'Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.'
--Rudyard Kipling, 1899
The colonial era, we are told, is over. The imperialists have retreated to their shores and the third world now happily governs itself.
For much of the planet, this is true. India and China, two great colonial occupations of the 19th century, have wrested control of their economy and food security. It is largely sub-Saharan Africa, home to 1/6 of humanity, which remains the red-headed stepchild of international relations.
These rich lands were coveted by right-wing industrialists, and their people's uplift coveted by left-wing do-gooders. The footprint left by the former? Ports, canals, roads, railways, and a functioning government (their own). By the latter? Churches, missions, schools, hospitals.
What both camps agreed upon, though, was that the colonized were not able to provide these things for themselves.
Upon which they still agree today.
While many believe we live in a 'post-colonial' world, we here at Those Who Can See argue that we do not. 'We're all equal,' sing both the right and the left. But their actions do not match their words. We believe the colonial project is, on the contrary, roaring along as full-steam as it ever did. What is the evidence?
I. Colonialists on the right
1) Economic imperialism, Yesterday
The old conservative view on colonialism can best be expressed by Benjamin Kidd (1898):
...There never has been, and there never will be, within any time with which we are practically concerned, such a thing as good government, in the European sense, of the tropics by the natives of these regions. ... we are dealing with peoples who represent the same stage in the history of the development of the race that the child does in the history of the development of the individual. ... If [the Westerner] has any right there at all, he is there in the name of civilization ; if our civilization has any right there at all, it is because it represents higher ideals of humanity, a higher type of social order. (1)
Kidd held to three base principles:
- The West needs tropical products--rubber, metals, cocoa, palm oil, coffee.
- White men's bodies are inadapted to work in these cimates.
- Tropical natives are incapable of organizing large-scale export industry.
Conclusion? Whites must commandeer colored men to extract and export these products to the West. There was simply no other choice.
It would seem that the solution which must develop itself under pressure of circumstances in the future is, that the European races will gradually come to realize that the tropics must be administered from the temperate regions. (1)
Fair enough. Administering the tropics from the temperate regions: A thing of the past?
2) Economic imperialism, today
Nineteenth century anti-imperialists complained that tropical economies were at the mercy of western business. And today?
S.S. Africa's industry remains largely extractive. Mining was and is the number one activity on the continent. Fifty years ago:
On independence, the political economy of mining epitomized the limits of the political power and economic control gained by newly sovereign African nations. In economies dominated by mineral exports, this most important sector was an externally-oriented enclave only narrowly linked with the rest of the domestic economy through the taxes paid to the state by the mining companies and their small pool of mainly lower level African workers.
Can things be said to have changed since?
Post-independence, nationalizing the mines was n°1 on the agenda:
Most state mining companies functioned poorly, starved of investment in plant and machinery, and denuded of exploration activities. They also suffered from a general lack of research and development to keep mining and processing operations competitive. Especially in base metals, unit mining costs soon outstripped metal prices.
Thirty years later, and the World Bank was begging Africans to let Westerners back in the door:
In 1992, the World Bank set out in its Strategy for African Mining, the first systematic presentation of reforms that it considered necessary to tackle Africa’s poor performance in minerals. [...] The future development of the mining industry would “largely depend on attracting new high risk capital from foreign mining companies”...
In 2007 a “Policy Big Table” was organized by the United Nations and the African Development Bank, ... [which led to] ... the  African Mining Vision. The Vision ... re-affirms an industrialization strategy anchored on minerals and other natural resources as critical for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
'Policy Tables,' 'Mining Visions,' 'Millenium Goals'... We are at a loss to understand how a race of people who is the equal of everyone else needs to be hand-held in this way for decades.
And mining is the key to African development, just as it was in colonial times. Who controls it?
Based on the value of production at the mining stage, of 33 major mining countries of the world, foreign affiliates were responsible for virtually all production in 2005 in some Least Developed Countries, such as Guinea, Mali, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Gabon, Ghana, and Namibia.
Yesterday as today, many claim that this is all on the up-and-up. Not always. J.A. Hobson quotes a colonial officer in Uganda, 1893:
"I have been instructed by Colonel Colvile to make a treaty with [tribal chief] Kavalli, by which he should place himself under British protection;... This signing is an amiable farce, ...The modus operandi is somewhat as follows: A ragged, untidy European, who in any civilized country would be in danger of being taken up by the police as a vagrant, lands at a native village; ... the chief comes and receives his presents; the so-called interpreter pretends to explain the treaty to the chief.
