Chapter One
Some Questions on Development



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6.2 Negative character of the social, political and economic consequences

The argument so far has been aimed at showing that benefits from colonialism were small and they were not gifts from the colonialists. But rather fruits of African labour and resources for the most part. Indeed, what was called ‘the development of Africa’ by the colonialists was a cynical short-hand expression for ‘the intensification of colonial exploitation in Africa to develop capitalist Europe’. The analysis has gone beyond that to demonstrate that numerous false claims are made purporting to show that Europe developed Africa in the sense of bringing about social order, nationalism and economic modernisation. However, all of that would still not permit the conclusion that colonialism had a negative impact on Africa’s development. In offering the view that colonialism was negative, the aim is to draw attention to the way that previous African development was blunted, halted and turned back. In place of that interruption and blockade, nothing of compensatory value was introduced.

The colonisation of Africa lasted for just over 70 years in most parts of the continent. That is an extremely short period within the context of universal historical development. Yet, it was precisely in those years that in other parts of the world the rate of change was greater than ever before. As has been illustrated, capitalist countries revolutionised their technology to enter the nuclear age. Meanwhile, Socialism was inaugurated, lifting semi-feudal semi-capitalist Russia to a level of sustained economic growth higher than that ever experienced in a capitalist country. Socialism did the same for China and North Korea — guaranteeing the well/being and independence of the state as well as re-organising the internal social arrangements in a far more just manner than ever before. It is against those decisive changes that events in Africa have to be measured. To mark time or even to move slowly while others leap ahead is virtually equivalent to going backwards. Certainly, in relative terms, Africa’s position vis-à-vis its colonisers became more disadvantageous in the political, economic and military spheres.

The decisiveness of the short period of colonialism and as negative consequences for Africa spring mainly from the fact that Africa lost power. Power is the ultimate determinant in human society, being basic to the relations within any group and between groups. It implies the ability to defend one’s interests and if necessary to impose one’s will by any means available. In relations between peoples, the question of power determines manoeuvrability in bargaining, the extent to which one people respect the interests of another, and eventually the extent to which a people survive as a physical and cultural entity. When one society finds itself forced to relinquish power entirely to another society that n itself is a form of underdevelopment.

During the centuries of pre-colonial trade, some control over social political and economic life was retained in Africa, in spite of the disadvantageous commerce with Europeans. That little control over internal matters disappeared under colonialism. Colonialism went much further than trade. It meant a tendency towards direct appropriation by Europeans of the social institutions within Africa. Africans ceased to set indigenous cultural goals and standards, and lost full command of training young members of the society. Those were undoubtedly major steps backwards.

The Tunisian, Albert Memmi, puts forward the following proposition:

The most serious blow suffered by the colonised is being removed from history and from the community. Colonisation usurps any free role in either war or peace, every decision contributing to his destiny and that of the world, and all cultural and social responsibility.

Sweeping as that statement may initially appear, it is entirely true. The removal from history follows logically from the loss of power which colonialism represented. The power to act independently is the guarantee to participate actively and consciously in history. To be colonised is to be removed from history, except in the most passive sense. A striking illustration of the fact that colonial Africa was a passive object is seen in its attraction for white anthropologists, who came to study ‘primitive society’. Colonialism determined that Africans were no more makers of history than were beetles objects to be looked at under a microscope and examined for unusual features.

The negative impact of colonialism in political terms was quite dramatic. Overnight, African political states lost their power, independence and meaning — irrespective of whether they were big empires or small polities. Certain traditional rulers were kept in office, and the formal structure of some kingdoms was partially retained, but the substance of political life was quite different. Political power had passed into the hands of foreign overlords. Of course, numerous African states in previous centuries had passed through the cycle of growth and decline. But colonial rule was different. So long as it lasted, not a single African state could flourish.

