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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

For how long will Africa continue to blame colonialism for its underdevelopment?

10th November 2012
Editorial Cartoon

This week in a meeting about governance and security in Africa which took place in Kigali’s Mille Collines hotel popularly know by Hollywood movie makers as ‘Hotel Rwanda’, majority of the invited speakers ‘claimed’ that the colonial legacy was the main factor for the insecurity, divisions, tribalism and conflicts in the continent.

To these speakers who are mainly experts in peace and security, the roots of Africa’s problems date back to the scramble for and partition of the continent, a process in turn triggered by the industrial revolution of the 19th century.

The industrial revolution itself, according to the historians, brought the high demand for raw materials, cheap labour and also markets for selling ready-made goods produced mainly in Europe.

Since the Western powers couldn’t agree on how to fairly and peacefully share Africa, they turned to the Berlin Conference of November 1884 to February 1885 -- chaired by German’s Chancellor Bismarck. The aftermath of this process was the colonisation of Africa by the Western countries.

Some prominent scholars like Walter Rodney have since narrated the impacts of colonisation of Africa in his famous book, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”. It’s therefore undisputable facts that the colonisation of Africa caused the massive exploitation of the continent and also brought about divisions as well as the artificial borders among African countries.

However, what’s annoying now is that nearly six decades since the decolonisation of Africa, some African leaders and the majority of our experts still associate the failure of post-colonial Africa with the era of Colonialism.

It annoys because our leaders as well as the academicians are still diverting attention from the real truth by claiming that we are what we are today because of the colonial legacy.

To put things into perspective, we are corrupt because of corruption. We are poor because of the pain inflicted to us by colonialists. We are rigging elections because of colonial legacy. We are insecure because of the colonial legacy.

We failed to achieve sustainable peace and development -- nearly sixty years after independence -- because of colonialism. But for how long shall we continue to point an accusing finger to the jinx of colonialism, which ended a distant six decades ago?

If the colonial legacy were a human being, he or she would have been 60-year old -- an age enough to have mature children, grandchildren and retirement benefits. If as a human being you cannot achieve your development and peace during the sixty years of living, then you will go into your grave with nothing except a lot of blames to your past.

Rwanda went through dark days in 1994 when about one million Tutsi, and moderate Hutus, were killed as Africa and the world watched in helpless stupor. But for those who have been in Rwanda in recent years, they agree that the country has strongly recovered economically, politically and socially.

Now, suppose Rwanda also chose to make genocide an excuse, would that country get to where it is today in terms of development, peace and unity -- considering what transpired in 1994?

Yes, we were colonised, but this should not mask our own lack of resolve to achieve peace, security and development. For instance, a 2008 report about corruption by African Union puts the cost of corruption to Africa at $196 billion -- more or equal to what Colonialism cost Africa during those dark days.

What corrupt leaders have cost Africa during the past six decades might even be bigger than what colonialists stashed away if thorough research was conducted, or it might even equal what the West looted from this continent.

The crime against humanity committed in post-colonial Africa is bigger than what the colonialists caused in Africa. Think about how many people were killed during the so-called civil wars in post-colonial Africa; their numbers add up to millions of women, men and children.

While it feels good to blame colonialism for our failures to achieve peace and development during the past sixty years, we should also use the same force and memory to evaluate ourselves in terms of leadership quality, good governance and economic planning over the same period.

In Africa, corruption, tribalism, violence and above all vote-riggings still largely cloud politics. Did Africa inherit corruption from colonialism, too? Did Africa inherit tribalism, violence and vote-rigging from western countries?

Who blocks African countries like Tanzania to use their abundant natural resources to bring about meaningful development to their people? Who allows the plunder of African resources by foreigners working in cohort with local forces? The answer might not be satisfying to all of us, but the truth remains very clear: we are the authors of our political, economic and social woes.

Perhaps it’s time we adopted what Ngugi Wa Thiong’o called, “Decolonising the mind” by setting free our own minds and attitudes. While we are busy blaming colonialism for all our woes, we should also start thinking about how we can have a peaceful and prosperous Africa.

If Africans cannot shun greedy, corrupt and visionless leaders, no matter how many times we continue blaming colonialism, Africa will remain a failed continent -- taking one step ahead and backwards.

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