Gerald Caplan is an Africa scholar, a former NDP national director and a regular panelist on CBC’s Power & Politics.
According to the New York Times, Donald Trump’s transition team wanted to know: “Why should we spend funds on Africa when we are suffering here in the U.S.?” Curiously enough, most Americans probably would have agreed with Mr. Trump that this was a real question. But they all share an entirely false premise.
America and the rest of the rich world have actually been ripping off Africa for the past 700 years, ever since the Portuguese began the slave trade, all the while insisting that Africa has been the beneficiary of this relentless exploitation. It’s been one of the great hoaxes of the past millennium.
Slavery and the slave trade, upon which Western Europe and the United States developed their economic superiority, were said to be positive for Africans, whose innate inferiority meant they had no capacity to run their own lives.
Colonialism, in turn, was the West’s ostensibly philanthropic attempt to gift Africa with “Christianity, Civilization and Commerce,” in return for making possible Europe’s assorted empires.
Neocolonialsm, which has operated for the past 65 years since the West first “gave” their African colonies freedom, is the stage we have all lived through. During this period, according to Western mythology, Africa has been the problem to which the generosity of the rich world is the solution. You know – a goat at Christmas, the “adoption” of an unknown child, meagre foreign aid and neoliberal economic policies.
In reality, Africa is far more generous to the West than we are to it. That was evident from the first. But beginning in 1973, with the publication of the ground-breaking book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, by Guyanese academic-activist Walter Rodney, the European fairy tale was definitively exploded. The title said it all: Africa’s multiple woes were a function of deliberate policies of exploitation by Europe’s colonial regimes.
Since then, despite mounting evidence, mass ignorance in the West, cultivated by both elites and aid agencies, remained dominant. Yet excellent research by sophisticated NGOs have made indisputably clear the manifold ways in which foreign interests consistently ripped off African countries, not least through tax evasion and the investment privileges gained by Western corporate interests.
I myself jumped into this attempt to demystify Africa-West relations with a book called The Betrayal of Africa. The betrayers were Western governments and corporate interests, often in collusion with African elites. The betrayed were innocents in the West and of course the African people.
More exposés pour forth, the latest, probably most comprehensive one, just this December. The U.S.-based Global Financial Integrity examined all of the financial resources that get transferred between rich countries and poor ones each year, including aid, foreign investment and trade flows, as well as debt cancellation, workers’ remittances and unrecorded capital flight.
The conclusion was categorical: The flow of money from rich countries to poor countries, including most of Africa, pales in comparison to the flow that runs in the other direction.
In 2012, the last year of recorded data, poor countries received a total of $1.3-trillion (U.S.), including all aid, investment, and income from abroad. But that same year some $3.3-trillion flowed out of them. In other words, developing countries sent $2-trillion more to the rest of the world than they received. Since 1980, these net outflows add up to a staggering total of $16.3 trillion. That’s how much money has been bled out of the global south, including Africa, over the past few decades.
And yes, it’s trillions.
Add in the massive corruption, enabled by Western interests, plus the violent coups and conflicts that Western interests facilitated, and there’s only one conclusion: Rich countries aren’t developing poor countries; poor countries are developing rich ones.
Canada is a pretty good example. On the one hand, our governments sends them paltry amounts of foreign aid. On the other, to take only one example, Canadian investment in African mining ventures, many of them deeply destructive to locals, are often actively promoted by Canadian politicians and bureaucrats.
The Trudeau government is looking for a new Africa strategy. Surely telling the truth about who is ripping off whom would be a very constructive way to begin. Then the appropriate policies could, at long last, follow. Or is the truth now too much for Canada, too?
By Gerald Caplan