To be specific, it must be noted that colonialism crushed by force the surviving feudal states of North Africa; that the French wiped out the large Muslim states of the Western Sudan, as well as Dahomey and kingdoms in Madagascar; that the British eliminated Egypt, the Mahdist Sudan, Asante, Benin, the Yoruba kingdoms. Swaziland, Matabeleland, the Lozi and the East African Lake kingdoms as great states. It should further be noted that a multiplicity of smaller and growing states were removed from the face of Africa by the Belgians, Portuguese, British, French, Germans, Spaniards and Italians. Finally, those that appeared to survive were nothing but puppet creations. For instance, the Sultan of Morocco retained nominal existence under colonial rule which started in 1912; and the same applied to the Bey of Tunis; but Morocco and Tunisia were just as much under the power of French colonial administrators as neighbouring Algeria, where the feudal rulers were removed altogether.

Sometimes, the African rulers who were chosen to serve as agents of foreign colonial rule were quite obviously nothing but puppets. The French and the Portuguese were in the habit of choosing their own African ‘chiefs'; the British went to Iboland and invented ‘warrant chiefs'; and all the colonial powers found it convenient to create ‘superior’ or ‘paramount’ rulers. Very often, the local population hated and despised such colonial stooges. There were traditional rulers such as the Sultan of Sokoto, the Kabaka of Buganda and the Asantehene of Asante, who retained a great deal of prestige in the eyes of Africans, but they had no power to act outside the narrow boundaries laid down by colonialism, lest they find themselves in the Seychelles Islands as ‘guests of His Majesty’s Government’.

One can go so far as to say that colonial rule meant the effective eradication of African political power throughout the continent, since Liberia and Ethiopia could no longer function as independent states within the context of continent-wide colonialism. Liberia in particular had to bow before foreign political, economic and military pressures in a way that no genuinely independent state could have accepted; and although Ethiopia held firm until 1936, most European capitalist nations were not inclined to treat Ethiopia as a sovereign state, primarily because it was African, and Africans were supposed to be colonial subjects.

The pattern of arrest of African political development has some features which can only be appreciated after careful scrutiny and the taking away of the blinkers which the colonisers put on the eyes of their subjects. An interesting case in point is that of women’s role in society. Until today, capitalist society has failed to resolve the inequality between man and woman, which was entrenched in all modes of production prior to socialism. The colonialists in Africa occasionally paid lip-service to women’s education and emancipation, but objectively there was deterioration in the status of women owing to colonial rule.

A realistic assessment of the role of women in independent pre-colonial Africa shows two contrasting but combined tendencies. In the first place, women were exploited by men through polygamous arrangements designed to capture the labour power of women. As always, exploitation was accompanied by oppression; and there is evidence to the effect that women were-sometimes treated like beasts of burden, as for instance in Muslim African societies. Nevertheless, there was a counter tendency to ensure the dignity of women to greater or lesser degree in all African societies. Mother-right was a prevalent feature of African societies, and particular women held a variety of privileges based on the fact that they were the keys to inheritance.

More important still, some women had real power in the political sense, exercised either through religion or directly within the politico-constitutional apparatus. In Mozambique, the widow of an Nguni king became the priestess in charge of the shrine set up in the burial place of her deceased husband, and the reigning king had to consult her on all important matters. In a few instances, women were actually heads of state. Among the Lovedu of Transvaal, the key figure was the Rain-Queen, combining political and religious functions. The most frequently encountered role of importance played by women was that of ‘Queen Mother’ or ‘Queen Sister’. In practice, that post was filled by a female of royal blood, who might be mother, sister or aunt of the reigning king in places such as Mali, Asante and Buganda. Her influence was considerable, and there were occasions when the ‘Queen Mother’ was the real power and the male king a mere puppet.

What happened to African women under colonialism is that the social, religious, constitutional and political privileges and rights disappeared, while the economic exploitation continued and was often intensified. It was intensified because the division of labour according to sex was frequently disrupted. Traditionally, African men did the heavy labour of felling trees, clearing land, building houses, etc., apart from conducting warfare and hunting. When they were required to leave their farms to seek employment, women remained behind burdened with every task necessary for the survival of themselves, the children and even the men as far as foodstuffs were concerned. Moreover, since men entered the money sector more easily and in greater numbers than women, women’s work became greatly inferior to that of men within the new value system of colonialism: men’s work was ‘modern’ and women’s was ‘traditional’ and ‘backward’. Therefore, the deterioration in the status of African women was bound up with the loss of political power by African society as a whole and with the consequent loss of the right to set indigenous standards of what work had merit and what did not.

