Sunday 30 January 2011

The Scramble For Africa Mark Five

The problems occurring in many parts of Africa at present owe a great deal to the latest version of The Scramble For Africa that has been going on since the apparent withdrawal of European and other powers in the mid 20th Century.

Taking a longer view of the past, as with other territories, there has been a great deal of change down the ages. The first two phases are in the deeper past and about which we have to rely on science, archaeology and palaeontology to tell us such story as they can.

The first is from 75,000 years ago when it is suggested that small numbers of humans surviving a major geophysical event were located in Africa and began to grow in numbers and move across new lands within and beyond Africa.

The second is the period following The Sahara becoming desert allied with other climatic and geophysical events that triggered successive waves and movements over several thousand millennia. This will include what we call the Classical period and the period of the Dark Ages to the Middle Ages.

There is some recorded history in a number of places and much more known about human interaction and organisation. Until recently, the lack of both records and of much real archaeology led to assumptions about the primitive nature of Africa but it seems that what was happening there may have been a lot more organised and complicated than we have thought in the past.

Persons of African origin do appear in other places. Recently, one set of remains has been found in Stratford upon Avon from during the Roman period. We can assume that amongst the Romans there were those of African origin.

Although it seems to be a surprise if you know that the Romans were trading up the Severn, then along the Avon it is navigable to a point close to the Fosse Way and a Roman way station.

The Scramble Mark Three I would put as beginning in the late 14th and early 15th Centuries when we know more arising from the expansion of European, Arab and Chinese interest in Africa. Although the Chinese did not follow through, both the Arabs and the Europeans did establishing both contact and control in many areas.

By and large the Europeans kept mostly to the coastal areas in this period, the interior south of The Sahara being almost unknown to them until the mid 19th Century. The Arabs, however, who spread down the East coast did trade into parts of the interior and had cross African routes to the West.

Mark Three, with its many sided history I would put as lasting until the mid 19th Century. This covers the period of the Slave Trade as we have understood it. We should be aware that there were other varieties of people subjection that were not far removed from this which have lasted until the present.

It was also a period of some large scale movements of people. In South Africa the Dutch from the south at around the same time that other groups were moving down from the north catching those indigenous in a kind of pincer movement.

The Scramble Mark Four begins in the mid and late 19th Century with increased European penetration into the interior and assertion of dominance over both West and East Coasts. Although Britain and France were the principal powers at this stage it was not long before older and more recently formed European nation states began to claim hegemony over parts of Africa.

As the purpose was profit rather than settlement, given the discovery of vast riches of primary resources and the potential for agriculture, the risk of expensive conflicts meant that the European powers made a rare excursion into negotiation and agreement.

The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 parcelled out Africa into chunks of territory with little reference much to geography, ethnic or religious considerations. This exercise led to the identity of many of the existing states in Africa.

It was not long before the rivalries of the European powers led them to self destruct in terms of their Empires in two major world wars that impacted on Africa in many ways. One was to stimulate demands for self rule and to encourage these new states to take some control and direction over their own economies. This became the story of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

By the 1970’s, it seemed that a new era had begun, of self ruling states largely at peace with each other and beginning to control their own futures on a more or less democratic basis. Critically, it was believed that they would be able to manage and control their own resources, finances, trade and commercial structures.

It hadn’t because The Scramble For Africa Mark Five had already begun and was under way. As the Governors, official administrators, and soldiers departed through the front door the arms dealers, bankers, businessmen and commercial travellers were climbing in through the back window helped through by their trained bands of lawyers, accountants, consultants and experts, all trades that the new states lacked in numbers.

The analogy is taken from Nicholas Shaxson’s book “Treasure Islands – Tax Havens And The Men Who Stole The World” which gives a good deal of attention to Africa and the looting of its wealth since around 1980. “Aid” has just become another money go round, a means of lubricating a corrupt and kleptocratic system.

Famous people preach on the need to help the African’s whilst keeping their own capital and income as free from any tax as possible. Once elites had been bribed, corrupted or suborned then the expansion of the tax havens and their services has led to greater losses and impositions than the Mark Four Scramble ever did.

It is said that the ruling family in Tunisia took out $3 billion and more alone. How much more had been removed by others connected to them cannot be known. All these accounts and the movements of money around them are veiled in secrecy.

Now that cheap oil is coming to an end and food prices and other essential commodities are rising in price the fat is literally in the fire. It may not be long before there is a Scramble Mark Six as existing states begin to collapse and all the old tribal, ethnic and religious differences begin to take hold.

And the mass migrations will begin again.

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