While Africans toiled and suffered under colonialism, the West prospered, leaving a debt that is yet to be reconciled. With new Western policies geared towards exploiting Africans, it raises the question: Have they forgotten that they owe us?

4 October 2023, the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced the rise in the cost of student and visiting visas by 600 per cent. This happened three months after he announced that immigrants would pay for the increase in wages of teachers and health workers. This development has sparked a vital discussion on the disparity and imbalance between Africa and the West. African immigrants continue to be a significant percentage of the UK immigration population, with Nigeria ranking second for the nationalities of migrants in the UK as of June 2023. This new policy serves as an unwanted reminder and further proof that the historical exploitation endured by Africans still prevails today. The new immigration policy announced is one of the latest ways the West capitalizes on the global power imbalance. However, what are the consequences of these exploitations for the continent?

HISTORICAL EXPLOITATION

In an attempt to enrich themselves and solidify their authority as nations/empires, the major imperial powers convened at the Berlin Conference of 1884 and agreed on how to formalize their claim on Africa; this was after the continent had already been subjected to centuries of murders and enslavement by the Europeans. The late 1800s set the stage for the highest number of immigrants from Africa today. For centuries, the continent’s wealth and resources, both natural and human, were harnessed and used to build the foundation of the West. As explained in Walter Rodney’s book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, what the colonialists called ‘the development of Africa’ was a cynical way of expressing ‘the intensification of colonial exploitation in Africa to develop capitalist Europe.’ While Africans toiled and suffered under their rule, the West prospered, leaving a debt that is yet to be reconciled. To now ask immigrants, who are mostly Africans, to cover the wages of teachers and health workers raises the question: Have they forgotten that they owe us?

Contrary to what we may believe, the exploitation did not cease with the end of colonialism. This is most evident in the recent happenings in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A nation blessed with abundant natural resources, including cobalt, an essential component needed by the West for the production of electronics. According to the World Bank, despite it being resource-rich, the DRC is among the five poorest nations in the world. The Congolese who do not benefit from their nation’s natural resources endure displacements from their villages, which have been and continue to be bulldozed over to make room for large mining concessions. The DRC is a nation where the working populace, children included, has been subjected to what can only be described as modern-day slavery. Parents grapple with the choice of sending their children to school or taking them to the toxic mines to work and increase their income, which stands at one dollar a day. Siddharth Kara, an author, researcher and activist on modern slavery, in a 2023 interview with Fresh Air, stated that the degradation and exploitation are comparable with old-world slavery. Profits from the DRC’s resources are not used to develop the country but mostly go to the West which further solidifies the claim that Africa is indeed funding the West. Similarly, the financial arrangement between France and the 14 African francophone countries using the CFA franc currency is questionable. These countries are required to deposit 50 per cent of their foreign exchange reserves in the French treasury. Critics argue that the CFA franc is a relic of a shady past and it keeps these African countries on a leash. Ndongo Samba Sylla, an economist and professor at the University of Paris, has argued that the CFA franc is an anachronism which demands orderly and methodical elimination. This financial dynamic alongside reports of France buying uranium from Niger at a relatively low price contributes to the ongoing exploitation of Africa by the West.

CONSEQUENCES OF HISTORICAL EXPLOITATION

It is highly imperative to recognise that the consequences of the historical injustices perpetrated against Africa still have lasting impacts on the continent’s economies and politics today. The injustices have created a clear socioeconomic disparity that continuously tilts the global power balance towards the West, leaving Africa at a perpetual disadvantage. These repercussions can be observed in the unequal trade agreements which subject many African countries to a cycle of economic dependency because they cannot fully benefit from their wealth and resources. Another form of economic dependency is the idea of international aid. It is not so much about Africa’s reliance on it but the fact that we believe the West is doing us a favour. Meanwhile, in reality, foreign aid is said to hurt us more than it helps us.

This misleading narrative that the West aids Africa must be corrected because according to a 2014 report, published by UK and African NGOs, Africa is said to lose about $192 billion every year in the form of debt repayments, multinational company profits, illicit financial flows, brain drain, illegal logging and fishing, etc, which is over six times what the continent receives in official aid, grants, loans, remittances, etc. It leaves room to wonder if foreign aid serves as a distraction for African leaders, possibly masking the fact that the continent loses more than it receives. All things considered, it becomes evident that Africa’s role in funding the West is not just a contemporary issue but an enduring one born from exploitation and resource control as seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Oftentimes, when the consequences of Africa’s historical exploitation and resource control are mentioned, questions like, ‘Would Africa have been different—better without colonialism?’, follow suit. But the more crucial questions would be: Where would the West be without Africa’s resources? Do the advancements or achievements arguably brought about by colonialism offset the enduring legacy of slavery, murders and most especially, exploitation that prevails today? This attempt to whitewash the effect of colonialism by emphasising the ‘positive’ impact suggests that Africans gained more than they lost. This narrative implies that the commodification and death of their people was a necessary evil in their journey to growth and development, which is inaccurate because it could have been avoided. It fails to acknowledge the loss and lasting effect of the West’s exploitation but instead suggests that Africans should express gratitude. It is fundamentally flawed to expect any form of gratitude from Africans upon whose backs your progress and development were built. This is not an attempt to accept or deny that colonialism may have had its impacts but the focus is that any semblance of the progress Africa may have achieved as a result of colonialism does not equate to or justify the cruelty, hardship and loss they endured throughout history and as such, the question ‘Would Africa have been any better without colonialism?’ should cease to arise because what advancement is worth the retardation of an entire continent’s economy for centuries?

