Africa and the West in global economy
An interview with Dr Rosetta Codling
2011-12-08, Issue 562
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SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: What are the links between globalisation, capitalism and access to free labour?
ROSETTA CODLING: Prior to the intrusion of the Iberians in the 1400s, Africa was sought by Europe for intellectualism, minerals and human labour. The Greek civilization, the catalysis for Western thought discussed in the Richard Poe’s book, ‘Black Spark, White Fire: Did African Explorers Civilize Ancient Europe?’ spawned the development of Roman intellectualism. However, much of the ancient Greek civilisation and thought was derived from the Egyptians.
The classic ‘Black Athena’, a scholarly text illustrating the African imprint upon Greek civilisation, explores the African practices of engaging conduits and the harvesting of crops, took seeds, which later blossomed into Western agricultural science. Most importantly, African principles regarding Philosophy, Mathematics, Medicine and Politics also took seed and became rooted in the basis of Western thought.
The famed researcher, Chiek Anta Diop, details in his treatise, ‘The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality’, the role of Africa as a founder of Western civilisation and of contemporary commerce. Yet, with the commencement of a new globalisation, or the making of the Atlantic World, in the 1400s, things changed for Africa. The new globalisation became an enterprise to bring together the diverse economic aspirations of Europe. Industry and trade were organised and centralised for the mutual benefit of all European parties. In other words, capitalism was at the forefront of the making of the Atlantic World. There were no altruistic or religious motives involved. Profit was the objective and the means to achieve it was cheap labour.
SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: What roles did America and Europe play in this emerging world market?
ROSETTA CODLING: America played a role through the discovery of the continent. America's wealth was not to found precious metals. It offered a new and inexhaustible market for European commodities. According to the book, ‘Capitalism and Slavery’, by Eric Williams, America was able to ‘raise the mercantile system to a degree of splendour and glory, which it never otherwise would have attained.’ America's rise led to an enormous increase in world trade. For Britain, the triangular trade of slave served as ‘the first principal and foundation of all the rest and the mainspring of the machine, which sets every wheel in motion.’
From its inception, America has played a vital role in globalisation. The colonial Americas played a vital role in the advancement of trade for England, France and Spain by becoming a base for exports, ships, African slaves, plantations and materials. Africa was an integral core of the operations for globalisation, the triangular trade, and the making of the Atlantic World. Yet, Africa was the loser while Europe and Europeans reaped the profits.
Commerce and trade with Africa started out as an enterprise among equals and regressed to a policy of exploitation. Africa was ravaged and depreciated of its human and natural resources. Previously, within the ‘Annuals of the famed Equiano’, as stated in ‘The Life of Gustavus Vassa’, all of West Africa enjoyed a healthy climate of free-trade along the coast, but this climate was short-lived and the ensuing changes summoned the decline of the continent and the ascent of Western culture and industrialisation.
Eric William's book, ‘Capitalism and Slavery’, reveals that the industrial revolution obtained capital through slavery's free labour. In current times, with people of African ancestry’s relocation movements such as the Windrush Era of the Caribbean in England and the Great Migration in the United States, old policies of exploitation re-emerged. Within these new exploitative policies, the involuntary relocation and dislocation of peoples of colour further sponsored globalisation.
SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: What was the goal of making the Atlantic World at Africa's expense?
ROSETTA CODLING: John Thornton's work, ‘Africa and Africans: The making of the Atlantic World’ and Adam Smith's ‘The Wealth of Nations’ share a similar perspective regarding the objective and focus of the making of the Atlantic World. Ironically, within these works, the self-serving role of slavery is conveniently glossed over. Theories presented in these Eurocentric publications assert the noble objective of Europeans to forge a broader scope to be known as the Atlantic World. However, Africa did not harbour romantic notions of the European presence in Africa and in African affairs in the 1400s. Thornton cites the indigenous people's initial naval resistance.
The Iberian raid and trade practices weren’t met with approval. Africans forcibly demanded that trade be conducted voluntarily and between equals. According to Thornton, the Portuguese Crown needed instructions to relearn these lessons in equitable trade several times or risk losing their license to trade on Africa's West Coast. Portugal, an early interloper in African affairs, eventually gained the upper hand and seized Angola to establish a colony for the sole purpose of developing a commercial factory. Also, Portugal needed to regulate trade from Ndongo. This endeavor had no benevolent utopian goal. Raw, unwavering and capitalist greed was the goal. Walter Rodney's work, ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’, exposes the true nature of Europe's African enterprise. Capitalism and the notion of a global economy are concepts rooted in the exploitation of one group for the furthering of another.
SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: How did the process impact Africa?
ROSETTA CODLING: European trading with Africa enhanced capitalistic objectives. The act of 'trading with Africa' declined to 'stealing from Africa.' This policy was not restricted to Africa alone. The Atlantic Slave Trade extended to India, the Pacific Islands, South America and the Caribbean Islands. In an essay written by Elika M'bokolo, she states: ‘The African continent was bled of its human resources via all possible routes including from across the Sahara, through the Red Sea, from the Indian Ocean ports and across the Atlantic Ocean for more than four centuries of regular slave trade, which began from the end of the fifteenth to the 19th century to build the Americas and the prosperity of the Christian states of Europe.’
M'bokolo's essay, ‘The impact of the slave trade on Africa’, presents figures regarding the numbers of individuals enslaved. She estimates four million were exported via the Red Sea, four million through the Swahili ports of the Indian Ocean, and perhaps as many as nine million along the Trans-Saharan Caravan Route, and 11 to 20 million, depending on the author, were exported across the Atlantic Ocean.’ Africa reaped the agony and Europe reaped the benefits of this mode of trade.
M'bokolo states that the great slaving companies were formed in the second half of the 17th century. America and other countries of the world benefited from the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas and various papal edicts which reserved African districts for the Spaniards, the Portuguese and other nations of Europe. In essence, Europe – France, England, Holland, Portugal, Spain, and even Denmark, Sweden and Brandenburg – shared the spoils, and established a chain of monopoly companies in Africa. Sporadic raids by the Europeans soon gave way to regular commerce. African societies were drawn into the slavery system under duress.
Slavery was vital to funding the global economy in Europe. The European powers including France, England, Holland, Portugal, Spain, Denmark and Sweden needed cheap labour to sponsor their advancements. Unfortunately, the old manner of accessing cheap labour force from the African diaspora was not forgotten in the post-modern world.
SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: Discuss the involuntary funding of globalisation through the relocation and dislocation of Africans and people of African ancestry.
ROSETTA CODLING: Professor Thomas Holt's current treatise, ‘Children of Fire: A History of African Americans’, provides the most concise account of the legacy of African Americans in America. He relates the fact that: ‘Although much of their history is likely to remain enigmatic, we can be fairly certain that the twenty Africans on that Dutch man-of-war were at the apex of a triangle formed by Europe, Africa, and America. At that moment, in particular, three European powers – England, the Netherlands, and Spain, struggling for supremacy in Europe – were pushing the boundaries of their conflict into Africa and the Americas. Twenty Africans landed at Jamestown as part of a cargo of slaves on a Portuguese ship.’
Africans, in terms of globalisation during the 1600s, were an integral part of the European economic venture into the Americas. Africans became the transferred chattel of this new group of European 'Creoles' known as Americans and the continued containment and displacement of people of African ancestry still thrives today.
SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: How was early slavery facilitated?
ROSETTA CODLING: The famed text, ‘The Willie Lynch Letter’ and ‘The Making of a Slave’ whose authenticity is often disputed reveal the science of enslavement .Yet, the logic and the utilitarian purpose of such a philosophy is undeniable as it expresses the materialistic viewpoint of southern plantation owners in America and the West Indies. Slavery was a business and slaves were pawns in an economic game of debauchery and cross-breeding.
The conditioning of slaves was vital to the survival of plantation life. Certain codes, edicts, or principles, facilitated their domination. They were repressed, perceived as unequal or inhuman. Therefore, they were cross-bred, raped, and conditioned without feeling any guilt. William Lynch, a southern plantation owner, stated, in an address titled, ‘The Willie Lynch Letter’, six cardinal principles which directed slave owners to govern their slaves as livestock, break their spirit, cross-breed, enforce a new, colonial language, and contain the slaves psychologically and physically. If these edicts were followed, a person would be a slave for life. Economically, these principles were feasible and sound.
The acceptability of Willie Lynch’s theories must be reviewed with the results, which indicate that slavery was successful and profitable. The cotton, sugar, and tobacco exported from the Americas to Europe reaped profits. Such trade was vital to the Western and global economy. America's Civil War, which was not fought to abolish slavery but to save the nation because internal disputes regarding slavery imperilled the union of the American states, was costly to trade and suffered during the war.
SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: How was the post slavery psychological and economic slavery of people of African ancestry facilitated?
