Thursday, March 22, 2012

African Debt: The New Source of Colonialism

Debt: The new source of colonialism

Monday, 12 March 2012 00:00
Nigerian Guardian

COLONIALISM is a hate word in our world today, especially in Africa where slavery and colonialism were at its apex. The people were abused, maimed, killed, humiliated and dehumanized. This put a tag of evil on that word. Colonialism is seen as odious, inhuman and unfair. Those who engaged in it before are trying their best to erase it from peoples’ psyche; some are praying endlessly begging that people should close their eyes and forget all the ordeals that were meted out to them. And we must add that the colonized nations are still not happy with their former colonial masters.

The colonial masters have given tons of reasons why they colonized others. They tried to give these reasons for people not to see them as wicked and smarmy people, though these reasons are most times cockamamie.

They came uninvited most times, undermining the sovereignty of those countries; and sometimes by the use of military force. This to us is the uncouth and demeaning way of colonialism. In this type, the colonial masters are frowned at and hated by all human right activists. But there is another dangerous path that colonialism is taken, and in this path, the colonial lords are invited by the soon to be colonized and this makes the colonial lords saints and good people. The people are not forced this time, but out of bad leadership, reckless spending and lack of hard work, the people sabotage their wealth and go into borrowing until they go beyond redemption.

Debt is the new source of colonialism. When a country becomes indebted to an organization, country or person so much so that it cannot pay up her debts, that indebtedness automatically put the debtor country in a precarious situation and the country will be controlled by her benefactor like a robot. When this happen, that country have lost its sovereignty and this will come with dare consequences. The new colonial master is debt caused by bad leadership. Or how can a country still stand tall in comity of nations to argue and seek its right when it has a debt burden that is higher than her Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?

She immediately becomes stooge in the hand of her benefactor. So, which other word can we use to explain a situation where a country’s lenders are telling her what to do and how to do it? We can only imagine colonialism. Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. One of the difficulties in defining colonialism is that it is hard to distinguish it from imperialism. Frequently the two concepts are treated as synonyms. Like colonialism, imperialism also involves political and economic control over a dependent territory.

With a heavy debt weighing down on any nation, it causes that country to lose that power that make a country ‘sovereign’. Her leaders will be undermined by leaders from other countries, the country will be avoided by many, and she will become hapless, obeying orders from other countries. The country will be treated like second class citizens even in their country and suffering will become the surname of her citizenry. We guess that “austerity measures” is the sugared phrase for suffering these days.

Between July 1st to September 4th 2005, Nigeria paid a debt that they were owing to the Paris club. The actions as well as the demands of the Paris club illustrated our point here. The Nigerian leader’s body language also is a pointer to the fact that a debtor is subject to her benefactor’s wish. Even an elementary school student of semiotics can discern that Nigeria then was like a colony of the Paris club. The title of the debt re-payment in itself is loaded with meaning to critical eyes. They dubbed it: “debt forgiveness to Nigeria”.

So, the Paris club where messiah? And this shows a servant-master relationship which is the hallmark of colonialism. So, in effect, the master was forgiving her servants’ debt and no longer a business between to equals!

Recently, Greek President Karolos Papoulias angrily demanded, "Who is Mr. Schauble to insult Greece?" The humiliation that Greece has faced this period is another pointer to this issue. Greece has been treated the way their benefactors felt like especially Sarkozy’s France and Angela Merkel’s Germany. Greece looks Precarious and need their help; this has reduced a sovereign nation to somehow quasi-sovereign nation. Everyone talk about Greece with reckless abandon, in some instances, even influencing or try to influence the political and economic environment of the country. It was one of those comments that infuriated the Greece president. Wolfgang Schauble had implied that leaders like Papoulias are one reason Greece is in financial crisis and that the country might be better served by postponing its scheduled April elections and letting an interim government of appointed technocrats run things for a while ? the implication being that they could hardly do worse than current management.

Dale McFeatters, echoed my fear and the crux of this piece in a piece titled “Greece bridles at calls for more reforms, cuts” published in Korea Times recently. He had this to say: “Schauble can get away with saying these things because he is the German finance minister and a key player in putting together the $170 billion bailout package that Greece needs next month to avoid default”.

He went further in his conclusion to provide an answer to Papoulias when he opined: “And to answer the Greek president's question as to where Schauble gets off insulting Greece, the answer is simple: He works for Merkel, the leader calling all the shots”. Which other way can imperialism and colonialism be so glaring than this? A peep in Italy’s, Spain’s, and Portugal’s voice in the Euro zone, will show the fact that debt is the easiest way to lose respect and the sweetest way of being colonized.

African Leaders must wake up now, pay up their debts, and stop living on borrowing; they must also eschew corruption and plan for national development that is, if they are not to be perpetually colonized. The first colonization was rebuked by others because the colonial masters used guile to plunder their economy, but debt inflicted colonialism is self inflicted and cannot be condemned. They must live within their means and live honestly by ushering good economic policies and being accountable.

In an award giving ceremony held in state house, Abuja in January this, President Jonathan made the made the following comment: "If we cannot build good roads for our children; if we cannot leave hospitals for them, then one thing we must not leave for them is debt, for them to come and pay". In as much as we crave for good governance and development, we cannot neglect the importance of such speeches; and more so, the need for such actions. That speech deserves commendation; only that the recent borrowing that His government is proposing is making a mockery of those noble words especially now that we see what debt default can cause.

It will get to a point where individuals will be buying up countries and that might mark the second coming of slavery. But until then, responsible government must ensure the sovereignty of her country by doing the right things like securing her territory, keeping her economically viable and maintaining a respect for her by living a life worthy of emulation. And to do otherwise, will be inviting colonial ‘lords’ to a feast in their country. Please President Jonathan, keep your word and stop borrowing.

Uwalaka Temple, MBA student, Solbridge International School of Business
Woosong University, Daejeon, South Korea

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