Black editor in Detroit on 'The rise of colonialism in Africa'
Published Feb 18, 2007 5:33 PM
From a talk entitled “A review of developments in Somalia,
Sudan, Zimbabwe and the role of the African Union and the Pan-African
Parliament/ Aspects of the politics of contemporary Africa in the era
of continuing imperialism” delivered at a Detroit Workers World public
meeting on Feb. 10 by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor of Pan-African News
WW photo: Cheryl LaBash
Azikiwe is a co-founder of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and
Injustice (MECAWI). He can be heard on radio weekly on WDTW, 1310 AM, on
Sundays from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. in Detroit. In Toronto, he can be heard on
Thursdays on CKLN, 88.1 FM, from 9:30 p.m.-10 p.m. This broadcast can be heard
online at www.ckln.fm.
The talk was dedicated to the memory of the late Mama Adelaide Tambo, the
African National Congress Women’s League leader and widow of the late
Oliver R. Tambo, the longtime acting president of the ANC while Nelson Mandela
was imprisoned in South Africa. More of Azikiwe’s talk will be printed in
upcoming WW issues.
Since the middle of the 15th century the African continent has been pivotal in
the rise of western capitalism and imperialism. The nations of Spain and
Portugal began to conduct expeditionary operations in West Africa resulting in
the beginning of the slave trade.
The trafficking of Africans as slaves resulted in tens of thousands of people
being transported to Europe. With the advent of [Christopher] Columbus, who was
commissioned by the monarchy in Spain, Europeans began to seek mineral
resources and trade routes in the areas that became known as the western
Columbus landed in the Caribbean in 1492, setting off an historical process
that would last for over five centuries. The Indigenous peoples of the
Caribbean were negatively affected by this process of European exploration in
their search for gold and other natural resources.
By the 16th century a genocidal campaign against the Indigenous peoples of the
Caribbean was well underway. The Spanish colonialists enslaved the inhabitants
of these islands, working many to death while millions would perish from
infectious diseases brought from Western Europe. Others, who were not able to
escape the slave masters, took their own lives rather than live under such
As a result of the deaths of millions of Caribbean Indians, tremendous labor
shortages existed in the colonial outposts that spread into the South American
and North American continents. Consequently, the Spanish and later Portuguese,
French, Dutch and English monarchies began to intensify the capture and export
of slaves from Africa.
Forts were established on the African coasts to facilitate the growing trade in
human beings. Haiti, originally known by the colonialists as Hispaniola, and
Brazil in South America, became two of the most prosperous colonial outposts in
the hemisphere. Both colonies required the importation of millions of African
slaves to work the sugar plantations.
In North America, the Spanish, French and British colonialists competed
vigorously for control of the land originally occupied by the Native Americans.
From the latter part of the 16th century under Spain through the 17th and 18th
centuries under the British and the French, millions of Africans were brought
into the continent as slaves while the Native Americans were driven off their
land systematically resulting in the worst genocidal onslaught in recorded
It has been well documented that the profits accrued from the Atlantic slave
trade spawned the rise of the industrial age in England and North America. This
was illustrated clearly in the works of historians such as C.L.R. James (The
Black Jacobins and A History of Negro Revolt, 1938), W.E.B. Dubois (Black
Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, 1935), Eric Williams (Capitalism and
Slavery, 1944), Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (Slavery and the French
Revolutionist, 1926), William Alpheus Hunton (Decision in Africa, 1957), Kwame
Nkrumah (Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, 1965) and Walter
Rodney (How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1972).
With the rise of industrial production and shipping in England and the United
States, a fierce struggle arose over the future of what form of economic
organization would dominate these mercantile and imperialist states.
As a result of this divergence of interests between feudal states that
dominated the colonies and the burgeoning industrialists, it became necessary
to eliminate chattel slavery as the dominant mode of production in favor of
mass production, which required a more free movement of labor.
Consequently, slavery was eliminated in England in 1776 and the trade was
outlawed in 1806. In the British colonies it was ostensibly abolished in 1833,
leading to a period of apprenticeship. In the United States a bloody civil war
was fought from 1861-1865 leading to the abolition of slavery after decades of
At the time of the beginning of the Civil War approximately four million
Africans were in bondage in the United States with another 500,000 that were
technically free. Some 176,000 Africans fought in the Civil War to end slavery,
with 68,000 losing their lives.
However, in other parts of the hemisphere, slavery did not end until years
In Cuba, slavery did not end until 1878, some thirteen years after it concluded
in the United States. In Brazil, where millions of slaves were taken by the
Portuguese, their captivity did not end until 1888-89, after the collapse of
the monarchy in this South American nation.
After four centuries of the slave trade in Africa, the stage was set for
widespread colonization of the continent. Although the Portuguese had colonies
in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe since
the 16th century and the Dutch had settled in South Africa beginning in 1652,
large sections of Africa remained outside the complete control of colonization.
The slave trade had so weakened African societies that colonialism became
inevitable. By the 1870s, the Belgians had moved into Congo in order to secure
rubber and other mineral resources. In 1884-85, the Berlin Conference was held
in Germany to divide the continent into spheres of economic and political
Colonialism in Africa involved the settlement of more Europeans, who ruled the
continent as political outposts of various nation-states. The most successful
colonies were operated by Britain, France, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Spain
and Italy. However, World War I resulted in the loss of colonies by Germany,
which had controlled Namibia, Tanganyika and Togoland. These outposts were
taken over by Britain (Namibia, where the Union of South Africa took control)
and France (Togo).
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