By Arko Dasgupta
Last week, Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan made known his willingness to meet Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The two Sudans, recently separated under the conditions set in the 2005 Naivasha Agreement, have continued to have problems with each other even after their formal separation. Sudan had been witness to a brutal civil war ever since the British left the country in 1956. Under colonialism, African Sudan was ruled very differently from Arab Sudan. In the light of this still ongoing tussle between the two neighbors, it makes sense to recapitulate, in modicum, what colonialism meant for Africa and what it did to the continent.
The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 called on European powers to divide Africa amongst themselves. It formalized the process so that the states of Europe would not get in the way of each other’s plundering of the continent. It was recognized that the continent had a lot to offer to the economies of ever-expanding Europe. Of course, there was the whole White Man’s Burden – the civilizing mission that White Europe had the moral responsibility to unleash in Black Africa – which could be achieved with the bible together with the bullet.
The tribal dynamics of Africa made it difficult to chip at Africa and create nation-states or domains out of her. The continent was home to people who had deep-rooted ties of kinship and were united by clan and tribe associations. Africa was also home to a lot of nomadic and semi-nomadic people – when the Massai tribesmen had to graze their livestock, they couldn’t care for the absurd boundaries drawn up by people so unconnected to their way of life. These things did not make any sense to them. The loot of Africa, however, went on and many a nation in the civilized world further enriched themselves, thus.
This exploitation of the continent was accompanied by some of the worst atrocities let loose on men by fellow men. Domination wouldn’t come without the exercise of brute force. The natives had to be shown their place and be made to surrender to the impulses of the colonists. A series of horrific episodes in Africa’s history followed: the pillage of Congo Free State by Leopold II of Belgium who ran it as his private offshore estate in the 1890s and 1900s; the Herero and Namaqua Massacres in German South-West Africa in the 1900s; the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya by the British in the 1950s, the list is endless. The relationship between Leopold II and the Congolese, in particular, was one of one-way economic exploitation and personal victimization so much so that it prompted an American journalist in the last decade of the 20th century to write a book on the subject which he titled ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’. Interestingly, Leopold’s statue was removed from Kinshasa upon Congo’s independence from Belgium over five decades ago but in 2005 his statue was restored – only to mysteriously disappear the very next day.
In the years following decolonization, Africans were blamed for their inability to organize themselves into cohesive national units. The inculpations would gain in intensity at times of crises such as the one in Biafra in the late 1960s. As British MP Kwasi Kwarteng tells us in his book Ghosts of Empire, it wouldn’t be right to blame only Nigeria for what happened in Biafra then, and continues to happen even today. The Brandt Report of 1980 which was chaired by Willy Brandt, who had resigned as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany a few years before, was perhaps the first time that the Global North-South Divide was looked at in a somewhat holistic manner. No longer was the discourse composed of the developed and the developing countries leveling charges at each other for unchecked corruption or past injustices.
Today, the neo-colonization of the continent by the West, China or India is something that has benefited very few Africans. It has created a very rich class of Lilliputian proportions who stare down (ironically) at an overwhelmingly poor Brobdingnagian class. Suffice to say that the lifestyles of the citizens of the Global North and the need to cater to the demands of the burgeoning middle classes of India and, particularly China, has led to a mad scramble among these countries – a second Scramble for Africa – to create their own spheres of influence in the continent (much like the way China was carved up among the European powers and the Japanese at the turn of the last century). China now has an African weekly edition of China Daily, an English language daily published in the country. So, in effect, Africa has been stripped only to be re-stripped, again. Colonization has come full circle.
Arko Dasgupta is a postgraduate student in Conflict Analysis and Peacebuilding in the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and the associate editor at Jamia Journal-Jamia Millia Islamia’s independent student newspaper. His articles have appeared in openDemocracy, Foreign Policy Journal, International Policy Digest, The Express Tribune Blog, among others.