Neocolonialism has permitted western countries to continue enriching themselves at the expense of developing countries in the post WWII era.
Since the 2007 crisis, there has been a dramatic turn in popular support for the process of Globalisation. This winter at the World Economic Forum, the politicians and economic elites, who have long been among the greatest champions of globalisation, met to discuss the issue frankly. The meeting saw calls for ‘more redistribution’, members admitting that ‘there have been significant losses” from globalisation, and a warning after a year which had brought them Trump and Brexit, that ‘unless something changed the political consequences were likely to get worse.’
For the forum, this represents a significant turn in opinion, but they’ve come very late to the global justice movement. Academics and politicians across the world have been challenging the modern wave of globalisation since it’s inception after WWII. Among the many academics of the movement are US Economist Richard Branson who showed in his recent book, The Great Convergence, that almost all the benefits of Globalisation have been concentrated in six countries.
What then has gone wrong with globalisation? It seems intuitive that a process of building links across the world, making travel, trade and the exchange of information easier, would bring great benefits to everyone. Unpacking the problem, it’s helpful to look at the furore in recent years in Europe and the US over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The agreement was criticised by the global justice movement as an ‘enormous corporate power grab’ with ‘a disastrous impact on vital laws protecting public health, the environment and labour rights.’
This rebellion against what is perceived as a privileging of large multinational corporations has been ongoing at a time in which wealth inequality across the world is sharply rising, but this conflict between people and corporations is only part of the problem. To grapple properly with globalisation, it is important to also understand the phenomenon known as Neocolonialism. Neocolonialism is a term coined by the Ghanaian scholar and politician Kwame Nkuramah, with important contributions from Jean-Paul Sartre, Immanuel Wallerstein and Noam Chomsky.
Kwame described Neocolonialism as a means for developed nations to control the actions of developing nations. By having corporations allied to them, developed countries indirectly own key parts of a developing nation’s economy. In this manner the developing nation is made dependent on the developed nation, made to hand over their natural resources at exploitatively low rates, and to comply with the foreign policy dictates of developed nations. Kwame noted that neocolonialism as a tactic often, but not always, followed directly on from traditional colonialism. After WWII, Imperial powers such as Britain, France and the Dutch found it practically impossible to maintain their holdings, so they began granting independence to their colonies, allowing them democratic sovereignty, but retaining control over key parts of their economy. Essentially substituting one type of control (colonial) for another (neo-colonial).
In his book ‘Neocolonialism; the Last stage of Imperialism’, Kwame demonstrates the consequences of neocolonialism, and describes in detail the plundering of Africa’s natural resources during the first twenty years following WWII. In addition to the theft of resources, Kwame notes that African countries were kept dependent by restricting the development of their own productive capabilities. He notes that education in particular was seen as a threat by some colonisers, as ‘in many less developed countries the students have been in the vanguard of the fight against neocolonialism’. It was this exploitation and control that led Kwame to become a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity, a Pan-African organisation dedicated to building cooperation across Africa, and combating all forms of colonialism. He eventually became the first president of Ghana, overseeing the first years of its formal independence from the British empire.
Immanuel Wallerstein is another scholar, and also a profligate author, who first wrote on neocolonialism in Africa before expanding to develop a ‘World-systems theory’. Key to his analysis is the concept of Core and Periphery countries. Wallerstein traces the emergence of the modern global order to the 16th century, when ‘an initially slight advance in capital accumulation in Britain, the Dutch Republic, and France, set in motion a process of gradual expansion.’ Since WWII, the dominant global superpower has been the United States, but the structure of the global system is largely the same, with periphery countries subordinated to the interests of core countries.
