The African Union (AU) headquarters celebrated its 60th anniversary on May 25, 2023. The same day, in the evening, I watched an interview with Asnakew Sisay, a prominent Ethiopian and true Pan-Africanist, on ESAT TV, moderated by Zekaryas A. Berhan (PhD).
He provided a concise and inspiring explanation of the current state of Africa, focusing on the exploitation challenges posed by the west. He described the ongoing brutal interventions and exploitative actions of the former colonizers and the new colonizing nations of the West. His interview prompted me to write this brief analysis of “Colonialism-in-Absentia” (CiA), comparing its nature, characteristics, instruments, and current operations to those of colonialism and neocolonialism, its predecessors.
When I first coined the term “colonialism-in-absentia” I was teaching at Egerton University in Kenya 28 years ago. In 1995, I presented a paper entitled “Colonialism-in-Absentia and the Persistence of Underdevelopment in Africa” at the annual conference of OSSREA (Organization for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa) in Kitale.
After returning home to Ethiopia while teaching at the then Unity University College, I rewrote the article on the CiA and presented it at the First Multidisciplinary Conference of the College. This paper is documented in the Conference Proceedings published in 2002, with the title “Colonialism in Absentia and Economic Development in Africa: Theory and Practice in Disarray.”
I gave a brief explanation about the influence of CiA in Africa’s policy making, more so in Ethiopia in chapter 2 of my 2017 book published with the title “Quest for Change…” in subsection 2.1 with the heading “Indigenous Policy Making and Colonialism-in-Absentia.” The latest and relatively extensive piece of writing I had on CiA was the article I wrote in 2021 and electronically distributed to many readers.
The title of the article was “Ethiopia at War with A-CiA: A Note”. The prefix ‘A’ indicates the word “alliance” and explains that colonialists-in-absentia have formed an alliance, like that of the 1948 NATO, to conquer and exploit Africa and the developing countries of the rest of the world without being physically present, using instrumental leaders and political and economic bandits, most of whom were educated in the West.
It seems appropriate to make brief statements, particularly to give a glimpse of the differences between the CiA and its predecessors, colonialism and neo-colonialism.
Despite the fact that the imperialist movement to colonize African states began before the 19th century, a planned move for colonial rule began in the mid-1880s following the conference that Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor of Germany, organized in 1884–1885.
This conference declared the formal scramble for Africa by Europeans. It led to the elimination or overruling of most existing forms of African autonomy and self-governance. Since then, the colonialists have invaded Africa, and except in Ethiopia, they have begun to administer Africans using colonial administration laws and regulations.
The West never had a genuine interest in promoting democracy or providing humanitarian assistance for the poor and needy Africans. They never gave economic freedom to African people and governments, even after the majority declared political independence. Instead, as Amy Chua wrote (2004), they breed ethnic hatred and global instability in the name of free market democracy.
The European colonialists’ prime interest has been to exploit Africa’s natural, historical, physical, and human resources. In order to fulfill such an interest, they embarked on a brutal rule, inflicting tremendous damage not only on their economic and political stance but also on Africans psychic sets. They use native Africans, political and economic bandits, as auxiliary tools for exploitative operations, taking dehumanizing and demoralizing measures in all aspects of African life.
Such practices eventually led Africans to rise and protest in all ways and forms possible, including an armed struggle for independence.
Africans, who got tired of the brutal rules of colonialists, started armed struggles for freedom. The escalating and expanding freedom fighting in the 1940s and 1950s forced some colonizers to allow their colonies to gain political independence. For example, what happened in Ghana under the leadership of Nkrumah led to the emancipation of not only Ghana but also other African states from direct colonial rules.
However, the independence from colonial rule was mostly cosmetic and nominal. It was predominantly linked to issues of politics and administering the natives. The economy remained in the colonialists’ hands, with their rule continuing indirectly.
When the colonizers were forced to let African states have political and administrative independence, they also started to change their forms, strategies, and instruments of colonization. They immediately embarked on the rule of former colonies via neo-colonialism.
The post-1950 colonialists’ approach to exploiting Africa’s resources took a shift from dividing African states among colonializing European countries, as agreed in the 1985 Berlin Conference, to exploiting Africa and other developing continents via the formation of colonialist alliances.
Such a formation included developed countries such as North America and some from Asia and Australia. The new form of colonialism, which I referred to as colonialism-in-absentia, today progressed to what I refer to as “Allied Colonialism-in-Absentia (A-CiA). The A-CiA embraces the notion of a new economic order and globalization. It targets countries that have not been under any form of colonization before, such as Ethiopia.
The A-CiA’s interests are the same as the colonialists’ interests during the colonial and neo-colonial ruling periods. It is to exploit the resources of Africa, mainly natural resources and, more specifically, minerals. They are fighting Africans, directly or indirectly, to remain poor, sustainable aid recipients, and providers of cheap raw materials for the West.
