Posted on September 22, 2004

Africa ‘Worse Off Than In Colonial Times’

Sipho Khumalo, The Mercury (Durban, SA), Sept. 22

Africa is worse off now than it was during the era of colonialism because its political elite are plundering its resources and stashing money in Swiss banks instead of investing it in their own countries.

These comments were made on Tuesday by Moeletsi Mbeki, Chairperson of the South African Institute of International Affairs, and brother of the president.

In his address to the Durban branch of SAIIA, on the theme Africa: Quo Vadis?, Mbeki said Africa was experiencing a downward spiral, with its people worse off than they had been during the time of colonialism.

Whereas colonialists had developed the continent, planted crops, built roads and cities, the era of uhuru had been characterised by capital flight as the elite pocketed money and took it outside their countries. Among them were the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. The money Abacha had plundered had been discovered in Switzerland.

Mbeki said the continent was also facing the problem of being unable to generate savings, with sub-Saharan Africa getting poorer and poorer every year.

“This is one of the depressing features of Africa,” he said.

Mbeki said that while China had lifted more than 400 000 people above the poverty line in the past 20 years, Nigeria had pushed more than 90 million people below the poverty line.

“The average African is poorer (now) than during the age of colonialism. In the 1960s African elites/rulers, instead of focusing on development, took surplus for their own enormous entourages of civil servants without ploughing anything back into the country,” he said.

He said the continent’s cash crops, like cocoa and tobacco, were heavily exploited by the state-run marketing boards with farmers getting little in return.

What should South Africa do about this? “It should revisit issues and stop putting out fires in Darfur until we address this fundamental problem of power relations between producers and controllers of political power,” Mbeki said.

On Zimbabwe, he said South Africa should intervene on the side of democracy and not back Zanu-PF.

“Our intervention should be to support democracy and not tolerate use of violence, torture and rigging of elections and, if necessary, we should support the opposition,” he said.

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