One of the most important manifestations of historical arrest and stagnation in colonial Africa is that which commonly goes under the title of ‘tribalism’. That term, in its common journalistic setting, is understood to mean that Africans have a basic loyalty to tribe rather than nation and that each tribe still retains a fundamental hostility towards its neighbouring tribes. The examples favoured by the capitalist press and bourgeois scholarship are those of Congo and Nigeria. Their accounts suggest that Europeans tried to make a nation out of the Congolese and Nigerian peoples, but they failed, because the various tribes had their age long hatreds; and, as soon as the colonial power went, the natives returned to killing each other. To this phenomenon, Europeans often attach the word atavism, to carry the notion that Africans were returning to their primitive savagery. Even a cursory survey of the African past shows that such assertions are the exact opposite of the truth.

It is necessary to discuss briefly what comprises a ‘tribe’ — a term that has been avoided in this analysis, partly because it usually carries derogatory connotations and partly because of its vagueness and the loose ways in which it is employed in the literature on Africa. Following the principle of family living, Africans were organised in groups which had common ancestors. Theoretically, the ‘tribe’ was the largest group of people claiming descent from a common ancestor at some time in the remote past. Generally, such a group could therefore be said to be of the same ethnic stock, and their language would have a great deal in common. Beyond that, members of a ‘tribe’ were seldom all members of the same political unit and very seldom indeed did they all share a common social purpose in terms of activities such as trade and warfare. Instead, African states were sometimes based entirely on part of the members of a given ethnic group or (more usually) on an amalgamation of members of different ethnic communities.

All of the large states of 19th-century Africa were multiethnic, and their expansion was continually making anything like ‘tribal’ loyalty a thing of the past, by substituting in its place national and class ties. However, in all parts of the world that substitution of national and class ties for purely ethnic ones is a lengthy historical process; and, invariably there remains for long periods certain regional pockets of individuals who have their own narrow regional loyalties, springing from ties of kinship, language and culture. In Asia, the feudal states of Vietnam and Burma both achieved a considerable degree of national homogeneity over the centuries before colonial rule. But there were pockets of ‘tribes’ or ‘minorities’ who remained outside the effective sphere of the nation state and the national economy and culture.

In the first place, colonialism blocked the further evolution of national solidarity, because it destroyed the particular Asian or African states which were the principal agents for achieving the liquidation of fragmented loyalties. In the second place, because ethnic and regional loyalties which go under the name of ‘tribalism’ could not be effectively resolved by the colonial state, they tended to fester and grow in unhealthy forms. Indeed, the colonial powers sometimes saw the value of stimulating the internal ‘tribal’ jealousies so as to keep the colonised from dealing with their principal contradiction with the European overlords — i.e., the classic technique of divide and rule. Certainly, the Belgians consciously fostered that; and the racist whites in South Africa had by the 1950s worked out a careful plan to ‘develop’ the oppressed African population as Zulu, as Xhosa and as Sotho so that the march towards broader African national and class solidarities could be stopped and turned back.

The civil war in Nigeria is generally regarded as having been a tribal affair. To accept such a contention would mean extending the definition of tribe to cover Shell Oil and Gulf Oil! But, quite apart from that, it must be pointed out that nowhere in the history of pre-colonial independent Nigeria can anyone point to the massacre of Ibos by Hausas or any incident which suggests that people up to the 19th century were fighting each other because of ethnic origin. Of course there were wars, but they had a rational basis in trade rivalry, religious contentions, and the clashes of political expansion. What came to be called tribalism at the beginning of the new epoch of political independence in Nigeria was itself a product of the way that people were brought together under colonialism so as to be exploited. It was a product of administrative devices, of entrenched regional separations, of differential access by particular ethnic groups into the colonial economy and culture.

