The Fruits of Civilization (25-4) Africa


The continent that spawned hominids has been the last to develop economically, and the process has been as ugly as possible.

Sub-Saharan Africa first developed economically during European colonization, beginning with slaves in the 16th century, followed by land appropriation and serfdom for the natives under colonial rule. Political fragmentation facilitated European conquest and greatly affected its aftermath.

Settler colonies, such as South Africa, had a worse record for poverty reduction than other forms of European conquest, but they invoked greater structural change.

Lands were confiscated and settled in settler colonies. Under the plantation system, land was controlled by colonists, with native Africans obliged to sell their labor. In peasant colonies, land ownership largely remained in African hands, but the services sector was effectively monopolized by European interlopers.

Large-scale coercion was the basis for constructing the white-ruled economies. Especially in South Africa, with its hoard of gold, labor exploitation eventually became profitable enough for a partly politically impelled policy of industrialization.

Thus, rents from black African laborers were channeled into structural development. For the white masters, in contributing to the fall of apartheid, this process ultimately proved self-defeating.

The blacks that eventually took power in South Africa proved inept and corrupt. Within a very few decades, the economy there was a huge mess.

Receding imperialism in the 20th century did not incite economic prosperity in Africa. It led instead to intra-African warfare, under the aegis of warlords who took the reins after their colonial masters left, and those that arose when power vacuums appeared.

Once a continent synonymous with war, famine, and poverty, foreign investment drove the growth of the modern African economy in the late 20th century. It was a continuation of exploiting the continent’s natural resources, both minerals and crops, such as coffee and cocoa.

The commodities trade boomed from foreign investment, at first largely organized by Europeans into cartels. China arrived late to the looting. Extraction continues to exceed investment.

Though labor has been cheap, manufacturing did not blossom. That has changed only slightly in the early 21st century.

There is a lot of economic growth in the region, but this is bypassing much of the population. ~ English ecologist John Garrett

Africa is developing economically without generating a mass middle class. Instead, a wealthy elite stand out as a stark contrast to the poverty which remains prevalent. Consistent with earlier economic development across the world, high birth rates among the impoverished help perpetuate poverty.

Habitat loss and environmental destruction grow apace with development. The masters may have changed but the rape of the continent continues.