Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Africa , Slavery

Really, now, why is Africa poor?

Nice excuses do you have more concocted for the next 100 years or so? I mean its been over 50 years and using the same excuse does not attract pity anymore. I mean take the case of India for example, their population alone is greater than that of the African continent, colonized for more than 300 years,Gained independance [sic] 60 years ago and you can see substantial development. How come this is not the case in many African countries? English is not their mother tongue either.

Comment by Reid – 28 March 2008 @ 10:53 pm

The above comment was in response to my 20 June 2006 post called, “Why is Africa poor?” And I just wanted to react to the comment. I know full well that the commenter, Reid, won’t listen to me because his/her mind’s made up already, but what the heck, I’ll give it a shot. I wish Reid would come out so we could talk things over (my email is at the top of, in case you’re reading this, Reid).

Nice excuses do you have more concocted for the next 100 years or so?
As a matter of fact, yes, I do. Except they aren’t excuses per se but what I believe to be the truth. Much as you have accusations and insults stocked up for the next one hundred years, your side of the story, I have what I believe in stocked up, too, my side of the story. And what I believe is that a series of events have contributed to stunting the economic development of many African countries. And, yes, slavery and colonialism are part of that series.

The same thing happened to the American Indian and the Australian Aborigine. It is no surprise that these peoples, who were subjected to the same conditions Africans endured, have been marginalised and are actually struggling to survive in the land of their birth. Only a very short-sighted brain will fail to see this, and choose to label it something else. And skin colour has no bearing on intelligence or stupidity, Reid. None whatsoever.

Skin colour is the organism’s reaction to the intensity of sun rays. The stronger the rays, the more pigmentation cells in the epidermis, called melanocytes, become active, producing melanin, the dye that gives dark people their tan.

I mean its been over 50 years and using the same excuse does not attract pity anymore.
Today we’re still going on about the facts of Alexander the Great‘s life, which did not occur 50 years ago but more than 20 000 years ago! What grounds could you possibly stand on to suggest we should not speak about historical facts of half a decade ago? And what historical facts would those be?

By 1905, African soil was almost completely controlled by European governments, with the only exceptions being Liberia (which had been settled by African-American former slaves) and Ethiopia (which had successfully resisted colonization by Italy). Britain and France had the largest holdings, but Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Portugal also had colonies. As a result of colonialism and imperialism, Africa suffered long term effects, such as the loss of important natural resources like gold and rubber, economic devastation, cultural confusion, geopolitical division, and political subjugation. Europeans often justified this using the concept of the White Man’s Burden, an obligation to “civilize” the peoples of Africa.

Colonialism came after slavery, mind you. Slavery devastated the continent, depleting it of its healthiest, most viable, strongest citizens. Then colonialism came in to finish the job. When I bring these facts up, it is neither to attract pity nor to seek revenge. It is to bring them up in order to respond to comments such as the one you left on my blog.

And why in the world would the African seek pity? From whom? As far as I know, the African wants the European and the American off the continent. But there’s just too many raw materials and minerals in Africa, aren’t there? And the Occident ain’t getting out unless it has to, is it?

I mean take the case of India for example, their population alone is greater than that of the African continent, colonized for more than 300 years,Gained independance [sic] 60 years ago and you can see substantial development. How come this is not the case in many African countries? English is not their mother tongue either.
It seems to me you might be making an error made by many, which is taking Africa to be a country. For the sake of clarity, Africa is a continent, a continent with many countries; India is a country, and is equivalent to one among the 53 states on the African continent. Due to this, India could not have undergone the same fate under colonialism as Africa. Let me explain.

In the nineteenth century Europe scrambled for Africa, and proceeded to carve it up like pie to suit its strategic needs. No concern was given to how the pie was carved, nor to what toppings were on each piece. In fact, “some 10,000 African polities were amalgamated into 40 European colonies and protectorates [source…].” Imagine that. 10 000 boiled down to 40!

Traditional foes were placed within the same borders, and villages were divided by new boundaries. Take a look at the map of Africa and see how many straight lines there are. India is one country and did not suffer this fate.

Upon independence, when colonial armies were no longer present to keep foe from foe, wars broke out in many places on the continent. And this has nothing to do with skin colour. Take the former Soviet Union, or Yugoslavia. These places, like Africa, had artificial frontiers held together by an ideology backed by a well-trained army. Take away the army, and the rest is history, among black people as among white ones (actually brown and pink respectively. Sort of). Like I’ve said, if you’d like to talk, you’ve got the comments section, and you’ve got e-mail.


  1. Your assertion that it was the incursion of the Europeans that is responsible for the misery and poverty and Africa is an over analyzed one. I love history, but when it’s not used to shape and improve the future it is of no value beyond being a subject of endless debates.

    Africa needs to look forward and into the future with a full understanding of the past. This is what will make the past relevant and the future better.