Both Uganda and Kenya in East Africa are also situations in which a supposedly tribal factor continued to be pre-eminent. There is no doubt that the existence of the Buganda kingdom within independent Uganda posed certain problems. But, even after mis-applying the definition of a tribe to the Baganda, it still remains true that the Buganda problem was a colonial problem. It was created by the presence of the missionaries and the British, by the British (Mailo) land settlement in Uganda in 1900, and by the use which Britain made of the Baganda ruling class as ‘sub-imperialists’ within the colony of Uganda.

In Kenya, the pattern of colonialism was different from that in Uganda, because of the presence of white settlers. No African group was allowed any power in the capacity of NCOs for the Colonial Office, since the white settlers themselves filled the role. The white settlers took the best land and then tried to create a new world with African labour. However, the African community which lay outside the immediate white settler sector was regulated along tribal lines. One of the numerous Royal Commissions of British colonialism published a report on Kenya in 1934. A contemporary Kenyan historian commented on that report as follows:

The Commission’s recommendations, which were accepted by the British government, implied that Kenya was to be partitioned into two racial blocks, African and European. And in the African sector, all economic, social and political developments were to be conducted on tribal lines. Racialism thus became institutionalised.

Human activity within small groups connected only by kinship relations (such as the tribe) is a very transient phase through which all continents passed in the phase of communalism. When it ceased to be transient and became institutionalised in Africa, that was because colonialism interrupted African development. That is what is implied in Memmi’s reference to Africans being removed from history. Revolutionary African thinkers such as Franz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral expressed the same sentiments somewhat differently when they spoke of colonialism having made Africans into objects of history. Colonised Africans, like pre-colonial African chattel slaves, were pushed around into positions which suited European interests and which were damaging to the African continent and its peoples. In continuation, some further socio-economic implications of that situation will be examined.

Pre-colonial trade had started the trend of the disintegration of African economies and their technological impoverishment. Colonial rule speeded up that trend. The story is often told that in order to make a telephone call from Accra in the British colony of the Gold Coast to Abidjan in the adjacent French colony of Ivory Coast it was necessary to be connected first with an operator in London and then with an operator in Paris who could offer a line to Abidjan. That was one reflection of the fact that the Gold Coast economy was integrated into the British economy, and the Ivory Coast economy was integrated into the French economy, while the neighbouring African colonies had little or no effective economic relations. The following conclusion reached by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in 1959 goes directly to the point.

The most outstanding characteristic of the transportation systems of Africa is the comparative isolation in which they have developed within the confines of individual countries and territories. This is reflected in the lack of links between countries and territories within the same geographical sub-region.

Some African trade did persist across colonial boundaries. For instance, the centuries-old trade in kola nuts and gold from the forests of West Africa to North Africa never completely ceased. Besides, new forms of African trade developed, notably with regard to supplying foodstuffs to towns or cash-crop areas where there was insufficiency of food. That kind of trade could be entirely within a colony or it could cross colonial boundaries. However, the sum total of energy that went into expansion of inter-African trade was extremely small in comparison with trade that was export-oriented. Since this inter-African trade did not bring benefits to Europeans it was not encouraged by them, and up to the latter part of the colonial period only 10% of Africa’s trade was internal.

It is also worth noting that Africa was denied the opportunity of developing healthy trade links with parts of the world other than Europe and North America. Some trade persisted across the Indian Ocean, but on the whole it is fair to say that the roads in Africa led to the sea-ports and the sea-lanes led to Western Europe and North America. That kind of lop-sidedness is today part of the pattern of underdevelopment and dependence.

The damaging impact of capitalism on African technology is even more clearly measurable in the colonial period than in the earlier centuries. In spite of the slave trade and of the import of European goods> most African handicraft industries still had vitality at the start of the colonial period. They had undergone no technological advance and they had not expanded, but they had survived. The mass-production of the more recent phase of capitalism virtually obliterated African industries such as cloth, salt, soap, iron and even pottery making.

