Current Affairs

Africa’s client states

Africa’s client states
  • PublishedJune 1, 2018

Is Ghana’s decision to grant the US access to a base in the country a betrayal of Nkrumah’s ‘neither East nor West, but independent’ stance? By Onyekachi Wambu 

The decision to grant the US access to Ghanaian territory has triggered storms of protests, with President Nana Akufo-Addo even called a traitor by demonstrators during his recent London visit for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

The protesters, recalling Nkrumah’s anti-imperialist slogan, ‘we face neither East nor West; we face forward’, insist Ghanaian leaders should not be entering such agreements with non-African, foreign powers. Secondly, it shouldn’t in any case be on such cut-price and humiliating terms. 

Nkrumah knew that the only way Africa could face forward, breaking free from the strangleholds of East and West, was to create a counterweight, a united and independently aligned African super-state.

However, without the necessary resources, Nkrumah’s project over-reached domestically, and suffered Western-inspired bankruptcy, aided and abetted by Ghanaian coup-plotting elites acting in concert with their Western patrons.

The legacy today, is that it is impossible to imagine, even in the spirit of ECOWAS and common African defence, Ghana extending to Nigeria or any African country, such access on the same terms as enjoyed by the Americans. Which brings us to our reluctance to honestly admit the degree to which Ghana and other African states are quite happy to remain Western client-states. The protesters appear not to truly understand how all-pervasive and long-standing the construction of this client relationship has been.

One simply has to read Dele Ogun’s fascinating account of the story of Nigeria, A Fatherless People, to grasp how the project began in the early 1800s following the abolition of slavery. British plans to resettle enslaved Africans on their home continent, sat alongside dreams to create a huge African Empire in West and Central Africa that would rival their Indian holdings.

The justification for this empire was a mixture of the ‘white man’s burden’ in civilising Africans; humanitarian intervention against slavery/rights abuses; and access to resources. To achieve these aims, bases were first set up, which eventually became colonies – so we have been here before. And as Britain constructed this empire, it worked closely with African elites, who were offered ‘protection’ in return for access to their markets. These elite Africans were also running their own agendas, seeking to outwit the British, before themselves, being totally outmanoeuvred, losing their kingdoms in the process.  

Britain was in competition with other European powers, principally the French and Germans, keen to develop their own empires. Despite the 1884 Berlin Conference’s attempts to prevent conflict, the competing powers fought two world wars which left them exhausted and bankrupt, presenting the opportunity for Nkrumah and other nationalists to try and extricate themselves from the imperial stranglehold.

Enduring colonial legacies

Despite the efforts of Nkrumah and other nationalists, it is amazing how much the British and French construction in Africa has endured. Those who have attempted over the last 70 years to escape or redesign it territorially, like Nkrumah, have been crushed. The choice as always – submit, play a junior role, or fight and get destroyed.

However, options are back. The world is at a major crossroads, and once again there is a choice between East or West. Some African countries are hedging their bets between China and the old Western order; others have opted firmly for client status within the Western orbit.

For these elites this client status is made more palatable and less humiliating by their belief that they are co-creating a new Eurafrican civilisation in which they are equal partners, and sometimes occupy the highest positions in the imperial order (as with Barack Obama and Meghan Markle), which is preferable to any African status in the largely unfamiliar Chinese imperial order.

We are now witnessing the logic of their position. In the French African holdings, currency and military integration is already secure. The process of full integration into the Western imperial order, as a client, is under way, as Ghana appears to be merely formalising what in reality is already in place.

Nkrumah’s ‘forward’ option has largely disappeared because Africans are seriously not prepared to embark on the kind of disciplined action undertaken by the Chinese to create an alternative independent space and counterweight.  NA                                

Written By
Onyekachi Wambu

Onyekachi was educated at the University of Essex and completed his M.Phil in International Relations at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He worked extensively as a journalist and television documentary. He edited The Voice Newspaper at the end of the 1980s and has made documentaries and programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS.

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