The African continent, resplendent with its wealth of natural resources and human capital, has historically found itself in the crosshairs of Western imperialism. An intriguing metamorphosis of this imperialistic intent has occurred in the post-colonial era; today, the undercurrents of economic exploitation are artfully masked by the West under the cloak of development aid, policy guidance, and humanitarian relief. The complexities of this neocolonial dance are nuanced, often manifested through sophisticated social engineering mechanisms that surreptitiously safeguard Western economic dominance.
Social engineering, a term synonymous with the deliberate manipulation of social attitudes and behaviours, has become the West’s Trojan horse in contemporary African geopolitics. The Western powers are often perceived as sculptors of economic and political policies, and cultural dynamics across the continent, fine-tuning the societal mechanics to bolster their economic footprints.
Beneath the veneer of altruism reflected in Western engagement with Africa lies a more self-serving reality. Economic control isn’t merely a by-product of this engagement; it’s the lifeblood of the West’s strategies in Africa. These imperialistic tactics often manifest in the form of asymmetrical trade agreements favouring Western economies, and the imposition of neoliberal fiscal policies through global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
Consider, for example, the controversial structural adjustment programs (SAPs) of the 1980s and 1990s. SAPs, rolled out under the auspices of fostering economic growth and stability, prescribed a bitter pill of public spending cuts, trade liberalisation, and privatisation. The short-term economic convulsions triggered by these policies exacerbated poverty and widened socio-economic disparities in many African nations. Paradoxically, while the SAPs uprooted local economies, they fortified the Western economic presence in Africa by opening lucrative markets for Western goods and services.
Cultural imperialism, another facet of Western social engineering, manifests in the subtle yet pervasive export of Western values, ideologies, and lifestyles to Africa. The linguistic, educational, entertainment, and media sectors across the continent bear the indelible imprint of Western cultural hegemony. This subtly influences self-perceptions among Africans, and their worldview, fostering an environment of perceived inferiority and dependence.
Take the case of the media, where Western narratives often assume a dominant role, consciously or unconsciously shaping the social fabric. Hollywood’s stereotypical portrayal of Africa, along with Western news outlets’ propensity to spotlight conflict and destitution, generates a one-dimensional narrative. This skewed perspective influences both how the West perceives Africa and how Africans perceive themselves, perpetuating a cycle of self-effacing narratives and economic subservience.
In essence, while the Western world may publicly renounce the shadows of its colonial past, the echoes of its imperialistic aspirations reverberate in the guise of social engineering and economic dominance. The responsibility is on African countries to discern and dismantle these neo-colonial machinations, champion indigenous solutions to African challenges, and chart a path towards genuine economic autonomy.
International cooperation and partnerships undoubtedly remain vital in an interconnected world. However, these interactions should anchor on principles of mutual respect, fairness, and equality. The narrative of Africa as a perpetually dependent entity is due for a rewrite. As Africa strides towards its deserved place on the global stage, it should do so not as a subservient player but as an equal, empowered partner in the dance of global geopolitics.
The recent escalating tension between Burkina Faso and its former coloniser France offers a compelling case study of these neocolonial dynamics in play. France has maintained an active military presence in the region through Operation Barkhane, a counter-terrorism initiative involving about 5,000 French troops across the Sahel. However, in 2023, Burkina Faso’s government requested that France withdraw its forces, pointing to rising anti-French sentiment and doubts about the operation’s effectiveness.
Official figures reveal an unsettling paradox: despite the significant French military presence, terrorist incidents have skyrocketed in Burkina Faso, from 80 in 2016 to over 800 in 2023. This spike in violence, coupled with the enduring poverty — with over 40% of Burkina Faso’s population living below the international poverty line — adds fuel to the argument that Western interventionism often overlooks the lived realities of the African people, prioritising strategic interests over the promotion of stability and prosperity.
Such friction is not confined to Burkina Faso alone. Across Africa, voices of dissent against perceived neo-colonialism are gaining momentum. In 2023, Kenya pushed for a renegotiation of its trade agreement with the United Kingdom, citing unfavorable terms that stymied local industry growth while facilitating the influx of UK goods.
In the realm of cultural influence, the proliferation of Western social media platforms has been remarkable. As of 2023, the Facebook and Twitter user bases in Africa stood at approximately 250 million and 30 million, respectively, according to DataReportal’s digital 2023 report. While these platforms serve as conduits for global connectivity and free speech, they simultaneously underscore Western digital dominance, subtly shaping discourses, trends, and societal norms.
