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Imitating and catching up with the West lies behind the ‘Africa is rising’ narratives. Such narratives are uncritical of neo-liberal development models and therefore maintain Africa’s subordination to the international capitalist order

In his conclusion to his seminal ‘The Wretched of the Earth,’ first published in 1961, Fanon proclaims:

‘…the European game has finally ended; we must find something different. We today can do everything, so long as we do not imitate Europe, so long as we are not obsessed by the desire to catch up with Europe. Europe now lives at such a mad, reckless pace that she has shaken off all guidance and all reason, and she is running headlong into the abyss; we would do well to avoid it with all possible speed. Yet it is very true that we need a model, and that we want blueprints and examples. For many among us the European model is the most inspiring. We have therefore seen in the preceding pages to what mortifying set-backs such an imitation has led us. European achievements, European techniques and the European style ought no longer to tempt us and to throw us off our balance.’ [1]

Fanon’s words remain relevant to the current ‘Africa is rising’ narratives alongside similar accounts of Africa as the ‘Emerging Africa: A Hopeful Continent’ which was the headline for a special report in the March 2013 edition of the UK based Economist magazine. The characterisation stems from an attempt by the Economist to redeem its profoundly racist and patronising front page cover depiction of Africa as ‘The Hopeless Continent’ in the year 2000. The basis for such recent optimistic characterisations of Africa are the alleged annual growth rates of over 5 percent in the past decade and that the African continent has 9 of the world’s fastest growing economies. Those countries are: Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger. However, in a continent of 54 nations, how far behind are the remaining 45 countries when only 9 are considered to be ‘rising’? Surely it is only a tiny wealthy African middle class who are benefitting from this rise? More importantly, Africans need to question the model of development that these ‘rising’ economies are committed to, for it seems as Fanon forewarned, the Western neo-liberal capitalist model of development is what is being praised and imitated.


Certainly efficient infrastructure such as tarmac roads are essential for Africa’s economic development but it seems the number of hotels, skyscrapers, MacDonalds, mega malls are considered to be the barometer of Africa rising. In addition to that is the language of ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘growth’, ‘GDP’, ‘accountability’, transparency,’ ‘new markets’, etc. How do we measure progress whether it is economic or social progress? What does economic and social progress mean to the street hawker or market woman in Lagos, Accra or Nairobi? In short, there is a reduction of development to purely abstract economic and financial definitions in the discourse of Bretton Woods institutions and the donor community as well as among those in Africa who support the neoliberal economic policies of the New Economic Partnership for Africa (NEPAD) as they hope to profit from the few crumbs of capitalism.

Among the pushers of this new ‘Africa is rising’ evangelism are as William Muchayi points out, Africans themselves. [2] As the author points out, Africa’s persistent addiction to foreign aid which is magnified in the ‘global power imbalance between North and South’ is part of the flawed thinking of the ‘Africa is rising’ bandwagon. [3] The question is how can Africa rise when it is still addicted to financial aid from the West?

Another worrying development has been identified by Kofi Annan who headed the Africa Progress Panel Report of 2013. He declared:

‘… African governments cannot resolve the most intractable natural resource governance challenges. The international community must also shoulder responsibility. When foreign investors make extensive use of offshore companies, shell companies and tax havens, they weaken disclosure standards and undermine the efforts of reformers in Africa to promote transparency. Such practices also facilitate tax evasion and, in some countries, corruption, draining Africa of revenues that should be deployed against poverty and vulnerability. ..

‘Africa loses twice as much in illicit financial outflows as it receives in international aid. It is unconscionable that some companies, often supported by dishonest officials, are using unethical tax avoidance, transfer pricing and anonymous company ownership to maximize their profits, while millions of Africans go without adequate nutrition, health and education.’ [4]

In short, can Africa rise when it continues to haemorrhage from annual illicit financial outflows?

Other pushers of the ‘Africa is rising’ narrative are, as Robert Bates points out, the Western media who have been pushing this feel good news at a time when there is economic crisis in the West. As Bates wonders, ‘is Africa rising, then, because the West needs it to?’ [5]


The Africa is rising narrative vindicates liberal capitalist democracy. It justifies the triumphalism of neoliberal economic policies that are promoted as universally successful and that wealth trickles down via the invisible hand of the market. It ignores the dangerous emergence of AFRICOM under the fig-leaf of development and security for Africa and the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Quietly many African armies have undergone joint military training exercises in programmes under the auspices of AFRICOM. As we have seen in the case of Egypt, the bullets that are used to kill Egyptian citizens have been supplied by the US in an annual $1.3 billion military aid programme. As Addai-Sebo points out Egyptians cannot rise until they take cognisance of this fact and see the military and police as part of the problem and not the solution. [6]

Put differently, Africa is considered to be rising when it plays by the rules of neoliberal capitalism; that is adherence to the Washington Consensus of free markets; a deregulated labour market as well as deregulated financial markets; privatisation; flexible exchange rates; a reduction in the role of the state in the economy; removal of government subsidies; encouragement of Foreign Direct Investment and upholding legislation for property rights.

