The elation and euphoria that was characteristic of independence waned away when people realized Africa was being exploited in new, subtle ways that superficially seem benevolent. Colonialism was marked with sheer brutality of insane proportions, and such force was the means employed by the European colonizers to extract and siphon resources from Africa.
It soon became crystal clear that flag independence did not necessarily entail economic independence. For decades, economic emancipation has become painfully elusive. The granting of political wishes to the black majority across Africa has not brought economic fortunes for the continent. The vast majority of blacks are still marginalized from participating gainfully in their economies, as these economies are still alien to the people. The political relationship between Africa and the rest of the world has not yielded meaningful prosperity for the everyday, ordinary, average African; the “man on the streets.”
A clever tool that has been used by the foreign superpowers to the detriment of Africa is debt. The debt burden on Africa has slowed progress in an unreal manner. This is then compounded by political leaders, who, due to their self-centred and narrow interests, fail to scrutinize what debt really means to African countries. We are saddled with debt from all corners of the world. The West and the East have trapped Africa in a seemingly unending and apparently vicious cycle of debt.
It baffles the mind to note that a continent that is abundantly rich in natural resources owes the rest of world billions and billions of debt. The capacity to repay these enormous debts is not carried by African countries. Foreign debt is one of the major reasons why policies are dictated to Africa. African countries bow at the whims of the foreign superpowers because the same superpowers have a leverage on them – debt and foreign aid.
African debt skyrocketed from US$140 billion to US$270 billion between 1982 and 1990. In a period from 2012 to 2017, Chinese loans to African countries grew significantly to more than US$10 billion. Between 2000 to 2017, loans from the Chinese Government, banks and contractors to African governments and state-owned businesses totalled US$143 billion.
Why, in this age, where we say we are independent, should we continue to rely on financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund? Why, in this age, does Africa not lend money to America, Britain, China, France, etc? Why should we continue to sacrifice our worth as African at the altar of foreign debt?
Foreign debt weakens the capacity of countries to be self-reliant. We continue wishing for economic reforms without taking the most important, decisive steps to alter our fortunes.
The likes of Thomas Sankara were very clear on this issue. He was a strong supporter of self-reliance and he strove towards severing connections with the world financial institutions. What these financial institutions spread in poorer countries is modern-day slavery. The brute force of colonialism in suppressing the development of Africa was supplanted by the trickery in financial papers and contracts. This is where we continue losing it.
How can Africa take off when there are debts that need to be repaid? It is obviously clear that because of the incompetence and inertia of our leaders in looking at these deals, the ordinary person will remain mired in poverty.
Until Africa changes its mindset towards debt and its overall relations with the world, we will always continue to bemoan the lack of economic emancipation in our lands.
In an address he issued at the Organization of African Unity summit in 1987, Sankara adopted a scathing stance towards foreign debt. “We think that debt has to be seen from the standpoint of its origins. Debt’s origins come from colonialism’s origins. Those who lend us money are those who had colonized us before.”
“Under its current form, that is imperialism-controlled, debt is a cleverly managed re-conquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say a true slave…”
Indeed, foreign debt needs to be done away with for the greater prosperity and true economic emancipation of the African continent.