History Long Reads Opinion

Can Afrikans stand up to the Biden-Harris admin’s neo-colonial bullying? (part 1)

This is part 1/2 of the “Can Afrika stand up to Biden-Harris neo-colonial bullying?” series by Claudine Boothe

“Sovereignty seeks to do the best for its people. It is also a product and instrument of Western European colonialism and Euro-American imperialism” 

Claudine Boothe

When it becomes law, the colonial Biden-Harris “H.R.7311-117th Congress: Countering Malign Russian activities in Africa sanctions enforcement Act” could either “replace neo-colonial socioeconomics in Black Afrika with full-blown colonialism. Or precipitate transformation from neo-colonial to post-colonial socio-economic sovereignty. This depends on how Afrikan countries affected by this law respond to it.  

Without uttering the words “fat chance,” Nigerian Professor Akinyemi Onigbinde, founder of Titilola Ayoka Educational Foundation in Ogun State, Nigeria, chuckled at the prospect of Afrika being precipitated into post-colonial sovereignty. He went on to say Afrikan leaders are “prefects, who’re required to have their budgets approved by the metropole, and who merely monitor their neo-colonial economies;” apparently on behalf of Western governments and White supremacist lending institutions like IMF and World Bank. “Their ruling classes are too beholden,” he added.   

“Afrikan leaders are ‘prefects, who’re required to have their budgets approved by the metropole, and who merely monitor their neo-colonial economies’ apparently on behalf of Western governments and White supremacist lending institutions like IMF and World Bank” 

Professor Onigbinde, one of a small sample of continental Afrikans to whom the question of whether Afrikan sovereignty exists was posed, is not the only continental Afrikan who infantilize their leaders: countless others do. Too many Afrikans seemed somewhat resigned or familiar with the prospect of any US or European draconian anti-Afrika law violating, destabilizing, and “replacing” the little that passes for Afrikan sovereignty. A casual “so what’s new” attitude permeates the discourse as subtext. This subtext is based on the notion that—whatever it is or isn’t— Afrikan sovereignty does not reside with Afrikans but in Europe, US, China, Israel, and even India; and perhaps a little of it lives with Russia too. Along with expectations of investment in education, technology, security, and other socio-economic and military progress. Another Afrikan professor, PLO Lumumba, opined that the continent would be recolonized in the next 25 years, largely because of issues to do with superpower neo-colonial economic dynamics and geopolitical machinations. Nevertheless, if sovereignty is to be effectively wielded by Afrikans  then Afrikan sovereignty requires thorough investigation, definition, and reclamation. 

This narrative defines sovereignty as the “domestic and international authority or power of a state or continent to govern itself.” Sovereignty is a 16th century construct, reputedly first used by French political philosopher and lawyer Jean Bodin to strengthen the monarchical right to govern France against the interests of feudal warlords. But Britain claims to be the first wielder and arbiter of “sovereignty” as an instrument of imperial and colonial law that conceptualizes and consolidates power over its dominions and colonies.   

Britain empowered itself as the judge of sovereignty in the 16th century by challenging Pope Alexander the Sixth’s (VI) papal bull, “Treaty of Tordesillas,” which split the world in two – East and West, giving Spain and Portugal halves. Elizabeth I, Britain’s 16th and 17th century piratical slaver queen, so-called for using pirates and slavers aka corsairs, challenged the Treaty of Tordesillas and, by so doing, initiated the British empire. Subsequent purveyors of British sovereignty then invented and applied the concept of “legal personality” (meaning that the Indigenous persons were legally not persons and that there were no legal norms qualifying any behavior of them as a duty or a right) and terra nullius (latin meaning “land belonging to no-one”) to justify dispossessing Indigenous peoples of their land on the basis that these Indigenous peoples had no paperwork to prove entitlement. Paradoxically, before, during, and after British colonizers thieved these lands, the prevailing British view was that the world belonged to everyone who lived on it; and that no one possessed exclusive entitlement to land. This would have been a sound concept of land use or occupation if it applied to “self-designated or captured” European or Caucasian lands as well. But it clearly did not, and still does not, evidenced by such British and European concepts and practices as trespass, illegal aliens, hostile environment, deportations, re-trafficking refugees, etc.   

