The various faces of neocolonialism are still with us

Kwame Nkrumah, author and revolutionary, led Ghana to independence from Britain in 1957 and served as its first prime minister.
Kwame Nkrumah, author and revolutionary, led Ghana to independence from Britain in 1957 and served as its first prime minister.
Image: Universal History Archive/ UIG via Getty Images

Many years ago, I read Kwame Nkrumah's Neocolonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism, which I thought was very insightful. The book speaks about the danger of neocolonialism in Africa.

Nkrumah describes that the state which is subjected to neocolonialism is in theory independent, having all the trappings of international sovereignty but its "economic systems and political policies are directed from outside".

The methods and forms of neocolonialism vary and are usually very subtle, he says, but often neocolonialists' control is exercised through economic or monetary means.

Fundamentally, Nkrumah says, the result of neocolonialism is that foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than the development of the state and, therefore, investments under neocolonialism ultimately increase the gap between rich and poor nations of the world, although this may not always be transparent.

Neocolonialism, he says, is the worst form of imperialism, and those who practise it acquire "power without responsibility and for those who suffer it, it means exploitation without redress".

Objectively, he says, "so long as neocolonialism can prevent political and economic conditions for optimum development, the developing nations, whether under neocolonialists or not, will be unable to create a large enough market to support industrialisation".

For example, developing countries may be unable to force developed countries to accept their primary products at fair prices. Remember, when reports surfaced that SA was "bullied" into accepting its substandard chicken or face losing duty-free trade with the US under Agoa?

In 2015, the Obama administration threatened SA with sanctions because SA "continued to impose barriers on US trade" and gave SA 60 days to remove those barriers. This was serious and, in 2016, SA struck the deal with the US, despite concerns that the chicken could have been contaminated with bird flu or other diseases, according to various reports.

This may be what neocolonialism looks like. Furthermore, neocolonialists, according to Nkrumah, not only operate in the economy, they also operate in political, religious, ideological and cultural spheres.

I was reminded of Nkrumah's teachings when I read over the weekend that five ambassadors from the US, UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland raised "concerns" about corruption, among other things, in a memorandum addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

They reportedly warned Ramaphosa that his investment drive would fail should allegations of corruption not be followed by concrete action in court. They want assurance that Ramaphosa will do something about corruption in the state.

The five nations, who according to the Sunday Times, account for 75% of foreign direct investments in SA, also cited dissatisfaction and concern about the regulatory framework for mining, broad-based black economic empowerment, intellectual property rights and visa practices.

The department of international relations is reported to have said that the "concerns" raised would be addressed by the "respective clusters of our government" but described the memorandum as a "departure from established diplomatic practice".

However, my view is that the ambassadors' actions are not only undiplomatic, but direct interference and aimed at dictating policy.

It is an abomination that the signatories expect a president of a country to directly commit to prosecutions of the corrupt in order to satisfy their concerns, which are raised without regard for our constitution. It is only the National Prosecuting Authority which may decide what and who to prosecute and must do so without fear or favour.

Besides, the state capture inquiry remains ongoing, and must also be given a chance to conclude, after which the chairperson will make the findings.

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