Over the last decade several African countries such as Namibia have been bullied into accepting the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). However as Henning Melber contends, Namibia has been resisting this hegemony. [7] Similarly, ‘free trade’ and ‘level playing fields’ as Ha-Joon Chang argues are a myth. The US, Britain, Germany, France, Sweden and Belgium all pursued highly protectionist policies, i.e. high tariffs in the early stages of the capitalist development that are being denied to countries in the South who engage in an unequal playing field. [8] In short, African countries cannot rise to catch up with the West to compete in this neoliberal capitalist system which is rigged against them, and specifically rigged against the poor.

Integral to the myth of free trade is the belief in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) assisting developing nations to attain economic development or ‘rise.’ The authors Paula Butler and Evans Rubara in their commentary on the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement (FIPA) between Tanzania and Canada show the profound hypocrisy of this agreement. It was signed in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, in May 2013 but not only has it had little public visibility and discussion among Tanzanian parliamentarians, let along the Tanzanian public, but closer scrutiny of the document reveals ‘the imbalance in benefits to Tanzanian and Canadian investors.’ [9] In short, ‘While the agreement purports to ‘intensify economic co-operation and promote sustainable development for the mutual benefit of both countries’ and to ‘create and maintain favourable conditions for investments by investors of one Party in the territory of the other Party’, this is little more than rhetorical flourish: the agreement is surely primarily designed to protect Canadian investments in Tanzania.’ These investments lie largely in uranium mining. However, there is also Canadian interest in other sectors of the Tanzanian economy that can be looted for wealth, including electricity, oil, gas and transportation. The authors point out that the agreement of reciprocity is an obfuscation of the fact that ‘Canadian investors cannot be obligated to keep investment profits in Tanzania, in order to be reinvested in sustainable development of the Tanzanian economy.’ Therefore, how can Tanzania rise? Other subordinating conditions of the agreement stipulate that ‘Tanzania cedes a measure of sovereign control by agreeing to have investment disputes arising between Canadian investors and the Tanzanian state arbitrated and settled not in Tanzania’s national courts, but via the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes’ and that nationalisation is forbidden. [10] Without doubt, FDI is a figleaf that promises foreign investment into African countries but with a myriad of conditionalities that re-enslave African economies and people.


Agribusiness, agri-colonialism or land grabs has been occurring on the African continent in the last five years and is tied to the doctrine of FDI. Foreign investors should be encouraged to establish large-scale intensive mechanized farming, despite the fact that what is grown on the hectares leased in an African country ultimately leaves that country to benefit outsiders. Among the buyers of African land are: Saudi Arabia, South Korea, India, China, Kuwait who have brought huge swathes of land in countries such as Liberia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, South Sudan and Mali. [11]

Land grabs seriously threaten long-term food security of African countries and will further jeopardise the on-going climate change as those in the South continue to pay the price for carbon-addicted consumers in the North. For instance, in the case of Ethiopia, a country that has been hit by famine in the past, how can the Ethiopian government ethically lease out thousands of hectares of land to foreigners to produce food or biofuel jatropha when ordinary Ethiopians go hungry? The other issue complicating land leases is the fact that it tends to engender the dispossession of ordinary Africans who often do not hold the title deeds to the land they have owned by customary rights over centuries and often get poor compensation for loss of their land.

To give one example: Between 2006 and 2011 the government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has given more than a third of Liberia’s land to foreign investors for logging and agro-industrial enterprises. [12] The Malaysian Sime Darby company signed a 63-year concession agreement in 2009 for 220,000 hectares of land for oil palm and rubber production. The concession area covers 4 counties: Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Bong and Gbarpolu. The local community who legitimise their claims to land on ancestral rights believe they have not been adequately compensated. Columbia University researchers conducted a study of the concession agreement and its impact on the local communities and concluded that the negotiation process did not respect the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for the indigenous communities which were ‘generally unaware’ that the foreign companies were coming in until after the agreement had been signed. [13]

