From aid and humanitarianism to solidarity

Discourses on development and the realities of exploitation – Published on Pambazuka News, by Horace Campbell, June 16, 2011.

Horace Campbell charts Africa’s exploitative history of ‘aid’ and the struggle to establish a new global system rooted in dignity, equality and genuine social justice.

January 2011 marked 50 years since Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was assassinated. This assassination represented one of the many examples of efforts to destroy the African self-determination project. In his book on The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Ludo de Witte noted that,

The murder has affected the history of Africa. The overthrow of Congo’s first government, the elimination of Lumumba, the bloody repression of the second resistance to the neocolonial regime of Joseph Kasavubu, Mobutu and Moise Tshombe and finally the creation of the Second Republic in this vast strategic country: the repercussions of all these events had disastrous consequences throughout Africa as a whole. 

If Africa was a revolver and the Congo its trigger, to borrow Frantz Fanon’s analogy, the assassination of Lumumba and tens of thousands of other Congolese nationalists, from 1960-1965, was the West’s ultimate attempt to destroy the continent’s authentic independent development.

Fanon had written on the continued efforts to destroy transformations from colonialism and in June 2011, fifty years after this assassination and the murder of numerous genuine freedom fighters in Africa, it is now possible to fully chronicle all of the efforts to pre-empt Africa’s reconstruction. Ludo de Witte used the metaphor of the revolver with the trigger to connect the militarism that is linked to the plunder that has been going on for the past fifty years with the massive propaganda on “development” and “progress” to cover up the role of the international mining houses and pharmaceuticals in Africa. As a scholar, I have been very cautious in using the formulations of progress and development. I am conscious of the genocidal activities that have been carried out in the name of progress and am always aware of the extermination of the First Nation peoples of the Americas in the name of progress. When writers and those who suffered from slavery and genocide draw attention to this history, then we are told that such events as the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans are unfortunate by products of progress and development.

Throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America the forces of international capitalism plundered the resources of the planet as the imperial reach of capital covered the globe. Today, these international plunderers work with local African allies and in the particular case of the DRC, they work in collaboration with the government of Rwanda in looting the DRC. Rwanda is presented as a serious development partner for Western companies, while the role of the Rwandese leadership in looting the DRC is overlooked … //


The continued plunder of resources by oil companies and others have intensified in this period and the more perceptive persons from the West have pointed to the constant interconnections between wars, violence and economics. This is one of the enduring aspects of Africa’s integration into the global economy but the past discussions on development have obscured this reality. Similarly, as Africans move into the twenty first century there is increased interest in the genetic resources and fresh water of Africa, especially the water resources of the Congo River and its tributaries. These resources are all important in the context of what is now called the biotech century. Jeremy Rifkin devoted a great deal of his study of the Biotech Century to outlining how the patenting of life forms and the impressive new tools being developed by scientists for manipulating the biological world will impact of life in general. Thus far there is not enough work on how this century will impact the lives of Africans, especially in the context of the eugenic thinking that is manifest in the international response to AIDS pandemic.

Genetic engineering is the application of engineering standards to the manipulation of genes. In many ways we are still in the embryonic stages of grasping the implications of these new technologies for the emerging bio-economy. The long-term impact of the new biotechnologies will be to profoundly transform the relations between humans and nature. These changes at the technological level are taking place in a period when the consciousness of scientists is still governed by the mechanical notions of the scientific method that were elaborated by Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and numerous scientists in the tradition of the European enlightenment. The enlightenment also embraced the idea of triumphant liberal ideology that reduced society to a collection of individuals, and through this reduction, asserted that the equilibrium produced by the market constitutes the social optimum and guarantees, by the same token stability and democracy.

This reductionism was elaborated by Adam Smith and the promises of the liberal free market became the standard recipe for all societies. In this rendition of social reality, Africans were poor because they were not rational and were in reality from a lower breed of the human species. It is not by chance that the ideas of the Wealth of Nations were written at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Numerous European scholars internalized the view that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was necessary to lift Africans from savagery. It is a consciousness that renders Africans as second-class human beings. This belief in Africans as second class human beings continues to be the basic orientation of those who work on development and progress.