Beyond Africa, a glance at Latin America and South-East Asia showcases some of the dynamics of Neocolonialism. In South-East Asia for example, the case of Indonesia is particularly interesting. Indonesia became a Dutch colony in the 17th century, and remained such until WWII, at which point it got occupied by Japan. After the War, Indonesia, under General Sukarno, attempted to secure their independence, but the dutch quickly invaded to reclaim their territory. After a couple of months fighting, a ceasefire was brokered, in which Indonesia was allowed political independence on the condition that the dutch would maintain control over all ‘“modern” sections of Indonesia’s economy, such as industry, mining, plantations, finance and banking, and large-scale international trade. Sukarno reluctantly agreed, but in secret began mobilising an alliance of communists and nationalists to secure true independence. In 1957, this plan became apparent, as Sukarno began seizing and nationalising dutch companies, before also doing so with British and American ones. In 1965, the US struck back, providing support to General Suharto, who led a brutal anti-communist purge, killing half a million suspected communists, and eventually outmanoeuvred Sukarno to take control of Indonesia. Suharto started his reign by immediately hosting the ‘Indonesian Investment Conference’, which saw mostly US corporations staking out their demands in Indonesian Mining, Services, Light Industry, Finance and Banking. Suharto ruled as a dictator until 1998, before allowing democracy to re-emerge in Indonesia. Since then the Indonesian government has remained an ally of American investors.
In Latin America, the Neocolonial struggle has been ongoing for decades, from the US orchestrated coups in Chile and Guatemala, to the Zapatistas uprising against the North-american free-trade agreement, as well as the recent wave of anti-colonial and socialist governments known as the ‘Pink tide’. The emergence of the ‘Pink Tide’ is largely credited to the attempt by the US and the International Monetary Fund to impose a set of guidelines on Latin America known as the Washington Consensus, which is credited with causing significant economic damage to Latin america, particularly the economic crisis in Argentina from 1999-2002. The Pink tide seems to have peaked, suffering a decline in popularity, with their most ambitious project, the Bank of the South, which was meant to help Latin American nations support each other in their independence, failing to take off. One piece of positive news are the signs coming from various quarters that US hegemony is in decline. A recent report from the Pentagon notes that the international order established after WWII is ‘fraying’, and perhaps even ‘collapsing’, as it becomes increasingly difficult for the US to maintain control. The report however does not indicate a change in US political strategy, but rather recommends that the response to this difficulty is an increase in military spending, more interventions, more espionage, and greater attempts to ‘control information’. With the election of Trump, it seems that for now the US is committed to maintaining its power, at whatever expense.
In similar form, the British conservative government has been slowly articulating it’s post-brexit economic strategy, dubbed ‘Global Britain’ by its supporters. In a report for Global Justice Now, Mark Curtis has pieced together the nature of this strategy from what has been shared with the public. In essence, it is a commitment to British imperialism and neocolonialism, which advocates for an extreme version of free trade that pushes developing countries to open their markets, increasingly privatising development aid to the benefit of big corporate interests, developing closer ties with authoritarian regimes, including expanding arms sales, and using military power to secure financial and economic interests’’.
What the decline of the US empire does mean though is the potential for other powers to reshape the global power balance, and for more nations to seek their independence. In the last decade, China has been increasingly making moves to invest in Africa. Though many of their practices are still exploitative, it appears that China is offering a better deal than what much of Africa is getting at the moment, providing at least a temporary improvement of Africa’s situation.
It is clear though that much more work still needs to be done. A report published by the Global Justice Now this year highlights the extent of African Exploitation in the modern-day. By their figures, the African continent is still providing £40 billion more to the wider world each year than it is receiving. The report at the end includes a number of measures to deal with the problem. They note that the policies recommended by foreign actors to date ‘have mainly enriched foreign investors – but have not tended to benefit Africa’s people. African governments must be allowed and helped to promote development models that: fairly create and redistribute wealth, create jobs for citizens, promote social welfare, ensure the progressive taxing of the rich, and protect natural resources and ecosystems and the rights and livelihoods of the communities who rely on them.’ They also note that ‘sections of the media and NGO community need to stop falsely claiming that western countries, including the UK, are generally playing a positive or ‘leadership’ role in international development. Instead, they must expose the reality of Western countries’ financial relations with Africa and focus advocacy efforts away from aid, towards addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality.’