The chief does not understand a word of it, but he looks pleased as he receives another present of beads; a mark is made on a printed treaty by the chief, and another by the interpreter; ... The chief takes the paper, but with some hesitation, as he regards the whole performance as a new and therefore dangerous piece of witchcraft. The boat sails away, and the new ally and protégé of England or France immediately throws the treaty into the fire." (3)
From a 2013 report on African mining concessions:
This report includes a detailed analysis of five privatization deals conducted through the sale of stateowned [Congolese] assets to foreign investors operating through offshore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and other jurisdictions. We estimate the total losses sustained in these deals as a result of undervaluation of the assets at US$1.3 billion - –more than double total budget spending on health and education.
... The underpricing of concessions generates large returns for offshore companies. In the case of the D.R. Congo, we estimate that underpricing generated returns of around 500 per cent for the offshore companies involved. In Guinea, the price secured by another offshore company for a concession in iron ore represented a return in excess of 3,000 per cent, with the agreed price exceeding Guinea’s GDP.
Caveat emptor? Or exploitation of the weak by the strong?
One way to measure foreigners' influence on an economy is by looking at Foreign Direct Investment 'inward stock' ('Inward stock is the value of the capital and reserves in the economy attributable to a parent enterprise resident in a different economy'):
At the end of 2010, the largest ratios of FDI inward stock to GDP were found in Liberia (496 per cent), Seychelles (215 per cent), Uganda (186 percent), the Republic of the Congo (134 per cent) and Gambia (84 per cent) (Michalowski 2012)
We can also look at Foreign Direct Investment inflows as a percentage of Gross Fixed Capital Formation:
Or the ratio of Foreign Direct Investment flows to GDP:
Control over one's energy production is a sure sign of independence:
Africa’s power sector is dominated by South Africa in Southern Africa, Egypt and Morocco in North Africa and Nigeria in West Africa. 82 % of Africa’s power comes from the northern and southern regions alone, with three-quarters coming from five countries - Egypt, South Africa, Libya, Morocco and Algeria.
In other words, 75% of Black Africa's electricity is provided to them by Arabs or Euros.
Africa's other major wealth source is land. Fifty years after independence, has its agricultural revolution come to pass?
One-third of the Gambela area in western Ethiopia is being leased for the next 50 years by the Bangalore food company Karuturi Global. Forests are being clear-cut, swamps drained, rivers diverted and whole villages moved to make way for flower farms and palm-oil and rice plantations.Half of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's agricultural lands are being leased to grow crops, including palm oil for the production of biofuels. Perhaps the largest single venture to date is the ProSAVANA Project in northern Mozambique, where an area roughly the size of Switzerland and Austria combined has been leased by Brazilian and Japanese companies to produce soybeans and maize for export.
So fifty years after independence, Africans still farm at such a primitive level that foreigners are begging to come in and be allowed to cultivate the land profitably.
Her minerals, her electricity, her agriculture...Outsiders still call the tune in large swathes of Africa's economy.
One final way to measure the strength of a country's economy is how many of its citizens would prefer to live elsewhere. In S.S. Africa's case, in a kind of reverse colonialism, millions would like to once again be ruled by Northern Europeans:
A 2004 Africa poll by the BBC found more specific data for nine countries. Striking is the fact that the five of the six most popular destinations are not just NW Euro-run, but specifically Anglo-run.
One hundred years ago, then, Africa's wealth was exploited largely by foreigners. We find it hard to say differently today.
II. Colonialists on the Left
1) Socialist imperialism, yesterday
For leftists today, it can be jarring to hear what came from the mouths of their ideological forebears. Whether imperialist or anti-imperialist, yesterday's progressives all had one thing in common: They were skeptical the colored races could civilize themselves. And despite what he says, today's leftist clearly feels the same.
Progressive imperialist George Bernard Shaw, member of the Fabian Society, in 1900:.
The primary conditions of Imperial stability are not the same throughout the Empire. The democratic institutions that mean freedom in Australasia and Canada would mean slavery in India and the Soudan. We are no longer a Commonwealth of white men and baptized Christians: the vast majority of our fellow-subjects are black, brown, or yellow; and their creed is Mahometan, Buddhist, or Hindoo. ...
As for parliamentary institutions for native races, that dream has been disposed of by the American experiments after the Civil War. They are as useless to them as a dynamo to a Caribbean.
