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Emancipation Charade

by George Alleyne
August 04, 2003
Trinidad and Tobago

Emancipation photos
Trinidad and Tobago 2004 Emancipation celebration photos

This year's annual charade of pretending to identify with Africa in the week immediately preceding Emancipation Day and on Emancipation Day itself has ended. Sadly, most of the persons who wore African garb for that brief period, displaying them as they would Carnival costumes, would have severe reservations about walking down Frederick or High Street in them today and the weeks and months ahead. The once-a-year "Africans" care less about seeing beyond the tragedy of Rwanda, of the Congo, of Liberia, Zimbabwe and the Sudan to the factors which created the tragedy, Europe's colonising of those countries, its ruthless exploitation of the raw materials of those countries, its dehumanising of the people, the crippling of their industries and the flooding of their markets today with cheap products in a bid to head off any attempts at industrial growth. How many of the once-a-year Africans have concerned themselves with Walter Rodney's anguished cries in his monumental work How Europe Underdeveloped Africa in which he deals with restrictions placed by the French, for example, on exports of groundnut oil from Senegal, and the British of the same product from Nigeria.

Or the military and naval intervention by the Portuguese as early as the 15th century which hobbled West African trade "along the Upper Guinea coast," and stifled trade in raw cotton and indigo dye between communities. Or the Portuguese using their military and naval might to wrest the trade in cowries in the Congo, the salt trade and that of high quality palm oil in Angola. Or for that matter Rodney's chronicling of the cynical disruption of the once flourishing textile trade between the Ivory Coast and Ghana and indeed of all East to West coastal trade in Africa, effected with the construction of a fort at Axim in Ghana (then the Gold Coast). And as Rodney tells us the aim was to make the areas dependent on Portuguese traders. In addition, the Dutch would later be part of the crippling process through the Dutch West India Company by demanding, indeed forcing all Ghanaian vessels trading between Axim and the Ivory Coast to carry with each trip they made, a pre-determined quantity of Dutch goods. They also forced inhabitants of the Ivory Coast to purchase goods produced in Holland.

Let me quote Walter Rodney: "Partly by establishing a stranglehold on the distribution of cloth around the shores of Africa, and partly by swamping African products by importing in bulk, European traders succeeded in putting an end to the expansion of African cloth manufacture." This led, as Rodney has pointed out in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa to West African colonies becoming merely exporters of raw cotton and through being forced to do so, under the barrel of a gun, importers of cloth, the finished product of their raw cotton, manufactured in the respective European Imperialist nations which had savaged and controlled their lands and wealth. Even a United Kingdom Consul General in the Brass section of the Niger Delta, Sir John Kirk, would be honest enough to report that, "The rules in force are practically prohibitive to native trade, and the Brass men are right in saying that this is so." The statement is taken from Kirk's Report on the disturbances at Brass, quoted by Basil Davidson in The Africans: An Entry to Cultural History, (pages 178-179), published by Longmans in London in 1969.

Paul Bairoch in his Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes (pages 72-79), and cited in UNCTAD, had been critical of what he described as the United Kingdom's monopolistic policies, policies which, incidentally, were also common to France. And although these two once colonial powers had, at the height of their exploitation of vast areas of Africa, used the wealth of African countries they had exploited as principal foundations of their own industrial growth, shortly after World War II they would pretend to the outside world to a concern regarding the building of their colonies' industries. And instead of people of African descent on Emancipation Day parading and even dancing in the streets of Port- of-Spain in African wear, some of it made in China and India, they should seek to find out some of the anguish, the trials and tribulations as well as the greatness of the history of the continent from which their forebears were transported, bound and shackled as slaves.

But back to the UK and France. The United Kingdom set up the Colonial Development and Welfare organisation, while France set up the FIDES Programme ostensibly to stimulate industrial development through the allocation of funds to their respective colonies. Rodney has exposed the hypocrisy of it all, and emphasised that from 1946-1956, the UK's Colonial Development Welfare allocated a mere one per cent of its funds to industrial development, while FIDES, during the period 1949-1953, had set aside one half of one per cent! This was not only a shameful display of British and French hypocrisy, but a dismissal both of history and the feelings of millions of Africans, whether Ghanaians, Nigerians, Sierra Leonese, Senegalese and what have you whose countries they had shamelessly exploited.

It was the crowning insult, and carefully concealed under all of the public relations garbage of helping these lands and peoples to rebuild their economies the sad truth that Britan and France had no intention of assisting, nay allowing them to challenge the UK and France in the international market place. They would continue to apply, cynically, the notorious "Law of the First Price," of which Alvin Toffler tells us on page 88 of his book, The Third Wave, published in 1980 in New York by Bantam. As Toffler has explained, where there had been no previous history of trading in a commodity, the first price set, or is the word imposed, (by European traders), and an excessively low price at that, all too often backed by the military might of the respective metropolitan colonial power, was the price that the Europeans were prepared to accept seemingly in perpetuity.

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