The Scramble for Africa’s Economy
In order to understand the exploitation currently underway in Africa, it is first necessary to understand Europe’s relationship with Africa.
The ‘Scramble for Africa’ took place in the nineteenth century when European countries began to take over African land.
This newly acquired land was then split up into distinct countries and exploited for their resources.
To the European explorers and rulers, Africa was a resource that could be used up and discarded. The indigenous population of these countries was displaced, forced into slavery, murdered, and even tortured in the name of wealth. Though Europe has since formally moved out of Africa, the borders and ideas that they brought with them still exist today. Africa is seen as a resource and many of the European countries that have formally left still have an informal economic presence in the countries they conquered. European businesses put tremendous pressure on the communities they invade and often harm the local population.
Even worse, these businesses are seen as a step forward instead of a cruel exploitation.
Though the ‘Scramble for Africa’ has ended, the ideas that it represented are still evident today.
Before it is possible to understand the individual cases of this economic exploitation, it is first necessary to look at the bigger picture of what’s going on:
Africa provides the majority of the fish production for Europe, which is surprising considering Europe shares a border with the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Black Sea. African forests are being cut down at twice the average rate.
Although the African people have grown their own food for almost all of its history, they now import a quarter of their food.
Water is being used to support the European industries rather than to help the people that need it the most. Although the extent to which Africa is impacted is unclear, what is clear is that exploitation of Africa is a major problem.
The profit that Africa gains from the newfound European industry is just a trickle from the river of benefit that Europe gets. Africa is clearly still being seen as a resource rather than a culture, and European industry has filled the gap left by their respective governments without giving Africa time to develop local industry of its own.
Another, more intimate example, of the economic domination of the West over Africa, exists in the individual communities:
For example, in Kenya, Coca-Cola factories have begun to pop up. While this may seem good for the economy as a job creator, one local factory has been pumping chemicals into a local river. These chemicals have made the lives of the local residents unbearable and they have complained to both environmental protection agencies and their local government. Both have been either unwilling or unable to make any change and chemicals continue to be pumped into the river.
When people talk about the industry in developing countries, they often leave out where the industry is coming from. Businesses that come from outside the country and merely exploit the local population do not have a positive impact; they instead leech off of the local economy and deplete both the resources and the money of the country, leaving nothing but ruin behind them.
Finally, it is important to consider what can be done about this exploitation.
While approaches may vary and there is no concrete answer, I believe that change can only come about through the local community. If businesses develop from within the community, any money they make will go back into the community rather than away from it. Local entrepreneurs are also less likely to use harmful business practices because it will impact them and their friends equally.
We, as a global community, have to work together to encourage economic development by helping entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. Future generations in Europe also must be taught about their country’s history with Africa.
We should work to build networks of communication between children in Africa and Europe to make sure that the ‘Scramble for Africa’ never happens again. Although change may not come quickly, the world will be a better place from it.
The author, Colin Yoon, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Unscramble for Africa program.