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Inside Europe’s savior complex


How Western efforts to remake Africa have changed from colonialism to international development assistance

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Last week, I was invited to speak on international development assistance (foreign aid) at the geopolitical conference at Makerere University organised by the French embassy and the Konrad Adenuar Foundation. My presentation caused uproar because I argued that the first large-scale attempt to use foreign aid to develop Africa was colonialism.

The promoters of colonialism claimed to pursue the three Cs – Christianity (to emancipate our souls from devil worship), Civilization (to end to tyranny of our customs and the despotism of our chiefs) and Commerce (to liberate us from poverty and misery). The reader may notice that for Europeans to perform their self-anointed role as saviors and civilizers of other peoples required a degradation of the intended beneficiaries. Thus our indigenous religious were called satanic, our traditional doctors called witches, etc. Colonialism was, therefore, presented as an altruistic mission by Europeans to save us from ourselves, just as “aid” today.

What we call democracy today was, under colonial rule, called Christianity. It was an attempt to have a universal faith and the only true faith for all. Today we see an attempt to create a universal form of government (liberal democracy) for every country regardless of history, culture, circumstances and context. What we call development today was under colonialism called “civilization.” It included introduction of modern administration, education and medicine. Again we are called upon to embrace everything European in origin as universal and meant for our own good – procurement rules, forms of government accountability, political and administrative structures etc. And what we call international trade was, under colonial parlance, called commerce. It involved the opening up of the local economy to international capital and stifling local innovations.

Thus the missionary and the trader were comrades in arms. Both needed the protection of their home state to achieve their goals – hence the entry of the administrator to complete the equation. The missionary did not only provide spiritual assistance but also provided earthly benefits like education and healthcare to the native. This helped him win hearts and minds thereby making it possible for the trader to do business. The administrator was always called upon to use force where siasa (indoctrination) by the missionary had failed.

In all cases, Europeans recruited local allies – the traditional ruler, the catechist, teacher and the headman. They ensured that the benefits of modernity – education, a salaried job or a business opportunity – went to those who collaborated with the colonial state and its agents. This way many Africans were won over ideologically through religion and education or through self-interest by giving them a stake in the colonial economy, and by bribery through land allocations. This is how colonialism entrenched itself.

Today’s missionary is a diplomat in an embassy or an international development agency. The local allies are NGO activists, politicians, academics, journalists and businesspersons whose career fortunes are largely promoted using scholarships, invitations to conferences and publicity. Anyone who positions him/herself as African intellectual who condemns the “dreadful” nature of governments in Africa; and defends democracy, free speech, free trade and investment gets a huge boost in Western media, think tanks, universities etc.


  1. meaning development aid is colonialism or opening up the developing world for local capital development to die in favour of foreign capital? this is reminiscent of the India mindset in the 6 post world war decades. Could we get access to the paper so that we judge the uproar?

  2. Truth is truth!
    Thank you, Mr. Mwenda!

  3. Mwenda, you are so spot on. Please keep giving us the insights.

  4. Stateless African observer

    They outlawed traditional healing because it works against them.

  5. 1.Why does Africa always blame the 1st world for its failure?Most of Asia and Latin America were classified as 3rd world nations that alone worked them up;Now states like China,Brazil,India,South Korea are invited for dinner with the big boys this begs the questions why are African nations not worked up economically?
    2.What works in Africa may seem awkward to the 1st world but its very normal in Africa for example;Africans demand to be bribed during elections while the citizens in the 1st world just need policies explained to them before they cast their vote..
    3. States in Africa especially those situated in Southern and Eastern Africa will just have to catch up with the pace at which the world is developing and accept the new world order of blackmail of governments, threats of withholding Aid,issuing travel bans,ICC threats.They use those tactics coz you are not only their former colonies but your economics status is promising which for me is not a bad thing.
    4.The rich will always be treated in a special way just here in Uganda the presence of a rich man is always noted and felt you can not do any thing about it.
    5.Up coming pundits like Rajab and Ejakaait were recently struck by lightening because they owed people money.

  6. If the reaction of the audience surprised you then that is funny. I ,d think that if you preached the dangers of obesity to starving karamojong you would need protection. If you care to look at recorded European history you will note that colonialism is a recent thing and so is foreign development assistance. These guys have built their economy on layers of skilful trading. Think of the old East India DUtch company in the east indies.or even the sugar barons in the Caribbean islands. Near home the Cape colony of 1497.Here in Uganda up to1992 most schools were fed by WFP on imported fish milk maize beef, chicken all from Europe. The European farmer had a field day. In a policy shift the food was banned the reason was,fish was dying of old age in our lakes and maize was rotting in the fields. Today the fishermen and their families starve and the maize still rots in the field! Think if UPE had planned acup of milk per school child what would kill the milk farmers. Now it is news when our farmers travel to Europe to learn how to grow matooke or when a delegation of Dutch farmers meet the head of state. By the way is there a presidential advisor on peasant farming? And when are we getting new districts? All this time am certain on the President phone speed dial the IMF representative is on the first button then the pundit s can claim for their facilitation preaching to the hungry Masses about patriotism and the dangers of free food.thank you

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