We thus have two Imperial policies : a democratic policy for provinces in which the white colonists are in a large majority, and a bureaucratic policy where the majority consists of colored natives. Consequently the Empire cannot be governed either on Liberal or Conservative, democratic or aristocratic principles exclusively. (2)
In a word, whites can rule themselves, but coloreds must be ruled by us.
We have heard the voice of the leftist imperialist. What about the leftist anti-imperialist? What's odd about him is just how sympathetic to colonialism he really was. The most famous example, J.A. Hobson, in 1905 argued the 'backward' races were powerless to organize themselves:
To those who utter the single cry of warning, "laissez faire, hands off, let these people develop their resources themselves with such assistance as they ask or hire, undisturbed by the importunate and arrogant control of foreign nations," it is a sufficient answer to point out the impossibility of maintaining such an attitude.If organised Governments of civilised Powers refused the task, they would let loose a horde of private adventurers, slavers, piratical traders, treasure hunters, concession mongers, who, animated by mere greed of gold or power, would set about the work of exploitation under no public control and with no regard to the future; playing havoc with the political, economic, and moral institutions of the peoples, ...
... To abandon the backward races to these perils of private exploitation ... is a barbarous dereliction of a public duty on behalf of humanity and the civilisation of the world. (3)
He proned a fatherly 'interference,' under the aegis of a 'representation of civilized humanity' (foreseeing the League of Nations / UN), but imagined its dangers:
Suppose a federal government of European nations [proto-UN] and their colonial offspring to be possible in such wise that internal conflicts were precluded, this peace of Christendom would be constantly imperilled by the "lower races," black and yellow, who, adopting the arms and military tactics now discarded by the "civilised races," would overwhelm them in barbarian incursions, ...We cannot get the whole world to the level of civilisation which will admit it into the alliance; the Powers outside will be a constant menace.
The solution? Unsurprisingly to those who know the history of leftists and eugenics, Hobson prones a kind of international eugenic policy:
[...] A rational stirpiculture in the wider social interest might ... require a repression of the spread of degenerate or unprogressive races, corresponding to the check which a nation might place upon the propagation from bad individual stock [sterilization laws]. [...] The importance of this consideration rests upon the fact that this rejection of unsound racial stock implies the existence of an international political organisation which has put down war and has substituted this rational for the cruder national selection and rejection of races. (3)
Replacing war with international eugenics...Decidedly our great leftists of yesteryear had some interesting policy notions.
Even the British Socialist Party (ostensibly anti-imperialist) declared in their official programme of 1919:
"If we repudiate, on the one hand, the Imperialism that seeks to dominate other races, or to impose our own will on other parts of the British Empire, so we disclaim equally any conception of a selfish and insular 'non-interventionism' unregarding of our special obligations to our fellow-citizens overseas; of the corporate duties of one nation to another; of the moral claims upon us of the non-adult races; and of our own indebtedness to the world of which we are a part...." (4)
Socialist Rita Hinden in 1959 sums up:
[British socialists] have fought for a host of reforms -- the establishment of trade unions and co-operative societies, schools and welfare services and the money to pay for them, grand projects of colonial development (and again the money to pay for them), irrigation, sanitation, the conservation of the soil, better prices for colonial products, the establishment of new industries -- anything and everything that would relieve the pressing burden of colonial poverty. (4)
'Backward races,' 'degenerate and unprogressive,' 'non-adult races,' 'semi-savages'....Is this really the leftists speaking? Indeed it is. But this progressive notion that the colored races are not fit to help themselves surely died with the last imperialist?
2) Socialist imperialism, today
As Rita Hinden says above, socialists of yesteryear fought hard to bring schooling and hygiene to third world peoples. She also noted, optimistically,
An enlightened colonial policy is its own gravedigger. The wards grow up all the sooner; they cut off their wardship, and the trustees can no longer in good conscience deny their claims.
So which wards have, in fact, grown up? Aid distribution in 1979:
'Wards growing up' implies that aid levels have tapered off two generations after independence. For example:
Was Hinden's optimism misguided? The further colonialism recedes into the past, the more aid Africa receives--and the less wealth it produces:
In aggregate terms over the course of the last 50 years, foreign aid transfers to governments in Sub-Saharan Africa totaled a staggering $1 trillion. Nonetheless, as shown by the figure below, over the same period of time, growth of GDP per capita in Africa actually registered a marked decline and was for many years even negative.
