Africa is on the rise, and it's inspiring to see many African leaders awakening to the challenges and opportunities ahead. This marks the end of an unjust era where Africa demands the respect it rightfully deserves. The emergence of young African leaders is a promising sign, and with a youthful population, the continent is experiencing a significant shift in leadership.
This is indeed a time of great awakening, and the grip of colonialism is slowly being loosened. As the President of Guinea-Bissau aptly stated, it is time for the old imperial powers to allow Africans to forge their path towards a better future. However, it's crucial to acknowledge that this transformation is not without its challenges, as evidenced by the discontent and various coups and takeovers by the military or rebel forces in some African nations.
Africa, often referred to as the Cradle of Humanity, has a rich history and heritage. Fossils and tools found on this vast continent indicate that early human life originated here. Africa, as the second-largest continent, covers approximately one-fifth of the world's total land surface and is home to the second-largest population, with an estimated 1.4 billion inhabitants, accounting for 16% of the world's population, residing in 54 diverse countries.
One of the earliest recorded names associated with the African continent is "Alkebulan," derived from Arabic and various indigenous African languages. 'Alkebulan' translates to 'The Land of the Blacks' or the 'Mother of Mankind.' Additionally, 'Afrika' is derived from the Egyptian term Afruika, signifying that Africa is considered the birthplace or "Mother Land." In biblical references, Africa was referred to as 'Cush' or 'Cushi.'
Africa's natural beauty is nothing short of breath-taking, with its diverse flora and fauna surpassing any other continent. Africa boasts the world's largest watershed, encompassing rivers such as the Congo, Zambezi, Niger, Limpopo, and the Nile, which holds the distinction of being the longest river globally and a vital water source for Egypt, Sudan, and South Sudan. Moreover, Africa features the world's largest desert, the Sahara, and the continent's highest point, Mount Kilimanjaro, standing at 5,895 meters. Africa also houses the largest urban areas, including Cairo, Egypt, with over 15.6 million people; Johannesburg, South Africa, with over 8 million people; and Lagos, Nigeria.
In terms of renewable energy capacity, Africa leads the way, with South Africa boasting 6,070 megawatts of capacity. The continent is rich in mineral resources, including fossil fuels, metal ores, gemstones, and precious metals. Notably, Africa is a major producer of gold and diamonds, accounting for a significant portion of global production in both categories. However, the exploitation of these resources has often been in the hands of colonial powers and has even fuelled conflicts and civil wars in some regions.
Agriculture is a cornerstone of many African economies, with nations on the continent being the world's largest exporters of agricultural products, including cacao, coffee, cocoa, legumes, palm oil, corn, and rice. Agriculture contributes significantly to the GDP of most African countries, ranging from 20% to 60%. Additionally, the export of forest products, particularly high-quality woods like mahogany and okoume, generates substantial revenue, although the forestry sector faces challenges such as illegal logging and overharvesting.
The fishing industry in Africa is a vital source of income for millions of people and has an annual export value exceeding 4 billion dollars. Africa's abundant freshwater and marine resources support thriving fisheries, although overharvesting is a concern. Initiatives like the Partnership for African Fisheries (PAF) aim to promote sustainable fishing practices and increase fishery revenue.
Africa's potential for growth and development is immense, and as the continent continues to rise, it is essential to address challenges, foster responsible resource management, and prioritize sustainability. Africa's journey towards a brighter future is one that holds promise, and collective efforts are needed to unlock its full potential.
Africa's abundance of natural resources served as a magnet for European imperialists who sought to colonize the continent. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Elmina, on the coast of Ghana, in the 1480s. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, approximately 95% of Africa had fallen under the formal control of European imperial powers. This era is often referred to as "The Scramble for Africa," characterized by the division, annexation, and colonization of most African countries by Western powers—a phenomenon known as New Imperialism.
Colonialism, as we understand it, describes a process in which a foreign power annexes territories and establishes dependencies whose economic, political, and cultural systems are reshaped to serve the interests of the colonizing nation. Unfortunately, colonialism had devastating consequences for Africa, leading to resource depletion, labour exploitation, unfair taxation, and reliance on cash crop economies, lack of industrialization, trade restrictions, limited political development, and the fragmentation of traditional African societies, values, and ethnic tensions within African countries.
Several key motivations drove European colonization in Africa. These included the need for access to raw materials, a source of cheap labour to support industrialization, and the belief that Africans needed to be civilized through Western education and religion, with the goal of replacing African culture with what was seen as the "superior culture of Europe." The early colonizers, who seized land, plundered resources, initiated the slave trade, committed atrocities, and caused the deaths of millions of indigenous populations, included the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy, the Kingdom of Denmark, the Netherlands, and Portugal.
