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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 Wire.

Abayomi Azikiwe
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 hemisphere.

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 deplorable conditions.

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 human history.

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 slave revolts.

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 later.

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 influence.

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).