for agriculture out of a total of £53,000,000. Most of that agricultural grant was to be consumed by constructing an agricultural school and for providing salaries for British ‘experts’.
Other British colonies drew up Ten Year Plans, which had the same deficiencies as the Nigerian one, and indeed they were. all apologies for true economic plans, being nothing else but a series of disjointed projects drawn up by different government departments as extensions to their then existing activities. Thus, the plans could not be expected to break any new ground; and they completely ignored developmental features such as stimulating internal and intra-African trade.
The high proportion of the ‘development’ funds went into the colonies in the form of loans for ports, railways, electric power plants, water works, engineering workshops, warehouses, etc, which were necessary for more efficient exploitation in the long run. In the short run, such construction works provided outlets for European steel, concrete, electrical machinery and railroad rolling-stock. One-fifth of FIDES funds were spent on prestigious public works in Dakar, which suited French industry and employed large numbers of expatriates. Even the schools built under FIDES funds were of unnecessary high cost per unit, because they had to be of the requisite standard to provide job outlets for white expatriates. Incidentally, loans were ‘tied’ in such a way that the money had to be spent on buying materials manufactured in the relevant metropole.
The ‘development’ funds were raised on the European money market by the governments concerned, and in effect the national metropolitan governments were providing their own bankers and financiers with guaranteed profitable outlets for their capital. In 1956, the French government started a scheme which was a blatant form of promoting their own private capitalists while paying lip-service to African development and welfare. The scheme involved the creation of an institution called SDOM — (Financial Societies for the Development of Overseas Territories). SDOM was nothing but an association of private capitalists interested primarily in the oil of North Africa, and having large government subventions to achieve their goals.
There were many tell-tale signs which unmasked the CD & W hoax in the eyes of careful and concerned observers. The Colonial Secretary set up a council to help him in allocation of grants, and it was dominated by really powerful members of the British bourgeoisie, including directors of Barclays Bank. Since the CD & W funds were inadequate even for the hopeless Ten Year Plans of the Colonies, the British’ government then encouraged the colonial administrations to borrow the rest of their finances on the open money market. That was another way of ensuring that African labour and resources dispatched surplus to greedy European money-changers.
Barclays Bank was one of the first to seize the opportunity of lending to colonial regimes to supplement the CD & W grants. That bank set up a special Overseas Development Corporation to ‘assist’ Africa, the chairman of the bank assuring all that ‘the development of the colonial empire and the well being of its inhabitants is a matter that concerns every citizen of (Britain).’ That was the language of public relations, which fitted in very well with the sordid hypocrisy practised by white men ever since they started killing and enslaving in the name of civilisation and Christianity.
As part of the hypocrisy of colonialism, it became fashionable to speak of how Europe brought Africa into the 20th century. This assertion has implications in the socio-economic and political spheres; and it can be shown to be false not in some but in all respects.
So often it is said that colonialism modernised Africa by introducing the dynamic features of capitalism, such as Private property in land, private ownership of the other means of production, and money relations. Here it is essential to distinguish between capitalist elements and capitalism as a total social system. Colonialism introduced some elements of capitalism into Africa. In general terms, where communalism came into contact with the money economy, the latter imposed itself. Cash-crop farming and wage labour led away from the extended family as the basis of production and distribution.
One South African saying put forward that ‘the white man has no kin, his kin is money’. That is a profound revelation of the difference between capitalist and pre-capitalist societies; and when capitalism came into contact with the still largely communal African societies, it introduced money relations at the expense of kinship ties. However, colonialism did not transform Africa into a capitalist society comparable to the metropoles. Had it done that, one might have complained of the brutalities and inequalities of capitalism, but could not then have been said that colonialism failed to advance Africa along the path of human historical development.
Capitalism as a system within the metropoles or epicentres had two dominant classes: firstly, the capitalists or bourgeoisie who owned the factories and banks (the major means for producing and distributing wealth); and secondly, the workers or proletariat who worked in the factories of the said bourgeoisie. Colonialism did not create a capital-owning and factory-owning class among Africans or even inside Africa; nor did it create an urbanised proletariat of any significance (particularly outside of South Africa). In other words, capitalism in the form of colonialism failed to perform in Africa the tasks which it had performed in Europe in changing social relations and liberating the forces of production.