Alfred Brownwell, an environmental justice lawyer, who works with the Liberian civil society organisation, Green Advocates, filed a complaint against Sime Darby on behalf of the local communities. President Johnson Sirleaf’s address to the local community at a town hall meeting on 6 December 2011 is indicative of an uncompromising commitment to neoliberalism. She proclaimed: ‘When your government and the representatives sign any paper with a foreign country, the communities can’t change it. You are trying to undermine your own government. You can’t do that. If you do so all the foreign investors coming to Liberia will close their businesses and leave, then Liberia will go back to the old days.’ [14] To the government’s credit, Robert Nyahn, programme manager of Save My Future Foundation, a Liberian NGO that monitors foreign companies in the extractive sector, said: ‘The government recognised the problems, placed a moratorium on the sale of public land and established the land commission to come up with policies regarding land.’ [15]

Equally detrimental to the interests of African people are GMO foods. Yet, GMO crops, like land leases are presented as a panacea to Africa’s development. As Jehu-Appiah argues the imperialist logic of agri-business represented in the giant multi-national companies of Monsanto and Cargill that control most of the world’s food commodities ‘ultimately drives the so-called ‘inefficient’ small scale farmers off the land’ in favour of large agro-industrial agriculture leading to ‘the displaced rural populations crowd together around the urban peripheries of new super-cities.’ [16]

The governments of Nigeria and Kenya have banned GMO products into their countries whilst the government of Ghana appears to be embracing what Jehu-Appiah characterises as ‘genetically modified colonialism’ [17] and President Jakaya Kiwete of Tanzania appears to be in the camp of GMO denialism, trumpeting without any details the line that GMO products are not harmful to human beings. [18] Ultimately, ordinary African people need to be genuinely engaged in discussions about the politics, ethical nature and efficacy of land leases and GMO and whether these will assist Africa to rise.


In much of Africa the staggeringly wealthy minority are admired and exalted as role models for the lower middle classes, the urban poor, working classes and the rural poor. In Nairobi they are termed the ‘Sonko’, but they exist in many African capitals. As Abdullahi Boru Halakhe puts it, the ‘Sonko’ are committed to the maxim that they can steal so long as they are not caught; institutionalized corruption tends to be celebrated rather than frowned upon; there is an acceptance of ‘the pursuit of public office as self-enrichment enterprise’ rather than a genuine commitment to serve the public. [19] If Africa is to rise it requires an overhaul of the ‘Sonko’ mind-set that pervades many African countries. It requires a new generation of self-less committed leaders who transmit new values of self-lessness to their citizens. It requires overhauling forms of exploitation that exist in Africa such as sex tourism in The Gambia or in Morocco [20] and the deplorable example of disabled Tanzanian children transported to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, to be treated like slaves and hauled out to beg for their handlers. [21] In short, economies of misery are created by unrestrained capitalism.

Steve Biko once remarked: ‘The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.’ Similarly, Molefe Asante argues, ‘Enslavement of the mind is the most pernicious kind of enslavement because the person so enslaved will never be able to see clearly for him or herself.’ [22] If Africa is to rise it is imperative that there is a deepening of a Pan-African consciousness across the continent and among Africans in the Diaspora to re-connect with the principle of Pan-Africanism espoused by Walter Rodney who defined it as the conviction that ‘the people of one part of Africa are responsible for the freedom of their brothers [and sisters"> in other parts of Africa, and, indeed, black people everywhere [are"> to accept the same responsibility.’ [23]

For Africa to rise – it can only do so on the basis of African unity, for as Tajudeen Abdul Raheem poignantly put it: ‘The collective African experience is that we can only be ourselves and we need each other to counter the threat of marginalisation, rapacious globalisation and the consolidation of whatever little gains may have been accomplished in a number of African countries. No one [African"> country can be a sustainable miracle if its neighbours are in hell.’ [24] To put it differently, as the DRC lies in the geographic heart of Africa and has been engaged in a civil war that has embroiled the region with imperialist backers, none of the nine countries that share a border with the DRC can be ‘a sustainable miracle if its neighbours are in hell.’

If Africa is to rise it requires the ‘treasures of the tyrants’ [25] – that is the fraudulent gains of despots such as Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville, Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, and the family of Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea - to name a few – to be returned to African people. In 2012 a French magistrate in Paris took two weeks to make an inventory of the stunning embezzlement of these three tyrants of Africa that amount to millions of euros. [26] The loot of many former African dictators continues to reside and accrue interest in Western banks while such banks and governments remain silent on these illicit accounts.

