Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Colonizing Nations Owe Greater Debt To Africa by Lundy Langston
The finance ministers of the world's richest nations, including the United States, recently approved a debt-relief package for 18 of the world's poorest countries, 14 of which are on the continent of Africa. The agreement is a step in the right direction, because there should be some debt relief by the world's richest countries to impoverished and presently imperiled African nations.
One of the main reasons that the African nations are in their predicament has to do with the growth and development of the richest nations, which were borne on the backs of African nations. The world's richest countries played a significant role in the demise of some of the African nations -- first they colonized them, then left without attempting to or helping to develop a post-colonial infrastructure. Debt relief should really reflect a debt owed to African nations by the countries that enslaved the African people and/or colonized their countries. They packed up and left a group of people with a way of viewing themselves as subordinate to Europeans and in an environment that was stripped of its original riches.
African nations became, under colonization, nations existing to serve the needs of the colonizers. The lands were harvested to serve the customs of the colonizers, clothing designed to function within their (the colonizers') morals, and machinery to serve the colonizer's needs. When the colonizers packed up and left, for those who did leave (unlike in South Africa -- where the diamonds were deemed more valuable than complying with the international community's pressure to end colonization), they simply left without creating necessary infrastructure. The British, for example, should have developed a water and sewer system in Ghana before they left. They should have implemented some process for the Ghanaian people to reuse the land that had been stripped and eroded, resulting in floods due to years of harvesting without consideration for preserving the land. They should not have simply packed up, with a wave to the people, and left. They should have done something to place the African nation in a position that it would have been in had it continued developing without servicing them (the colonizers) for hundreds of years.
For the harms caused by colonization, the world's richest countries should be directly and substantially involved in debt-relief efforts to African nations. An analogy can be made to the Jewish people who are seeking monetary relief from companies who were directly involved in the Holocaust.
The United States, one of the world's richest countries, should also be involved in debt-relief efforts to African nations. Although the United States was not involved in colonizing African nations, it was directly and substantially involved in removing the strongest Africans from the continent, bringing them to America and using their labor to develop a strong infrastructure in America. It worked. Although the United States is far younger than any African nation, its financial and physical infrastructure far outweighs that of any African nation because of the Africans who were enslaved and used to perform the work. For example, we recently learned that Wachovia Bank is linked directly to America's role in slavery.
Critics have said, however, that President George W. Bush's stance on aid to Africa doesn't go far enough. I disagree. Yes, the United States owes a debt of relief to African nations and, yes, it should play a significant role in the debt-relief efforts to relieve the African nations of their impoverished and imperiled conditions. But because the colonizing countries actually lived off the land, stripped the land of its riches, and negatively affected the mind-set of the people, while within the African nations, they owe a greater debt. It is one of the few times that the president and I share common ground -- different reasoning but common ground.
Lundy Langston is a professor of law at the Florida A&M University College of Law
Editor's Note: This commentary was originnaly published in The Orlando Sentinel.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005