This article is based on a talk given at a Nov. 7 Party for Socialism and Liberation forum on Ebola.
The history of colonialism has made it impossible for West African countries to have the infrastructure to properly respond to a health crisis such as Ebola.
Africa before colonialism
How could Africa, with all its abundance of mineral wealth and unsurpassed history of the development of science and mathematics, be left so barren by the invading exploiters?
Africa’s historic contributions to the world are fundamental and extensive, but are barely mentioned in our primary schools as part of the racist propaganda, which supports colonialism.
For example Africa is home to the world’s earliest known use of measurement and calculation. The continent is the birthplace of both basic and advanced mathematics. Thousands of years ago, Africans were using numerals, algebra and geometry in daily life.
Africans excelled in the area of medicine as well. Blacks in Egypt produced the earliest physicians, medical knowledge, and medical literature.
Hippocrates, the Greek physician, is incorrectly considered to be the “father of medicine.” This falsehood persists worldwide in spite of the evidence.
A doctor and journalist recently wrote on the this matter saying:
“I asked five young doctors on our staff who they considered to be the father of medicine. They all named Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.) Later I posed the same question to Bernard White,… [of] non-commercial WBAI radio in New York. He named [the African] Imhotep (2650 B.C), the chief minister and royal physician to Pharaoh Djoser (2686-2613).”
Africa under colonialism
Africa with all of its intellectual and material wealth then became threatened and attacked by the most massively cruel system of exploitation the world had yet to witness, i.e. colonialism.
It was the expedition of Columbus in 1492 that stimulated the global search for colonies and markets. Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, Holland, and Belgium began a frantic competition for colonies.
Colonialism in Africa began with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which was at its greatest in West Africa where the Ebola outbreak is also concentrated.
By the eighteenth century, slaves had become Africa’s main export.
Approximately 1.2 – 2.4 million Africans died during their transport to theNew World. This figure does not include deaths of enslaved Africans as a result of their labor, slave revolts, or diseases suffered while living among New World populations.
A database compiled in the late 1990s put the figure for the number of slaves in the transatlantic slave trade at more than 11 million people. For a long time, an accepted figure was 15 million.
Some African elite rulers likely saw an economic benefit from trading slaves. The Kingdom of Benin, for instance, participated in the African slave trade, at will, from 1715 to 1735.HistorianWalter Rodney estimates that by c.1770, the King ofDahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling captive Africans to the Europeans. As with colonialism proper there is generally a very small group of natives in the oppressed nation who benefit from the blood of their people.
But the true beneficiaries were the colonists and European elites who grew immensely rich. Thanks to the influx of capital from Africa, the European economies were able to rapidly grow and and eventually transform into capitalism.
Colonialism and slavery were the foundation for the original accumulation of modern capital. Referring to this Karl Marx famously said, “Capitalism came into existence with blood dripping from its every pore.”
In 1884 the Berlin Conference brought together these capitalist powers. It was premised on the humanitarian efforts to bring about the end of the slave trade, but the conference only enacted coercive resolutions against Africans; no Africans were even represented at the Berlin Conference.
The primary consequence of the Berlin conference was the destruction of self-determination, sovereignty and cohesion of African nations. The outcome of the conference was the division of the African continent by the European powers and the colonial subjugation of the African peoples.
Between 1898 and 1911 all across Africa, millions of peasants were forced off the land as the continent was carved up into rubber, cotton, coffee, cocoa and nut plantations for European monopolies.
It is impossible to briefly explain the enormity of the devastation caused by the system. Many overt forms of military violence were waged to enforce it. In 1907, French naval artillery leveled Casablanca to force Morocco to accept French rule. The life expectancy of Africans dropped drastically. Under Belgian rule, for example the population of the Congo fell from 20 million to 8 million between 1891 and 1911.
