The New Scramble for Africa
'Postcolonialism' for Africans has meant exploitation by corrupt rulers and rapacious foreigners. It is up to us to tell this story
Fifty years after colonial battles were fought and independence won, Africans are still chafing under postcolonial regimes led by former liberation warriors transformed into power-hungry, super-rich, authoritarian autocrats. Socialist rhetoric has been replaced with talk of capitalist investment, while multinationals of the west are vying for place against the emerging development interests of China and other Asian countries.
Newly discovered oil fields, fertile lands, diamonds, rare minerals and export crops are being sold off to the most cooperative bidders. While African billionaires are created overnight, the gap between the rich and the poor widens tremendously. Is this colonialism in a new dress? How does this new accumulation of enormous wealth in a few hands compare to the pre-independence period – and what are the strategies of progressive Africans to retake control of their countries?
These are the issues I want to address at the Left Forum 2011 conference (video), where we aim to draw our progressive US allies into a serious examination of the forces of social change on the African continent. We will look further than some of our traditional shared concerns – the environment, human rights, gender – to issues of law and the constitutions, land sales and appropriation of resources. Real collaboration among US and African activists is still in its infancy. In part, this is due to the historic failure of commercial media to provide critical in-depth information on African pro-democracy movements and on those struggles we have in common.
It is essential that we upgade the seriously outdated information available to Americans on Africa – starting with the view that our liberation leaders are democrats, when, in fact, the opposite is true. South Africa, for example, is no longer winning the war on apartheid – its "postcolonial" leaders are up to their elbows in deal-making and nepotism, denying labour rights and enacting curbs to press freedom.
We need to present new images of Africa that can supercede the tragic ones conveyed by charitable organisations of helpless Africans, or the uncontexualised pictures of war, as shown by the CNNs of the world. And we must expose the nefarious role of the international community and some of the NGOs, which try to set the development agendas for African people.
So, where can authentic news about what is happening around Africa be found? Besides the citizen journalism projects many of us are already involved in, we will also encourage a new series of meetings and conferences at venues such as the African Roundtable, Indaba African Centre, among others, for information-sharing, strategising, collaboration and resource-sharing. Better knowledge is the building block of new solidarity between African activists and American progressives.
Omoyele Sowore is appearing on panels at the Left Forum 2011 conference, 18-20 March, at Pace University, New York.
© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited