Can a Massive Foreign Aid Be the Solution to Africa’s Problems, Part 2

Dr. Aklog Birara, former senior adviser to the World Bank

A Colonialist being carried by the colonizedColonialism by a different name is still the same. Having been forced to cede their colonial territories, colonialists and emerging imperialists designed new, sophisticated, and seemingly pro-African development, pro-free market, pro-human rights protocols, and pro-modernization instruments that bolstered the continued extraction and rent-seeking of financial and natural resources from Africa.

France and the national elites which it encouraged and created, still dominate Francophone Africa. Anglophone Africa is dominated by the United Kingdom and the domestic elites it trained, educated, and deployed. Although less pronounced, Portugal and Spain promoted a Lusophone sphere of influence that mimics the French and British. All told, they operate in tandem.

The French post-colonial economic and financial relationship model with its former colonies illustrates indirect colonial hegemony. This is the essence of neo-colonialism. Fourteen Francophone countries using CFA Francs are required to store 50% of their currency reserves with Banque de France, and the currencies are pegged to the euro. On the surface, this seems like a beneficial arrangement because it is supposed to shield Francophone Africa from gyrations in the global market and to mitigate the hazards of currency price inflation.

However, the mutual benefit among nations theory is exaggerated. France takes advantage of its ties with its former colonies and extracts rent. Mauna Remarque Koutonin, Editor in Chief, Silicon Africa, brought to our attention the stains of colonialism in Africa. Koutonin’s research reveals that former French colonies are “forced to pay a colonial tax to France even today”.

Evidence shows, “Each year, the French Treasury extracts $500 billion from Francophone Africa. This extraction of massive foreign exchange enriches France while impoverishing Francophone Africa.” The importance of France’s financial and economic ties with its 14 former colonies is best described by French leaders. In March 2008, former French President Jacques Chirac said:

Without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third [world] power.” Chirac’s predecessor François Mitterrand had prophesied in 1957 that: “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century.”

If the massive tax paid to France by the French speaking African countries were retained in their own countries, it would go a long way in injecting capital for development more so than any massive aid from the West.

Africa needs to extricate itself from its colonial past and current imperial influence. The former president of France Jacques Chirac is the only western statesman who had the moral fortitude to depict the devastating impact of colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, and slavery on Africa. In 2016, France’s 22nd President said this, “We drained Africa for four and a half centuries. Next, we plundered its raw materials. After that, we said: they (Africans) are good for nothing. In the name of religion, we destroyed their culture, and now, as we must act with elegance, we are picking their brains with scholarships.

Chirac continued, “Thereupon, we are claiming that the unfortunate Africa is not in a brilliant condition and is not making elites. Having enriched on its back, we are now lecturing. Treating African like school children in the 21st century reflects a colonial and racial mindset”.

Beneficiaries of Foreign AidThis colonial phenomenon is still strong and corrosive in Africa. I find it unfathomable in the 21st century that western European and American governments “lecture” Africans on democracy, human rights, the rule of law, the environment, and a slew of other matters while they themselves act contrary to what they preach by undermining African states in multiple ways.

Eritrea and Ethiopia feature prominently in this underhanded and sinister operation of destabilization of Africa by the West. Internal political and social conditions are key in understanding the nuances of neocolonialism.

Four and half centuries after Africa’s devastation began, the West encouraged, prepared, and financed African political and social elites in many cases. It empowered them to operate from the same mindset as their colonial and imperial creators and enablers.

The Francophone, Anglophone, Lusophone, and Ameriphone colonial and neocolonial relationship is a brake on sustainable and equitable development in Africa. This brake is compounded by African thieves of state. Ethnic polarization and the mindset of “It is my turn to eat” compounds the problem. Such behavior partially led former USA President, Donald Trump, to call African states “shit holes” and the former French President, Chirac to propagate the Western narrative that, “Africans are good for nothing”. However, while there is some truth here, these Western leaders did not acknowledge responsibility of their own countries in being regular enablers of the monarchial autocrats who enrich themselves at the expense of the African people whom they victimize.

There are stark differences between petroleum and gas Gulf Cooperative Council Countries, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), East Asia, and the Pacific. Africa is resource-rich and governance poor. It is endowed with enormous natural and human resources. Does the world really know that what Africa possesses affects the global economy one way or another?

Africa is the second largest continent, with 30.37 million square kilometers of land. Its current population exceeds 1.3 billion, most of whom are young. Strategic mineral resources feature prominently in Africa’s economies. Africa’s future will be determined by its youth and not by the dinosaurs that bleed it.

Africa ranks first or second in the world in possessing bauxite, cobalt, industrial diamond, phosphate rock, platinum-group metals, vermiculite, and zirconium. It is also endowed with copper, coal, uranium, petroleum, gas, and fertile and irrigable lands.

I am not surprised that Africa's endowments attract wealthy and developed nations of the West and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, and more). Some of them help Africa extricates itself from underdevelopment while others try to keep it poor while exploiting its vast natural resources.

Africa is one of the world's poorest, corruption-ridden, and least developed continents. Let me contrast Africa with Asia and the Pacific region. The World Economic Forum reported, “In 2020, Asia’s GDP overtook the GDP of the rest of the world combined. By 2030, the region is expected to contribute roughly 60 percent of global growth. Asia-Pacific will also be responsible for the overwhelming majority (90%) of the 2.4 billion new middle-class members entering the global economy.”

African leaders must learn from this remarkable development and dramatic wealth and employment generation shift, though they must be mindful that the social, political and economic conditions in Asia and Africa are not identical. African leaders and elites cannot learn from the Asian and Pacific rim success unless they are willing and ready to change their mindset.

My conclusion is that neither Europe nor the USA will propel Africa to prosperity. Africa’s relations with the rest of the world must change fast. Change begins with thinking and planning for the long term. Change begins by accepting the notion that oppressors and extractors of wealth cannot extricate endemic poverty and propel Africa’s prosperity. Political and institutional changes must come from Africans.

It is time for Africans to set their own pro-Africa development agenda.