It is fairly obvious that capitalists do not set out to create other capitalists, who would be rivals. On the contrary, the tendency of capitalism in Europe from the very beginning was one of competition, elimination and monopoly. Therefore, when the imperialist stage was reached, the metropolitan capitalists had no intention of allowing rivals to arise in the dependencies. However, in spite of what the metropoles wanted, some local capitalists did emerge in Asia and Latin America. Africa is a significant exception in the sense that, compared with other colonised peoples, far fewer Africans had access even to the middle rungs of the bourgeois ladder in terms of capital for investment.
Part of the explanation for the lack of African capitalists in Africa lies in the arrival of minority groups who had no local family ties which could stand in the way of the ruthless primary accumulation which capitalism requires. Lebanese, Syrian, Greek and Indian businessmen rose from the ranks of petty traders to become minor and sometimes substantial capitalists. Names like Raccah and Leventis were well-known in West Africa, just as names like Madhvani and Visram became well known as capitalists in East Africa.
There were clashes between the middlemen and the European colonialists, but the latter much preferred to encourage the minorities rather than see Africans build themselves up. For instance, in West Africa the businessmen from Sierra Leone were discouraged both in their own colony and in other British possessions where they chose to settle. In East Africa, there was hope among Ugandans in particular that they might acquire ginneries and perform some capitalist functions connected with cotton-growing and other activities. However, when in 1920 a Development Commission was appointed to promote commerce and industry, it favoured firstly Europeans and then Indians. Africans were prohibited by legislation from owning ginneries.
Taking Africa as a whole, the few African businessmen who were allowed to emerge were at the bottom of the ladder and cannot be considered as ‘capitalists’ in the true sense. They did not own sufficient capital to invest in large-scale farming, trading, mining or industry. They were dependent both on European-owned capital and on the local capital of minority groups.
That European capitalism should have failed to create African capitalists is perhaps not as striking as its inability to create a working class and to diffuse industrial skills throughout Africa. By its very nature, colonialism was prejudiced against the establishment of industries in Africa, outside of agriculture and the extractive spheres of mining and timber felling. Whenever internal forces seemed to push in the direction of African industrialisation, they were deliberately blocked by the colonial governments acting on behalf of the metropolitan industrialists. Groundnut-oil mills were set up in Senegal in 1927 and began exports to France. They were soon placed under restrictions because of protests of oil-millers in France. Similarly in Nigeria, the oil mills set up by Lebanese were discouraged. The oil was still sent to Europe as a raw material for industry, but European industrialists did not then welcome even the simple stage of processing groundnuts into oil on African soil.
Many irrational contradictions arose throughout colonial Africa as a result of the non-industrialisation policy: Sudanese and Ugandans grew cotton but imported manufactured cotton goods, Ivory Coast grew cocoa and imported tinned cocoa and chocolate, etc.
The tiny working class of colonial Africa covered jobs such as agricultural labour and domestic service. Most of it was unskilled, in contrast to the accumulating skills of capitalism proper. When it came to projects requiring technical expertise, Europeans did the supervision — standing around in their helmets and white shorts. Of course, in 1885 Africans did not have the technical know-how which had evolved in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. That difference was itself partly due to the kind of relations between Africa and Europe in the pre-colonial period. What is more significant, however, is the incredibly small number of Africans who were able to acquire ‘modern’ skills during the colonial period. In a few places, such as South Africa and the Rhodesias, this was due to specific racial discrimination in employment, so as to keep the best jobs for whites. Yet, even in the absence of whites, lack of skills among Africans was an integral part of the capitalist impact on the continent.