ROSETTA CODLING: Jim Crow laws, which impeded African-American freedom, were developed in the south after the Civil War. These laws maintained the order of slave society and the north covertly sanctioned the American apartheid system to politically appease the defeated Caucasian southerners. American farmers gained confidence and assurance, through Jim Crow laws, that coloured, indentured groups would still work their lands after emancipation. Thus, African-Americans in the south were restricted. However, a new global world was on the horizon with the Second World War. Industrial labour markets in the northern cities of America needed cheap labour to work the factories and African-Americans were lured north with tales of equality and higher wages. Subsequently, southern family farms in America became a dying industry and the Great Migration began.
SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: Discuss the Great Migration. How did it impact African Americans?
ROSETTA CODLING: The Great Migration is the term for the mass exodus of African-Americans from southern, agricultural states to northern, industrial cities. When a train's whistle was heard across the cotton fields, scores of African-Americans defected from sharecropping, domestic servitude, manual labour and even families. People immediately left siblings, spouses and children without notice. They left everything, jumped on trains in pursuit of the northern cities’ ‘Promised Land’ and as a result, African-Americans, again, experienced displacement and relocation to the unwelcoming hostile territories of the northern cities.
The writers of this period described the disillusionment and despair. Richard Wright wrote ‘American Hunger: Native Son, and Black Boy’. James Baldwin wrote ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’. Ralph Ellison wrote ‘Invisible Man’. Each writer sounded the cry of a people manipulated again. Later, Claude Brown wrote ‘Manchild in the Promised Land’ and Toni Morrison wrote ‘Jazz and Sula’. A current study of the Great Migration is provided via Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts' book ‘Harlem is Nowhere’. She gained residence in Harlem to write a retrospective glimpse into the pilgrimages of the early African American settlers in Harlem, New York. Her study reveals that African-Americans came buying land and developing the disfavoured community of Harlem, but they were met with hostility and anger. The 1900's caucasian residents of Harlem preferred to let properties decay, rather than sell to African-Americans. Currently, Harlem is morphing into a Caucasian community again. African-American families were displaced because they were priced out of the real estate market. The nouveau pursuit of capitalistic progress finds African-Americans standing in the way of the globalisation and gentrification of the ‘new’ Harlem. The historian Thomas C. Holt chronicles these current events in his study titled ‘A History of African American’. The chapters ‘Ragtime’ and ‘A Second Emancipation’ focus on this dilemma. Again, relocation and displacement serve the global minded Capitalist and not the workers.
SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: Discuss the post-modern deployment of African resources to aid globalisation through England's Windrush Era?
ROSETTA CODLING: Andrea Levy's novel, ‘Small Island’ tells the story of the migration of Caribbean people from small islands to a mythical ‘Mother Island’ named England. The Windrush Era was a modern day plan for the relocation and displacement of the descendants of the original Atlantic Slave Trade. ‘Small Island’ illustrates the bittersweet chronicle of several people that find their way through this tumultuous period in the diaspora's history. From 1947-1954, post-war England sought the energy and vitality of their Caribbean chattel. Caribbean people were seduced to come and work in the most deplorable conditions in England's cities. For a paltry sum, the illusion of opportunity and kinship, Caribbean people answered the call to come to England.
In reality, British capitalists only needed a cheap labour force, again. Overt slavery was politically incorrect in the post-modern world. This new, labour force had to be lured, voluntarily. Historical records indicate that these brave Caribbean people reminiscent of slavery travelled by boats provided by England. Upon arrival, they disembarked from the ships, gracefully and in such finery that was exclusively Caribbean that the English locals were astonished and responded to the newcomers with vile hostility and utter racism. However, there were labour shortages in the UK and cheap labour was needed, so the British capitalists weren’t troubled by the frustration and anger of their beleaguered underclass citizens. The capitalists weren’t concerned about the welfare of the newcomers who served the purposes of industry.
SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: What did that lead to in England?
ROSETTA CODLING: It led to incidents including the infamous April 11 1981 Bloody Saturday in Brixton which was the result of brewing racial clashes. In South London, riots developed initially to protest the stabbing, improper care and death of a black youth by the police. However, the continued unrest was rooted in the despair stemming from poverty, joblessness and the segregation of the Black populous into red-lined communities in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.
The rationale for the relocation and dislocation of Caribbean, Indian and Brown peoples was no longer viable for the England of the 1970s and 1980s. A second generation of Caribbean people was not needed. The second generation of these immigrants was problematic. They sought better jobs and opportunities that were never envisioned for them by the British society. In fact, the permanent, Caucasian underclass of British society was still scampering in the 1970s and 1980s for limited jobs. All of England was wrestling with a crippling recession in the 1980s, which continues to this present day.