    Any decent history student has been taught what happened in the 1800’s in Africa, but have the leaders and people of the continent learned from it? Are the current generation wiser now than their forebears? Why is tribalism and ethnic strife still prominent on the continent? The regional boundaries are not going to be revert to what they were before the westerners arrive. Why are we in denial and unable to pull ourselves up by our boot-straps?

  2. Anonymous

    Did you ever see Nathan Nunn’s paper?

  3. I think that Reid doesn’t know that there are probably more devastatingly poor people in India than is on the continent of Africa.

    One other thing, since India was one country, ist part to play in the Cold War was different, sharing a border with China. The African countries were pitted against each other in the Cold War and some were involved in the proxy wars between the US and Russia. Leaving the legacy of war along with the weapons, propping up leadership that had nothing to do with the improving the economic situation, but to prove some ideological point.It had always been the best interest of the Europeans to keep Africans apart.

  4. Imnakoya,
    I am not asserting that the scramble for Africa has destroyed African lives, I am saying it as plain fact that I stand behind, and that most historians will stand behind.

    “Africa needs to look forward and into the future with a full understanding of the past. This is what will make the past relevant and the future better.”

    That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m looking at the past and seeing what went wrong. One thing I will not do is sweep the past under the carpet like many suggest. Those who are interested in forgetting the past have a thing or two to hide. I’m clean.

    “…have the leaders and people of the continent learned from it?”

    Most have. But let’s suppose most haven’t. What does that tell us? It tells me that slavery and colonialism have done more harm than I dare recognise, and that we should not falter in moving forward with full knowledge of where we’re coming from.

    When you’re raped, will you go, it’s the past, let me forget it and move on? I won’t. I’ll say, why was I raped, and what can I do so that I and others don’t have to undergo this ordeal?

    “Why is tribalism and ethnic strife still prominent on the continent? The regional boundaries are not going to be revert to what they were before the westerners arrive.”

    Because white people say it is. And as white people control the media, they’ve got you believing.

    Ethnic strife is alive everywhere. It is alive in Europe. have you looked at the history of Yugoslavia lately? Why did bombs go off in England? The IRA. If that was in Africa do you know how the media would have had a field day? And in India, that my friend Reid mentions: do you not see ethnic strife and tribalism in India? Only it’s perhaps worse because of the means employed there, and because India has not undergone the same strife as the African continent. When it’s Africa the media screams “Ethnic strife! Tribalism!” And you believe them. When it’s China kicking the shit out of Tibetans, those concepts are nowhere near the calamity.

    “The regional boundaries are not going to be revert to what they were before the westerners arrive. Why are we in denial and unable to pull ourselves up by our boot-straps?”

    I do not seek a re-drawing of boundaries. I seek a recognition that boundaries that were drawn up by white folks who knew nothing about us, hurt us. That’s what I seek. You’re in denial, saying that this simple fact did no harm to Africa. You’re in denial, thinking that the history taught by white people makes “decent” students, and the one taught by our fore-parents (if you’re an African) is erroneous.

    I spent a long time in America, and even I started wavering about our history due to the power the media has in America. I started asking myself whether Reagan wasn’t right, and Mandela wrong. Imagine.

    You live in America, Imnakoya?

  5. Anonymous,
    I suppose you mean Mr Nunn’s paper whose abstract says: “Can part of Africa’s current underdevelopment be explained by its slave trades? To explore this question, I use data from shipping records and historical documents reporting slave ethnicities to construct estimates of the number of slaves exported from each country during Africa’s slave trades. I find a robust negative relationship between the number of slaves exported from a country and current economic performance. To better understand if the relationship is causal, I examine the historical evidence on selection into the slave trades, and use instrumental variables. Together the evidence suggests that the slave trades have had an adverse effect on economic development.”

    It can be downloaded here:

  6. Hathor,
    Reid wouldn’t care about looking into information like that. Got his/her mind set, that’s all.

  7. Anonymous,
    Is this the paper you’re referring to?


  8. Sokari

    I completely agree with you Rethabile. Some time ago I had an exchange with a British feminist blogger who insisted the violence in Kenya was “tribal” and was incapable of moving beyond that point, citing the Kenyan and British mainstream media – media’s she would have no doubt criticised in another instance.

    We have no closure as the Americans say for 500 years of unceasing psychological and physical damage unleashed on our people and the destruction and theft of our land and resources.

    We need an acknowledgment that these crimes took place and an apology for the consequences which remain with us today plus reparations.

    The US media is one of the worst or should I say most successful propaganda machines – if you stay there long enough you start to belief that stuff.

    Finally a return to my point yesterday in which I said we Africans need to start to think seriously about living here in the West and begin to consider returning to Africa.

