By Patience Rusare
EACH year on May 25, the continent celebrates Africa Day.
And at every Africa Day celebration, calls have been made for Africa to be a united and peaceful continent.
This year’s celebrations were no exception.
The song continued: “Africa unite! Unite Africa!”
This year’s celebrations were observed virtually (webinar) due to the impact of COVID-19 which has besieged the world.
Again, it called for a peaceful continent running under the theme, ‘Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development and Intensifying the Fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic’.
But like many celebrations, the history of Africa Day seems lost to many of the new generation.
Its origins can be traced back to April 15 1958 when the first conference of Independent African states brought the fathers of Africa’s liberation movements together.
At the time, there were few independent African States, but the few leaders in attendance from Ghana, Ethiopia, Sudan and Liberia, among others, were there as a collective platform to reject colonialism and find common ground.
It sowed the seeds of what would become the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), later rebranded in 2001 as the African Union (AU). More than half a century later, the continent is still confronted by divisions which were created at the 1885 Berlin Conference.
Colonialism created the basic conditions of the crises Africa faces today: dependent economies, distorted structures, artificial boundaries, divided people, undeveloped human resource base, weak undemocratic state resources and, most disappointingly, a divided Africa.
Years earlier, before the 1963 convention that gave birth to OAU, in 1944, Europe was in shambles and its member-states came together to map an economic way forward for the benefit of future generations.
The aim of the conference held in rural Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, was to ensure post-war prosperity through economic co-operation.
They pledged they would avoid intra-conflict on their continent.
After the Bretton Woods meeting, two key institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, were created to manipulate the colonial crises already in place in order to reconstruct a devastated Europe.
They began to milk African countries by enforcing economic programmes like the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme that Zimbabwe adopted in the 1990s.
And Africa today pays close to
US$20 billion in debt repayments annually.
Remember, in 1883, King Leopold II of Belgium, as a reminder to the missionaries headed to Congo, wrote:
“It will be best to protect your interests in that part of the world. You would have to keep watch on dis-interesting our savages (Africans) from the richness that is plenty in their underground to avoid that they get interested in it and make you murderous competition and dream one day to overthrow you.”
While during the era of King Leopold II the European plundered and enslaved, today they have resorted to a full blown war.
It is now Boko Haram in Nigeria, Niger and Mali; Al Shabab in Somalia and Kenya; Al Qaeda in Algeria and Mali and an extremist Islamic movement in northern Mozambique.
African wars: Colonial signature
Europe’s arbitrary post-colonial borders left Africans bunched into countries that do not represent their heritage — a contradiction that still troubles them today.
African scholars have long maintained that the national borders in Africa, most of which date back to the period in the late 1800s when European powers divided up most of the continent in a flurry of diplomatic agreements and colonial wars now known as the ‘Scramble for Africa’, are actually one of the biggest sources of its present-day strife and violence.
This colonial division of the continent was decided at the Berlin Conference of 1885-6, where powers of the day — France, England, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Italy and Belgium — shared out the spoils of the ‘dark continent’.
These borders were drawn without attention or sympathy to the people already living on the continent — most of the European diplomats negotiating new territorial borders had little or no knowledge of the terrain or populations they were apportioning.
In 1890, the British Prime Minister noted that: “We have been giving away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where the mountains and rivers and lakes were.”
By the time the First World War broke out, the continent was criss-crossed by novel political borders that had no consideration of the people on the ground.
Most African colonies gained independence as new nations during the 1950s and 1960s and, in many cases, inherited the borders that had been haphazardly drawn decades before.
That left many ethnic groups divided across borders, sparking strife and civil wars, while leaving the continent with dozens of separatist movements to date.
And today at the AU, decisions within the organisation are influenced by the dynamics of this colonial legacy; mainly between Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone states.
France may have withdrawn the physical colonial administration, but it continues to be omnipresent in Francophone Africa and to plunder Africa’s resources.
When Sekou Toure of Guinea decided in 1958 to leave the French colonial empire and opted for the country’s independence, the French colonial elite in Paris were furious.
In response, they destroyed everything in Guinea which represented what they called the benefits of colonialism.
Schools, nurseries and public administration buildings were razed to the ground.
Cars, books, medicine, research institutes, instruments and tractors were destroyed.
Horses and livestock on farms were killed and food in warehouses burnt or poisoned.
They were sending a clear message to all other colonies that the consequences for spurning France were dire.
Following events in Guinea, no other African country found the courage to follow the example of Sekou Toure.
And to ensure it retained all colonial prerogatives, just before France conceded to African demands for independence, it forced all its 14 former colonies to sign a colonial pact.
The colonial pact demanded all French colonies in Africa pay tax for slavery and colonisation.
It is the colonial pact that obliged the African states to put 65 percent of their foreign currency reserves into the French Treasury, based on the convertibility, at a rigid exchange rate of the CFA, a currency France had created for them.
The 14 African states deposit another 20 percent for financial liabilities, making the dizzying total of 85 percent.
The Francophone countries, therefore, have only access to 15 percent of their own money for national development in any given year.
If they are in need of extra money, as they always are, they have to borrow from their own 65 percent in the French Treasury at commercial rates.
Shocking isn’t it!
That is not all!
There is a cap on the credit extended to each member-country equivalent to 20 percent of their public revenue in the preceding year.
Even worse, when the French franc loses its value, they devalue the CFA to adjust for the trade deficit at the expense of African countries.
Thus, since 1961, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon have been putting in US$500 billion every year into the French Treasury.
These are the threats that Agenda 2063 faces in the next 43 years.
So, until Africa speaks with one voice and do away with colonial ties, the next four decades will find us in the same predicament.
It’s time for Africa to wake up!