EuroAmerica[i]…the long standing dominant and perhaps domineering ‘partner’ to Africa. At the moment, EuroAmerica is busy warning Africa on the dangers of getting too close and cosy with some of the BRIC economies (BRIC stands for Brazil Russia India China[ii]). But what really makes me laugh about how MOST (not all) of EuroAmerica is responding to the rise of the BRIC in Africa is what I think are the preposterous notions that: 1) Africans are not aware of the new forces coming into Africa, and 2) EuroAmerica suddenly has Africa’s well-being etched in their heart and feel the need to warn and protect us from these new ‘ominous’ players….riiiiggghhhht.
So let me expand on these two points and a couple of others on why I’m having serious concerns with (and serious laughs over) how EuroAmerica is trying to make Africa horribly xenophobic to the BRIC in Africa[iii]. There are several levels to what EuroAmerica is doing and the related implications:
The rampant use of weighted terms like ‘colonial’ and ‘invasion’ when describing the activities of BRIC forces in Africa
It has come to my attention that EuroAmerica has a propensity for using certain terms when describing the presence of BRIC nations in Africa. Hilary Clinton is busy chastising China on its ‘new colonialism in Africa’ while David Cameron warns us of the ‘Chinese invasion’[iv] [v]. There are articles titled, ‘China: Africa’s New Colonial Power’ and other such gloomy titles’[vi]. And China’s not the only power getting slack, India is being labelled ‘neocolonial’ despite the fact that Indians have been on the continent for decades[vii]. Brazil is getting targeted because of its ‘immoral and perverse’ biofuel agenda in Africa[viii]. But what’s missing here? Oh yes that’s it, EuroAmerica is basically doing the same kind of stuff as the BRICs are but it isn’t labelling ITSELF with any of these terms. Why the selective amnesia my friends? Instead of bashing them perhaps EuroAmerica should be figuring out how to work with some of the BRIC nations so that they too can get involved in and benefit from the new momentum and related deals the BRIC are generating in Africa[ix].
The problematic distortion of the use of term ‘colonial’ by EuroAmerica when describing activities between Africa and the BRICs
Linked to the point above, let me highlight an even more serious reason as to why Africans should REJECT the use of such terms, especially the term ‘colonial’, when EuroAmerica describes the actions of BRIC nations in Africa. The use of the term colonial to describe what the BRIC are doing in Africa is changing the meaning of the term[x]. The BRIC are not ‘colonising’ Africa. Have we forgotten how bestial and horrific colonialism was? Have we forgotten Leopold’s Congo? Have we forgotten how brutal the British were in Africa? For those who have, I recommend you read ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’ and ‘Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya’. We are not being ‘colonised’ by China or India or Brazil or any other foreign power currently on African soil. We are not being colonised because they are not beating us, shooting us, raping our women, decapitating us, chopping off our arms, putting us in reserves, castrating us, calling us inferior, murdering us, hunting us down and all the other horrors that the real colonialists did to us. Calling these new powers ‘colonial’ is xenophobic and erases the horrific memory of what colonialism was really like. For heaven’s sake we stood up against the colonialists and died to liberate our nations from them. Calling BRIC activities in Africa ‘colonial’ is not only, 1) erasing the memory of the horrors of colonialism, it is also, 2) belittling the brave acts of our freedom fighters that drove the colonialists out. (RIP Dedan Kimathi and all freedom fighters).
The EuroAmerican notion that Africans ‘don’t really know what’s going on and we need to warn them’
It seems that imbued in all these EuroAmerican warnings about the ‘new kids on the bloc (or is it BRIC :-p)’ is the basic assumption that Africans: 1) need to be told what’s going on 2)need to be told how to perceive what’s going and 3) need to be told how to react to what’s going on. It’s the same old bigoted and patronising ‘talking down to’ that Africa has been subjected to by EuroAmerica for decades. It seems like EuroAmerica is certain that Africa doesn’t truly realise the full implications and consequences of interacting with these economic powers in the emerging economic order. So what do we ‘clueless’ Africans need? We need to be guided through this miasmic maze by the ‘blessed altruistic hands’ of EuroAmerican media and government….(guffaw) but this leads to the next point.
The EuroAmerican notion that Africa should suddenly view them as benevolent powers which don’t have self-interest at heart… but the BRIC do
EuroAmerica, I think, wants us to listen to their BRIC-related warnings because they think it is ‘good for Africa’. So it seems that Africa is being urged to listen to Euro-America because they want to ‘help’ us….(chuckle). Ok even if I accept that, I don’t understand why the entry of the BRIC is seen as a problem from an economic point of view. Surely EuroAmerican capitalistic thinking would argue that the entry of the BRIC in Africa is great. Isn’t fierce competition what free markets are all about?! Doesn’t a monopoly of any power(s) over any market make it function less efficiently? But it seems like now that the BRIC block is strolling into Africa with gusto, ambition, determination and (God-forbid) real money, we Africans are being told we should reject this! Huh? We’re being told, ‘no no no, THEIR money isn’t good for you but OUR money is’…Really?! Why? Are we not fulfilling the EuroAmerican neoclassical economic dream of healthy competition, open markets and buoyant buying and selling? But no, disregard that argument we’re being told by EuroAmerica…stay close to your ‘old’ economic partners, beware of these ‘new’ ones because they’re up to no good. But what they forget is that Africans governments are probably using the BRIC to counter the dominance of EuroAmerica on the continent in the first place! You will likely find that many Africans do not believe EuroAmerica, or any other power for that matter, has Africa’s well-being at heart. Self-interest rules and I think many on the continent are aware of this. So EuroAmerica can stop with the warnings because they come, not from a heart full of altruism and love, but from a heart full of fear and perhaps jealousy, backed by self-interest.