  9. In my personal opinion at this point in my life I think the less time we spend trying to have intellectual debates over our history- slavery, colonialism-with Westerners who clearly do not understand-and to be fair, really never have to understand-and the more time we spend looking inward and healing our wounds and learning from the mistakes of the past and building up a brighter future, the less relevant the discussion will be over time.
    It strikes me that a lot of these debates seem to be excuses to avoid any responsibility and guilt and if that’s what they want to do, rather than spending a large chunk of our time trying to force it out of them, let’s spend it creating a better society so that we can eventually sit on the table with Westerners as equals and be better able to address our past.
    Example: I think America now has a much greater ability to get an authentic discussion with the British about their colonial history……

    My rambling humble 2 cents

  10. Sokari

    If we use our own lives as an analogy which Rethabile did using rape, it is only by looking back that we can look forward. If we do not deal with the past how can we expect to look to the future and live in the present? I do not believe these debates are excuses either. Mugabe is a case in point. I think we are all intelligent enough to lay blame in the right places.

    We are tied to the West whether we like it or not and creating a better society without equality is not possible. It is the West that needs to address our past but instead they continue to exploit – of course with the collusion of our own leaders. And when we do have strong responsible leaders emerging such as Nyerere, Lumumba, Sankara they are either murdered or undermined.

    Our resources are being exploited at this very moment by Western governments and multinationals so how do we create a better society without engaging with them and insisting that African labour is not exploited and human rights not violated as say in the DRC?

  11. MJN

    I just wanted to say that I agreed with you – however India was not just one country; Pakistan seperated from the formerly colonized India largely due to religious division in 1947.

    I also think that some of Franz Fanon’s writings on whites taking an inevitable view of history – there was no avoiding what happened, Africa was always going to be poor, etc. – provide some valuable critiques of arguments like Reid’s.

  12. Rethabile: What makes me cringe is this subtle attempt to always heap African woes on the footsteps of the west. Whereas, what have Africans done to help themselves? Slavery and tribalism started way before the westerns stepped on Africa. The western media is only relevant to those in the Diaspora who rely on them as a news source. Now, more regional news portals are popping up that offer ‘behind the news’ reporting…and they still report on ethnic strife, tribalism etc. No, the western media is not force feeding us on these things, these events are on-going all the time!

    Africans have simply not done enough to help themselves, and this is what bothers, not what happened decades ago. If we can’t help ourselves – who will? China is now starting a new wave of ‘business-colonization’ under the pretext of trade… and robbing Africa blind, and what are the leaders doing?

    The rape analogy is just too personal, and and the trauma too direct to fit into the context of this discussion.

    Yes, I live in the US, but I’m a full-fledged African and have lived in there there more than anywhere else.

  13. I think I should get the discussion back on track. The deal isn’t whether Africans should or should not stand on their own two feet. That’s all I ask. We must help ourselves. No, the deal is whether or not Africa is poor because its inhabitants are stupid. That’s the comment I was replying to. These two points are quite different.

  14. Sokari

    Imnakoya @ Africa’s mainstream media and much of it’s alternative (used loosely) media simply echoes Western media language and interpretation. Rethabile’s point on ethnic conflict is a case in point. If you take Delta State in Nigeria and look behind the conflict between say Ogoni and Andoni or Ijaw and Itsekiri you will find it has to do with redrawing of local government boundaries and allocation of infrastructure that benefit one group over the other and not because of some intrinsic ethnic hatred (or that the people are stupid) as is presented in the national and international media. In whose interest is it to encourage ethnic conflict in an environment where a united Niger Delta would be detrimental to the Republic’s present allocation of resources.

  15. Sokari: If those resources were used the way they ought to – benefit the community – conflicts will not be so rampant. I do not really think we have a cause and effect kind of scenario, but a resource being misused by those in charge – local,national and international businesses. And this is what brings conflict.

    Historically African have always fought each other over land matters, because land is considered wealth. IN this age, that notion can be overridden if the people are empowered to benefit directly and indirectly from and on the ‘land’.

    So when I listen to the national NTA news in Nigeria, hear about some ethnic or religion motivated conflicts, I should know it is been dictated by the west?

    Nobody wants to die or get mangled by regional strives if they have a good and decent life. Can the present crops of African leaders make this happen? Yes, they can, and when they do, tying African woes to colonialism becomes a non-issue.

  16. I have silently been watching your debate, and I must agree that the media is the cause of much disinformation here in the West – it is misguided – as probably it is so with Africa. They seem to fan the fires of war with lies that the people are brainwashed into taking for truth. They repeat the same things over and over again until it is mistaken as fact. For the most part media is owned by the very corporations that are exploiting not only Africa – but the whole world. What to do? Wish I knew the answer.

    I wish you all well. I also wish there was something – anything we could do to help.

    Blessings and Peace,

  17. Sokari

    Note @ If you make an anonymous comment with no email address it will not be published.

  18. Mwangi,
    There must be debate, because for every false notion that is left unchallenged, more people see it as fact as Rainbow Demon states. This matters because in the long run US internal and foreign policy are determined by the what is considered the acceptable lie. With the exceptions of the cold war Africa was pretty much ignored by the US government, but within the state their notion of Africans, certainly influenced their dealings with the diaspora here. Even some blacks have asked the question, is it in African DNA, that makes the violent crime of black on black?

    Recently, American whites have made the African in America, the ascendant Negro, so some African interactions may be a little different than American blacks.

  19. Well you educated him and me both…