The entertainment industry follows a similar trajectory. Hollywood and the Western music industry continue to exert a profound influence on African pop culture, overshadowing local entertainment scenes. It is not uncommon to find Western pop-culture references embedded in African youth lingo, fashion, and entertainment preferences. While cultural exchange is a global phenomenon, the disproportionate influence of Western culture risks marginalising indigenous African cultures.
These contemporary instances highlight the persistent undercurrents of Western social engineering and economic control in Africa. The mechanisms may have evolved from the direct colonial rule of yesteryears, but their intent and impact continue to echo the same power imbalance. A concerted effort to reclaim and assert Africa’s socio-economic and cultural agency is needed to break free from this neo-colonial stranglehold.
Economic liberation should be driven by policies that champion African industries, protect them from unfair competition, and foster an environment conducive to their growth. This entails shifting from the current paradigm, where African economies are structured as raw material suppliers to the West, towards one that values and nurtures indigenous innovation and manufacturing capabilities.
In the sphere of social and cultural autonomy, a renaissance of African self-perception is necessary. Prioritising African narratives, perspectives, and values in education, media, and entertainment is a crucial step towards this goal. Platforms that spotlight African success stories, achievements, and vibrant cultures can serve as potent counter-narratives to Western-dominated discourse.
As Africa confronts this crossroads, the choices made today will shape its future. The clarion call for a new dawn of African autonomy is resounding. It beckons a future where Africa’s wealth, both in resources and culture, benefits its people first, creating an era of self-determined prosperity and growth. Africa’s time is not on the horizon. It is here, and it is now.
The Western world’s interference in Africa, concealed under the façade of humanitarian concerns, developmental assistance, or security cooperation, belies a bitter truth: an underlying current of neo-colonialism. These ostensibly benign interventions often serve the West’s strategic economic and political interests, subtly perpetuating the same imperialistic control they allegedly renounced at the end of colonialism. The thinly veiled hypocrisy of this Western imperialism is evident in the ongoing imbroglio between France and Burkina Faso, among other instances.
In 2023, the tension between France and Burkina Faso escalated over issues tied to sovereignty and autonomy. The Burkina Faso government criticised France’s military presence, part of the broader anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane in the Sahel, as an infringement on its sovereignty. This reflects a larger sentiment against neo-colonialism that is steadily gaining traction across Africa.
This controversial military presence, though framed as a necessary counter-terrorism measure, plays a role in maintaining French influence in the region. Additionally, France’s economic interests cannot be discounted. In 2021, for example, the Franco-Burkinabé trade amounted to €377 million, an increase of 16% from the previous year. But beyond these figures, the French presence has far-reaching impacts, potentially undermining the state’s authority and casting a shadow over Burkina Faso’s political sovereignty.
This issue is symptomatic of a wider problem. Africa is often seen as a theatre for proxy conflicts or as a means to access vast natural resources. The West’s control over Africa transcends the overt military presence. It’s cleverly disguised in complex trade agreements that favour Western industries, perpetuated by multinational corporations that exploit resources, and embedded in the skewed representations of Africa in Western media.
Breaking free from this web of control requires Africa to redefine its economic, political, and cultural landscape. Economic diversification is essential to reduce overreliance on raw material exports that render Africa vulnerable to the vagaries of global commodity prices. Africa’s burgeoning youth population offers a golden opportunity for driving economic growth. Investment in quality education, particularly in STEM, can equip the youth with skills necessary for innovation, ultimately reducing dependence on foreign expertise and labour.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) had indeed projected that the implementation of the AfCFTA could increase intra-African trade by 52.3 percent by 2022, by eliminating import duties, and could double trade if non-tariff barriers are also reduced.
However, it’s important to note that the full realisation of the AfCFTA’s potential depends on a variety of factors. These include the reduction of both tariff and non-tariff barriers, improvements in infrastructure, harmonisation of customs and trade regulations among African countries, and the political will and ability of the member states to implement and adhere to their commitments under the agreement.
Lastly, the need to reclaim and control African narratives cannot be overstated. Western portrayals of Africa often perpetuate harmful stereotypes and negate Africa’s cultural diversity and historical richness. Africa needs to invest in local media, promote African languages, and popularise indigenous arts and culture to counter this.
In conclusion, the Western world’s imperialistic hypocrisy needs to be called out. However, it’s equally important for Africa to seize its destiny, assert its autonomy, and work towards a prosperous future unfettered by neo-colonial constraints. The road is arduous, but the seeds of change are already taking root. Africa’s time is now.