Who Appointed Tony Blair as Africa's Messiah?

by Mark P. Fancher

Mark P. Fancher is the author of "The Splintering of Global Africa:
Capitalism's War Against Pan-Africanism."

It is not uncommon for ocean waves to crash violently against the cliffs of
the Ghanaian town of Elmina. Some speculate that the violent seas are a
manifestation of the anger of the spirits of countless Africans who endured
unspeakable tortures or violent deaths at a slave trading castle that still
stands on the Elmina shore. It would not be surprising if those waves were
crashing more violently than usual when Tony Blair stood before the world
recently and announced that he, on behalf of Great Britain, will lead a
western campaign to save Africa from itself.

For those who are uninformed, Blair's hopes for increasing foreign aid to
Africa by an additional $25 billion per year may seem not only reasonable,
but commendable. The proposed foreign aid increase was suggested in a
report by Blair's Commission for Africa that, among other things, urges
Africa to reform itself, and for the Western powers to be more sensitive to
the continent's plight. However, the absurdity, even outrageousness of
Blair's piety and the implication that Africa made its own mess, are
apparent only when one understands that, in this instance, Great Britain is
not unlike an individual who offers to help pay the medical expenses of a
crime victim when the good Samaritan is actually the person who perpetrated
the rape, robbery and humiliation of the patient.

England was among the most notorious colonizers of the African continent.
For an extended period, England was directly involved in the slave trade,
sending inestimable numbers of Africans into Caribbean plantation hell. The
workers in England's colonies in Africa were paid unconscionably low wages
that were often immediately reclaimed as "taxes." African land was taken by
force, as was the labor of thousands of African peasants in Sierra Leone
who were forced to build that country's cross-country railroad.

England thoroughly and completely underdeveloped countries like Ghana,
which had the capacity to become agriculturally self-sufficient. However,
the sweet tooth of "Mother England" resulted in the dedication of numerous
acres of farmland to the production of cocoa, which in turn caused a need
for Ghana to import agricultural products of other types that the country
could have otherwise grown for itself. The damage done to Africa by England
and other European colonizers is simply unquantifiable. It is against this
backdrop that Blair has the nerve to offer his "help" as though the country
he leads is blameless.

This is not the first time that England has piously assumed a posture of
holiness during disingenuous efforts to "save" Africans. Back in the 19th
Century, England's was a leading voice in the call for the abolition of the
slave trade. The country's abolitionist posture had nothing to do with
humanitarian impulses, and everything to do with facilitating England's
entry into a then newly-emerging global free market that promised larger
profits. To understand this, consider that England built its Industrial
Revolution on an exclusive mercantilist trading relationship with its
Caribbean colonies. This ensured that West Indian planters had a guaranteed
market for their agricultural products, and "Mother England" had a
guaranteed market for its manufactured goods. But when it became clear that
greater profits could be obtained by negotiating for cheaper raw materials
from other suppliers, and by placing manufactured goods on the open market,
England sought with a vengeance to crush the Caribbean planters by cutting
off their supply of the slaves who were indispensable to the islands'
agricultural operations.

England was never forthright about the true reasons for its opposition to
the slave trade. Similarly, Blair is saying nothing that suggests that he
has anything other than humanitarian concerns. However, the truth may have
something to do with the fact that, to all appearances, Great Britain's
influence on the African continent has been eroding at an ever increasing
pace. When Blair suspended Zimbabwe from the British Commonwealth, there
were other African states that were not at all intimidated. In fact, many
politicians and grassroots activists throughout Southern Africa were
emboldened by Zimbabwe's defiant response. Inspired by Zimbabwe's stubborn
determination to pursue its land reclamation program (which drew British
ire in the first place), Africans in other countries have begun to demand,
in ways that cannot be ignored, that their own governments take a similar
approach to the land issue. This is particularly true in Kenya. Add to this
the continuing efforts to promote African self-sufficiency through the
African Union and otherwise, and it becomes clear that England is becoming
ever more irrelevant to a continent that it once dominated in the way that
a parent dominates a child.

We can all watch with some amusement as Tony Blair pathetically makes the
rounds trying to persuade the world that he is still the Great White
Father, and that Africans are his ever-dependent children. We should watch
with even greater amusement George Bush's bewilderment with Blair's pleas
that the U.S. join him in this enterprise. By his actions, Bush has at
least honestly affirmed that he has never cared about Africa, and he is not
about to start just because Blair suggests that he should. In the end, it
may be a difficult pill to swallow, but Blair and those who share his
perspective need to come to terms with the fact that the sun has set on the
British Empire. If Blair really wants to do something for Africa, he should
receive with grace a bill for reparations and restitution for all that
England took from its African colonies and the enslaved individuals forced
into the Diaspora. After England pays that bill, Blair should just back
away from Africa and shut up.