In North Africa, handicraft industries had made the greatest advances before colonialism, in spheres ranging from brass work to woollens. As in the towns of feudal Europe, craft workshops flourished in Algerian towns like Oran, Constantine, Algiers and Tlemcen. But French colonialism destroyed the handicraft industries and threw thousands out of work. The same thing had happened in Europe itself when new machines had thrown artisans out of employment in places like Lancashire and Lyons, but in that instance the new machines became the basis of the prevailing mode of production, and formerly independent artisans returned to factories as proletarians to master different skills and expand the productive capacity of their society. In Africa it was simply destruction without redress. By the time that political independence was achieved, surviving craftsmanship had been turned towards attracting tourists rather than meeting the real needs of African people.

Besides, as was true of the European slave trade, the destruction of technology under colonialism must be related to the barriers raised in the path of African initiative. The vast majority of Africans drawn into the colonial money economy were simply providing manual labour, which stimulated perspiration rather than scientific initiative. Africans connected to the trading sector were sometimes successful in a limited way. The resourcefulness of West African market women is well known, but it was put to petty purposes. The problem posed to capitalists and workers in Europe while making insecticide from African pyrethrum was one requiring that resourcefulness be expressed in a technical direction. But the problem posed to an African market woman by the necessity to make a penny more profit on every tin of imported sardines was resolved sometimes by a little more vigour, sometimes by a touch of dishonesty, and sometimes by resort to ‘juju’.

Colonialism induced the African ironworker to abandon the process of extracting iron from the soil and to concentrate instead on working scraps of metal imported from Europe. The only compensation for that interruption would have been the provision of modern techniques in the extraction and processing of iron. However, those techniques were debarred from Africa, on the basis of the international division of labour under imperialism. As was seen earlier, the non-industrialisation of Africa was not left to chance. It was deliberately enforced by stopping the transference to Africa of machinery and skills which would have given competition to European industry in that epoch.

In the period of African development preceding colonialism, some areas moved faster than others and provided the nuclei for growth on a wide regional basis. Northern Nigeria was one of those; and it virtually went to sleep during the colonial period. The British cut it off from the rest of the Muslim world and fossilised the social relations, so that the serfs could not achieve any change at the expense of the ruling aristocracy.

On every continent and within nation states, some features of growth were always more outstanding than others, and thereby offered a lead to the rest of the society. The towns played that role in late feudal European society, while the electrical industry was an example of a similar impetus for development in metropolitan capitalist society in the first decades of this century. Colonialism provided Africa with no real growth points. For instance, a colonial town in Africa was essentially a centre of administration rather than industry. Towns did attract large numbers of Africans, but only to offer them a very unstable life based on unskilled and irregular employment. European towns had slums, but the squalor of towns in underdeveloped countries is a special phenomenon. It was a consequence of the inability of those towns to play the role of expanding the productive base. Fortunately, Africa was never as badly off in this respect as Asia and Latin America.

Instead of speeding up growth, colonial activities such as mining land cash-crop farming speeded up the decay of ‘traditional’ African life. In many parts of the continent, vital aspects of culture were adversely affected, nothing better was substituted, and only a lifeless shell was left. The capitalist forces behind colonialism were interested in little more than the exploitation of labour. Even areas that were not directly involved in the money economy exported labour. In extracting that labour, they tampered with the factor that was the very buttress of the society, for African ‘traditional’ life when deprived of its customary labour force and patterns of work was no longer ‘traditional’.

During the colonial era, many thinly-populated villages appeared in central and southern Africa, comprising women, children and old men. They practised subsistence agriculture which was not productive enough, and colonialists contrasted them with cash-crop areas, which in comparison were flourishing. However, it was precisely the impact of colonialism which left so many villages deserted and starving, because the able-bodied males had gone off to labour elsewhere. Any district deprived of its effective labouring population could not be expected to develop.

