Littered with senseless loans, Africa’s path leads to recolonisation

Monday June 1 2020

Loans.

In many African states, each borrowed dollar creates less than a dollar. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA 

JOACHIM BUWEMBO
By JOACHIM BUWEMBO
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Last week I was reading about a lucky Spanish woman – a centenarian who survived the great flu of 1918 and recently recovered from Covid-19. But then I realised millions of us in Africa do not have to be envious of her. For if you were born before 1979 when Zimbabwe became Africa’s last country to get independence from an external force, then you too are living through two great episodes: Decolonisation and now the recolonisation of Africa.

Understandably, the local agents of the second colonisation can argue for hours, days, or even years that it is not taking place. Why shouldn’t they? After all, the second colonisation does not look like the first one. Just like the ‘new normal’ of changing lifestyles and work methods after Covid-19, the new colonisation which is underway is executed differently from the first. But the key elements are the same.

First of all, as pan Africanists do not tire from telling us, colonisation was made easier by the slave trade which preceded it. They argue that Africa was easy to conquer because many of its strongest had been taken away into slavery. At least two sad parallels here.

During the slave trade, local rulers collaborated with the slave traders by selling them our own people. Some of the rulers did not see them as “our” people because they would raid the victims from rival chiefdoms whom they never viewed as brothers and sisters. In their myopic view, these were enemies. But some idiots of rulers actually sold their own people.

Under the ‘new normal’ slavery, incompetent rulers have failed to creatively harness their resources and economies to create employment for their youth, who in turn are taking themselves on hazardous journeys across the desert and the shark infested Mediterranean to deliver themselves to their ‘new normal’ slavers.

Secondly, just like there weren’t enough strong people around to resist colonisation after the slave trade, today a lot of skilled manpower that would have strengthened African economies has gone away under the so-called brain-drain. Many relatives and friends of African rulers who have ruined or neglected their countries’ health systems go abroad for treatment only to end up in the hands of compatriot medical experts who fled their mismanaged motherlands. Such rulers’ intellectual friends then accuse the West of stripping Africa of even its expertise. Whether the blame for this is on the African rulers or the Western employers, the result is the same – Africa has been sufficiently weakened enough for recolonisation.

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It would have been tempting to absolve African leaders of collaboration in the weakening of Africa – the way you can blame the rich guy for buying your family home for peanuts and rendering you destitute. But how about blaming your father for selling it for a song because of his thirst for liquor?

In my days of active journalism, I interviewed many African officials in different capitals of our continent. I also had the good fortune to interact with real human beings in the head offices of big lenders in Washington DC. What goes on during negotiations for loans to African governments can be interesting. Forget our perennial complaints of unfair terms or irrelevance of the loans. The real sinners are the representatives of the wretched African taxpayers in those technical meetings. The African officials tend to be so meek, so submissive and in some cases bored, exhibiting outright disinterest in the negotiations. Some Africans are keen and firm, but half are not. Those African finance ministers who talk tough as they deliver annual budgets can be tongue-tied in London, Paris and Washington.

The result? Africa contracts loans without any idea how they will be paid. The very first job of a loan should be to create the capacity to pay itself directly or indirectly. Development bankers always know how many dollars each borrowed dollar will create in the economy. In many African states, each borrowed dollar creates less than a dollar. In some immorally negotiated loans, the local counter fund put down by the borrower is actually enough to finance the whole project. But the ‘modern’ loans can even be so evil as they can be collateralised; you fail to pay on time, the project is taken over by the lender for maybe 99 years. At least these days in Uganda you cannot borrow against your house without the family members’ consent. Africa’s loans should also first be subjected to a referendum if the new colonisation is to be rolled back. Otherwise, it could be over so fast that we might even see the third episode – the second decolonisation of Africa. But it would most probably be a futile one – I mean the second decolonisation.

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]

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