The ontology of the African is an emergent creature of exploitation, historical and contemporary. It started with slavery and colonisation. The late Dr Abdul Rahim Tajudeen, former head of the Pan-African Movement, was a fierce opponent of do-gooding foreign aid and charity. To him, when the African adopts the attitudes of the non-African towards the exploitation of Africa and its peoples, it necessarily creates serious concern. What disturbed Dr Tajudeen most was the contemptuous and cynical “image of Africa” exploited by non-African NGOs to raise money in non-African societies. These images of Africa were also used by African governments to secure odious loans by way of “begging bowl politics.” One thing that disgusted him was the regular incidences of immunisation aid projects used as “human experiment labs” on African peoples.
How about the fictitious characterisations of Africa with terms like “mineral curse” and “neo-patrimonial state”? Imagine “poverty tourism” which is on the rise today whereby non-Africans visit African slums to “enjoy the observable 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?” Dr Tajudeen was justifiably angry.
The mechanisms of the exploitation of the African responsible for her derisory ontology are mostly 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 vigilance and cluelessness. The darkness is the result of the individual and collective self-inflicted “blindness” of those who usually “see everything”, but only when it swells their self-interests. Put another way; the African is mostly blind to his neocolonial exploitation by the non-African and her autocolonial exploitation by her 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 aspire. 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 rectifies this problem by embracing wholesale xenophilia, overseas life his chosen other ultimate good to aspire.
I was once asked by one of my non-African students, “Why is Africa so easily exploitable?” The question took me unawares. My answer was three-fold. Firstly, the African is helpless against both local and foreign interests. More appropriately, they are caged in learned helplessness that is self-reinforcing. Those who protest oil spills, poisoned water, gas flares, defaced lands, land grabs, displacements from ancestral are killed or are lucky to stay alive. Ken Saro-Wiwa became an international cause celebre, detained and murdered by Gen Sani Abacha. His boldness was protesting ecocide, and environmental degradation in Ogoniland, Niger Delta, Nigeria caused by Shell Oil. Saro-Wiwa has very few carrying his torch off of fear. Secondly, the exploitation is legal. Laws and decrees are passed by the government for the exploitation to take place. Legislation to curb toxic pollutants, gas flaring, oil spillages, land degradation as well as laws to ensure oil spill cleanups, land refills and other forms of remediation are not enforceable. Thirdly, most people who have the responsibility of speaking against get silenced with lucrative rents and payoffs. There were no further questions.
The “My Turn (or Time) Will Come” syndrome is probably the chief blinder of the ‘eyes-wide-open 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 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 on 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; they produce death, genocide, pollution, brain drain, disease, war, poverty, loss of livelihoods, displacement and the like. It remains a big concern.
Notwithstanding, value-adding exploitation and value-subtracting exploitation are not the same; the former creates beneficial social outputs that more than compensate for the sum of the inputs used while the latter provides much less favourable outputs than the sum of 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 and his society worse off as time passes by. How can the ever-decreasing socioeconomic status and well-being of the Continent borne of exploitation improve the derisory ontology of the African? It certainly will not be by more exploitation nor more blindness to it.
Blindness as tolerance is when the African who should or can know better is clueless or disinterested 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 a fixed deposit account to profit from the interest accrued or use the funds to invest in quick turn over businesses. The Payer is guaranteed impunity for her crimes, most who sit on public budgets do it. 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 other African. Rape is a virtually nonpunishable crime, and abusers enjoy impunity endlessly. Many Africans in Diaspora love to go to Africa to engage in practices there would not dare do outside of Africa; It is 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-Africans need the resources, they get it and may even start a war to guarantee it. I once challenged a well-known African-American professor who insisted slavery was based on “free and fair” business with African kings. I asked, “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 regrettable 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, and many mines and oil wells have already been abandoned because they are no longer profitable. The depleted resources have not benefited Africa, but those resources are never coming back, they are gone. Nnimmo Bassey’s position, “leave the resources in the ground” has a pearl of towering wisdom to it. If a resource can only bring tragedy to people who own the land, its exploitation should be defiantly resisted. 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 powerless Africans peoples are not curses; they are bad business activities that benefit a few and immiserate the Continent.
It is 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. 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. It is no excuse for any African leader or elite. From the sophisticated top government dignitary to the local village champion, these Big Men 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. Still, it is not of the culinary kind [which is yet to be proven emiricaly], 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 impoverished Africans until they only have to air to live on to make the rich richer is business but inhumane. 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”. The same is 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 is 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 from where will the resistance or eradication or mitigation against exploitation come? 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. It will not continue forever, when will it stop. The blindness has to be corrected as a starting point.