It was on 20th November 1884 when the formal colonisation of Africa was officially settled by the imperialist powers in Berlin.
Sitting around the huge table were representatives from Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Ottoman Empire, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway, United Kingdom and with the USA holding a backstage. Otto von Bismarck, the first Germany Chancellor, had organised the meeting at the request of Portugal and with the support of the UK.
Five days of negotiations, arguments and at times open hostilities had come to an end. There were smiles on most of the faces and weeks of celebrations were to follow in the respective capital cities.
African resources were needed by industrial capitalism. Direct control of and presence on the continent was critical in the process of capital accumulation – it was in the best interest of these colonial competitors to settle the partition of Africa around a table than resorting to canon boats.
Europe and industrial capitalism had won the day. For Africa, it was the beginning of a colonial era and its complete incorporation in the globalised capitalist system.
The Africa of 1884 was a miserable one. For about 400 years, the continent was besieged by slave trade. Resulting wars, economic turbulences, migrations and the forced transportation destroyed about 40 million lives. Africa was depopulated, economic life halted and its people dehumanised. Life was fragile and political institutions were weakened. It was a highly vulnerable continent. The imperialist powers exchanging handshakes in Berlin on the 20th November 1884 were well aware that there would be no significant resistance to their colonial impositions on the African masses. They had every reason to celebrate and be optimistic.
Fast-forward to 2016! The names of the specific territories have changed and the leadership comprises of “Africans”. However, the entire continent is still deeply incorporated in the globalised capitalist system. The looting of the continent’s resources continues. Labour exploitation is now augmented with an equally ruthless exploitation at the point of consumption. In other words, the project initiated on the 20th November 1884 is still up and running. Nominal political independence has done little to alter the situation. The term “neo-colonialism” fits the moment.
An “African” petty-bourgeois class runs the fragmented and still weak territories. The boundaries defined by the imperialists in Berlin have become a source of pride and shallow nationalism. The languages of the colonialists have been elevated to “national” or “official” languages. The cultural hegemony is apparent. Even the remnants of the traditional leadership structures were significantly adulterated to conform to the capitalist mode of accumulation in these periphery territories.
There can, therefore, be no liberation of the African continent under capitalism. For Africa, it is truly a choice between the continued barbarism under neo-colonialism or socialism. The true emancipation of the African masses cannot be found within the very system that has subjugated them for 132 years. It is high time to put an end to the Berlin project.
Building a socialist society in Africa will entail, amongst others, paying special attention to history and its ramifications. Dates and symbols play an important role. The 20th of November ought to be viewed as a day of reflection and defiance. A day to stand up and show the revolutionary spirit of our people.