There were several spots within different colonies which were sufficiently far removed from towns and colonial administration that they neither grew cash-crops nor supplied labour. In Southern Sudan, for instance, there were populations who continued to live a life not dissimilar to that which they had followed in previous centuries. Yet, even for such traditional African societies the scope for development no longer existed. They were isolated by the hold which the colonialists had on the rest of the continent. They could not interact with other parts of Africa. They were subject to increasing encroachment by the money economy and were more and more to be regarded as historical relics. The classic example of this type of obstructed historical development is to be found in the U.S.A., where the indigenous population of ('Red’) Indians who survived slaughter by the whites were placed in reservations and condemned to stagnation. Indian reservations in North America are living museums to be visited by white tourists who purchase curios.

In South Africa and Rhodesia, the policy of establishing ‘native reserves’ was openly followed. Inside a reserve, the major means of production was the land. But the quantity and fertility of the land allocated was entirely inadequate to support the numbers of Africans who were driven in. The reserves were reservoirs of cheap labour, and dumping grounds for those who could not be accommodated within the money economy of the racist southern section of Africa. Further north, there were no areas named as ‘reserves’, except ir, colonial Kenya and to a very limited extent in Tanganyika. But the money economy was constantly transforming the traditional sector into one which was just as deprived as any reserve.

The money economy of colonialism was a growing sector. That is not to be denied. However, it has already been indicated how limited that growth was, viewed over the continent as a whole. The growth in the so-called modern sector exercised adverse effects on the non-monetary sector. What remains is to emphasise that the character of growth in Africa under colonialism was such that it did not constitute development — i.e., it did not enlarge the capacity of the society to deal with the natural environment, to adjudicate relations between members of the society, and to protect the population from external forces. Such a statement is already implicitly borne out in the inability of capitalism to stimulate skilled labour in colonial Africa. A system which must stand in the way of the accumulation of skills does not develop anything or anybody. It is implicit too in the manner in which Africa was cut into economic compartments having no relation one to another, so that, even though the volume of commercial activity within each compartmentalised colony may have increased, there was no development comparable to that which linked together the various states of the U.S.A.

In recent times, economists have been recognising in colonial and post-colonial Africa a pattern that has been termed ‘growth without development’. That phrase has now appeared as the title of books on Liberia and Ivory Coast. It means that goods and services of a certain type are on the increase. There may be more rubber and coffee exported, there may be more cars imported with the proceeds, and there may be more petrol stations built to service the cars. But the profit goes abroad, and the economy becomes more and more a dependency of the metropoles. In no African colony was there economic integration, or any provision for making the economy self-sustained and geared to its own local goals. Therefore, there was growth of the so-called ‘enclave’ import/export sector, but the only things which developed were dependency and underdevelopment.

A further revelation of growth without development under colonialism was the over-dependence on one or two exports. The term ‘monoculture’ is used to describe those colonial economies which were centred around a single crop. Liberia (in the agricultural sector) was a monoculture dependent on rubber, Gold Coast on cocoa, Dahomey and South-east Nigeria on palm produce, Sudan on cotton, Tanganyika on sisal, and Uganda on cotton. In Senegal and Gambia, groundnuts accounted for 85% to 90% of money earnings. In effect, two African colonies were told to grow nothing but peanuts!

Every farming people have a staple food, plus a variety of other supplements. Historians, agronomists, and botanists have all contributed to showing the great variety of such foods within the pre-colonial African economy. There were numerous crops which were domesticated within the African continent, there were several wild food species (notably fruits) and Africans had shown no conservatism in adopting useful food plants of Asian or American origin. Diversified agriculture was within the African tradition. Monoculture was a colonialist invention.

Those who justify the colonial division of labour suggest that it was ‘natural’ and respected the relative capacities for specialisation of the metropoles and colonies. Europe, North America and Japan were capable of specialising in industry and Africa in agriculture. Therefore, it was to the ‘comparative advantage’ of one part of the world to manufacture machines while another part engaged in simple hoe-culture of the soil. That kind of arrogant partition of the world was not new. In the 15th century, the feudal monarchies of Portugal and Spain wanted the whole world for themselves, and they got the Pope to draw a line around the globe, making the allocations. But Britain, Holland and France suggested that they were not at all convinced that Adam had left a will which gave the earth to Portugal and Spain. In like manner, it can be questioned whether there is any testament which stated that the river Gambia should inherit ground-nut growing while the river Clyde (of Scotland) should become a home of shipbuilding.

