Colonialism Reclaiming Africa?
by Andrew M. Mwenda
Colonialism is back; bold and unashamed.
The West has decided to reclaim leadership in Africa. Only last
week, I watched US Secretary of State, Mrs Hillary Clinton, give
instructions to Kenyan politicians on how they should manage the
affairs of Kenya. She demanded that the democratically elected
ruling coalition in Kenya create a tribunal to try the perpetrators
of last year's post election violence. If not, she threatened,
the International Criminal Court (ICC) will take over.
_A significant section of the Kenyan society
think there should be a tribunal. But the Kenyan cabinet, composed
of both the ruling party and the opposition parties debated this
matter. In their wisdom, they decided it is better to pursue political
reconciliation as opposed to punitive criminal justice. I share
this view, like many Kenyans do and others don't. And that is
the beauty of democracy; once a decision is taken by the governing
body, all should respect it.
It is unwise to pursue punitive criminal justice when seeking
to resolve violence born of political disagreement. This is especially
so in circumstances where the balance of power between both sides
to a conflict is close to an equilibrium. Under such circumstances,
any criminal prosecution process would tend to reignite violence.
Why? Because criminal justice tends to demonise "the other"!
This drives the accused persons to resort to violence in self
defense. The best path is political reconciliation.
This was the basis of the success of Nelson Mandela in post Apartheid
South Africa; Paul Kagame in post genocide Rwanda, even the United
States after its civil war in 1864. In all these cases, the perpetrators
of political violence were brought back into the political process
through tough bargains. Decision making is never a choice between
right and wrong. It is a product of serious trade-offs. But why
did the US hail Mandela but is condemning Kenya for seeking a
Unlike 19th century colonialism which involved the direct presence
of colonial officials to implement colonial law, the new colonialism
(Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah called it neocolonialism) relies on lectures,
instructions, intimidation and blackmail. It has put international
institutions in place to specifically deal with African leaders
- the best example being the ICC. NATO air strikes in Afghanistan
are killing civilians in droves. Please watch if there is even
a whisper about the culpability of any Western leader - America's
Barack Obama or Britains's Gordon Brown.
Old colonialism understood the importance of a combination of
material and ideological incentives in recruiting local allies.
So it Christianised Africans and provided minimum education for
catechists and clerks in order to create an intellectual class
in support of colonial rule. But it also provided material incentives
- salaried employment, land grants, and other forms of colonial-state
The agents of the new colonialism are secular missionaries promoting
democracy, human rights and justice as is sang by the master i.e.
without context. They refuse to acknowledge that pursuing them
in complete disregard of context can produce results at odds with
the intended purpose. The US refused to jam radio Mille Collines
during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 saying such action would
violate the principles of free speech. The genociders enjoyed
their freedom to mobilise for mass murder.
The agents of the new colonialism believe that Africa's future
lies in handouts of foreign assistance - financial, military,
ideological, technical etc. By speaking in the master's language,
their supporters among local elites sound civilized and get accepted
in the master's councils. By promoting Western "assistance",
they get the jobs paid for in foreign aid projects.
If previously the West lacked an authentic voice to convince Africans
that they need to be treated like children, now it has that voice
in Obama. Since he is considered black, he is the perfect instrument
to tell us how to manage our affairs. African elites, with a deeply
rooted peasant mentality of identity as the basis of cooperation,
believe that since Obama is "black" then he represents
Yet regardless of his African ancestry, Obama is an American president.
His primary obligation is to serve American interests. Over the
last century, the US has intervened in other countries not to
promote democracy but its national interest. As experience shows,
democracy has not been America's allay in the pursuit of its
Consequently, America has removed democratic governments and
replaced them with its favored dictatorships - in Iran in 1953,
Chile in 1974, Congo in 1960, etc. It has always used its military
and intelligence services to bomb, invade or carry out clandestine
missions in other nations. In none of these cases has democratic
government come as a direct result. Instead, often democracy has
developed in opposition to American interference.
The US and other Western nations have always advanced the values
of liberty, freedom and social justice only instrumentally when
it serves their interest. But these values have never been meant
to inform real Western practice. That is why the West pretends
to be more concerned about democracy in Iran when it is in bed
with some of the worst dictatorships in the Middle East - Egypt,
Saudi Arabia etc. It seems to me that the use of democracy and
human rights is the ancillary one of image-making.
The urge behind the West's increasing intrusion into Africa's
governance seems to be a desire to dominate the continent. This
is now being expressed in the writings of two of the scholars
receiving most funding for their work on how the West should "help
Africa" - professors Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia and Paul Collier
of Oxford. Their work has become very explicit in their contempt
of Africa's internal ability to reform itself. Increasingly, they
are publishing works suggesting that the solution for Africa's
internal problems is "international" (actually read
Western) assistance through foreign financial aid and military
I will return to Collier's bold suggestions about how countries
of the "bottom billion" need international military
intervention and governance instructions to become solvent in
another article. Suffice it to say that if our founding fathers
like Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba who passionately believed in
our sovereignty as a people came back today, they would not believe
that half a century later, colonialism is making a comeback.