And this aid has more and more strings attached. Tired of watching their loans disappear into African presidents' Swiss bank accounts, IMF and World Bank bureaucrats have begun micro-managing the aid process, much to their wards' chagrin. President Museveni of Uganda in 1998:
“A few years ago, World Bank experts decided that telecommunications was a higher priority for us than roads. So we ended up with very nice telephone booths in remote villages where people could call their cousins in the capital to say, ‘Well, it’s good talking to you, but I can’t come visit as the road’s washed out . . .’”
He who pays the piper calls the tune? The tune, for some Africans, is called 'aid dependency,' and it's killing the continent. Zambian writer Evans Munyemesha, in 2003:
Throughout history and pre-history all countries everywhere got by perfectly all right without any ‘aid’ at all. Furthermore, in the 1950s they got by with much less ‘aid’ than they did, for example, in the 1970s--- and were apparently none the worse for the experience.
Now, suddenly, at the tail end of almost sixty years of development assistance, we are told that large numbers of the same countries have lost the ability to survive a moment longer unless they continue to receive ever-larger amounts of ‘aid’. If this is indeed the case ---and if the only measurable impact of all these decades of development has been to turn resolute and tenacious survivors into helpless dependents ---then it seems to me to be beyond dispute that ‘aid’ does not work.
It behooves us to note, however, that the amount of aid coming into Africa is in fact lower than the amount its leaders are illicitly pocketing--one more reason to keep the aid flowing?
* * *
Colonialism--the clash of the More Able with the Less Able--has always been with us. Its modern version has evolved, but not ended. Benjamin Kidd (1898):
During the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, a great part of the richest regions in the tropical countries of the earth passed under the dominion of the four great sea powers of Western Europe : Spain, Holland, France, and England ... The territories of the weaker peoples were invaded, taken possession of, and exploited for the benefit of the more vigorous invader. ...There was much cruelty to weaker races.
In his own era, things had changed:
Towards the end of the eighteenth century... the effects of the altruistic development which had been so long in progress were becoming generally evident,...The right of occupation and government in virtue of conquest or force tended, it was felt, to become an anachronism. ... because of the lack of moral force on the part of the stronger peoples to initiate an effort involving a principle antagonistic to the spirit governing the development which these peoples were themselves undergoing.
Where did this new ethical push come from?
...the ethical system upon which our civilization is founded -- the doctrine, steadfastly and uncompromisingly held, of the native equality of all men. (1)
Egalitarianism was already changing the discourse in the 1800s. But even so the colonial project remained widely popular on both sides of the aisle. Michael Levin:
In this sense we see how imperialism could be incorporated into both conservative and radical [progressive] creeds. In both cases there was the presumption of superiority. For the conservatives it was deemed sufficient to bring law and order to peoples unable to achieve it autonomously. For the radicals this was also true, but additionally it seemed progressive to bring 'backward' peoples into the modern world. (5)
Lewis Feuer, more bluntly:
Both imperialists and anti-imperialists agreed in regarding the blacks [tropical peoples] as primitive and backward. (6)
Is there any evidence that this has changed? African industry is still being largely run by outsiders, its government policies dictated by outsiders, and its social programs funded by outsiders. As a Cato study puts it:
Today, Africa’s development plans are drawn thousands of miles away in the corridors of the IMF and World Bank.
The essential question of imperialism has not changed from 100 years ago. The question isn't, 'Should these people be meddled with?' Everyone agrees that they should. The question is, 'In what way?' Conservatives want to run their gold mines and progressives want to run their clinics, but what almost no one wants to do is leave them alone. The indicators won't let us:
When the More Able bump up against the Less Able, they find 'leaving them alone' nearly impossible. Our imperialist forebears admitted freely what we avow only in our secret hearts: Sub-Saharan Africa remains, relative to the West, so much Less Able that we are unable to stop ourselves from meddling.
This simple truth births many policy implications. We shall explore them next time.
(1) Kidd, Benjamin. Control of the Tropics. NY: MacMillan, 1898.
(2) Shaw, George Bernard and the Fabian Society. Fabianism and the Empire. London: Grant Richards, 1900.
(3) Hobson, J.A. Imperialism: A Study. London: Allen & Unwin, 1905.
(4) Hinden, Rita. 'Socialism and the Colonial World,' in New Fabian Colonial Essays. London: Hogarth, 1959.
(5) Levin, Michael. J.S. Mill on Civilization and Barbarism. London: Frank, 2004.
(6) Feuer, Lewis. Imperialism and the Anti-Imperialist Mind. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1986.