The Ontology of the African V: The Exploitation & The Blindness

The ontology of the African is a creature of exploitation, historical and contemporary. The late Dr Abdul Rahim Tajudeen, former head of the Pan-African Movement, was a vehement opponent of do-gooding foreign aid. To him, when the African adopts the attitudes of the non-African towards the exploitation of the Africa and its peoples it necessarily has to create much concern. What disturbed Dr Tajudeen most was the contemptuous and cynical “image of Africa” exploited by non-African charities and African governments to raise money in non-African societies. Stories of immunisation aid projects used as “human experiment labs” are regular occurrences. How about the fictitious characterisations of Africa with terms like “mineral curse” and “neopatrimonial state”? Imagine “poverty tourism” which is on the rise today whereby non-Africans visit African slums to “enjoy pleasures of the African in suffering”; sheer Schadenfreude! With such an ontology should it be shocking if the is asked, “Are Africans also human beings?”

‘The more you see the less you understand’ tells this story.The mechanisms of the exploitation of the African responsible for her derisory ontology are largely invisible to her even though they are neither intangible nor obscure.  This invisibility is more a case of choice, means and convenience than a lack of intelligence and cluelessness. The invisibility is the result of the individual and collective self-inflicted “blindness” of those who normally “see everything”, well when it swells their self-interests. Put another way, the African is largely blind to his neocolonial exploitation by the non-African and her autocolonial exploitation of her own rapacious leaders and elites [who have the “eyes”]. Once the privileged African inherits or acquires or uninterruptedly enjoys some basic or luxurious comforts, the plight of other Africans become his ‘chosen oblivion’. The ontology of the African does not concern him ever, the ontology of hedonism (money, power and privilege) does and “chopping life” becomes the first and ultimate good to be aspired to; the challenges crippling and immiserating the Continent are replaced with challenges of initiating and maintaining the “cult of Self”. Having caviar and champagne in a steamy African latrine is the ontology of rich African, he needs no persuasion but he rectifies this problem by embracing wholesale xenophilia, his chosen second ultimate good to aspire to.

The “My Turn (or Time) Will Come” syndrome is probably the chief blinder of the African to exploitation. The upwardly mobile African, from the poorest to the richest, believes and seeks to increase his financial and social status with the proceeds of some sort of value-subtracting exploitation of the other African. Nigeria is a classic ever-ready laboratory to study such exploitation. We must understand why exploitation is not always a bad thing. There is sustainable exploitation in which the resources extracted, harvested or appropriately compensated are renewable not terminal. Low impact exploitation causes little impact to human life and nature e.g. natural agriculture and education. It is evident that the kind of exploitation that goes on in Africa is most very high impact; death, genocide, pollution, brain drain, disease, war, poverty, loss of livelihoods, displacement and the like. Notwithstanding, value-adding exploitation and value-subtracting exploitation are not the same; the former creates beneficial social outputs that more than compensates for the sum of the inputs used while the latter provides much less beneficial outputs than the sum of the its inputs utilised. In various forms, Africa is exploited from within and from without, sandwich-style. There is no escape; the exploitation of the African leaves him more and more worse off as time speeds along. How can the ever-decreasing socioeconomic status and well-being of the Continent borne of exploitation improve the derisory ontology of the African?

Blindness as tolerance is when the African who should or can know better is clueless towards his “own” exploitation. In Africa salaries, payments and rents owed to workers, contractors, consultants and renters for legally delivered goods and services remain unpaid for months or years because the Payer keeps the money in an account to profit from the interest accrued or use the money to invest in quick turn over businesses, and with utter impunity. Legislators find it difficult and even oppose the introduction of laws to abolish the exploitation of children for labour, sex or abuse or anything that would benefit the the other African. Rape is a virtually nonpunishable crime and abuses that enjoy impunity are endless. Many Africans in Diaspora love to go Africa to engage in practices there would not dare do outside of Africa; another form of exploiting their own.

Exploitation in Africa for its resources is more structurally adjusted, systematic and insidious. Nnimmo Bassey’s To Cook A Continent and Patrick Bond’s Looting Africa reopens the eyes of those who care to see to the ontology of African exploitation. If non-African needs the resources they get it. I once challenged a well-known African-American professor who insisted slavery was based on “free and fair” business orchestrated by African kings, if Europe or American wanted something from Africa and the African leader in charge of the resource refused them what would happen to him and his kingdom?  After twisting and turning in regrettably much pitiable stupidity, (I was with cynical silence waiting for him to land) he delivered himself by confessing to the obvious outcome. A leading professor of African Studies at a top American university was promoting the derisory ontology of the African through blindness.

No one talks about the “natural resources drain” that blights Africa. Resources are finite are many mines and oil wells have already been abandoned because they are no longer economically viable. The depleted resources have not benefited Africa; those resources are never coming back, there are gone. Nnimmo Bassey’s position, “leave the resources in the ground” has a towering wisdom to it. I even hear and read the nonstarter argument of the “mineral curse”. Deliberate nefarious transactions between African leaders and heads multinational corporations on behalf of a totally powerless Africans peoples are not curses in any sense whatsoever; they are bad business activities that benefit a few and immiserate the Continent. Painfully true, if an African leader says no to multinational corporations, he will be overthrown and his corpse fed to dogs or dissolved in an acid barrel, and possibly his country plunged into civil war or starved with sanctions. The African should not be blind to the unfair terms of trade his national leaders have to agree to when “trading” mineral and other resources with the non-African. This is no excuse for any African elite, from the sophisticated top government dignitary to the village local champion; they also can and do exploit their own often within the provisions of the “Dark Triad” and without the prompting of the non-African. The regrettable word, ‘cannibal’, cannot be kept away from the ontology of the African but it is not of biological form, it is spiritual, social, economic and political.

Many of the demands of metropolitan non-Africa are systematically met by the exploitation of Africa mostly for oil and ores but also cash / food crops and land. Grabbing land from the poor African till the only have air to live on just to make the rich richer is neoliberal wickedness. It is rational for a non-African to be blind to the dehumanising exploitation of Africa, he or she has “a standard of living to maintain” by “any means necessary”. The same is absolutely inappropriate for the African. Nevertheless, the consequences of this exploitation for Africa and the African are the stuff of Dante’s Inferno. Take a look at any African region or area that is oil-rich, stone-rich or ore-rich. All you will see are widespread toxic pollution, poverty-stricken residents, poorly compensated or uncompensated displacements of entire peoples, conflict and wars, comprador millionaires and repressive armed forces dictated to by multinational corporations and condoned or even encouraged by successive governments. That too is part of the ontology of the African.

As this blindness is so pervasive among Africans where does the resistance or eradication or mitigation against exploitation come from? Resistance against exploitation is a natural human disposition, be it, individual or collective. However, it is the synthesis of the ontological blindness with the provisions of the Antinomy in Part IV that makes the African invariably appear to be predisposed to exploitation.

Grimot Nane

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