By Andrew M. Mwenda
Steven Biko, that hero of the “black consciousness movement” in apartheid South Africa, once said that the greatest weapon in the hands of an oppressor is never his military but the mind of the oppressed. Simply put, to dominate a people, you must first control how they think.
This is what has happened to us African elites. The ideas we espouse, the causes we fight for, the arguments we make etc. are all part of our mental enslavement. Often these ideas have little relationship with actual reality. Our minds have been conditioned to see the enemy of the African people as the continent’s leaders – in politics and business. As we engage in these titanic internal battles against ourselves, the real enemy smiles all the way to the bank.
We don’t trust our businessmen. So when they win national tenders, we accuse them of having paid bribes to public officials or of being favored because of their tribe or both. As a consequence, Africa today is involved in multi billion dollar infrastructure investments and hardly are there African owned firms getting the contracts. In Kenya, Uganda, Angola – everywhere Africans are happy to hand over billions in revenue of foreign firms.
Take another example of the common accusation that African leaders loot the resources of their people and bank the proceeds in European and American banks. This is true. But it is a small part of the truth.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa set up and expert panel to study illicit transfers of money from Africa by the different players on our continent. It was chaired by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki. The panel found that Africa looses $82 billion per year in these illicit (or illegal and criminal) transfers. Sad, isn’t it? Who do you think steals the lion’s share of our money?
Here are the facts; 70% of the money ($57.4 billion) is siphoned out of Africa through the illegal activities of European and North American multi national corporations such as transfer pricing, smuggling and tax evasion. And how much is siphoned out of Africa by African leader-thieves? Only 5% or $4.1 billion. So we African elites have been engaged in titanic battles over our leaders theft of $4.1 billion as multi national corporations help themselves on $57.4 billion without a whisper.
So books have been written, academic papers published, news reports televised, coups carried out, revolutions launched, demonstrations conducted, electoral upsets achieved, popular insurrections instigated and governments brought down in titanic struggles to reign in our leader-thieves taking 5%. Which is okay. But we have done nothing, and I mean NOTHING, to stop the hemorrhage of 70% of our foreign exchange through illegal and criminal activities by multi national corporations.
Meanwhile this figure of $57.4 billion does not include money that is taken out of Africa legally through profit repatriation, payment of salaries of “experts”, interest payments on debts (accumulated to pay salaries of “experts”) etc. If this is added to huge loses of revenue because of export of non-processed goods, then one understands that Africa has been integrated into the world economy for the benefit of others and not its people.
As African elites we are conditioned to see the small “enemy” within if only to miss the big one from outside. Our leaders are praised and our people celebrate when all our insurance, telecommunications and banks etc are taken over by multi national capital; it is called attracting “foreign direct investment”. Yet the net result of these “pro foreign investment” policies is negative.
To attract foreign investors, we give them free prime land, cheap electricity and tax holidays. They use our roads, airports and railways which were build at taxpayers expense for free. They hire our skilled and healthy citizens all of whom have been educated and treated by taxpayers. So if they don’t pay their fair share of taxes because of official tax holidays and because of the aforementioned elicit activities, it means the net gain for the host country is little or negative.
Yes our leaders make mistakes and some may have been venal. But they are not our biggest enemy. In fact we hate them most when they try to fight for our interests – like Robert Mugabe. And we love them when they serve foreign interests, like Nelson Mandela. Why? Because those who try to defend our interests against multinational capital are demonized by multinational media. Those who hand over our riches to multinational corporations are praised by multinational media and presented to us as doing the right thing.
Our real enemy is the ideas that we so passionately believe in that have made us enrich others at our expense. They eat the real dinner, we fight over the crumbs. We need to unblock our minds’ eyes so that we can see. Bob Marley said Africa needs to be liberated from mental slavery. He was right.
Do you have a story in your community or an opinion to share with us: Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org