It has already been illustrated how the presence of industry in Europe fostered and multiplied scientific techniques. The reserve side of the coin was presented in Africa: no industry meant no generation of skills. Even in the mining industry, it was arranged that the most valuable labour should be done outside Africa. It is sometimes forgotten that it is labour which adds value to commodities through the transformation of natural products. For instance, although gem diamonds have a value far above their practical usefulness, the value is not simply a question of their being rare. Work had to be done to locate the diamonds. That is the skilled task of a geologist, and the geologists were of course Europeans. Work had to be done to dig the diamonds out, which involves mainly physical labour. Only in that phase were Africans from South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Tanganyika and Sierra Leone brought into the picture. Subsequently, work had to be done in cutting and polishing the diamonds. A small portion of this was performed by whites in South Africa, and most of it by whites in Brussels and London. It was on the desk of the skilled cutter that the rough diamond became a gem and soared in value. No Africans were allowed to come near that kind of technique in the colonial period.
Much of the dynamism of capitalism ¡ay in the way that growth created more opportunities for further growth. Major industries had by-products, they stimulated local raw material usage, they expanded transport and the building industry, etc-as was seen in the case of Unilever. In the words of the professional economists, those were the beneficial ‘backward and forward linkages’. Given that the industries using African raw materials were located outside of Africa, then there could be no beneficial backward and forward linkages inside Africa. After the second world war, Guinea began to export bauxite. In the hands of French and American capitalists, the bauxite became aluminium. In the metropoles, it went into the making of refractory material, electrical conductors, cigarette foil, kitchen utensils, glass, jewel bearings, abrasives, light-weight structures and aircraft. Guinean bauxite stimulated European shipping and North American hydroelectric power. In Guinea, the colonial bauxite mining left holes in the ground.
With regard to gold, the financial implications in Europe were enormous, and African gold played its part in the development of the monetary system and of industry and agriculture in the metropoles. But, like bauxite and other minerals, gold is an exhaustible resource. Once it is taken out of a country’s soil, that is an absolute loss that cannot be replaced. That simple fact is often obscured so long as production continues, as in South Africa; but it is dramatically brought to attention when the minerals actually disappeared during the colonial epoch. For instance, in the south of Tanganyika, the British mined gold as fast as they could from 1933 onwards at a place called Chunya. By 1953, they had gobbled it all up and exported it abroad. By the end of the colonial period, Chunya was one of the most backward spots in the whole of Tanganyika, which was itself known as the poor Cinderella of East Africa. If that was modernisation, and given the price paid in exploitation and oppression, then Africans would have been better off in the bush.
Industrialisation does not only mean factories. Agriculture itself has been industrialised in capitalist and socialist countries by the intensive application of scientific principles to irrigation, fertilizers, tools, crop selection, stock breeding, etc. The most decisive failure of colonialism in Africa was as failure to change the technology of agricultural production. The most convincing evidence as to the superficiality of the talk about colonialism having ‘modernised’ Africa is the fact that the vast majority of Africans went into colonialism with a hoe and carne out with a hoe. Some capitalist plantations introduced agricultural machinery, and the odd tractor round its way into the hands of African farmers; but the hoe remained the overwhelmingly dominant agricultural implement. Capitalism could revolutionise agriculture in Europe, but it could not do the same for Africa.
In some districts, capitalism brought about technological backwardness in agriculture. On the reserves of Southern Africa, far too many Africans were crowded on to inadequate land, and were forced to engage in intensive farming, using techniques that were suitable only to shifting cultivation. In practice, that was a form of technical retrogression, because the land yielded less and less and became destroyed in the process. Wherever Africans were hampered in their use of their ancestral lands on a wide-ranging shifting basis, the same negative effect was to be found. Besides, some of the new cash-crops like groundnuts and cotton were very demanding on the soil. In countries like Senegal, Niger and Chad, which were already on the edge of the desert, the steady cultivation led to soil impoverishment and encroachment of the desert.
White racist notions are so deep-rooted within capitalist society that the failure of African agriculture to advance was put down to the inherent inferiority of the African. It would be much truer to say that it was due to the white intruders, although the basic explanation is to be found not in the personal ill-will of the colonialists or in their racial origin, but rather in the organised viciousness of the capitalist/ colonialist system.