In many African countries, under the name of democracy, elections are held and citizen-led government formation is preached. Practically all post-independent African governments are formed and dictated to on economic, social, and political policy and strategy formulation, as well as institutional settings and policy instrumentalities, by the World Bank and IMF.
As Thompson, the author of “Africa and Unity: The Evolution of Pan-Africanism” in 1971, predicted, they continued exploiting Africa while supporting internal rebel groups, the micro-nationalists, which numbered in the hundreds. In almost all African countries, they managed to create and advance weapons and flare animosity for internal wars, wars among micro-nationalities, and ethnic or religion based insurgents.
Knowing all of this and continuing to raise awareness about African colonization, Asnakew’s interview prompted me to pen this reawakening note. A word to fellow Ethiopians and African brothers and sisters: despite the colorful 60th anniversary celebration, the AU, as a continental institution, must take a real leadership role in combating the new form of colonialism known as A-CiA.
Today, the A-CiA is moving to capture any African state, including Ethiopia, a country that has fought colonial forces in the past and maintained its independence for centuries. It is in a precarious position to become one of the states captured by the A-CiA and the corporatocracy, a system of ruling developing countries by allied forces organized from developed western countries, multi-national corporations, and giant financial institutions around the world.
John Perkins coined the phrase and explained this system in his 2016 book, “The New Confession of an Economic Hit Man.”
During the preparation of the Bismark Plan, Italy was the European country that took the lead in colonizing Ethiopia. It came twice with a heavy army, stuffed with then-modern weaponry, to invade and colonize Ethiopia. Italy failed to colonize Ethiopia, with the exception of the 1930s, when its soldiers were present in the country as invaders for five years, facing fierce resistance from Ethiopian patriots, who eventually defeated and expelled them from Ethiopian territory.
Following the defeat of the Italians, the British attempted to colonize Ethiopia. They were attempting to do so in a clandestine and covert manner, using their support instruments for the then-Emperor Hailselassie I. They gained access to the leadership circle due to their close relationship with the Emperor during the war with Italy. With his wise leadership and diplomatic approach, the Emperor stifled the British attempt and continued to build Ethiopia, Africa’s only remaining independent and free country. This country became the recipe for the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the current AU, 60 years ago.
Of course, the Western colonial mongers never stopped their effort to colonize Ethiopia, even after former colonies claimed political independence.
African states that gained political independence, whether through armed struggle or negotiation, never achieved political freedom. Worst of all, they never achieved both economic independence and freedom.
On economic matters, it was maintained under a different form of colonialism, named neo-colonialism. In the last three decades, they have been under the latest new form of colonialism, the CiA. The CiA includes not only formerly colonized and neo-colonized states but also states that were referred to as non-colonized, such as Ethiopia and Liberia.
African leaders are calling for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, representation in the G-7, and the like. Asnakew called on the AU to wake up and lead African states to fight colonizers that come in different forms and instrumentalities.
Members of the A-CiA have come to run the operations of the AU. They are becoming the leading sources of AU finance after the death of the former Libyan leader, Mohammed Gadhafi (Col.). It is using some African leaders to work on reforming the AU, which would have made it their instrument and eased their control over the different states of Africa.
At present, the A-CiA is making African leaders succumb to their interests and missions. Those who resist receive warnings, including the possibility of a coup d’état or other covert action. If the resistance continues, then the leaders will receive messages of assassination. Asnakew mentioned during the interview that more than 40 African leaders were either assassinated or were forced to migrate.
The present situation and conditions in Africa call for Africans to rise up to fight the latest form of colonialism. Colonizers are now operating by forming an alliance, the Alliance of Colonialists in Absentia (A-CiA). Though a claim of political independence has prevailed since the late 1950s, today, Africans are denied their political freedom and have no economic independence or freedom.
African states are increasingly led and administered by political and economic bandits, paid by developed countries via their instruments, the world’s financial institutions. What Africans need today is not the rhetoric of democracy, a nonsense agenda like Agenda 2063, or a fictitious statehood vying for a seat in the UNSC; rather, what they need is the clearing of colonizing forces from their territories, forces operating under the guidance of the present-day corporatocracy.
The AU’s 60th anniversary and the messages during celebrations should reflect and focus on African thought and unity to fight A-CiA until they ensure that the continent’s economic resources are primarily used for the benefit of Africans in a fair availability and use state.
Africans need food, shelter, and clothing, i.e., fulfilling at least their basic needs instead of talking of democracy, and a permanent seat in the UNSC.
Pan-Africanism can galvanize the fight of Africans with A-CiA to have economic power in all states. In this regard, Africans should not be trapped in the rhetoric of political pluralism and democracy building. Ethiopians, as usual, should be at the front to lead the pan-African movement in present-day Africa.
Demese Chanyalew (PhD) is an agricultural economist and a private consultant with more than 42 years of work experience in Ethiopia and other countries.
Contributed by Demese Chanyalew (PhD)