There was nothing ‘natural’ about monoculture. It was a consequence of imperialist requirements and machinations, extending into areas that were politically independent in name. Monoculture was a characteristic of regions falling under imperialist domination. Certain countries in Latin America such as Costa Rica and Guatemala were forced by United States capitalist firms to concentrate so heavily on growing bananas that they were contemptuously known as ‘banana republics’. In Africa, this concentration on one or two cash-crops for sale abroad had many harmful effects. Sometimes, cash-crops were grown to the exclusion of staple foods — thus causing famines. For instance, in Gambia rice farming was popular before the colonial era, but so much of the best land was transferred to groundnuts that rice had to be imported on a large scale to try and counter the fact that famine was becoming endemic. In Asante, concentration on cocoa raised fears of famine in a region previously famous for yams and other foodstuff.

Yet the threat of famine was a small disadvantage compared to the extreme vulnerability and insecurity of monoculture. When the crop was affected by internal factors such as disease, that amounted to an overwhelming disaster, as in the case of Gold Coast cocoa when it was hit by swollen-shoot disease in the 1940s. Besides, at all times, the price fluctuations (which were externally controlled) left the African producer helpless in the face of capitalist manoeuvres.

From a capitalist viewpoint, monocultures commended themselves most because they made colonial economies entirely dependent on the metropolitan buyers of their produce. At the end of the European slave trade, only a minority of Africans were sufficiently committed to capitalist exchange and sufficiently dependent upon European imports to wish to continue the relationship with Europe at all costs. Colonialism increased the dependence of Africa on Europe in terms of the numbers of persons brought into the money economy and in terms of the number of aspects of socio-economic life in Africa which derived their existence from the connection with the metropole. The ridiculous situation arose by, which European trading firms, mining companies, shipping lines, banks, insurance houses and plantations all exploited Africa and at the same time caused Africans to feel that without those capitalist services no money or European goods would be forthcoming, and therefore Africa was in debt to its exploiters!

The factor of dependency made its impact felt in every aspect of the life of the colonies, and it can be regarded as the crowning vice among the negative social, political and economic consequences of colonialism in Africa, being primarily responsible for the perpetuation of the colonial relationship into the epoch that is called neo-colonialism.

Finally, attention must be drawn to one of the most important consequences of colonialism on African development, and that is the stunting effect on Africans as a physical species. Colonialism created conditions which led not just to periodic famine, but to chronic undernourishment, mal-nutrition and deterioration in the physique of the African people. If such a statement sounds wildly extravagant, it is only because bourgeois propaganda has conditioned even Africans to believe that malnutrition and starvation were the natural lot of Africans from time immemorial. A black child with a transparent rib-case, huge head, bloated stomach, protruding eyes, and twigs as arms and legs was the favourite poster of the large British charitable operation known as Oxfam. The poster represented a case of Kwashiorkor — extreme malignant mulnutrition. Oxfam called upon the people of Europe to save starving African and Asian children from Kwashiorkor and such ills. Oxfam never bothered their consciences by telling them that capitalism and colonialism created the starvation, suffering and misery of the child in the first place.

There is an excellent study of the phenomenon of hunger on a world scale by a Brazilian scientist, Josue de Castro. It incorporates considerable data on the food and health conditions among Africans in their independent pre-colonial state or in societies untouched by capitalist pressures; and it then makes comparisons with colonial conditions. The study convincingly indicates that African diet was previously more varied, being based on a more diversified agriculture than was possible under colonialism. In terms of specific nutritional deficiencies, those Africans who suffered most under colonialism were those who were brought most fully into the colonial economy: namely, the urban workers.

For the sake of the doubters, several of de Castro’s observations are listed below (occasionally supplemented by other data).

