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.