NES COMMENTARY. 34. Remembering Lessons from Ethiopia’s History to Stop a Renewed Scramble for Africa? – Network of Ethiopian Scholars (NES)
“There is something absurd in the sudden Scramble for colonies”, Lord Derby, English Colonial secretary, 28 December, 1884
“We must lose no chance of winning a share in the magnificent African cake”
(King Leopold II of Belgium, 1877)
“Whoever knows the history of a country can read its future.” (DT Niane, Malian Writer and Historian)
“A nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past is a people without a soul.” (Seretse Khama, Former President, Botswana)
“The most important problem for the countries of Africa arises out of our aspirations for unity” (Modibo Keita, Former President, Mali)
“The glory which awaits Africa cannot come about until Africa is united. If we fail to unite, then a great nation will go to sleep forever.”(Kwame Nkrumah)
2010 marks 125 years of the Scramble for Africa. Is the Scramble for Africa over or does it continue under different guises and actors? After 125 years of the European Scramble for Africa since 1885, is Africa open for a renewed scramble today? What can Africa learn from Ethiopia, whose history of resistance and independence still fires the imagination of the African world? Never forget that Ethiopia has a history that can be deployed wisely to serve as an example to the African world never to surrender to another scramble for Africa. This history remains current and is a positive data to employ to resist any scrambling for Africa again.
2. Brief Historical Background
125 years ago something like 1000 self-identifying communities were carved up arbitrarily with the cynical goal of destroying trust amongst them by dividing and ruling them. From the Scramble of Africa that led to their colonization, 53 post- colonial states emerged mostly (a few earlier) from the late 50s to the 60s. In 2010 more than one third of the existing states will celebrate their jubilee anniversary.
The legacy from the Berlin conference still lives on. The post-colonial states inherited the formula of divide and rule. Still today, Africa lives with the challenge of communities that have been put together that should not be, and conversely, those that should have been put together that were split apart. The states that emerged did not transcend this dilemma. In 2010, Cameroon, Togo, Madagascar, Dr-Congo, Somalia, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria and Mauritania, will all celebrate their Jubilee anniversary. None of them are yet free from the burden inherited from the scramble of Africa. Can they overcome this burden fifty years after they formally became politically independent? From the divide and rule formula from the scramble of Africa, the existing states are likely to suffer civil wars and make Africa open to interference by outside powers.
3. The Shadow over the Jubilee Anniversary: The Scramble for Africa
The borders that were drawn 125 years ago remain artificial threatening varied forms of conflict to continue in Africa. The key prize for the European Scramble for Africa was the Congo Basin. The real fight amongst the Portuguese, the French and King Leopold of Belgium was over who takes control of the Congo River, the DRCongo and Congo-Brazzaville. Actually the Germans used the title “Kongoconference” instead of what is popularly known today as the Berlin Conference at the time. Frantz Fanon used to say: ‘Africa is like a revolver, the Congo Basin is the trigger. Whoever controls the Congo controls Africa.’ From the outset Congo’s independence was messy. The first leader Patrice Lumumba was murdered by those powers that have big stakes to continue plundering Congo’s wealth. It looks that the battle to control mineral and potentially electricity rich Congo is still going on. Never has the Congo seen sustained peace. Others use Congo’s riches, whilst the people of the Congo are left with the curse of war. Today, the problems fester on. Congo provides a vivid example that the plan concocted 125 years still lives on with no clear way out of the crises yet.
No other place in Africa exemplifies the playing out of the tragic drama of the scramble for Africa as Sudan’s independence in 1956. The moment of celebration was also the moment of rebellion that the British put together as Sudan. The Arabised North Sudan was celebrating freedom from Ango-Egyptian control. The people in South Sudan started the armed struggle. The Sudan problem festers on to this day.
Though Sudan became independent before Ghana, the African de-colonisation has been recognized to have begun with Ghana’s black star shining over its red, yellow and green flag flying high and the Union Jack UK flag coming down on March 6, 1957. Ghana declared that freedom for Ghana is incomplete without all of Africa becoming united and free. Kwame Nkrumah understood the more important challenge is not only to get Ghana independent but also to overcome the legacy of the Scramble for Africa by uniting all of Africa.
Africa is not without historical achievements to resist the continuation of the scramble for Africa today. Two distinct successful resistance historical data were achieved by Haiti, from the African world outside the continent, and Ethiopia inside Africa. In different ways, both held the African resistance, liberation and independence imagination for a long time. Haiti has been the first black independent Republic since 1791. Under the leadership of de Toussaint L’Ouverture, Napoleon’s 60,000 armed forces could not stand up to the power and force of Toussaint. Unfortunately Haiti’s independence took the form of a neo-colonial settlement where France demanded indemnity to the tune of 22 billion dollars that Haiti kept paying remaining the most impoverished state in the Americas. It has taken nearly 109 years to pay off this indemnity turning Haiti from a rich sugar cane producer to an impoverished nation, now for all to see a tragically vulnerable state. Haiti ended up attracting all forms of humiliation to a point now it has been literally exhausted having been turned into a real charity basket. One wonders how much her history of resistance has to do with this attempt to degrade this nation to a historical non-entity.
Ethiopia in Africa is the other inspiring country that held the independence imagination for over 500 years. Ethiopia was a kingdom and not a republic like Haiti, but it remained un-enslaved, un-degraded and un-colonized fighting all the powers that came to subvert its independence. In recognition of these, the Ethiopian flag has served as the flag of independence for 15 African states and the Organization of African Unity or now the African Union is in Addis Ababa. Like Nkrumah in 1963 Emperor Haile Selassie in opening the OAU said, “Our liberty is meaningless unless all Africans are free.” Bob Marley also changed the Emperor’s speech to the UN in 1963 to serve as the lyrics in his song ‘war’. Nevertheless, like Haiti, Ethiopia too remains an exhausted African nation for the price it paid for holding high the independence, resistance and liberation imagination of the entire African world. In 1991 Ethiopia became split into vernacular and ethnic enclaves and Eritrea also was split from Ethiopia.
