New Internationalist

Re-colonizing Africa?

India celebrated Republic Day on 26 January, a national holiday, with impressive parades and much fanfare. Countries that fought colonialism and won their freedom after long and difficult struggles are justifiably proud to show their patriotism.

But yesterday, on the anniversary of Gandhi’s death, I read with anger and dismay newspaper reports in the financial section that the government of India plans to assist Indian companies to lease and buy up land in African countries in order to expand and promote Indian business. In other words, we are now moving to exploit and colonize poorer countries in the worst imaginable way, in competition with China.

The hype around this disgusting exploitation is predictably nauseating. ‘Government to boost India Inc’s global M&A’[mergers and acquisitions] read the headline in the Times of India. There isn’t an iota of shame, not even the pretext of helping these countries. Many African countries were supported in their independence struggles by Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, with the entire nation cheering them on. Scholarships were given to African students. India openly sided with them and proudly announced its support for all colonized people. Today, those values have disappeared.

Unadulterated greed and profiteering have become the order of the day. Gandhi, Ambedkar, Nehru, and all the selfless freedom fighters who laid down their lives for India’s independence would be ashamed of the state this country has been brought to. We are obsessed with talk of growth and economic expansion at any cost. Our poor are left behind. And now the rich and powerful are looking for new horizons to conquer and exploit.

Hordes of young (and old) Indians now descend on Africa as development professionals, expert advisors and consultants. International aid agencies pay them a fortune, put them up in five-star hotels and pay their executive-class air fares, without batting an eyelid. Consultancy rates and costs have reached new heights. All in the name of fighting poverty.

I always wonder, if you just gave that money to the poor, would it not solve their problems faster than the hordes of consultants forced on them ever would? Corrupt consultants have always leeched off the poor. The kind who discuss starving people and malnourished children in five star hotels, eating at lavish buffets without a qualm. There are of course, many genuine, good, concerned development experts. But isn’t it time the good people formed a nexus to fight the corrupt who bleed Africa?

The Indian independence movement managed to achieve some amount of economic freedom along with their political independence. Most African countries however, won political freedom but their economies have remained totally enslaved. Africa must begin the fight for freedom from the new colonizers. And all those who value freedom, who love Africa, must join in.

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  1. #1 RachelE 31 Jan 12

    This is so disheartening! To think that a country such as India who has itself experienced the horrors of colonialism and therefore understands fully the implications- both short and long term- will be inflicting this upon a country, is appalling. On top of this, Africa is already in a dire situation.. It really makes you think, if first hand experience and struggle isn't enough for change, what else is? Indeed the time has definitely arrived for ’the good people (to form) a nexus to fight the corrupt who bleed Africa’. An eye opening article.

  2. #2 Merlyn Brito 31 Jan 12

    Exploitation in the name of progress where the educated and the wealthy seek to commit the very same crime that was committed against them.Marie is right in pointing out that Indians are forgetting their own heritage when they join the ranks of the conquerors and exploiters.Africa is bleeding and more such awareness needs to be created.

  3. #3 Sushil 31 Jan 12

    This is great Mari (aunty). But I want to hear more about why the arguments these pro-land grab types make are flat out wrong. How do they justify their business as ’helping Africans’? Let's directly attack their bogus arguments about how spending money on land, and infusing these African countries with foreign capital is really going to just benefit the 1% (landlords, politicians, bureacrats) in those countries, with a hardly a trickle going to the 99%.

  4. #4 Ben 01 Feb 12

    ’International aid agencies pay them (the HORDES of developmental professionals) a fortune, put them up in five-star hotels and pay their executive-class air fares’ Slight over exaggeration. Can you give me even 10 examples of business class air fare paid by Aid Agencies recently?
    In general, I agree with your article, and even your point about the waste of resources by AID agencies, but I do wish you wouldnt exaggerate just to make a point, (one that would be just as valid with out exaggerating).
    I find many of your posts excellent, and would have loved to use them in serious discussions, but often find just one or two sentences (clangers)in an otherwise excellent article that makes it difficult to use/ be taken seriously.
    However, like I said earlier, I enjoy your posts, and agree with them. I just wish you would add a filter to remove those occasional sentences, that lessen the worth of the post as a whole.

