By Amber Fortin (Mount Allison)
Upon finishing the reading of The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan, I have been furthering my reflection on Africa, its relationships, its triumphs and challenges. After taking courses on Problems in International Development and African Politics I gained critical thinking skills and a clearer understanding of global politics as well as the issues that have been perpetuated by the extensive exploitation of underdeveloped countries. The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan gives a great summary that explores not only the history, but also the exploitation and the problems the continent of Africa faces.
The amount of interest in Africa has always been evident, but colonialism and the horrific slave trade raised these interests promoting more interference by other countries in the continent. Now, “Africa is deeply divided by a sense of vexing fault lines – French versus English speakers, North versus South, Christian versus Muslim, South Africa versus Nigeria, democrats versus dictators, terribly poor versus poor,” (Caplan, Gerald p.114). These divisions in many cases are caused by outsider interferences as well as the historic preconceived notion that Whites know what is best, which is now a misconception that plagues true African independence. What I mean by true African independence is that even though countries in Africa have become independent after colonialism, the Western world still has its hands in politics, resources, trade, and economic affairs of Africa. Whether through bribery, arming guerilla movements or extremely high loan interests, the influence is still very much present in everyday societies of Africa. Developed countries have interests in many cases, which are disguised as aid, but in reality their reward is far greater than countries in Africa, which they are “aiding”. As long as, “Western countries treat aid as a political tool to advance their own self-interest, and so long as most International Non-Governmental Organizations compete against one another, the prospect of a more rational and less wasteful system remains a pipedream. In the meantime, we criticize Africans for being inefficient,” (Caplan, Gerald p.107).
My heart aches more than ever; I cannot stand the historic and present exploitation that my disgustingly privileged country and its allies inflict on this magnificent continent and its people to this day. Between 5 million and 2.5 million BCE, our ancestors emerged in Ethiopia and eastern Africa, we all came from this continent at one point, yet a serious lack of respect for human rights from our global relatives is evident in every continent and in every country. Even Canada currently has been under pressure from the United Nations for is human rights abuses against the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, some of which do not have clean drinking water or safe housing on reserves. Canada, like other Western countries, favor the rich and ignore many issues which are left to sit and rot. As well there is a tendency to assist those who can give something back, those who are of interest and use. “For years, African and Western leaders have had a cynical little deal – African governments would pretend to reform themselves and the Westerners would pretend to live up to their pledges and help them,” (Caplan, Gerald p.113). USAid and the World Bank are examples mentioned multiple times by Caplan as exploitative organizations. Here in Malawi I have noticed many organizations including USAid, World Vision and Jw.org in lavish buildings with green shrubbery despite the dry season. Aid often has strings attached, whatever it does for the country in need, which is often unclear, aid always benefits the rich country most. Italy and the United States are among the most selfish offenders of this “tied” aid. Our despicable ancestors and present “developed” countries began and continue to exploit those who cannot afford any food. My favorite quote is as follows from the finale of this novel, which I think really rings with truth and should be taken into consideration when thinking about how to give and respect human rights as well as appreciating what you have.
“We need to help Africa, not out of our selfishness and compassion but as restitution, compensation, an act of justice for the generations of crisis, conflict, exploitation and underdevelopment for which we bear so much responsibility. Many speak without irony of the desire to “give something back”, without realizing the cruel reality of the phase. In fact, that’s exactly what the rich world should do. We give back what we have plundered and looted and stolen. Until we think about the West’s relationship with Africa honestly, until we face up to the real record, until we acknowledge our vast culpability and complicity in the African mess, until then we’ll continue- in our caring and compassionate way –to impose policies that actually make the mess even worse,” (Caplan, Gerald p.127).
Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwork Books.