Patrons of poverty – A review (1)

 WHEN the great Nigerian political leader, advocate of human and woman rights and fighter for universal adult suffrage, the Late Mrs.

Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti in the mid-20th Century asked in the famous words that we “boycott all boycottables” insisting that African economic activities are not puppeteered by the western world to their advantage, she was giving a firm support to the views and stance of scholars like the Late Mbonu-Ojike who had also insisted that African economies cannot be turned into mere fodder factories to feed the western ones (manufactories); supporting and maintaining their development and advancement to the detriment of the growth and development of African economies which run comatose and are only kept at a vegetative state, left barely alive to ensure that the west receive needed material to keep their own economies running.

Sylvester Odion Akhaine tows the line of thinking and argument of these precursors and aptly reiterates their views in the book, Patrons of Poverty: IMF/World Bank and Africa’s Problems, where he dwells on how the wealth of the world has flowed into and remains concentrated in the hands of a few nations, making for an uneven distribution of wealth since the turn of the 19th Century and how this lopsided nature of wealth ownership is made to endure making some nations of the world perennially walk on the tightrope of poverty.

The book also describes in detail how, in order to maintain the status quo, those who have wangled their way to a vantage position in the global arena contrive to truncate any effort at escape by the disadvantaged to a sure economic foothold; reason being that the strong can hardly survive or dominate without their leeching on the weak.

In Chapter One of this influential work, the introduction, we are given a general overview of the whole content and the raison d’être of the book.

The content being basically evidences and facts that show that the economic space and markets of Africa and some other countries of the world are grossly impinged on by the global economic powers of the western world leading to the weakening of their economies and the raison d’être being the writer’s intention to bring to the consciousness of all the general misconception that the blame for this situation lies wholly on those that are being infringed on, in addition to the delusion that, the solution for overcoming the situation lies in the hands of the same west who had actually wrought the problem on the unsuspecting victims, yet who go ahead to pull wool over their eyes, making them think otherwise and also leading them into the erroneous belief that it is they who hold the ace of the solution to all economic problems.

The writer thus affirms that the situation Africa finds herself in is, but the result of a grand plan prosecuted by the west since the turn of the 19th Century to have economic dominance over unsuspecting victims through the hijacking of opportunities for advantage and advancement as well as the appending of these to their own economy.

The second chapter takes a retrospective glance at Africa before the era of exploitation by the west giving copious examples in economic activities and systems which were proof of the continent’s capacity to provide for herself the basic human needs of food, water, shelter and clothing (warmth) and why this has changed with time leaving the continent at the mercy of foreigners and the vagaries of their mercantile schemes.

Stating that in the field of agriculture, Africans were self-sufficient in food production and had surpluses in large volumes and that an African proverb which is insightful on the food situation in pre-colonial Africa which states that: ”it is an offer of help to dine with someone” was spawned by an era of routinised surplus.

Other significant economic fields, like the cloth-making industry which was commended by even the west as comparable and sometimes superior to those from other parts of the world, were well advanced and the area of shelter was quite outstanding because there you found Africans building the pyramids of Egypt, the universities of Alexandra and Timbuktu were masterpieces and showcases of the level of architectural advancement in pre-western exploitative times.

The above advancements were obvious attestations to the workings of the African economic systems in the days of yore leaving the writer to ask the pertinent question: Why are we unable to do so today?

In answer to this question, he explains the root of under-development under three sub-categories, namely slavery, colonisation and the post-colonial elite. He gives highlights of the trail of these as they affect the economic development of African states. Agreeing with the views of the Late Julius Nyerere, former President of Tanzania, who states that slavery has robbed Africa of its most productive human resources, the writer states that population is a significant element in the dynamics of economics and that in Europe, the slave population provided the impetus and the workforce which led to further development of labour, market and demand while it took from Africa, the most qualitative of human resources as the continent was depopulated in large proportions to the extent that Africa’s population growth stagnated between 1650 and 1900 while that of Asia and Europe grew tremendously.

Economically, the effect of colonial rule was noted to be far-reaching as it was a period in which the politics and the policies of the colonising powers were brazenly determined by economic interests. Giving the instance of how the entire colony was forced to produce cash crops and mine natural mineral resources to the benefit of the colonising economy and of now capital goods for the colony, that is, machinery and equipment which in turn can contribute to capital formation was not development or created, he noted that the only type of relations of production that existed was that in which pre-arranged restrictions on agricultural produce were worked out and implemented for the trade gains of the colonisers’ economy.

Colonial production never allowed Africans to produce what they consumed and consequently, she became outwardly oriented economically.

•To be continued tomorrow.
•Otomewo is the Editorial Director of The Constitution, Journal of Constitutional Development. The book, Patrons of Poverty, will be publicly presented on Tuesday June 30 in Lagos.

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