  5. #5 Sharon 01 Feb 12

    Yo Mari,
    This ia a beautiful .... it does indeed paint and put me in the ’big picture’

  6. #6 TMT 01 Feb 12

    great article! As with all your blog posts, also very thought provoking, sparking a desire to read more.

  7. #7 Ajit 02 Feb 12

    Dear Mari,

    Thanks for this!

    I'm left confused! What exactly are you against? India Inc. acquiring assets in Africa? Development aid in Africa? Consultants in Africa being paid for their services? Consultants in Africa being corrupt? Or consultants in Africa being Indian?

    Having regularly read your writings in The Hindu and Frontline of the previous decades, I have to say that this piece was not of a comparable standard. There are lots of ramblings of jholawallahs strewn all over the Internet, including some in good English. People like me, your older readers, have higher expectations of your writings. Please do not drop your standards.

  8. #8 Sudhir 02 Feb 12

    Dear Mari,

    I was delighted to read your blog. I wish I had written it!!! Keep up the good work!

    Going further, Indian MNCs (following other MNCs and some national governments) are acquiring land in Africa on purchase or 99-year leases, to grow food crops that will be exported for sale in the international market for corporate profit, when the people of the country where that food is grown starve. I am sure you know about this.

    What I inform my students from University of Iowa and two Canadian universities is the following:




  9. #9 mari 02 Feb 12

    this blog drew two strong criticisms and I agree I tend to be overly emotional at the thought of India colonizing African countries.

    Whether my aversion to Aid workers living off Africa is over the top, I dont know..will send you details but for starters check out UN, World Bank DFID consultant fees and exec class travel. I have good friends in the UN who had to fight to keep local staff as opposed to the expat mafia who employ their own inner circle and control recruitment. The UN is notorious.

  10. #10 Betty 02 Feb 12

    Please read the following article
    ’China builds its African empire while the 'anti-colonialist' Left looks the other way’
    By Damian Thompson _ The Telegraph Novemebr 25 2011
    Imagine what would happen if America barged its way into a developing country, buttered up its homicidal dictator and agreed a back-of-the-envelope deal in which he signed over his nation’s mineral wealth in return for roads, railways and sports stadiums. Everyone would benefit, no?
    No. The problem is that the infrastructure turns out to be worth a hell of a lot less than the minerals. Fortunately, Washington has had the foresight to top up the dictator’s Swiss bank account. Problem solved! As for the mining operation, the Americans really don’t want to be bothered by minimum wages or trade unions. They’re banned. And no complaints from the workforce, please, because no one wants a repeat of that “misunderstanding” in which an American mine supervisor opened fire on stroppy employees.
    If the United States embarked on this sort of colonial experiment, it would produce a furious “Occupy Grosvenor Square” camp outside the US embassy and a withering play by Sir David Hare at the National. But since these things are actually being done not by America but by the People’s Republic of China across the entire African continent, the “anti-colonialist” Left just yawns.
    Ordinary Africans care, of course. The subject of China will loom large in Monday’s election in Congo, though since President Joseph Kabila has arranged to be re-elected, it won’t affect the result. It was Kabila who approved a $6 billion copper-for-infrastructure barter deal with China. Unfortunately, the sale of state mines has left Congo with a $5.5 billion black hole in its budget. Meanwhile, The Economist reports: “The sale of mining licences at below-market value to firms associated with friends of the president has raised eyebrows.”
    I can’t say it raised my eyebrows. How else do you think China does business in Africa? It suffered a setback in Zambia last year when President Michael Sata was elected on an anti-Chinese ticket. But Sata hasn’t fulfilled his promise to regulate Zambia’s Chinese-run copper mines, branded “dangerously unsafe” by Human Rights Watch. And this week none other than ex-president Dr Kenneth Kaunda was in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People to discuss “deepening substantial co-operation”.
    There’s a school of thought which says that China’s modus operandi, however brutal, at least gets things built. In contrast, Western aid is tipped into dictators’ pockets without anything to show for it. But the benefits of Beijing’s “investment” are elusive, because the Chinese don’t usually employ Africans to perform anything but menial tasks. Chinese construction engineers build motorways and hospitals without passing on the skills to maintain them. The result: everything falls into disrepair within a decade, by which time the copper is safely out of the ground.
    From a moral point of view, China’s policy towards Africa is despicable. But it’s ingenious, too. Beijing has worked out that, by virtue of being a non-Western power, it can pose as a “developing country” while creating its sub-Saharan satrapies. The anti-racism lobby in the United Nations makes sure that the finger of guilt is pointed firmly at the former colonial powers, who are always happy to put on a display of breast-beating by, say, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Meanwhile, something close to slavery is being quietly reintroduced to the dark continent (which is how China thinks of it).
    For 50 years, it’s been unclear in which direction Africans were heading. Now the question is almost irrelevant: the decision has been made for them.