On October 1, 2010 the most populous state in Africa, Nigeria celebrates its jubilee anniversary. Approximately one in three Africans is a Nigerian. So Nigeria can be used as a template to judge the performance, capabilities and potentials of the entire continent. Nigeria is also important not only because it has one of the most powerful economies in the continent, but also because it has the largest market. Is Nigeria out of the woods or is there a scenario of chaos within the country that would affect the entire continent owing to being unable to overcome the legacy inherited 125 years ago? Unfortunately, Nigeria has not been able to achieve a significant proportion of its vast potentials. It has had an unfortunate history of military dictatorships and serious civil unrests (including a civil war) as many other African countries. Its enormous natural resources- particularly petroleum and gas- have often not been employed for the development of the country but have instead been siphoned to foreign bank accounts by unscrupulous politicians and public servants. There has been a depletion of its public services in areas such as health, power generation, education and social welfare and development. All these drawbacks have combined to make Nigeria the so-called “sleeping giant” of the continent.
The most powerful achievement of the end of the 20th century for Africa is the coming of South Africa to the common Africa home. South Africa became free in 1994 from racial domination. Its re-birth combined its liberation with the lofty ambition for an African renaissance and the making of the 21st century an African century. South Africa is a potential leader in Africa given the huge size of its economy relative to other African states, and the access it has to many international policy forums that other African states do not. It is not clear how other African states see South Africa, as it is still not clear how much Africa is a priority in South Africa’s policy.
The issue of whether South Africa can give African leadership by prioritizing Africa over the BRICS and other states outside Africa remains an open question. As South Africa tries to go for the BRICS, paradoxically it has lost ground for China, India and Brazil and others to step in parts of Africa where South Africa is still yet to make enduring collaborations.
4. The Double Moment and Its Impact on Africa’s Future
So after 125 years of the Berlin Conference, and 50 years after more than a third of Africa celebrates the jubilee anniversary, the past lives on in the present threatening Africa’s future. We believe it is important to take this double moment of an infamous European Scramble for Africa and the Jubilee celebrations of more than a third of Africa to pause, ask and reflect: which way is Africa going? Is there a link between 125 years from the Berlin conference of 1885, and 50 years of the Jubilee anniversary in 2010? If so what is this link? Is it positive or negative? If negative how shall Africa overcome?
How does Africa’s past speak to its present? How does the past’s interaction with the present shape and frame the future? There is a need to look back in order to look ahead in the future.
5. Key Trends in Africa
1. The old Scramble for Africa: is it over or does it still continue in different guises with different actors and players?
2. The post-colonial states: are they robust or fragile? How can they overcome the arbitrary carving up and splitting of ethnicities and vernacular communities? Is it by degrading to vernacular and ethnic states or by upgrading to the unity, resistance, independence and liberation imagination as Africans? Which identity should take priority or first place- the African and the sub-ethnic and vernacular?
3. There is talk of the new scramble for Africa and in fact research is being undertaken on how and why rising powers such as China and India are re-carving Africa at least by searching to exploit Africa’s rich resources. How credible is this assertion.
4. The old European powers and the US are believed to continue to make concerted efforts to control Africa’s natural resources.
5. How will Africans navigate from a past that lives on in the present threatening Africa’s future to forge a 21st African Century? Can Africa claim the 21st century? Are Africans ready to be led by fellow Africans to construct Africa’s capability to deal with a world that has not related to them as an equal partner and has largely to date responded to them as areas for resource exploitation, without sacrificing Africa’s values and interests? Who in Africa should lead Africa by displaying the ability to command legitimacy from all?
6. There are a number of processes for integration: the Africa Union, the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), NEPAD, and the Pan-African Congresses- in different ways they all keep alive the Pan-African imagination, even though real progress towards African unity is very slow .
6. Concluding remark
There is one important data Ethiopia can offer to Africa- its history of independence. This data can be deployed when the forces of injustice unleash their quest for a renewed Scramble for Africa. Africa must claim the 21st century as the African century. The lessons of the past, the challenges of the present, and the opportunities and possibilities of the future must be combined to bring African unity now. This is the real challenge confronting Africa. Ethiopia’s past is a great asset in supporting the African unity project. Ethiopia’s history helps Africans to find a way to come together to prevent another Scramble for Africa. All the positive energies from within Africa must be integrated to make Africa achieve agency in order to make Africa navigate in a difficult world. The energy from Ethiopian history of resistance must be promoted to prevent both the continuation of the old Scramble and the invention of the new along with overcoming the deficits of the current post-colonial degradation into ethnic states that will invite more scramble rather than closing this historical chapter.
As Africa had the rawest deal in human history and those that resisted the scramble for Africa such as Ethiopia and Haiti are even suffering from the harshest deal, all efforts must be made to make sure all of Africa or united Africa get a fair, just and new deal.
Before the year 2010 is over, there is a need to make the broadest possible education on both the scramble for Africa, the threat of the new Scramble, the opportunities for making Africa’s time this 21st century and gathering and disseminating the value of positive data that can be gleaned from the history of Ethiopia and others in the rest of Africa. Such concerted actions and education using technologies and various ways of teach-ins must be spread across the African universe.
Presented by: Mammo Muchie: www.nesglobal.org and www.MEDAlics.org, and www.ajstid.com