West’s history of exploitation


HAVING honed their skills with over 400 years of imperialism and exploitation in the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, the success of the European conquest in Africa must therefore be seen in light of Western Europe’s long history of colonial rule and economic exploitation around the world.
In addition, the centuries of extremely violent, protracted warfare among themselves, combined with the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution, produced unmatched military might.
When, rather late in the period of European colonial expansion, Europeans turned to Africa to satisfy their greed for resources, prestige, and empire, they quickly worked their way into African societies to gain allies and proxies and to co-opt the conquered kings and chiefs, all to further their exploits.
The rapid European imperial expansion in Africa did not change relationships among African communities.
Those in conflict with one another were inclined to remain in conflict, despite the impending threat from the French, British, Germans and other powers.
There was no accepted African identity to unite Africans during the period of colonisation since their strongest identities were communal and religious.
Political and economic competition with neighbouring communities also remained a high priority, particularly when the European presence appeared to be an economic and political advantage.
Ethiopia alone was able to successfully defend itself against colonisation by defeating an invading Italian army and was able to remain free of direct European political domination.
In March 1896, Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia, led his army to defeat General Oreste Baratieri of the conquering Italian army and its Eritrean allies at the Battle of Adwa.
Like Menelik II, Samori Touré, who created the large Mandinka Empire in West Africa between the 1860s and the 1890s, was an inspiring African political and military leader, but in the French, he faced a far more capable, tenacious and experienced adversary than Menelik II had in the Italians.
Samori Touré’s legacy remains controversial, yet he is a significant example of pragmatic resistance for the ways in which he contended with French aggression.
He manufactured firearms, relocated his kingdom and engaged in diplomacy with both the French and the British.
Yet, as Samori Touré conquered African territory and engaged in conflicts with African competitors, the French pushed deeper into the West African interior from Senegal, under the direction of Louis Faidherbe and his corps of African soldiers – the Senegalese Tirailleurs — while the British pushed northward through Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast with a large contingent of Hausa soldiers.
Each time the French attacked his territory or trade routes and goldfields at the heart of his economy, he mounted a series of successful counterattacks, until he was captured by the French.
He died in exile in 1900.
Ethiopia’s history and political structure fostered a broad-based, unified military response to the Italian invasion.
Ethiopians rallied around Menelik II and took pride in the kingdom’s glorious history.
Between 1832 and 1842 in Algeria, Islam became another source of unity, as Abd al-Qadir led his resistance against the French.
Conflicts among African societies in other territories hindered the effectiveness of their resistance.
In Zimbabwe, in the 1880s, the British exploited existing disputes between the Ndebele and the neighbouring Shona communities to foment a conflict in which the British felt they had to intervene, ultimately gaining control of the land.
Once the British attacked, the Ndebele surrendered, and the British imposed other Africans to police them.
Much to the detriment of African societies, the enmity between them often fostered alliances between Africans and Europeans against a common African enemy.
Hendrik Witbooi, a Nama Chief and early Germany ally against the neighbouring Herero, in what is now Namibia, is a prime example of shifting European allegiances and the strategies that placed Africans at a distinct disadvantage.
Initially, Witbooi and the Nama were allies of the Germans against the Herero.
However, in 1901, after the Germans asserted increased control over the region, Witbooi revolted and joined with the Herero to resist them.
On August 17 1894, Witbooi wrote to the colonial administrator Theodor Leutwein, who had accused Witbooi of recalcitrance.
The letter read: “Since you have the guns, you force the right on your side.
I fully agree with you in one thing: in comparison with you, we are nothing here.
I guess this time I shall be forced to defend myself against you.
I shall do so not so much in my own name but in the name of the Lord.
Trusting in His aid and strength I shall defend myself.
I have told you that I am fully in favour of peace and that I shall never be the one breaking such peace.
But you say you intend to attack me.
The responsibility for the innocent blood of my men and yours therefore cannot be mine since I am not the instigator of another war.
Please do leave us alone and withdraw!
Call your troops back and withdraw.
Please do withdraw! Please do so!
This is my very serious plea!”
Despite Hendrik Witbooi’s pleas, the Germans defeated the Nama and the Herero people.
However, at the age of 80, Witbooi rose again, to fight once more.
He was killed in 1905 while leading a charge against a German column.
In the aftermath of their conquest of the Nama and Herero, the Germans waged a war of extermination.
Those who survived hunger, thirst and exhaustion were placed in concentration camps that fore-shadowed the death camps of Nazi Germany.
By 1911, the population of the Herero had declined by four-fifths in 10 years and there were half as many living Nama.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For views and comments, email: linamanucci@gmail.com


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