  11. #11 vijay 05 Feb 12

    How very right you are! What as you say is happening in Africa perhaps happens all over the underdeveloped world...but it is indeed dreadful to even think that Indians, whose identification with poverty struggle have been on a high empathetic level, should be thus motivated by corporates and government to descend to intellectual and material exploitation of the desperately poor. Thanks, Mari, for daring to openly discuss this callousness.

  12. #12 Rohan 08 Feb 12

    Seriously this is one of the most stupid article i could ever come across with.

    If India is promoting its MNCs to buy land in order to make a presence in African nation for economic purpose whats wrong with that???

    Even mncs are allowed to buy land in India and they do that its not colonizations but business.

    Get a life out of your misery don't just write anything for the sake of your stupidity.lmao

  13. #13 Georgina Brereton 08 Feb 12

    This is a powerful and passionate blog Mari. Sticking your head above the parapet to question India'™s ˜strides in development makes us sit up and think. We need to balance that ’Âœobsess(ion) with talk of growth and economic expansion at any cost’ that you talk of with consideration of the effect that cost will have on others. This is a timely call to take stock - thanks for raising awareness.

  14. #14 Cynthia Stephen 09 Feb 12

    It is true that many countries are muscling in on Africa in recent years with an eye on its natural resources. The governance deficit, coupled with huge social, political and economic factors which impinge upon food production and land ownership on the continent of AFrica have created such a climate. This explains, but does not justify, any form of unjust explotation of the poor or thier rights over food, water, and the natural resources of their country, and this is especially true for the women and children of these economies. Whether India or China, the governments are now engaged in a neck-an-neck race to grab resources from less-well-governed countries and thier corrupt and/or inefficient leaders. We need to invest in training and equipping women and young people in both host and destination countries, to become more active in public life to bring about lasting and meaningful change and thus become a part of the solution to such rampant power-mongering on the part of the new kids on the colonisation block.

    And if international players like funding agencies, bilateral and multilateral funders could become a little more sensitive to the way they run thier operations in poor countries, and individual so-called development consultants heeded the voices of thier consciences we would quickly right-size remuneration packages and end the eye-popping irony of multi-millionaire consultants working on ’poverty’.

    The core issue of course is GREED and AMORALITY, due to the lack of ethical direction caused by a willing suspension of our leaders' moral compass - and increasing numbers of common people too, as a logical consequence of market fundamentalism. Every individual needs to make a personal choice to uphold what is worthy, true and right if we have to see anything different happening in the world.

  15. #15 Niral 09 Feb 12

    Most of Africa is yet to recover from its colonial past and now it is the turn of the economically advanced to re-colonize the african nations. Does India have to be a part of this group?

    Economically we have come a long way since independence. Yet we continue to have so much hunger, poverty and exploitation in our own country and we would like to see our industrialists and corporations, not to forget the government, take care of our'own'.

  16. #16 mari 11 Feb 12


    there's a difference between doing business and exploiting people.
    The East India Co were doing a roaring business when they colonized India. They were exploiting their own people and sucking the blood out of India.
    Did that sound like 'cool' business practice to you?
    also u r welcome to disagree as violently as you want but it wd be intelligent to give logical reasons

  17. #17 Dilip 13 Feb 12

    It's not just India that is trying to colonize Africa. Many other countries are just rushing in to try to find out ways to extract resources in whatever way from the continent!

    Apologists for the colonization are those who say that the Europeans have done it, so why shouldn't we? And that misses the point. As two wrongs will never ever make a right! Other apologists suggest that it is after all a market transaction and these transactions are going to be beneficial to the people in Africa. It just seems that many of these people do not realize the lessons of hundreds of years of colonization in India or other countries. It left a country that was considered one of the richest in the world completely impoverished!

