The role of colonialism and apartheid in the corruption of Africa

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Very often African leaders, especially the young radical firebrands, shoot back at what they call Western powers by blaming everything that goes wrong in Africa on colonialism, and in Namibia and South Africa’s case apartheid. For the longest time, we have dismissed their claims and accused them of attempting to justify their looting and how under them Africa has been run into the ground.

But upon careful inspection, there might be truth to these claims. 

We are just required to take a look at things with an open mind and avoid oversimplifying them.

This year, saw the new president of Zimbabwe trying to clean up and get the country back on a path of economic recovery. Same with the presidents of Angola, South Africa and Botswana. 

In many cases, the new crop of leaders appears to be undoing what their predecessor did and they have been taking steps that appear to be a move towards combating corruption. Their detractors called them little more than public relations gimmicks aimed at getting votes and public sympathy. 

After all, all of them were members of the very regimes they are now trying to vilify. 

Assuming they are genuinely trying to fight corruption, I just have one problem with their approach. 

The idea or the notion of giving corruption a black face or African face is what irks me. 

Don’t get me wrong here, it is true that African countries are run by Africans for Africans and they are accountable to Africans. But let’s take a few steps back and look at how corruption manifested itself in Africa and on the continent’s leaders. 

This brings us to my bedtime reading the other night. 

I was reading South African researcher Hennie van Vuuren’s latest book, titled ‘Apartheid, Guns and Money’. 

After about five years of researching the Apartheid State, Van Vuuren wrote this book and one of the first things he highlights is corruption. Yes, he says corruption was the order of the day during the apartheid government. 

This was aided by collusion with Western and even Eastern powers, who on face value were helping the freedom fighters, but still did business with the apartheid regime because money has no colour nor ideology. 

Some of the key issues coming out of Van Vuuren’s research is that it was a myth for white Africans and the world to think that corruption only started after independence or when black majority rule started. 

Another belief is that after colonialism, the countries pressed the reset button and everything had to start afresh, which is a lie since those who profited from the exclusion of the majority remained in Africa and continue to profit from the system.

 All they did was capture the new political elite.

This is telling because the same people who made their fortune on the back of colonialism remain in those colonies, some not physically but they continue to profit from those economies. 

They have forged partnerships with the new political elite and pretend as if they too were victims of the oppression and brutality of the past.

We should also ask ourselves when we talk about corruption, who actually benefits from the corruption in Africa? 

The politicians often pocket a minute amount, which generally is about 10% of the billions to be looted, where does the rest of the money go? To our colonial masters.

I, therefore, believe that before we tackle corruption in Africa, we need to study and understand its origins. I define corruption as the abuse of power for the benefit of the self or a select few, which is exactly how I would define colonialism. 

But this does not mean that African politicians who make sinister decisions at the expense of the people and for the benefit of a few and mainly former colonial masters, should be indemnified.

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