Had they successfully acted as
one, like the Americans, they could all
designated as "Founders.".
can Ghana teach South Africa about neocolonialism?
On how the man who coined the term
"neocolonialism" fell victim to it and how not to repeat his
April 11, 2017
first post-independence president, Kwame Nkrumah, was overthrown
in a US-backed military coup in 1966 [AP]Ghana's first
post-independence president, Kwame Nkrumah, was overthrown in a
US-backed military coup in 1966 .
In 2011, the South African government
announced a plan to create a 9.6-gigawatt nuclear energy
programme. The project, they argued, would allow South Africa to
diversify its energy sector, move away from coal-based energy
production and boost economic growth.
But soon questions
were raised about who this large-scale industrial project would
ultimately benefit. Allegations have been made that public
participation was being sidelined and that interested parties
were colluding with the Russian government.
controversial nuclear programme is just one example of the many
economic policies that have shaped South Africa's development
along a clearly neocolonial path. Twenty-three years after the
collapse of the apartheid regime, the country is clearly still
in need of a wider decolonisation project to counter colonial
In the wake of this massive nuclear
deal, along with others of its kind, South Africa is in a moment
that demands us to look beyond its borders and learn hard
lessons from other nations on the African continent.
The Ghana example
The term neocolonialism,
purportedly coined by Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah,
describes the socioeconomic and political control exercised over
a decolonised nation economically, linguistically, and
culturally, by a neocolonialist country to open up the national
economy to its corporations.
But despite identifying
neocolonialism as a threat and warning newly independent African
countries about it, Nkrumah ended up falling prey to it.
His rapid industrialisation plan
which sought to usher Ghana into the "modern industrial era" in
the closing breaths of the 1950s was anchored on the large scale
Akosombo hydroelectric dam project.
were first to put forward plans for the dam almost two decades
prior to independence. After he came to power, Nkrumah picked
the project and sought to repurpose its design for the benefit
of the Ghanaian people and its economy by using it to bolster
their aluminium production and aid in the electrification of the
Nkrumah had great difficulty financing the
large-scale project and eventually, his government solicited
financing from US firms through a joint venture with the Volta
Aluminium Company and Kaiser Aluminium. After various rounds of
negotiations and lobbying for finances eventually including the
International Bank for Reconstruction and Development under the
World Bank the dam was eventually completed by mid-1960s.
The agreement with Kaiser Aluminium led to their smelters
profiting from highly subsidised electricity rates and the use
of imported bauxite raw materials avoiding building national
capacity and mitigating the risk of nationalisation.
Nkrumah's gamble to finance Ghana's rapid industrialisation
project from the West ultimately was among the key factors which
resulted in his regime's demise. Corruption both within the
party and on the part of American and European multinationals
ate into the country's economy by selling expensive and
flamboyant projects that were not designed for the specific
needs and operational context of the country.
created a fragile climate and as Ghana's cocoa industry - which
provided considerable foreign exchange to the country -
collapsed under pressure from falling prices, Africa's first
independent nation came on the verge of bankruptcy.
laid the ground for a US-backed coup d'etat against Nkrumah, who
at the time had become increasingly vocal of his ideals of
African socialism and ills of capitalist society at large.
Ghana's economic crisis continued to worsen as the World
Bank pushed for structural adjustment in the 1970s and 1980s.
The austerity measures that then followed in the 1980s led to
public sector job shedding and wide-scale privatisation at the
expense of investment in other areas of the economy, such as
South Africa's neocolonial path
Although South Africans managed to defeat the colonial
apartheid regime, they never really had a chance to "decolonise"
After apartheid-era economic sanctions were
lifted, multinational corporations capitalised on an already
unequal exploitative environment. They gained favourable access
to the country's raw resources, while ensuring that manufactured
goods continue to be imported.
The African National
Congress (ANC) - surely aware of Nkrumah's warnings - did not
really try to stop this process. In fact, it has very much
participated in it and, along the way, has faced numerous
accusations of public sector corruption and private sector
In a state of the nation address in February
2017, President Jacob Zuma alluded to renewed interest in
"radical-transformation" of the economy along the lines of its
Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment framework, which has been
criticised for disproportionately benefiting both white women
and the black middle class. Within the same speech, he praised a
large scale railway development project with China.
proposed nuclear deal is set to stand as one of the largest
government tenders ever issued (around $72bn) and will take
decades to pay off. To date, there is little to no evidence of
any large-scale education programmes or investments to expand
and train scientists, technicians and engineers in nuclear
The evident lack of capacity within South
Africa in relation to the nuclear expansion plans place the
country at risk of technical and economic dependency on Russia
should they win the tender. Financing the deal will increase the
cost of electricity during the repayment period, which, in light
of South Africa's slowing economy, carries frightening echoes of
what happened in post-Nkrumah Ghana.
Rapidly expanding inequalities,
financial continuities from apartheid and colonial-era
enterprises, along with the broadly acknowledged failures of
land redistribution paint the simmering background of a nation
For every crisis however there lies hope and
opportunity. In April 2017, a new trade union federation is to
be launched, breaking away from the ANC-dominated COSATU. This
potentially massive rift in the labour movement presents an
opportunity for building new counter-hegemonic forces, riding on
the unprecedented wave of strikes and demonstrations.
burgeoning student movement in South Africa is also a force to
be reckoned with. Since the upsurge of the 2015 period, it has
remained consistent in its instance on the revival of "decolonisation"
as trans-historical approach to combating the entrenched and
predatory imperial forces.
One of its demands is to
decolonise curricula, which could help develop technologies and
locally driven systems that do not require us to be economically
dependent on global superpowers.
One area of research
that should be supported is renewable energy which is a clean,
efficient and locally sustainable alternative to nuclear energy.
Renewable technologies are already cheap enough to be locally
implemented and could compensate for the loss of jobs as a
result of the potential closure of a number of coal power
In a time of growing cynicism, when the lofty
ideals of the South African independence generation ring hollow
in the hills and plains of a divided country, the fight against
oppression and neocolonialism continues daily among community
organisations, workers, unions and students.
As we stand
at the precipice of new era of nuclear investment, abstract and
romantic calls to wait for a "new" vision or messianic
liberation movement defy the urgencies of indebting the
generations to come. If history tells us anything, it is that
solidarity and resilience are built from below and ours is a
task to support and nurture those who push to walk that path.
Brian Kamanzi is a Cape Town-based writer and electrical
engineering Masters student at the University of Cape Town. He
describes himself as committed to the social upliftment of his
fellow people. He is a budding Pan-Africanist, eager to make
contributions to the movement and form cross-cultural
connections with others in the struggle. Follow his writing
Curled from Al Jazeera