The Caribbean people and the Caucasian underclass began to clash in semi-and organised fashions. Anger against the upstart, Caribbean people rose. Eventually, England rescinded its policy of freely admitting Caribbean people and other Commonwealth peoples. This shift in policy took the form of definitive legislation that required that a prospective Caribbean immigrant prove that he or she had a parent in the UK, or a bona fide relative possessing the status of British subject. Abruptly, Caribbean people were no longer welcome in England after the 1980s.
The 1995 Brixton riots and the 2011 riots across England were replays of similar circumstances which led to the 1981 Brixton riots. Despair erupted into smouldering flames; ignited by the mistreatment of people of African ancestry by the British police and resulting in violence fanned by feelings of disenfranchisement and disillusionment of minority youths. These young people were mostly Caribbean, Indian and Brown peoples, but many were also from the Caucasian underclass.
SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: How did America respond to Britain's immigration policy changes?
ROSETTA CODLING: America granted free access to Caribbean and other peoples of colour to come to America in 1965 because African-Americans in the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s refused the menial labour of their forefathers. Great social changes, which were the catalysts for major shifts in America's immigration policy, were led by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The Civil Rights Movement made things difficult for accessing cheap, indigenous, and coloured labour in America, and America, like Europe, needed cheap labour for production to compete globally. After the passage of legislation, during the John F. Kennedy administration, America freely opened its doors to those once restricted.
Previously, preference was given to European immigrants. Adam Smith in his text, ‘The Wealth of Nations’ stresses this point. The Caribbean Islands were traditionally under the Commonwealth protection and parentage of the ‘Motherland,’ but, with Britain's abdication/retreat from open immigration, America tapped a new, cheap labour market. The pattern was repeated and globally, people of African ancestry continued to meet the needs of another market.
SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: What is Africa's continued role in globalisation and China's success?
ROSETTA CODLING: The Atlantic World continues to expand and encompass the Pacific World. China and India are developing world powers which require raw materials, and Africa is once again, the source for human and mineral resources. China's ventures in Africa are supposedly, purely mercantile. Still, one must critically wonder due to history.
China conducts trade in Africa by extracting raw materials, which ravages the land, for a moderate price. There appears to be little concern for the harm inflicted upon the land, and the environment. Humans and animals suffer the consequences. China brings trade to African nations through the business conducted; however, African workers are rarely hired by Chinese firms in Africa. China imports Chinese workers for the most lucrative and professional positions. Few African are hired in unprofessional capacities, poorly paid and vulnerable to injury or death because there are no labour laws protecting their interests. China isn’t concerned with the violation of human rights. One might construe that China's venture in Africa is a self-serving pursuit. History is repeating itself as an emerging global power, currently China, is gaining strength at Africa's expense.
Africa's oil industry, not the Middle East’s, supplies most of America's fuel. America's oil interests in Africa including Nigeria's Niger Delta exploit and disenfranchise the local people and blatantly ignore human rights violations. England, again, prompts cause for concern in Africa. The vast oil reserves found in many African countries are exploited by England too and Africans obtain little of the profit because of the neo-colonial governments installed by European global powers. Belgium and France, in the pursuit of the minerals like coltan, which is vital for making computer chips and cell phones, incite internal disputes in African nations in places such as Congo. Companies such as Nokia, Ericsson, Intel, and Sony lust for African resources, consequently, a dozen years of war over tin and coltan mines – minerals vital to modern technology – have created the largest humanitarian tragedy in modern history with women being the most common victims: and the West largely ignores this.
Many other legitimate sources of these minerals are available in Western countries such as Canada, Australia and even in South America. For example, Brazil has vast mineral reserves, but the focus is on Africa because resources are obtained in Africa for little or no fee. Likewise, the global diamond market is almost entirely dependent on the cheap labour and minerals found in places like Namibia and South Africa. Internal civil wars and conflict are inspired and/or supported by European powers that profit from African strife.
SUSAN MAJEKODUNMI: What is your assessment of the current state of Africa in the global market?
ROSETTA CODLING: Africa of the past and present offers little hope for the future because Africa's rich human and mineral resources, historically, has been vulnerable to Europe’s and America’s selfish aspirations. Now, China assumes a similar self-serving role. When will real global trade be realised, where all parties reap the same benefits? Africa awaits such a venture and future of a mutually beneficial partnership amongst equals.
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* Susan E. Majekodunmi is a freelance journalist and writer. She is a contributor to The Women's International Perspective (The WIP), Jamati Online, The New Ghanaian, New African Analysis, World Press, and Africa News. She is also the Editor-In-Chief of Sociable Susan Magazine. She lives in Maryland, USA.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
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