    A lot of valid points have been raised, and some have used words like 'stupid'. While you might not agree with what is said, it is expected that people would say what the disagreement is about, rather than using words like this which reflect poorly on the author.

  18. #18 karthik 26 Feb 12

    OK:: Let me put it straight.. Am fed up of these english speaking , globalization hating, (seeking comfort and work by trying to promote universal codes for poverty) preaching, Arundhathi roy style ’ Activitists’; who will apologize a thousand times to white people for being racially illogical on their blogs; but spare no ill word for taking a ride on India INC.. Seriously.. Did u just go to sleep i a coffin after the fall of the berlin wall and wake up yesterday?.. grow up woman.. its called capitalism ( not greed) The very computer and internet ur sitting on is a result of that.. grow up and improve ur writing.. I dont even get what ur focal point with this article is apart from the hatred on India inc..

  19. #19 mari 02 Mar 12

    Karthik, the worlds first MNC was the East India company, read Nick Robins book. Why did we need to kick out the colonizers if they were so great for India? That was capitalism with a big C...and if we turn into them, thats tragic.

  20. #20 Nick Robins 04 Mar 12

    This exchange is stimulating - and I couldn't resist commenting on the East India Company connections. The turmoil of the current global crisis means we need learn to the lessons of history wisely to inform the constant effort to extend the scope of responsibility and accountability for all economic actors.
    For me, the story of the East India Company tells us that corporations aren't intrinsically bad - but that they do contain elements of an 'imperial gene' that need to be regulated, controlled and matched with countervailing measures. I think four features are key.
    First, financing structures can clearly facilitate long-term investment or drive exploitative, speculative behaviour (and in reality, it's often a mix of both): the Company had its own Bengal Bubble, and the drive to deliver shareholder returns often overrode ethical considerations (Bengal famine etc). Unless we believe that Indians should never invest in Africa, how can we ensure that long-term investment is achieved: how can African communities become co-investors, can ensure accountability etc.
    The second feature is scale - and here it was the Company's monopoly and drive for commercial domination that caused so much of the problem, using its market power to drive down prices for weavers etc. Again, how can economic diversity be encouraged in India's investment relations with Africa: how can we make sure that African communities have the muscle to negotiate on equal terms?
    The third driver of corporate impact is technology - for the East India Company that meant cannon and marine supremacy. In the case of India's investment's in Africa, this makes us focus through the social and environmental implications of agricultural technology: how can sustainability be built in - not just in production, but also in the distribution and retail of any output?
    The final feature is regulation - both internal and external. What really frustrated the Company's contemporaries was its impunity - no-one ever got punished for its misdeeds. So, again, in terms of India's investments in Africa, how can the regulatory frameworks be set so that social justice is intrinsic, and also mechanisms of remedy are real and effective if malpractice occurs.
    Beyond all this is a real challenge for India's civil society. India is known for the dynamism of its domestic civil society - but as its economy globalises, the scope of Indian civil society activism must also become global to hold the Indian state as well as its corporates and investors to account for international impacts overseas.

  21. #21 Bea 18 Jun 12

    I blame Africa....we have opted to give all that is ours to everyone else because we want a free ride.

  22. #22 croco 21 Apr 13

    ’I always wonder, if you just gave that money to the poor, would it not solve their problems faster than the hordes of consultants forced on them ever would?’

    NO! Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime!

  23. #23 James Badeau 31 Oct 14

    Without the unification/federation of the African continent, it cannot fend off these ugly advances by bad actors. All the aid in the world pales in comparison to the value of this lesson taught and learned. All those who wish to join Africa in the quest for her freedom, must focus on this. Thanks for your blog.

  24. #24 Nick 13 Mar 17

    I don't really see how buying up land in Africa constitutes exploitation or colonisation. Probably that land will be put to some economic use which will employ Indians and Africans and increase the amount of wealth in both regions. I don't understand this notion that trading with Africa as a richer country somehow constitutes violence of some kind. What, would you prefer that we just didn't buy any of their land? Didn't buy their resources? Would that somehow help them?

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

Read more by Mari Marcel Thekaekara

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