Failure to improve agricultural tools and methods on behalf of African peasants was not a matter of a bad decision by colonial policy makers. It was an inescapable feature of colonialism as a whole, based on the understanding that the international division of labour aimed at skills in the metropoles and low-level manpower in the dependencies. It was also a result of the considerable use of force (including taxation) in African labour relations. People can be forced to perform simple manual labour, but very little else. This was proven when Africans were used as slaves in the West Indies and America. Slaves damaged tools and carried out sabotage, which could only be controlled by extra supervision and by keeping tools and productive processes very elementary. Slave labour was unsuitable for carrying out industrial activity, so that in the U.S.A. the North went to war in 1861 to end slavery in the South, so as to spread true capitalist relations throughout the land. Following the same line of argument, it becomes clear why the various forms of forced agricultural labour in Africa had to be kept quite simple, and that in turn meant small earnings.
Capitalists under colonialism did not pay for an African to maintain himself and family. This can readily be realised by reflecting on the amounts of money earned by African peasants from cash-crops. The sale of produce by an African cash-crop farmer rarely brought in 200/- per year and often it was less than half that amount. Out of that, a peasant had to pay for tools, seeds and transport and he had to repay the loan to the middleman before he could call the remainder his own. Peasants producing coffee and cocoa and collecting palm produce tended to earn more than those dealing with cotton and groundnuts, but even the ordinary Akwapim cocoa farmer or Chagga coffee farmer never handled money in quantities sufficient to feed, clothe and shelter his family. Instead, subsistence farming of yams or bananas continued as a supplement. That was how the peasant managed to eat, and the few shillings earned went to pay taxes and to buy the increasing number of things which could not be obtained without money in the middlemen’s shops — salt, cloth, paraffin, etc. If they were extremely lucky, they would have access to zinc sheets, bicycles, radios, and sewing machines, and would be able to pay school fees. It must be made quite clear that those in the last category were extremely few.
One reason why the African peasant got so little for his agricultural crops was that his labour was unskilled. That was not the whole explanation, but it is true that a product such as cotton jumped in value from the time that it went through the sophisticated processes of manufacture in Europe. Karl Marx, in clarifying how capitalists appropriated part of the surplus of each worker, used the example of cotton. He explained that the value of the manufactured cotton included the value of the labour that went into growing the raw cotton, plus part of the value of the labour that made the spindles, plus the labour that went into the actual manufacture. From an African viewpoint, the first conclusion to be drawn is that the peasant working on African soil was being exploited by the industrialist who used African raw material in Europe or America. Secondly, it is necessary to realise that the African contribution of unskilled labour was valued far less than the European contribution of skilled labour.
It has been observed that one hour of work of a cotton peasant in Chad was equivalent to less than one centimetre of cotton cloth, and he needed to work 50 days to earn what needed to buy three metres of the cloth made from his own cotton in France. Yet, the French textile worker (using modern spindles) ran off three metres of cloth in a matter of minutes! Assuming that the Frenchman was not closer to God (who made the whole world in only six days and rested on the seventh), then there must be factors in the capitalist/colonialist system which permitted the great disparity in the relative value of labour in Chad and France. In the first the Chad peasant was defrauded through trade so that he sold cheap and bought dear, and therefore received a minute proportion of the value that he created with his labour. This was possible not because of mysterious ‘market forces’ as bourgeois economists would like us to believe, but because of political power being vested entirely in the hands of the colonialists. It was a consequence of monopolistic domination, both economically and politically. Secondly, the quantity of time spent by the Chad peasant was longer because colonialism did not permit him to acquire the tools to shorten the hours required to produce a given quantity of raw cotton.
To a certain extent, it would have been in the interests of the colonial powers to have had better agricultural techniques in Africa, leading to increased volume and quality oí production. All colonial regimes sponsored some scientific research into tropical agriculture. However, the research was almost entirely devoted to cash-crops, it was limited in scope, and it was more easily adaptable by plantations rather than African peasants who had no capital. The pitiable amount devoted to agricultural improvement in Africa during the colonial period contrasts sharply with the increasingly huge sums that were devoted to research in Europe over the same period — with enormous benefits to both industry and agriculture in the metropoles.
