I came across this article in AfricaNews last week, which discusses the role of mental slavery in Africa’s development as a continent. The idea of mental slavery is not new – indeed many who write on this subject cite Bob Marley’s 1980 “Redemption Song” as the movement’s battle cry. Yet, this social phenomenon seems especially relevant in light of the new discussions and realities surrounding Africa: it hosts 7 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, trade – not aid - is beginning to dictate the West’s interactions with the continent, and education and entrepreneurship are proliferating.
The AfricaNews article cites Peter Henriot, who summarizes global interactions with Africa in “4 Stages of Outside Penetration of Africa”:
- Slavery – This is the period in which African men and women were forcefully abducted by European and North American countries to work as slaves.
- Colonialization – European countries drew artificial boundaries to designate land ownership with no regard for the local tribes, cultures, or communities. Exploitation continued, now in the form of natural resource depletion.
- Neo-colonialism – This was a less subtle form of control, through which external powers sought to maintain authority through “manipulation of African states as bargaining pawns [especially] during the Cold War.”
- Globalization – Globalization describes the world-wide spread of ideas, people, goods and information via travel, technology (especially the internet) and increased connectivity. While globalization has increased the access of many resources, it has also increased the disparity between those who can access this transfer of goods and information and those who cannot.
Now that the hype of globalization has ebbed, a new paradigm is forming within the context of Africa’s development. Cited in various media such as africa.com’s Africa Straight Up and events like the Africa America Institute’s Jobs in Africa gala & conference, Africa’s reputation as a land of uncharted economic potential is slowly but surely erasing a history previously defined by the damaging and corrosive stages Henriot has identified.
And yet, Henriot and others point to a common thread that ties these stages together and threatens Africa’s ability to move beyond a past of exploitation. I’m referring, of course, to the idea of mental slavery; the chains around Africans’ self-perception and identification with their ancestry. As expressed in the award winning film 500 Years Later: “Just like there is a process to make a slave, and a process to make a colonial Africa, there has to be another process to remake the African slave and the African colonial mind.”
This brings me to my question: Is “Trade not Aid” the 5th stage of exploitation, or the sign of a new beginning towards ending the mental slavery phenomenon? Or, will the mental shackles still hold firm as long as we “equate development to Westernization,” as this post suggests? What are your thoughts?
Photo credit: hateandanger.wordpress.com