But ‘NO’ I can hear some of you say…All these new powers coming into Africa ARE making things worse for Africans so we should (at worst) chase them away or (at best) be hiiiiighly sceptical of their going-ons on the continent. After all look at China, (HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSERS I hear you say), they’re basically bolstering Mugabe’s horrific dictation in Zimbabwe. China essentially assisted Al-Bashir’s tyrannical rule over what is now South Sudan. We need to be careful, I hear some Africans say…and you know you what, on some level, you’re right. BUT we should be careful not only of what the new economic players are doing in Africa, we should be wary of ALL of them. That is the only logical conclusion to the argument. Because if we’re going to start tabulating all the negative things that China’s interaction with Africa is having on Africa, then we should do the same for EuroAmerica…and that goes way back to the slave trade and colonialism if you’re counting.
OH THE IRONY…
However, the irony of this whole situation is two-fold: First is that this scrutiny of the BRIC’s activities in Africa is actually holding them up to a higher standard than EuroAmerica was ever held up to when they first came to Africa. During the Berlin Conference when certain European powers carved Africa up among themselves, there was no loud noise from the side-lines telling them to stop or warning Africa of the impending doom and gloom that the partitioning would lead to. During colonialism itself, EuroAmerican governments and media were not berating the colonial entrepreneurs on the negative effects colonialism was having on Africa. No one was holding them up to high moral or human rights standard, quite the contrary. But juxtapose this with what is currently happening with EuroAmerica’s use of a ‘moral lens’ when assessing BRIC activity in Africa. The BRIC are being held up to certain moral and human rights standards by the very powers who trampled all over these standards during their earlier activities on the continent.
The second irony needs a bit of a preface, so here is the preface: Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the way the BRIC are engaging in Africa is truly negative, horrific, unacceptable and should be stopped immediately (end preface). You can argue that the rise of all modern economic powers was built on negativity, exploitation and injustice so the BRICs are just following an age-old pattern. Look at the wealth the slave trade brought to the Americas. Yes, the slave trade was horrendous but it made a lot of money (that’s a very crass way to look at it but it has to be done sometimes). Look at how much money some American entrepreneurs made from centuries of essentially free labour. Yes, colonialism was awful but look at how much it money it made for the European powers who engaged in it. So in the same vein it can be argued that any negative effects that the BRICs are having on Africa is to be expected if they want global domination in the tradition of Britain and the USA. Power has a price, they say, and perhaps that price is the rampant exploitation of others. So the irony is that EuroAmerica is berating the BRIC nations on the negative aspects of their activities on the continent and yet EuroAmerica too had (very) negative effects on Africa when they first came to the continent. Hypocrisy much?
Please note I am certainly not saying that Africans should tolerate unacceptable behaviour on the continent…quite the contrary. We need to be very diligent as an increasing number of foreign powers turn their eyes, minds and pockets towards Africa. But we should be wary of EVERYONE; the BRICs, EuroAmerica and any other power coming into Africa. We really need to get our act together as Africans…and urgently. Yes we are getting better at taking care of business but we need to get much better. For if we don’t, we risk continually getting into deals that are based on the self-interest of other nations and not our own.
There’s more to say here but there endeth my rant.
[i] EuroAmerica here is a general term used to describe the forces (i.e. media, government, private sector, academia and individuals) from Europe and the USA who would prefer their continued prominence in Africa and the world in general and view any other hierarchy of world power as fundamentally problematic.
[ii] Note: I left South Africa out on purpose. I consider South Africa closer to Africa than the BRIC in terms of the scale of the economies involved.
[iii] Note: Most of the comments are currently being directed at China and Africa as they are the most entrenched in Africa of the BRIC. I surmise it will only be a matter of time before Brazil and Russia are referred to in the same manner.
[viii] BusinessWeek (2010), ‘Critics Slam EU-Brazil African Biofuel Plan’ http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/jul2010/gb20100715_303820.htm
[ix] Note: This beginning to happen between EuroAmerica and some of the BRIC nations with examples such as the EU-Brazil biofuel deals with Mozambique and the Italo-Brazilian bio-fuel scouting and activities in Africa. But these bi/multilateral deals between the BRIC and EuroAmerica are still limited in number and tend to exclude China and India.
[x] This is why it is especially problematic when Africans themselves use the term colonial when describing BRIC activities in Africa.