Side by side with the ill-founded claims about socio-economic modernisation went the claims by colonial apologists that European rule brought political upliftment and emancipation. One of the long-standing arguments in this connection is that Africa was in chaos in the 19th century, and that ‘tribes’ like the Ngoni and the Yao and Samori’s sofas were killing left, right and centre. Consequently, Africa was saved by Livingstone and Stanley. For the most part, such wild statements have no place in the works of the present generation of European scholars of Africa, since they are known to have no resemblance to reality. However, some writers still preach that ‘the Bantu could be saved from the wasting struggles and from their general economic and technical backwardness only by the imposition of stable (European) government’.
Another supposed credit of the colonialists is that they developed nationalism in Africa. That is a superficial and mischievous claim, which entirely ignores the numerous states in Africa on the eve of colonisation, and the direction of their evolution. Nationalism is a certain form of unity which grows out oí historical experience. It is a sense of oneness that emerges from social groups trying to control their environment and to defend their gains against competing groups. The nation state also imposes order and maintains stability within its own boundaries, usually on behalf of a given class. All of those characteristics were present in 19th century African states, some of which were much larger than the colonies arbitrarily defined by Europeans.
It is true that the present African nationalism took the particular form of adopting the boundaries carved by the imperialists. That was an inevitable consequence of the fact that the struggle to regain African independence was conditioned by the administrative framework of the given colonies. But it would show crass ignorance of the African past to say that colonialism modernised Africa politically through nation states, especially when the implication is that such a level of political organisation and stability would otherwise have been impossible.
One colonialist proposition that has at least an air of plausibility is that capitalism and colonial rule meant greater individual freedom for many Africans. Young men earning wages or individuals farming for cash became independent of the corporate demands of their families. It is debatable to what extent that was a worthwhile phenomenon, but it could be said to be somewhat comparable to the way in which capitalism freed the individual in Europe from the restrictions of feudal society and from such bonds as those imposed by morally self-righteous people. Nevertheless, when any given African did break from what were proving to be onerous extended family obligations, what freedom did he acquire? His choice of alternatives were narrowly dictated by the colonialists, and he was only ‘free’ to participate in the money economy and in the European-oriented cultural sector at the very lowest and uncreative levels.
There is a more sympathetic school of historians of Africa who contend that to see colonialism as completely negative is to underrate the initiative of Africans. Africans, they say, moved boldly into the labour market, into cash-crop farming, into commerce in some instances, into the educational field and into the churches. Yet, those were simply responses (albeit vigorous ones) to the options laid open by the colonialists. True historical initiative by a whole people or by individuals requires that they have the power to decide on the direction in which they want to move. That latter aspect had to await the decade of the 1960s.
Within any social system, the oppressed find some room to manoeuvre through their own initiative. For instance, under the slave regime of America and the West Indies, Africans found ways and means of gaining small advantages. They would flatter and ‘con’ the slavemasters, who were so arrogant and bigoted that they were readily fooled. Similarly, under colonialism many Africans played the game to secure what they could. Africans in positions like interpreters, police and court officials often had their way over the ruling Europeans. However, that should not be mistaken for power or political participation or the exercise of individual freedom. Under slavery, power lay in the hands of the slavemasters: under colonialism, power ¡ay in the hands of the colonialists. The loss of power for the various African states meant a reduction in the freedom of every individual.
Colonialism was a negation of freedom from the viewpoint of the colonised. Even in quantitative terms it could not possibly bring modern political liberation to Africans comparable to the little that had been achieved by capitalism as an improvement on feudalism. In its political aspects, capitalism in the metropoles included constitutions, parliaments, freedom of the press, etc. All of those things were limited in their application to the European working class, but they existed in some form or fashion in the metropoles ever since the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. But Jules Ferry, a former French colonial minister, explained that the French Revolution was not fought on behalf of the blacks of Africa. Bourgeois liberty, equality and fraternity was not for colonial subjects. Africans had to make do with bayonets, riot-acts and gunboats.