In a Johannesburg bookstore I came across a big hardback volume called Why Africa is Poor, and on the back was this blurb:
"This book shows that African poverty is not because the world has denied the continent the market and financial means to compete… Nor is African poverty solely a consequence of poor infrastructure or trade access …Greg Mills controversially shows that the main reason why Africa's people are poor is because their leaders have made this choice."
I have also been encountering this kind of thinking in everyday life: most recently an American "global bass" dj told me that "Africa just needs to stop acting like a bitch and man-up" adding that "it is their own corruption which is the real problem". A while back some Germans told me much the same thing, that "The West" no longer has anything to do with today's poverty and suffering in Africa, and they should stop dredging up the past. Routine denial and systematic disavowal have always played central roles in our brave new world, but these attitudes seem to comprise a new intensified wave of right wing denial that renews a sense of European superiority during a time of economic turmoil, provides false moral grounds for the shirking of responsibility, and reinforces centuries old racism. Let us look at exactly what is wrong with this grade A bullshit:
• Claims of internal corruption being the primary reason for poverty in many parts of Africa today ignore historical facts of the African people's chosen leaders being systematically removed by Western powers due to non-compliance with foreign interests, and corrupt lapdog dictators installed in their place, who then sell out their own people for personal gain, dooming entire populations to decades of famine, war, and disease.
• Claims of incompetence being responsible for under-development leave out a multitude of manipulative measures (such as "Aid") with which foreign agents keeps real development from happening, thus keeping routes open for continuing exploitation.
• These claims disavow the long term interest of multi-nationals in keeping areas such as the Congo unstable and in conflict.
• These claims deny fundamental colonial causation of problems in the very structure of society and in every sphere of life, which are entirely too numerous to list here (but for starters, how about: arbitrary national boundaries which divide ethnic groups; long term inequality fostered within populations by systematically playing one tribe off against the other for decades; introduction of forms of governance and legal systems which go against local customs; suppression and outright denial of education; banning of local languages; destruction of indigenous culture; collective psychological trauma from centuries of violence and oppression; etc, etc, etc, etc.), the effects of which not only live on, but ripple and multiply with each day.
• These claims take none of this into account, saying instead: "Africans simply can not govern themselves, and as soon as we leave, they mess everything up" - calling a man weak after stabbing him in the back.
Superficially, this kind of selective observation and false reasoning may seem either relatively harmless or at the most, only misinformed. But upon closer inspection it unmistakably stems from and validates the same Eurocentric, Social Darwinist, and white suprematist ideology which justified systematic decimation of native peoples for the past 4 centuries.
Ultimately, according to this logic, the only possible reason that "Africans can not govern themselves" is "inherent (racial) inferiority" - these claims which blame the victims not only reveal the deep racism of those who make them, they allow injustice and horror to continue unabated. People who make these claims, just like the ones who deny artificial conflict created by the Belgian masters between the Hutus and Tutsis as one of the central cause of the Rwandan Genocide, and instead cite fictional "ancient tribal hatred" as explanation, are fundamentally no different than Holocaust deniers, and not one bit less morally irresponsible or reprehensible.
Former French defense minister Gerard Longuet was caught on camera giving ‘the arm’ to an Algerian request for recognition of war crimes during the colonial era
Plenty of other examples exist, such as Germany's refusal to call the Namibian Genocide what it is, under pressure from other former colonial powers - because if Germany was to start using the G word, the others would also have to recognize the extent of similar atrocities, and forced to pay reparations. Similarly, the French former defense minister's recent response to Algerian request for recognition of colonial war crimes (photo) more than adequately illustrates this New Denial - it is a much easier option than any other. And last but not least we have the likes of wildly popular right-wing historian Niall Ferguson, one of top 100 most influential people according to TIME magazine, saying things like "the British Empire was mostly a good thing, at least we brought civilization to the savages". His books, which include Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World and Civilization: The Six Killer Apps of Western Power, deny not only the British Empire's pandemic destruction of culture and atrocities against vast numbers of human beings in Africa and around the world, but also, more importantly, Britain's primary authorship of the ideological constructs which made the holocaust possible.
I have nothing but respect and admiration for the strength in my African sisters and brother's hearts when they talk of reconciliation, forgiveness, and moving on; and do of course recognize the importance of letting go of the past and positivity for the way forward. But while, in the 21st Century, Africa is not the only part of the globe still struggling with problems directly or indirectly resulting from colonialism, the situation on this continent is among the very worst, especially with the constant and increased presence of a predatory international economic order. Many African nations are not yet ready to do what China did in 1984 - telling the former British colonizers "thank you for waking us up", in other words: "spare us your crocodile tears, just fuck off" - because the neo-colonial knife, unlike with China, is still firmly planted in their backs - and no real progress can be made until its its removal.
So, the real answer to the question Why Africa Is Poor is the following:
Africa is not poor. But only made to be poor through various historical processes known generally as Colonialism, a process which greatly benefits Europe and the US (and has also made many other places artificially poor). No, Africans are not poor, but are locked into a cycle of poverty by the global economic order which demands cheap materials and depends on the fruits of exploitation for sustenance.
DJ Zhao lives and works in Berlin; his work can be heard at Ngoma Sound.