Using imperial “sovereignty and legal personality” instruments, Britain subsequently appropriated a quarter of the world’s land mass (the largest empire in history), then perversely issued deeds or titles of ownership to White settlers. This raised questions such as why issue deeds to White men, since no one should have exclusive land ownership rights and entitlements etc. Also, if Indigenous peoples had no “legal personality,” was trading with them ever legal under British law and imperial so-called international law? The latter question places the cat amongst the pigeons concerning the legality of the so-called transnational trafficking of enslaved Afrikans. This explains why “philosophy of law” should be used to challenge Western European (Britain, France, Netherland, Portugal, Spain, Germany, and Denmark) and US defense of slavery and colonialism, rather than conventional colonial laws. Colonial law may well contend that the laws of “legal personality” were not retroactive and, therefore, would not have impacted deals or trading relationships with Indigenous peoples, before  the use or application of legal personality laws (persona iuris gentium) in mid to late 17th century. Even so, before 17th century international law, Britain, and other Western European colonizers, did break both domestic and canon laws, and Afrikan indigenous laws relating to slavery, murder, theft, and proceeds thereof. After all, according to John Austin, founder of Legal Positivism (positive law) “law is law,” whether respected or known. Historically, customarily, and contemporarily, not knowing or respecting the law is no defense.  

“… before 17th century international law, Britain, and other Western European colonizers, did break both domestic and canon laws, and Afrikan indigenous laws relating to slavery, murder, theft, and proceeds thereof” 

The sample of Afrikans consulted on Afrikan sovereignty seemed unperturbed by the prospect of the “H.R.7311-117th Congress: Countering Malign Russian activities in Africa” forthcoming act violating it. Until they were reminded that the late Nelson Mandela, who has been all but deified, failed to interpret, or use Britain’s concept of sovereignty, or its Afrikan equivalent “Uhuru,” in the most beneficial way for Black Azanians. The fact that Mandela and his advisors failed to read their country’s apartheid economy; or understand and address the fundamental economic workings of the apartheid state resulted in neo-apartheid economic disenfranchisement, impoverishment, and unnecessary protracted suffering of Black Azanians. Whose leaders belatedly discovered that political independence without access to, and control of economic resources and national wealth, does not constitute liberation. Moreover, that apartheid will never be truly uprooted, until Black Azanians control the instruments or sources of their country’s economic power. Control, which they now need a second liberation struggle to achieve, perhaps even against their leaders. Arguably, if Afrikan National Congress (ANC) negotiators had understood the neo-colonial concept of economic sovereignty and applied it, Black economic exclusion could have all been reversed as part of Mandelas’ hand-over protocols, that ended Azania’s military and political struggle in 1994. Why would ANC have accepted mechanisms for wielding post-apartheid political power without being guaranteed or given “full” economic control, or proper financial resources to redress the massive socio-economic deprivations that took place under apartheid, if they knew what economic sovereignty meant and had considered it properly? Surely, the answer to this question must be that ANC and Mandela did not know what economic sovereignty meant, rather, they knew but didn’t care. 

Another pertinent question is, has Azania–caught in the crosshairs of the Biden-Harris “Countering Malign Russian activities in Africa Act”–learned the lessons of economic sovereignty, and can they apply it to defend themselves against the forthcoming US neo-colonial challenges? Given that “assertion or ascension to post-colonial sovereignty” is the only instrument of self-defense Afrikan countries subject to the Act possess.  