  1. Investigators who have studied the nutritional conditions of ‘primitive’ Africans in tropical Africa are unanimous in stating that they show no clinical signs of dietary deficiency. One of the most striking indications of the superiority of indigenous African diet is the magnificent condition of the teeth. One researcher among six ethnic groups in Kenya could not find a single case of tooth decay, not a single deformation of the dental arch. But when those same people were transplanted and put on the ‘civilised’ diet available under colonialism, their teeth began to decay at once.

  2. In Egypt, the peasants or fellahin had always suffered from periodic famines, but under colonialism this deteriorated to become chronic hunger. It was the intervention of the British which upset the balance of the peasants’ diet; and comparison with early accounts shows that there was once a much greater variety of legumes and fruits.

  3. The kwashiorkor (of the Oxfam posters) is itself noticeable wherever the African’s contact with the European was prolonged. A Committee on Nutrition in the Colonial Empire found a noticeable absence of animal fat and protein in the Gambia. The absence of proteins of good quality is one of the principal contributors to kwashiorkor; and once again comparison with what Europeans saw in the Gambia ever since the 15th century would indicate that a change had come about after the coming of the whites. The Gambia not only grew a variety of food in the early period, but it was stock-raising country where meat was consumed in considerable quantity. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, cattle hides were sold by the thousands to European buyers every year, and the local population ate the meat. How then could they have suffered from an absence of animal fat!

  4. Studies in Equatorial Africa have revealed frequent signs of dietary deficiencies caused by the absence of fresh foods among Africans entering the service of the colonisers. These include, beriberi, rickets and scurvy. Rickets is a typical temperate climate disease, to which lack of sun contributes. But after colonialism had so destroyed the pattern of judicious food consumption in tropical Africa, even the sun was not enough to keep children’s bones straight. As for scurvy, that is so closely identified with the English sailor that he was nicknamed ‘Limey’, from eating limes to prevent scurvy while lacking access to fresh food on long sea voyages. However, a scurvy epidemic broke out in the middle of Tanganyika in the colonial epoch-among workers in the goldfields, whose wages and conditions of work did not permit them to get fresh citrus and other nourishment.

  5. In South Africa, white settlement and capitalism transformed African diet from meat and cereal to dependence on mealy-meal (maize). Pellagra or ‘rough skin’ was unknown in South Africa until about 1914. Subsequently, it became a scourge among Africans, because it derives from absence of milk and meat.

  6. An official report on Basutoland (now Lesotho) had this to say: ‘According to residents of long-standing, the physique and health of the Basuto today is not what it used to be. Malnutrition is seen in every village, dispensary, school and recruiting office. Mild scurry and subscorbic conditions are not infrequent; pellagra is becoming more and more frequent and lower resistance to disease increasingly apparent. It is becoming generally accepted, too, that the occurrence of leprosy is associated with faulty diet.’

To clinch the argument that colonialism had a deleterious effect on the African as a physical (and hence mental) entity, it is useful to point to those African peoples who until today have managed to maintain their own pattern of existence in so far as food is concerned. The pastoral Masai, Galla, Ankoli, Batutsi and Somali are all in that category. Their physique is generally so superb, their resistance and endurance so great, that they have become the objects of scientific research to discover why they do so much better than the ‘well-fed’ capitalists who are collapsing from heart disease.

In the light of the prevailing balance-sheet concept of what colonial rule was about, it still remains to take note of European innovations in Africa such as modern medicine, clinical surgery and immunisation. It would be absurd to deny that these were objectively positive features, however limited they were quantitatively. However, they have to be weighed against the numerous setbacks received by Africa in all spheres due to colonialism as well as against the contributions Africa made to Europe. European science met the needs of its own society, and particularly those of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie did not suffer from hunger and starvation. Bourgeois science therefore did not consider those things as needs which had to be met and overcome — not even among their own workers and least of all on behalf of Africans. This is just a specific application of the general principle that the exploitation of Africa was being used to create a greater gap between Africa and capitalist Europe. The exploitation and the comparative disadvantage are the ingredients of underdevelopment.

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