Calls for reparations by the Caribbean and some African countries serve as a testament to their awareness of the historical exploitation enacted by the West and its enduring impact. The movement has made demands which include a formal apology, debt cancellation and for former colonial powers to invest in the countries’ health and education sectors. In the words of Nana Akufo-Addo, the president of Ghana, during the 2023 four-day reparations conference in Accra, ‘No amount of money can restore the damage caused by the transatlantic slave trade…but surely, this is a matter that the world must confront and can no longer ignore.’ This movement is not only a collective effort for these countries to take back what they lost but also an opportunity for the West to pay what they owe and finally reach common ground.

WHY AFRICA MAY NEVER STOP FUNDING THE WEST

Part of the imbalance between Africa and the West also lies in the inadequacies of African leaders. African politicians have come under fire for administrative corruption, economic failures, and policies not reflective of the needs of the people. They are more concerned with lining their pockets, rather than implementing policies which would aid economic growth and social development. As a result of poor leadership and lack of opportunities, many young and talented Africans continue to leave the continent in search of greener pastures in the West. Additionally, many African leaders prefer to send their children overseas to study, rather than invest in and improve local education institutions to provide a higher quality of education to citizens. The problem of Africa funding the West either directly or indirectly becomes difficult to tame because leaders who have the power and means to change it, are key contributors to the issue we face. According to the African Union, an estimated 70,000 skilled professionals leave Africa each year, causing the continent to lose about $2 billion annually in the health sector alone. This brain drain makes it more difficult for the continent to completely break free from the shackles of the West and experience positive change and development. Even after African immigrants have found better opportunities in the West, many of them make the decision to stay back, creating new lives for themselves in their countries of residence. And who can blame them? However, this decision further depletes our workforce, making Africa’s journey towards harnessing its full potential for self-sustenance challenging.

Former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair described African leaders as ‘fantastically corrupt’, while the statement spurred debate and criticism, he was not wrong. There is no doubt that Africa is a continent rich in resources and bubbling with potential but governments and leaders need to figure out how to harness these assets for our benefit. What seems unclear is whether or not African leaders and citizens alike understand the problem that funding the West poses. Are we aware of the ways we fund the West? Do our leaders lack the understanding to maximise the continent’s resources effectively to suit the nations or are they simply too selfish and greedy? Whatever it may be, the West banks on it. They are aware of the corrupt nature of our African leaders and they manipulate the feelings of hopelessness that people may feel. So, they rely on this ignorance and milk us for their gain. For instance, the UK government understands that immigrants will protest their new policies, including the one that prevents students from bringing dependents, but it will not stop them from studying or visiting their country. Even if that changes, it will not be an issue for them; they will have their country to themselves, which is something they have always wanted. The policy in itself shows that the UK is not exactly concerned about losing potential immigrants. This level of certainty is what Africa needs if we are to stand a chance in the journey to world domination or at the very least, if we are to stop funding the West. Just like them, we should be assured of our value and not dependent on them or the rest of the world.

Angelle B. Kwemo, the managing director for Africa of Washington Media Group and founder of Believe in Africa, in her 2017 article titled ‘Making Africa Great Again: Reducing Aid Dependency,’ suggested that the US must sustain its engagement with Africa as it directly strengthens its reliance on the continent’s economic opportunities and natural resources. She further states that America’s engagement in Africa largely serves American interests. This just proves that the rest of the world is aware of Africa’s potential and has found a way to milk it to their advantage but Africans are yet to catch up.

WHAT THIS POLICY MEANS TO THE BRITISH PEOPLE

On 13 July 2023, Sunak, in response to the threats of strike issued by teachers and health workers demanding pay increase, took to his X account to state:

I just announced a fair way to end the strikes—and already all teaching unions are backing it. It’s a fair deal for workers. And a fair deal for the British taxpayer. This is a major breakthrough for parents and families across the country.

While he succeeded in ending the disruptive public strikes, his tweet failed to point out that the ‘fair deal’ is at the expense of Africa. The same Africa that they owe their prosperity to. Once again, Africa loses. It is vital to point out that the British government and African leaders have, however, found common ground in their selfishness because this new policy only favours the British people, the same way the state of the African economy only favours the African leaders. It is the citizens of Africa, especially those from low-income backgrounds that will bear the brunt of this new policy.

In recent years, the UK has experienced a significant influx of migrants entering the country illegally. As of June 2023, the country recorded a 17 per cent increase in irregular immigrants from the previous year with a total of 52,530 individuals entering the country illegally. In a bid to end this trend, the British government formed a partnership with Rwanda, known as the UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnerships. The goal of this partnership is to manage the irregularities in migration by deporting illegal migrants to Rwanda and discouraging people from making these trips. However, the Supreme Court declared the bill unlawful and the UN Refugee Agency said that it would be a ‘clear breach’ of the Refugee Convention if passed. Unlike other policies, such as the study, dependents and visiting visas, it has not yet been put into effect but the numerous concerns have not deterred the government as they have continued to pursue it.

Although this new policy places an undue burden on immigrants, it is however a brilliant idea, especially for those benefiting from it. To the British people, this policy is a practical way for their government to manage the increasing costs in the healthcare and education sectors without dipping into their pockets or burdening their citizens, in which case it is a smart budget allocation strategy or even a way to control or reduce the number of people coming into their country. They can even argue that the policy will foster inclusivity and that it will serve to ensure that immigrants are integrated into society and are making economic contributions to the country rather than being seen as a burden to them, they can say this and it will be well received.

The West understands what it takes to get ahead and they have proven to the rest of the world time and time again that they are ever eager to take decisive steps necessary in achieving this goal. And until Africa realises its own worth and value, until Africa acknowledges its growth potential and starts making policies that favour us, even if it is at the expense of others, until our leaders care less about their personal gain and more about the people and the countries they govern, we will continue the redundant cycle of funding the West till we are left bare and depleted