The roots of West Africa’s inability to quickly eradicate Ebola
In economics “underdevelopment” can be defined as when resources are not used to their fullsocio-economic potential, with the result that development is slower in most cases than it should be. Underdeveloped nations are characterized by a wide disparity between their rich and poor populations, and an unhealthy balance of trade. Symptoms of underdevelopment include lack of access to job opportunities, drinkable water, food, education and housing and health care!
The wealth of these countries instead went to enrich Western nations, leaving nothing for the African masses.
Within the analysis of underdevelopment, “dependency theory” suggests that the wealthy nations of the world need a peripheral group of poorer states in order to remain wealthy.
But who is dependent on whom? Some writers assign dependence onto the African nations because they are dependent on importing goods from the oppressor nations. But I think it would be best to assign dependency to the oppressor, or imperialist countries like Britain, France, and the U.S. because the rich would have nothing if it weren’t for the exploitation of the workers’ production.
If you have ever listened to our radio show Liberation Radio you will hear in the intro the quote “Capitalism needs poverty.” This point is essential.
Walter Anthony Rodney was a prominent Guyanese historian, political activist and preeminent scholar, who was assassinated in Guyana in 1980.
In his great book, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” many important reasons for the current crisis in Africa can be found.
Rodney traces the development of trade, colonial development, and imperialism as the source and cause of the extreme poverty that now can be seen in Africa, and which is so starkly seen during the current Ebola calamity. He wrote:
“Throughout the period that Africa has participated in the capitalist economy, two factors have brought about underdevelopment. In the first place, the wealth created by African labor and from African resources… grabbed by the capitalist countries of Europe; and in the second place, restrictions were placed upon African capacity to make the maximum use of its economic potential.
“This,” explains Rodney, “is why Africa has realized so little of its potential and why so much of its present wealth goes outside of the continent.”
This is also why a disastrous epidemic has begun and threatens not only Africa but the world. The solution to the Ebola crisis lies in the ability to have all the necessary equipment and trained staff to treat, isolate and contain the outbreak. Unless measures are taken by the wealthiest countries to provide the resources—supplies, medicine, organization, and health care workers—it will not be possible to bring the crisis under control.
Africa under neo-colonialism
Can I end my talk here?
No, because we have only mentioned the historical roots, and not the current current plunder of Africa.
The systematic international exploitation of Africa did not end with colonialism. Exploitation is very much alive today. But the system has changed; no longer do we have colonialism, but imperialism and neo-colonialism.
In “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism” Vladimir Lenin explained what is happening in the world today as we enter the 21st Century.
Lenin provided a careful, five-point definition of imperialism which has grown from colonialism: “(1) the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life; (2) the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital”, of a financial oligarchy; (3) the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance; (4) the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves, and (5) the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed.
At the present time, we can easily recognize in Lenin’s analysis, not only U.S. and European imperialism, but also the World Bank, IMF, WTO and Third World debt. This was described in “Neo-colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism” in 1965 by Kwame Nkrumah, the President of Ghana.
Explaining neo-colonialism, he wrote: “Still another neo-colonialist trap on the economic front has come to be known as ‘multilateral aid’ through international organisations: the International Monetary Fund, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (known as the World Bank), the International Finance Corporation and the International Development Association are examples, all, significantly, having U.S. capital as their major backing. These agencies have the habit of forcing would-be borrowers to submit to various offensive conditions, such as supplying information about their economies, submitting their policy and plans to review by the World Bank and accepting agency supervision of their use of loans.”
Neo-colonialism provides enormous profits as did colonialism before it. Nkrumah described how Western monopolies now control the prices of commodities by lowering the prices they pay and extracting enormous profit.
Nkrumah detailed how the U.S. Peace Corps, university professors and programs and the U.S. Information Agency are engaged in the support of neo-colonialism.
This is the situation we have today in the countries hardest hit by Ebola: Guinea, Sierra Leon, and Liberia.
Although financial domination is primarily used today, military threat enforced by the oppressor’s armies is also real.
