Africa is not poor but it suffers from poverty. And this poverty is due to unbridled capitalism
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“Africans are fools. They allow themselves to be cheated by their leaders and by the rest of the world”
Without further context, this statement may be passed off as the seething outburst of a frustrated foreigner who cannot seem to understand why a continent so rich in natural resources and people does not seem to be able to lift its millions out of poverty. Yet this statement is the expressed frustration of many Africans and is representative of the deep anger that many feel about the current state of affairs on the continent and the complicity of the ruling elite in impoverishing their own communities.
This resentment about the failure of African leaders is justified- according to a United Nations high level panel report on illicit financial flows in Africa, the continent has lost over $1 trillion in the last 50 years.
Yes, 1 trillion dollars. This is equivalent to all of the aid the continent has received in the post-colonial period. This loss is due primarily to tax evasion by multinationals and the activities of transnational organized crime networks who work with corrupt local leaders to circumvent tax systems, loot national treasuries and siphon off natural resources.
The Sapeux of the Congo
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Africa is not poor contrary to popular narrative and its common people do not lack talent, imagination and ability. Before the cock crows in many of its cities, its women are often already awake and carrying on with economic activities. Its inventiveness is represented by for example the Sapeux of the central Congo who even though living on less than $1/day are able to create a high fashion community that expresses their colorful culture through appropriation of expensive French brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Yves St. Laurent.
Africa is not poor but it suffers from poverty.
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And this poverty is due to unbridled capitalism that has led to overproduction. This is why many of its cities are designed as they are- sprawling shanty towns massing millions in order to maximize space utilization and the economic surplus that is possible from the diverse social interactions that occur from such population density. This capitalist logic is why its people accumulate rather than distribute wealth and why they would rather allow for their environment and communities to be despoiled by local and foreign economic activities rather than work together to eliminate exploitation.
Everyone wants to be rich, this is the logic of Africa- a succeed at all costs mentality and why its people appear to be willing tools of global exploiters.
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Africa’s wealth will continue to be cornered by international capitalist networks until her people work together to rebuild national institutions on the logic of precolonial local traditions of community distribution. It is ironic that the west is today being transformed through the new shared economy which was at the heart of precolonial Africa as expressed through its Ubuntu traditions. For example, Airbnb was created in Africa over 500 years ago, at which time strangers were freely hosted by communities through which they were passing without obligation to pay anything in return. This is why across precolonial sub-sahara Africa there were no inns and hotels.
Colonial exposure thoroughly corrupted these traditions and replaced a distributive traditional economy that used to ensure the survival of the community’s weakest to one that is today defined by schizophrenic accumulation by its powerful few.
The state structures that Africa has inherited need to be dismantled. They were built on the colonial logic of non-accountability, opaqueness, local exploitation and extraction for the metropole. This is why today, Africa’s elite transfer looted national wealth into western assets- palatial mansions and secret accounts in Europe.
This is what they don’t tell you about Africa- that its chronic economic failures are a result of unbridled capitalism which has resulted from a toxic mix of its disadvantaged position in the global system, its elites’ greed and inherited state institutions that were built for an archaic western imperial logic of economic production.