Colonial rule in Africa was marked by brutal exploitation of natural and labour resources, often with the imposition of forced labour on plantations and mining. Europeans disrupted Africa's economic, social, and political structures to amass wealth for themselves. The imperialistic notion that the world belonged to them was at the heart of colonialism, which involved colonizing the very essence of being human and categorizing those who were subjected to enslavement, genocide, and colonization.
The fight against slavery also paved the way for the destruction and colonization of African nations. The inhumanity of turning people into slaves and subjecting them to humiliation, torture, and transportation in cages from Africa to Europe and the Americas remains a haunting historical chapter. The United Kingdom and France were among the major colonizers, with Britain establishing control over 22 African states and France over 20. The British Empire, at its height, was the largest empire in human history. Britain's dominion extended across South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and more. British colonialism's legacy continues to influence Africa's contemporary challenges, including land grabs, mining, the coffee trade, banking, foreign monopolies' profit expropriation, policy double standards, direct foreign aggression, captive debt, and so-called aid.
Germany's colonial history in Africa occurred in two waves. The first wave took place in 1884–1885, during which Germany acquired South West Africa (present-day Namibia), Cameroon, German East Africa (comprising Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi), and parts of Papua New Guinea. The second wave of colonization occurred in 1898/99 under Kaiser Wilhelm's imperialistic ambitions. By 1914, the German colonial territories were five times the size of Germany itself. Following World War I, Germany lost all its colonies, and two major rebellions resulted in massacres. The Herero rebellion in German South West Africa led to the murder of 100,000 Herero people and an estimated 20,000 Nama people. General Lothar von Trotha, known for his brutality in suppressing the revolt, oversaw a genocide that targeted the entire tribe, including women and children. Unfortunately, the German educational system's curriculum often overlooks this colonial history, resulting in limited awareness among the majority of German citizens. However, it is crucial to recognize the significance of the colonial period in shaping German history and acknowledge potential parallels between the events of that era, the Holocaust, and racial ideologies.
In 1885, Belgian King Leopold II established the Congo Free State by brutally seizing control of the African landmass as his personal possession and ruling with absolute authority. This period was marked by severe atrocities, violence, and the decline of the indigenous people. His insatiable greed and the horrors of the slave trade resulted in the loss of more than 10 million lives. Foreign missionaries who witnessed these horrors described them as one of the darkest episodes of the late 19th century. The Congo stands as one of the major killing grounds of modern times. It raises the question of why these deaths are often omitted from the standard historical narrative.
The French presence in Africa dates back to the 1600s, with France establishing its first African colony in 1830 through the seizure of Algeria. Subsequently, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Gabon, Mali, Niger, the Republic of Congo, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia, and others were colonized by France. France pursued a grand assimilationist colonial policy, aiming to assimilate and transform all Africans into French citizens. These assimilation policies resulted in the erosion of social norms, social order, and cultural identity for Africans. While colonial powers like France and the United States professed a mission to "civilize" indigenous populations, the reality was one of exploitation.
Colonialists committed numerous shocking atrocities and human rights abuses. The British, Germans, and French all have their share of such atrocities. French colonialism, in particular, was marked by brutality, including massacres (such as the torture and internment of two million Algerians in extermination camps) and other acts of cruelty inflicted upon African populations for centuries.
France continues to exert influence over its former colonies in Africa. Fourteen former French colonies are subject to a "colonial tax" amounting to about $500 billion. Although France has officially ended its colonization policy, a portion of these countries' budgets continues to be directed to the French Central Bank under various names and categories. This process allows France to appropriate approximately 85% of the annual income of its former colonies. African countries, facing financial difficulties, often find themselves borrowing their own money from the French central bank as debt. Refusal by African leaders to pay this colonial tax can lead to coups and political instability.
Western exploitation of Africa has evolved over time, from slavery to debt servitude and neocolonialism. The legacy of European colonialism continues to shape Africa's socio-economic and political landscape. French influence in its former colonies remains strong, even as France's global influence has waned.
Currently, many coups are occurring in French colonies in Africa, with opposition to the French military presence and the expulsion of French ambassadors. In some instances, these junta governments have also ordered German and American ambassadors out of their countries. The new colonialism in Africa is driven by the continued exploitation of African resources and foreign interventions leading to political instability, poverty, hunger, and displacement of people due to conflicts. To paraphrase William Faulkner, "the European past in Africa is never dead; it is not even past."
China has emerged as Africa's largest trade partner, with over 10,000 Chinese firms operating throughout the African continent. As Russia has no colonial history in Africa, it is considered a natural ally of the continent. Western countries' approaches have resulted in diminishing trust and an inability to impose their rules. Consequently, African nations are increasingly seeking allies and collaborators rather than dominators, often turning to new partners like the BRICS group of states who refrain from interfering in their internal policies. Africa's pursuit of these new alliances reflects a desire for partnerships based on mutual respect and cooperation.