Washington is already heavily involved militarily in Africa. Several thousand Pentagon troops, CIA operatives and State Department functionaries are on the continent as part of the U.S. Africa Command (or AFRICOM).
AFRICOM is a militarized arm of U.S. imperialism. The mission of AFRICOM is three-fold:
- To economically gain unrestrained access to Africa’s natural resources.
- To politically subdue African nations with the conditional promises of infrastructure assistance.
- To further increase the number of military outposts in Africa to reinforce U.S. military supremacy in the global north and south.
AFRICOM reinforces the rule of finance capital. It encompasses the centralization of corporate control over the production, financing and management of Africa’s natural resources. During the Bush administration U.S. Vice Admiral Robert T. Moeller openly declared at a 2008 AFRICOM conference, that the guiding principle of AFRICOM was to protect “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market.”
Currently a primary interest of the United States is uranium, which is of strategic importance as documented in the Department of Energy 2010 paper “Critical Mineral Strategy.” The document affirmed the continuance of securing uranium and oil deposits for the sole purpose of retaining a monopoly on mineral distribution.
The Obama administration actively sought to expand U.S. military activities on the African continent. In its 2011 Fiscal Year budget request for security assistance programs for Africa, the administration sought $38 million for the Foreign Military Financing program to pay for U.S. arms sales to African countries.
The administration also sought an additional $21 million for the International Military Education and Training Program to bring African military officers to the United States and $24.4 million for Anti-Terrorism Assistance programs in Africa.
All of these efforts by the Obama administration are consistent with previous American presidential administrations. Regardless if they are Democrats or Republicans they are in support o African puppet governments which will adhere to U.S imperial interests.
Answer is to fight against imperialism
We must be able to see through the propaganda the corporate media is spinning on behalf of U.S. imperialism. As politicians representing the capitalist parties take to the microphone to proclaim “action to stop Ebola,” we should put that in the context that their parties have never truly cared about Africans and are in fact to blame for this mess.
It was revealed on Oct. 23 in The New York Times that a vaccine had been developed years ago that was 100 percent effective in animal testing and ready for clinical trials for humans. At that time, the researchers said that a vaccine to protect people from the Ebola virus could be ready by 2011.
But it never happened and was ignored by big business. The big pharmaceuticals, it is well known, rake in billions in profits every year. These giant corporations were unwilling to spend the funds needed to develop a vaccine for a disease, which at the time had infected “only” several hundred people in West Africa.
Ebola has long been known to be a lethal disease but it is only now being considered a “crisis” because it is starting to become a threat to non-Black African communities. When it was devastatingly the lives of Africans, the politicians hardly mentioned it.
It is our duty as workers living in the oppressor nation to stand up to all the forms of imperialism. Do you think its ok that 5,000 people have died from this illness? Do you have friends or family members who have suffered from a preventable disease? What if it was us in west Africa right now? Sisters and brothers, we must take every opportunity available to us to counter imperialism. In doing so we have the chance to prevent the misery and suffering of our people.
Neo-colonialism, like colonialism before it, will be defeated. Nkrumah pointed out that it has succeeded thus far by the tactic of “divide and rule” and that it will ultimately be defeated by the unity of the exploited peoples. This requires a clear understanding of the issues involved. An understanding which can be provided by a revolutionary party arm in arm with the masses, which is what the Party for Socialism and Liberation is attempting to build daily through struggle and through meetings like these.
As Nkrumah said, “With the utmost speed, neo-colonialism must be analysed in clear and simple terms for the full mass understanding by the surging organisations of the African peoples… Bolstered with ideological clarity, these organisations, closely linked with the ruling parties where liberatory forces are in power, will prove that neo-colonialism is the symptom of imperialism’s weakness and that it is defeatable. For, when all is said and done, it is the so-called little man, the bent-backed, exploited, malnourished, blood-covered fighter for independence who decides. And he invariably decides for freedom.”