This article was originally published on Chuma Nwokolo’s blog in February 2017.
Here’s what we think: that some African countries are still colonies. We suspect that their freedom fighters fought their way into the statehouse and finding the beds so soft and the loot so amenable, decided on a personnel change rather than the systemic change that would have truly liberated their countries. They decided to replace the colonial rulers, rather than break down the colonial system.
You cannot tell whether you live in a colony simply by looking at your constitution. Constitutions have lots of dead letters: rights that are there in writing but dead-on-delivery. To help you decide the colonial status of your country, we put together this rough-and-ready ten-point test.
1. Is your statehouse also an old people’s home?
Colonial masters cannot be changed by election. Do your Heads of State plan to die in office, to be replaced by their children? If your leadership has been in the same family since independence, if you are a thirty-year-old African who has only known one President, if your leaders are in their nineties, and are still being ‘reelected’ into office despite their incompetence, senility or corruption, you probably live in a colony.
2. Are political positions filled by ‘you the people’, or your ‘colonial masters’?
Before flag independence, political positions like councillors were filled by selection by the colonial authorities. Under modern African constitutions, they ought to be filled by elections. If political positions are decided in the living rooms of godfathers rather than via the ballot box, if your electoral systems have been so compromised that votes are irrelevant to the outcome of elections, you may be under a colonial government.
3. Are your leaders your masters or your servants?
A master lords it over you. A servant is accountable to you for your resources in his control. A servant speaks respectfully, a master, arrogantly. If your leaders behave like masters rather than servants, if they answer to humble titles like ‘Prime Minister’ (Main Servant) or ‘Comrade’ but feed with impunity on your treasury, you may have been recolonised.
4. Do your leaders prefer servile and mediocre staff?
For colonial masters, servile sycophants who will defend the status quo are preferable to intelligent, independent thinkers who may be better workers, but will likely challenge oppression. So, if your country’s cabinet seems comprised of the thickest, rather than the smartest, if your public service promotes loyal but mediocre officers over smart but out-spoken staff, who end up either fired or jailed, you may have been recolonised.
5. Is your government still in a ‘colonial partnership’ with religious leaders?
Colonial powers converted Africans to their own religions, which prioritised colonialism over independence and the treasures of Heaven over freedom on Earth. Without thus pacifying the spirit of the African, the military cost of subjugating and exploiting their physical, mental and material resources might have been unsustainable in the long run. Colonial religions implanted a concept of a colonial master-race that cannot be evicted by flag independence.
So if your religious leaders still drill unquestioning obedience into the present generation, and blame your bad roads and the fruits of bad governance on the Devil, in return for the patronage of government, the colonial collaboration between religion and government is as strong as ever, and you may be living in a colony.
6. Is your government still in a ‘colonial partnership’ with traditional leaders?
Traditional Leaders were a vital supply link in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Leaders like King Jaja of Opobo who tried to stay independent were relentlessly hounded, exiled, jailed, or killed, with their kingdoms broken up or handed over to more pliable successors. The surviving traditional leaders accepted their new roles of facilitating colonialism. Indeed, in many more republican communities without traditional leaders, the colonial rulers created brand new ‘warrant chiefs’ for purpose of colonial administration.
If your present traditional leaders still collect a salary to keep their domains safe for exploitative government, then the colonial collaboration between traditional leaders and government is still alive.
7. Is your government still in a ‘colonial partnership’ with companies?
The Corporation helped to draw the map of modern Africa, and the only reason for their map and country-making activities was to profit from trade and tariffs. Companies like the British South Africa Company, the German West Africa Company and the Imperial British East Africa Company were active in the scramble for Africa. They traded in everything from ivory, enslaved Africans and African countries themselves – the Royal Niger Company sold ‘Nigeria’ to the British government for #865,000 at the end of their charter.
So, if the relationship between your corporations and government (terms of concessions, privatizations, kickbacks…) is designed to exploit society for the benefit of corporate revenues and government taxation, and at the expense of the citizens, you may well be living in a colony reconcessioned to the private sector.
8. Are your best and brightest still going abroad?
During the slave trade, millions of well-endowed Africans were abducted and shipped to plantations in the West. In the colonial era, they were shipped out as soldiers in the world wars and labourers before and after the wars.
Are your best human resources still going West?
