Investing in Africa’s future, but never forgetting historical responsibility

Written by Liu Guijin

Investing in Africa’s future was one of the three topics of the US-Africa Leaders Summit held in early August.

However, if this is used to attract world attention and cover up the lack of real input, it is not a good stunt. The future is not something up in the air, but rather the continuation of history and reality.

People cannot but raise such questions — what is the root cause of poverty, backwardness and frequent wars and unrest in Africa? Who should bear responsibility for the historical plight of Africa?

It is known to all that the start of Africa’s misery was Western colonisation of the continent. The large scale trafficking of black slaves together with the invasion of Western colonisers, which lasted over 400 years, constitutes the most horrible and humiliating chapter in the history of mankind.

Africa lost over 100 million people during that cause.

It also led to the decline of Africa’s traditional civilisations and regression of its economy and society. At the Berlin Conference in 1885, out of their own interests, Western powers blatantly divided Africa into 50 colonies and protectorates, severing the traditional links between African tribes. They exercised “divide and rule”, starting the history of poverty and turmoil in Africa. Tragedies such as the genocide in Rwanda were just the leftover of the impact of Western policy toward Africa. Moreover, for the sake of more economic interests, Western powers had only cash crops such as tobacco, coffee and flowers planted in the colonies, making African countries only the producers of raw materials, stuck at the low end of the global production chain and suffering the exploitation of their suzerain states.

It is fair to say that the wealth and international status of Western countries today are based on the history of looting African countries.

During the Cold War, the US made Africa an important battlefield for rivalry with the Soviet Union. Most of its economic and military assistance flew to pro-US countries. And it conducted blatant toppling of pro-Soviet Union or anti-US governments, and fought with the Soviet Union through their agents in Zaire, Angola and Ethiopia.

During the height of US-Soviet rivalry from 1981 to 1985, the Reagan Administration offered nearly US$6.7 billion military assistance to Africa, nearly two times of the total military assistance of the previous 20 years to Africa, far out-sizing the Gross Domestic Product of most African countries. In the first few years after the Cold War, Africa’s strategic importance in the eyes of the US sharply declined, thus becoming a “forgotten continent”. The US on one hand promoted its democratic values by imposing multi-party democracy on African countries, on the other hand reduced its assistance to Africa, trying to free itself from the continent.

The US took Africa as a testing ground for global democratisation, trumpeting that “no development can be achieved without democracy”. The US linked its assistance closely with democracy, forcing African countries to rashly introduce multi-party democracy, thus causing political turmoil and poor governance in many African countries. At present, Africa remains the source of cheap energy and the dumping ground of industrial goods for the West.

It provides 20 percent of oil, 70 percent of cocoa, 34 percent of coffee, and 50 percent of palm products to the world market every year. Compared with old capitalist countries, the US is indeed a “late comer” to Africa, but it does not want to lag behind others in reaping the benefits. America’s dependency on key resources imported from the African continent ranges from 30 percent to 60 percent.

In 2013, the US imported $26.3 billion of crude oil, $3.2 billion of gemstones, and nearly $1 billion of minerals from Africa, making up 77 percent of its total import from Africa.

The US and Western multinational companies own the exploration and pricing rights of most mineral resources in Africa, reaping most profits and leaving only pitifully small royalties and business taxes to African countries who are the true owners of the resources.

The early 21st century saw the significant rise of gold prices, but gold-exporting countries such as Ghana and Tanzania only got 5 percent to 10 percent of revenue from gold export.

Of course, we notice that the US and other Western countries have been assisting Africa in their own ways. Although the US-Africa Summit in Washington comes a little late, it is after all a good thing. China is not jealous, and does not want to make trouble with anyone.

However, when the tree prefers to stand still, the wind won’t stop. Some people seem to be too reluctant to change the habit of bashing China. The reason why we review that part of history is to remind the host that when tarnishing others, do not forget to look at oneself in the mirror of history. Of course, more importantly, one needs to pay back the old debt in history.

Liu Guijin is the president of China Asia-Africa Society. — Guangming Daily (China)

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