Sampled Afrikans took a little more interest in sovereignty when Robert Mugabe’s name popped into the discussion. Mugabe struggled ’til his last breath to defend and exercise economic sovereignty. Congo’s late Patrice Lumumba understood economic sovereignty and discussed it with his colonial enemies, resulting in his assassination by the Belgian, French, and US triad. Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara understood and applied sovereignty, too, before he was killed for going too far by the French, arguably Afrika’s most shameless colonial looters. Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau—one of the chief exponents of Uhuru, was assassinated by Portugal. Mozambican President Samora Machel understood post-colonial sovereignty better than everyone else at the time and was in the habit of teaching it to Afrikans globally when his plane crashed by accident or by Portugal’s colonial design. Last but by no means least, Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi was brutally slain, and his country turned into a dystopian nightmare, allegedly because he practiced and proposed progressive post-colonial economic measures to liberate Afrikan economies from neo-colonial sovereignty or economic domination. Ghaddafi proposed that oil-rich Afrikan countries use a single currency made from gold—a gold Dinar. Consequently, he was overthrown in 2011; ironically, by a NATO force led by the US, France, and Britain; under the guise of protecting Libyans from a brutal, autocratic dictator; and was consequently brutally slain. Ironic because NATO was set up to defend Western European security interests; why then was it used to overthrow an Afrikan leader, to protect non-western European security? A very persuasive case has been made that Ghaddafi was overthrown for challenging Dollar and Euro global economic hegemonies, with his sovereign proposal for an Afrikan single currency, the gold Dinar—reasoning that fits European economic security interests very nicely indeed. Perhaps, the late Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe’s case, is most applicable or salient to the narrative for transforming or replacing Afrika’s neo-colonial sovereignty with Uhuru—starting with opportunities that H.R.7311-117 may provide.  

“Perhaps, the late Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe’s case, is most applicable or salient to the narrative for transforming or replacing Afrika’s neo-colonial sovereignty with Uhuru” 

In the ’70s, Robert Mugabe liberated his colonized country by winning the military struggle against the colonialist brigand Ian Smith and his government, who’d illegally and unilaterally declared Independence (UDI) in Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia. Mugabe subsequently signed the Lancaster House Treaty for Independence from Britain. As such treaties go, it wasn’t a bad one: Britain agreed to the return of arable land stolen from Zimbabweans by White settlers or colonial farmers, with legal personality banditry. In return, Britain agreed to compensate those White settler farmers who returned the land. It was a scheme reminiscent of what was offered to enslavers and plantation owners in the 19th-century for the loss of their so-called property rights in “enslaved Afrikans,” when chattel and plantation slaveries were abolished in Britain’s Caribbean colonies. Back then, Britain paid planters and enslavers 20 million pounds sterling and paid enslaved Afrikans nothing.   

But, surprise, surprise! Britain reneged on the Lancaster House Treaty failing to compensate White settlers, return the land violating its terms, which meant that subsequent British governments behaved unethically. Mugabe was then forced to reclaim ancestral lands without compensating White settlers, compensation which should not have been paid in the first place, given that the land was stolen from its rightful owners during colonization, using “legal personality” banditry. Nevertheless, Britain and its EU and American allies retaliated with sanctions, which blighted Zimbabwe’s economic development and made the country politically ungovernable for half a century—virtually Mugabe’s entire presidency. Consequently, he was vilified and accused of everything his detractors could throw at him, some of which stuck.   

Heroic Mugabe was eventually overthrown. The “servant leaders or prefects” who took over quickly returned the land to lurking settler colonialists in exchange for having devastating sanctions lifted. Since then, Zimbabwe’s economic prospects have worsened. Peasants from whose ancestry the land was stolen are getting poorer and hungrier, both by lack of land; and by the impact of anti-Russian sanctions. White settler farmers farm exotic cash crops, such as tobacco, coffee, and tea, for export to the EU, America, and elsewhere, which only enrich Zimbabwe’s mostly White elite. Desperate Zimbabweans who’ve been forced to migrate to Britain because of loss of land and other privations caused by British and allied sanctions are either awaiting deportation or have already been deported by home secretary Priti Patel.  

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