Why Can’t They Just Fix Themselves?
I had a conversation the other day.
A conversation with a person a little bit more removed from the ‘colonised’ world and its direct impact. A life foreign to me, as I have grown up in a country with its foundations rooted in colonisation and have witnessed the ongoing struggles and ramifications of these foundations for our First Nations people.
I thrive in these spaces of discussions, as I leave these conversations buzzing with thoughts and ideas of how I could have explained and framed my position better, and how, moving forward, I can best reshape this narrative that is often skewed with the limitations that stem from inherently entrenched colonial frameworks and understandings.
This conversation was met with much openness, which I appreciated, as the individual acknowledged their ignorance to the topic as well as their limitations to understand as a result. An acknowledgement that I greatly respect, as it’s important to recognise that without awareness and recognition of our limitations within these spaces of discussion, there is no room to grow and challenge ourselves to be better.
While it is important to note that I am not directly and negatively impacted by these colonised foundations; within this conversation, I still became acutely aware of the differences in our way of thinking due to our two separate environments. However, I can appreciate the irony of my position within this story telling. For I too, have a privileged and white disposition. Yet, I would call it a further privilege to also be aware of the struggles that stem from my presence within this country. Privilege is also the ability to be immersed in these knowing’s of the colonised as well as the colonisers. To have the ability to sit in between and merely observe is the biggest privilege of all, and to be able to be impartial to such effects and struggles, only further solidifies my position of privilege within this world.
The question that was raised during this conversation surrounded the issue of development and the progression of nations that are now decolonised.
‘It’s 2022, why can’t nations such as those within Africa, fix themselves and address the development issues they continue to face?’
A valid and curious question; one that has legitimacy for debate, yet has a response that is both simple and complex to analyse.
The mentality of the idiom ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ comes to mind within this conversation. The mindset of reaching success by one’s own effort put forth to improve one’s life circumstance, rather than relying on others for external input, can be greatly appreciated. However, in the context of development, it is one that can often be misleading. Although self-determination is always a priority within the development world, Western colonial constructs, and ideologies, distort our ability to consider a number of detrimental factors that make such a mindset so unreachable and unrealistic for nations that have been violated by colonial influence.
It is so much easier to pull yourself up ‘by the bootstraps’ when you still have access to these ‘straps’, and when your ‘boots’ have not been stolen from under your feet.
I like to use the analogy of a car. The wheels move you forward, the steering wheel helps you make decisions, the engine keeps you running, the petrol gives you the resource to run efficiently, the navigation system gives you direction, the seatbelts give safety, and the locks give you security.
But what if I had my car broken into?
What if they removed my wheels, drained my petrol, and cut my seatbelts? Yet I was still expected to drive and move forward?
It just doesn’t work.
What makes this discussion even more complex in its consideration and debate, is the continual exploitation of vulnerable nations, who, although are now decolonised, still have fundamental roots and ties with their previous coloniser’s grasp.
In a previous piece I have written titled: ‘Foreign Aid’, I highlight a number of factors contributing to the continual colonial grip and inability for many nations to move forward without assistance. Previously I have written:
“African is rich with natural resources. The continent holds roughly 30% of the world’s mineral reserves. So, why is it that a continent with such immense wealth potential, continues to remain so poor?.
The exploitation of such resources has led to the ongoing corruption of the continent. As a result, Africa is viewed largely as a resource for foreign elites to claim. A majority of the continent’s resources and its revenue, benefit foreign power over the populations within each nation. Tom Burgis describes Africa’s situation, as “the continent that is at once the world’s poorest and, arguably, its richest.” He further suggest that “multinational companies hold enormous economic and political power in post-independence African countries…… in this way, there is a pretty straight line from colonial exploitation to modern exploitation.”
The incessant presence of foreign interference continues to deprive decolonised nations, such as those in Africa. Such a presence can be seen through foreign aid. To put this argument into context, 99% of aid given to African nations is integrated into the economic order to develop trade and facilitate economic relationships. With only 1% focused towards humanitarian assistance. Through this statistic, it is evident that foreign aid is primarily for political advantage.
While the argument of this piece is about post-colonial nations ‘helping’ and ‘fixing’ themselves independently and away from foreign intervention, it is important to consider these influences. Influences that continue to play such a significant role in the political narrative of these nations and continue the cycle of dependency, thus contributing to the incapacity to be completely autonomous in addressing prevalent development issues.
Within my piece ‘Foreign Aid’ I explain:
“Conditionalities are a large component attached to foreign aid in the modern context. Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo suggests that aid is tied in three ways. Firstly, through procurement, nations that accept aid must spend it on good and services from the donor countries. Secondly, Moyo highlights that the donor countries have the right to determine how the aid is going to be allocated. And thirdly, she highlights that aid is only distributed once a nation agrees to set of political and economic policies. Thus, it is clear that foreign aid has significant ties to elements of exploitation, and further one could even consider new forms of colonialism.”
The fundamental error of most development projects is the belief that self-determined concepts and ideas are secondary to those who are implementing them, and that substantial progress and development is only effective through donated and foreign capital. However, Dr Hugo Slim highlights that for every dollar of aid sent to developing nations, roughly ten dollars returns to donor countries. Slim estimates that the net transfer of wealth is $200 billion per year from developing to donor nations. Through these statistics, there is a clear indication that the foreign aid agenda for many donor nations is in favour of their own personal interest. Thus, as a result, foreign aid has the tendency to benefit rich states over those the aid is sent to assist; creating significant debt, which then co-creates further dependency. And the cycle continues.
In conjunction with this, the ‘scramble for Africa’, otherwise known as the ‘partition’ or ‘conquest’ of Africa, has proven to have long term consequences for the continent, even post decolonisation. These ramifications are prevalent not only as a result of the colonial ruling that was present, but the annexation and division that was created as a result, and continues to create tensions amongst populations throughout the continent still to this day.
The partition of Africa, through colonial conquest, has contributed to significant underdevelopments amongst many nations. Such social, political, and economic setbacks have driven civil conflicts and discrimination. Stelios Michalopoulos highlights that through the reshaping of ethnic composition, size, shape, and landlocked status to create newly ‘independent’ states, “it has spurred ethnic-tainted civil conflict and also promoted repression and ethnic-based discrimination”, something of which that is still ongoing today. Michalopoulos continues in arguing that as a consequence of colonisers creating artificial borders to claim their piece of the African continent, many nations are ‘peculiar in size’, such a factor limits sovereignties in their pursuit of a position beyond its capital, thus weakening “the enforcement of laws, which, in turn, impedes development”.
The pollution of colonial influence stems far greater than the time frame of colonial ruling and is buried deep in the foundations of each nation that once had its freedom stolen from them. The coloniser’s grasp continues to hold firmly on these nations and dictate the outcome of many political and economic frameworks of these nations. However, this time, the grasp is through a different, more complex lens; making it harder to recognise. Post-colonial nations continue to feed the greedy demands of the colonisers and as consequence, are kept in a cycle of self-destructing dependency.
So, to answer the question:
“Why can’t nations such as those within Africa, fix themselves and address the development issues they continue to face?”
We must first analyse our own preconceived notions and challenge the structures and systems which we continue to benefit from.