At the 1974 Sixth Pan-African Congress held in Dar es Salaam, Walter Rodney made pertinent arguments that remain relevant today and specifically in relation to the current ‘Africa is rising’ discourse. First, he argued ‘that the principal enemies of the African people are the capitalist class in the USA, Western Europe and Japan.’ [27] If Rodney were alive today, he would include the class forces constituting the nations of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), for it seems that rather than opposing and challenging the global capitalist system, the BRICS are repositioning themselves to secure competitive advantage within it. Second, Rodney believed ‘that African freedom and development requires disengagement from international monopoly capital.’ [28"> Third, ‘that African liberation and unity will be realized only through struggle against the African allies of international capital.’ [29"> Finally, Rodney was insistent ‘that exploitation of Africans can be terminated only through the construction of a Socialist society, and technology must be related to this goal.’

Ultimately, fundamental to Africa genuinely ‘rising’ must be a critical examination of what this ‘rising’ will entail. What kind of development do we envisage for Africa? Does it only lie in economic development and progress? What about social and cultural development? What about the psyche and aesthetics that a people adhere and aspire to? What kind of economic development will ensure that the economy is controlled by the greatest number of ordinary people rather than the minority? If Africa is to rise, surely it must rise for the greatest majority of its people – particularly the unemployed youth in many African countries; those living with disabilities ostracised and stigmatised by cultural taboos and attitudes; albino individuals who also face similar stigmatisation; women; the poor; those in need of ARV drugs to prolong the quality of their lives as they live with HIV/AIDS as well as LBGTI individuals persecuted in many African countries?

However, at the moment it seems the type of development the ‘Africa is rising’ evangelists envisage is that which Fanon warned us against: an imitation of Europe and a desire to catch up with Europe. There appears little desire or will to seek an alternative to capitalism, one that is centred on the ideas and interests of ordinary people. There was no blueprint for capitalism yet it was constructed on the backs of African slaves and wage labourers around the world. Similarly, there is no model nor blueprint for socialism yet many are seduced by TINA (There is No Alternative to Capitalism) which maintains the neoliberal status quo. If Africa is to rise, it must heed Thomas Sankara and ‘dare to invent the future’ based on a new egalitarian economic system that centres people before profits and in which ordinary people critically control the production of what they produce and how they produce it.

*Ama Biney (Dr) is Acting Editor-in-Chief of Pambazuka News


[1] See ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ by F. Fanon, Penguin edition, p. 251-252.
[2] See ‘Where Africa’s New Narratives go Wrong’ by W. Muchayi, accessed 12 June 2013.
[3] Ibid, ‘Where Africa’s New Narratives go Wrong’ by W. Muchayi.
[4] The Africa Progress Panel report accessed 28 August 2013
[5] See ‘Africa Through Western Eyes: The World’s Dark Continent or Capitalism’s Shining Light?’ by R. Bates, in
See Ayaaba Addai-Sebo accessed 28 August 2013
[6] See Henning Melber accessed 28 August
[7] See Ha-Joon Chang, Kicking Away the Ladder, 2002.
[9] Ibid.
[10] See A. Biney accessed 1 September 2013; see also ‘Food Rebellions: Crisis and the Hunger for Justice’ by E. Holt-Giménez and Raj Patel, 2009.
[11] See ; see also
See See ; see also See also
See also See also See also
[12] ( accessed 25 January 2013)
[13] See E. Dickey and M. Hauser, ‘Corporate Accountability in Liberia Gets a Fresh Look’, Foreign Policy, 30 June 2012
[14] See
[15] See
[16] See Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah accessed 2 September 2013 accessed 1 September 2013.
[17] See J. N. Kariuki accessed 3 September 2013
[18] See Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, ‘Kenya, the ‘Sonko’nation’ in Pambazuka News accessed 2 August 2013
[19] See accessed 1 September 2013.
[20] See accessed 1 September 2013.
[21] M. Asante, ‘Afrocentricity’, 1988, p.40.
[22] See, ‘Towards the Sixth Pan-African Congress: Aspects of the International Class Struggle inAfrica’ in ‘Pan-Africanism: The Struggle Against Imperialism and Neo-Colonialism Documents of the Sixth Pan-African Congress with an assessment by Horace Campbell,’ no date, p. 27.
[23] See, ‘The African Union Pan-Africanism, Peace-building and Development’ by T. Murithi, 2005, pp.8-9.
[24] See J. Lichfield ‘Treasures of Tyrants’ in The Independent, UK, p. 34-35, 13 July 2013.
[25] Ibid.
[26] See ‘Towards the Sixth Pan-African Congress…’ p. 39.
[27] Ibid, p. 39.
[28"> Ibid, p. 39.

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