The history of the treatment of Africans as second class citizens is long and linked to the ideas of inferiority and superiority of humans. Adam Smith as a major thinker of the Western economic paradigm of markets continues to be the reference point for the thinking of economic development and one of the arguments of this presentation is that the economics of warfare is inextricably linked to the Western paradigms of economic development, especially the paradigm of neo-liberalism. The social project of neo-liberalism is predicated on the requirements of the short term profits of the dominant segments of transnational capital. At the level of the planet earth, the inequalities between nations and regions are intensified by geometric proportions as the monopolies from the capitalist centers organize forms of economic, social and political exploitation to ensure the plunder of the natural resources of the planet. It is this same neo-liberalism that justified plunder and war as pacification and bringing civilization to Africans.

It is from this perspective where I am presenting the argument that the aid, development and humanitarian industries are components of the armaments culture. Western Non-Governmental Organizations and private military corporations are as important to Western warfare in Africa as the guns wielded by NATO or their African clients. Sustainable peace in Africa will require radical departures from the concepts of peace of the 19th century that required the pacification of the African continent for the purposes of allowing the free movement of capital. The DRC was at the epicentre of this conceptualisation of the peoples of Africa. The plunder of this society and the destructive modes of economics unleashed by King Leopold are now legendary. Many of those attending this conference will have read the important book by Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost on the massacre of 10 million Congolese in the name of civilizing Africans. Others will have read the book by Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

One of the major challenges for the activists and scholars of the twenty first century is to be able to think through concepts of economic planning in a period that is now driven by the knowledge economy. This is an economy where knowledge and scientific inquiry will be a major basis for wealth creation.

I am starting from the premise that Africa as a region is not mere geography. It is above all, people who are human beings who live in the continent of Africa with a long history and an ideation system that protected the biological resources that are presently coveted by bio-prospectors. Recent scholarship on the knowledge systems of Africa has shed light on the relationship to the ideas that preserved the natural environment. It is the same knowledge that was considered backward by those who believed in the dominance of humans over nature that is now the platform for appropriation by transnationals who believe in privatizing nature as intellectual property.[3]

It is the argument of this presentation that reconstruction and renewal in Africa will not be possible without a fundamental break with the economics of warfare and the reductionist ideas of neo-liberalism. These two forces, the economics of war and the mechanical thinking of the enlightenment have led to genocide and massacres and numerous wars since independence. This presentation is linked to the following propositions:

  • (a) Western concepts of peace, development and pacification generated wars, genocide, militarism and violence in the Africa.
  • (b) Liberal ideas of the primacy of the short term demands of profit perpetuated conditions favorable to plunder. It was a model of economics that separated people from their natural environment and a model of crude resource extraction that required very little infrastructural investment.
  • (c) Models of economic management since the assassination of Lumumba in 1960 deepened the traditions of warfare and violence. The World Bank and the IMF were active partners in this model of resource extraction and rent seeking forms of economics.
  • (d) The failure of the African educated to create an alternative social project deepened the traditions of warfare and culminated in massive deaths of genocidal proportions.
  • (e) The alternative for economic reconstruction lay in new modes of thinking and new modes of economic planning that centers Africans as human beings.

The elementary basis of the ideas for reconstruction in Africa for reclaiming the independence of Africa were spelt out by Cheik Anta Diop in the book, Black Africa: the Basis for a Federated State. In 2002 the African Union took a major legal step towards the project of African independence. In the short run, the African Union has been organized as a Union of states and governments but there are numerous social movements in Africa that conceptualize African unity on the basis of health, dignity, prosperity and decency. These social movements exist at all levels and seek to repair the history of plunder by setting in motion institutions of transitional justice to the point where an alternative can be crystallized away from the predatory forms of economics that are dominant. It is this new direction that calls for solidarity from those who want to break with the ideas of development, white supremacy and the logic of the capitalist mode of production.

An alternative socioeconomic paradigm could produce transformation models based on the empowerment of Africans to acquire and accumulate skills, knowledge and the capacity to innovate such knowledge in relationships with their environments to improve their standards of life in a sustainable manner. African music and art have been known for centuries for their richness and its depth. How can this spiritual and creative energy be mobilized for peace and reconstruction? It is this creativity that has kept the peoples alive and can be the foundation for the right of African peoples to live as human beings with dignity. It is this same creative and spiritual energy that could be catalysts for the development of African human capital and knowledge based competitive factor advantages to support wealth creation, growth and development in the 21st century.

WAR AND MODERNIZATION: … (full long text).

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