To exploit a colony effectively, bright minds are a liability. They are most likely to ask questions, to demand self-determination. Apartheid South Africa banned and exiled her brightest independent thinkers. Colonial administrations do not prioritise superior, Afrocentric education. What they provided was western-oriented schools with a curriculum that glorified the European devastation of Africa as deliverance, and whose graduates and intellectuals could serve, as ‘supervisors of slaves’, not to apprehend history and visualize the future from an African perspective but to regurgitate a Eurocentric world view to future generations of Africans.
So, is your country still hostile to intelligence? Are your schools still teaching a colonial, self-abnegating curriculum? Do they produce docile graduates fearful of authority, fit only to be ‘supervisors of slaves’? If the flower of your youth have their hearts set abroad, yours is likely a continuation of a colonial government.
9. Are your political and commercial elite above the law?
When the colonial masters chartered companies to run their African colonies, they usually exempted European citizens from the laws made and enforced by the colonial companies. This effectively created an apartheid administration with a class of super-citizens who were above the colonial law.
Are there classes in your society to whom the laws of your country do not apply? Do people who steal a goat go to jail for life, while those who steal a city get cabinet positions? If the provisions in your constitution that protect you from the excesses of your leaders are dead letters and there is one version of the law for the poor and another for the rich, you are probably the second-class citizen in a colony.
10. Is your government still corrupt?
If a democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people, a colonial government (of the colonist, by the colonist, for the colonist) can be considered the most corrupt manifestation of governance. Under European colonialism the corruption was institutionalized and efficient with the proceeds delivered to the main parties to the exploitation of Africa, with the ‘loot’ generally heading to Europe. The dividends of good governance can be considered the side benefits of efficient corruption, rather than the driving purpose of a colonial administration.
The Economic Commission for Africa estimates that $50 billion corruptly leaves Africa every year, double the volume of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa. So, is your government a government of the clique in power, by the clique in power, for the clique in power? Is the wealth of nation still divided between the parties to the exploitation of the people, to the detriment of the people? Are the proceeds of corruption still heading to bank accounts and properties in the West? If the answer is yes, then you have likely been colonised by a band of bandits.
GRADE YOUR COUNTRY
Failed 1-2 Tests:
Well done. You are well on your way to true independence… but do take the test again to be sure!
Failed 3-4 Tests:
Read the biographies of Mandela and Nkrumah and roll up your sleeves. The work is far from finished!
Failed 5-6 Tests:
Borderline colonial country. You probably have to start your readings from Chinweizu’s Decolonizing the African Mind, before attempting a decolonization of the nation.
Failed 7-10 Tests:
Your country is sadly a glorified colony. We would suggest prayers – but do ensure that your denomination is not in sync with your current colonists. Recommended reading? Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.
Passed all ten tests?
Congratulations! Do share the name of your country; and prepare for a spike in immigration.
WHAT CAN WE DO NOW?
To truly decolonize Africa, we must go beyond personnel changes in the statehouses from which Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Italy and Portugal were evicted, and actually change the colonial systems such that the interests of the African peoples, not their leaders & friends, are in the driving seat of governance.
We must create a system that subjects African leaders to the rule of law. The weakness of the modern African state is that all the powers of the state are vested in the hands of the same law-breakers who are supposed to enforce it. Until the citizens, institutions and associations within each country develop enough muscle to enforce the rule of law, the ruling classes will perpetuate the colonisation of their countries. The solution, therefore, is to create a peer enforcement mechanism that gives the African citizen recourse to an alternative power outside his government to enforce his constitutional rights.
With the growing profile of the African Union, an African-centred Solution is to:
Create pan-African structures (courts, agencies with enforcement powers) that can efficiently offer reliefs to Africans who are stuck with intransigent governments. But merely to create such structures are not enough, because they will immediately be corrupted and will represent just another level of autocracy. To make it work, we must also,
Create effective penalties which will eliminate corruption from the fabric of African Union members by self-regulation rather than the discredited system of litigation and recovery. Such penalties will routinely include Total Assets Forfeiture for people convicted of serious acts of corruption as well as liquidation for corporations convicted of serious corruption. This penalty regime will create the environment that can comprehensively decolonize African countries. Finally we must,
Reward whistle-blowers who provide information on corruption, substantially. This will ensure that all malpractices are eventually reported. The likelihood of eventual ruin is a great incentive to people in power to moderate their abuse of privilege and to keep their behaviour within legal constraints.
If you are living in a glorified colony, you are in a hard, but not impossible position. Every generation has to discover its mission, and either betray or realize it. The bogeyman of neocolonialism has long-blinded us to the colonialism being practiced by people of our own skin color. You are called to be Freedom Fighters. A transformation of the African destiny is within your hands, and it is up to you, as the freshly conscious, to act.