The recent Oxford Africa Conference of 2015 offers us a unique moment of reflection. On the positive side, the conference provided a unique space for the showcasing of home-grown and home-owned African enterprises, which are an important source of Africa’s prospect of providing goods and services on its own terms and for its own people. To this end, the conference brought together some of the young entrepreneurs, students, businesspeople, and innovators in whose hands the future of the continent will surely someday rest. Young people from across the continent listened, learned, networked, and even debated with one another in productive ways in and outside of the official conference sessions.
At the same time, the conference featured entrenched business elites who have historically profited at the expense of the continent’s working class and lumpenized majority. Guest speakers were invited from such institutions as Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, McKinsey & Company, the World Bank, and Heirs Holdings, which publishes a magazine called Africapitalism. This magazine, much like the ideological framework of the Oxford Africa Conference, speaks in glowing terms of “the private sector’s commitment to Africa’s development through long-term investment in strategic sectors of the economy that create economic prosperity and social wealth.”
What this business-oriented discourse hides is the simple fact that Walter Rodney pointed out over 40 years ago: for the entirety of its 500-year existence, capitalism has been the primary agency of underdevelopment in Africa. The first historic period of European capital accumulation was the so-called Atlantic slave trade, a monstrous ‘structural adjustment’ which kidnapped millions of Afrikan people and enslaved them on white capitalist plantations in the Americas. Next came the colonial period with these same capitalists and their governments scrambling to carve up the natural resoruces, labor, and wealth of the continent. Nowadays, we see the latest phase of capitalist domination of the continent through neocolonialist forces such as the World Bank.
The World Bank was founded as an international financial arm of US imperialism, which emerged as the major global financial hegemon after the Western European colonial powers nearly destroyed themselves in World War II. Since then, the World Bank has extorted hundreds billions of dollars from Africa and the larger ‘global South.’ It has forced billions of people into odious debt slavery by granting unpayable loans to corrupt neocolonial Western-backed ‘strong man’ regimes.
While some have touted the Bank’s micro-finance loans to small and medium enterprises as a solution to poverty in the global South (often with singular anecdotal success stories), the fact remains that banks and finance firms service some 60 percent of all clients in the realm of micro finance and non-profit organizations service only 35%. This is why even micro-finance champions like Muhammad Yunus admit that these schemes are too often deployed by ‘loan sharks’ as another way to make money off poor people. At the end of the day, the World Bank’s multibillion dollar looting of Afrika, much like the centuries of slavery and colonialism before it, represents only the latest incarnation of capitalism’s “commitment to Africa’s [under]development through long-term investment in strategic sectors of the economy that create economic prosperity” for Western corporations and their Black bodyguards. Yet the Oxford Africa Conference saw fit to invite a World Bank country director as a featured speaker!
The keynote speech was given to President Mahama of Ghana, who said of such reactionary Oxford alumni as Rupert Murdoch and Margaret Thatcher that they “have most certainly done their alma mater proud.” Of Cecil Rhodes, the Africa Conference keynote speaker simply remarked that Rhodes was a “famous colonial businessman and miner, after whom the prestigious Rhodes scholarship as well as the former territory of Rhodesia—now modern day Zimbabwe—were named.” He made no mention of Rhodes’ historic crimes against humanity, nor the mass movement which has recently taken South Africa by storm under the banner of #RhodesMustFall.
For these reasons, the Oxford Pan-Afrikan Forum (OXPAF) organized a meeting designed to foster awareness and discussion of some of the forces which are too often neglected in ‘business roundtable’ discussions about the continent: British and Western imperialism and the neocolonial African governments which do their bidding.
We were happy to invite two special guest speakers to help us confront these ‘unspeakable’ forces. First, Dan Glazebrook spoke about imperialism and neocolonialism in Africa today. It was a devastating expose of the West’s “divide and ruin” strategy, exemplified most dramatically in recent times with NATO’s violent destruction of Libya in 2011 which destabilized the whole of North Africa by putting anti-Black death squads in power and distributing Ghaddafi’s arms caches to various destabilizing elements as far away as Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Dan Glazebrook is the author of the book “Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis” (2013). He is also a teacher, activist, and journalist whose work has been featured on various media outlets from the Guardian to Russia Today.
Following Dan’s talk, the wonderfully inspirational Kofi Klu spoke about neocolonialism and pan-Afrikan resistance from Patrice Lumumba to #RhodesMustFall. He described the ways in which neocolonialism and neoliberalism have terrorized the present generation of African “leaders” into submission and the need for the younger generation to build an new revolutionary movement for the liberation of Afrika as part of a larger struggle for global justice.
Kofi Klu is a London-based activist, global justice campaigner, and advisor to the Pan-Afrikan Fora International Support Coordinating Council (PAFISCC). He’s a leading member of the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe (PARCOE) and sits on the board of the Global Afrikan People’s Parliament (GAPP).
At the start of the meeting, Yanse Cooper and Arran Walshe treated us to a wonderful rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Thanks to Yanse, Arran, Dan, and Kofi for their passion and dedication!