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Neocolonialism is the term describing international economic arrangements wherein former colonial powers maintained control of colonies and dependencies after World War II. Neocolonialism can obfuscate the understanding of current colonialism, given that some colonial governments continue administrating foreign territories and their populations in violation of United Nations resolutions and private, foreign business companies continue arguing that their continued exploitation of the natural resources is beneficial to subjugated, colonial peoples. The economic control inherent to neocolonialism is akin to the classical, European colonialism practiced from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
The contention is that governments have aimed to control other nations through indirect means. In lieu of direct military-political control, neocolonialist powers employ economic, financial, and trade policies to dominate less powerful countries. Those who subscribe to the concept maintain this amounts to a de facto control over targeted nations (see Immanuel Wallerstein's World Systems Theory).
Both previous colonizing states and other powerful economic states maintain a continuing presence in the economies of former colonies, especially where it concerns raw materials. After a hastened decolonization process of the Belgian Congo, Belgium continued to control, through The Société Générale de Belgique, roughly 70% of the Congolese economy following the decolonization process. The most contested part was in the province of Katanga where the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, part of the Société, had control over the mineral and resource rich province. After a failed attempt to nationalize the mining industry in the 1960s, it was reopened to foreign investment.
Critics of neocolonialism portray the choice to grant or to refuse granting loans (particularly those financing otherwise unpayable Third World debt), especially by international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank (WB), as a decisive form of control. They argue that in order to qualify for these loans, and other forms of economic aid, weaker nations are forced to take certain steps favorable to the financial interests of the IMF and World Bank but detrimental to their own economies. These structural adjustments have the effect of increasing rather than alleviating poverty within the nation.
Some critics emphasize that neocolonialism allows certain cartels of states, such as the World Bank, to control and exploit usually lesser developed countries (LDCs) by fostering debt. In effect, third world governments give concessions and monopolies to foreign corporations in return for consolidation of power and monetary bribes. In most cases, much of the money loaned to these LDCs is returned to the favored foreign corporations. Thus, these foreign loans are in effect subsidies to corporations of the loaning state's. This collusion is sometimes referred to as the corporatocracy. Organizations accused of participating in neo-imperialism include the World Bank, World Trade Organization and Group of Eight, and the World Economic Forum. Various "first world" states, notably the United States, are said to be involved, as described in Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins.
Critics of neocolonialism also attempt to demonstrate that investment by multinational corporations enriches few in underdeveloped countries, and causes humanitarian, and environmental and ecological devastation to the populations which inhabit the neocolonies. This, it is argued, results in unsustainable development and perpetual underdevelopment; a dependency which cultivates those countries as reservoirs of cheap labor and raw materials, while restricting their access to advanced production techniques to develop their own economies.
By contrast, proponents of neocolonialism argue that, while the First World does profit from cheap labor and raw materials in underdeveloped nations, ultimately, it does serve as a positive modernizing force for development in the Third World.
Origins in Decolonization
The term neocolonialism first saw widespread use, particularly in reference to Africa, soon after the process of decolonization which followed a struggle by many national independence movements in the colonies following World War II. Upon gaining independence, some national leaders and opposition groups argued that their countries were being subjected to a new form of colonialism, waged by the former colonial powers and other developed nations. Kwame Nkrumah, who in 1957 became leader of newly independent Ghana, expounded this idea in his Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, in 1965. In Africa, the French played a prominent role in charges of conducting a neocolonialist policy, and that French troops in Africa were (and it is argued, still are) often involved in coup d'états resulting in a regime acting in the interests of France but against its country's own interests.
Denunciations of neocolonialism also became popular with some national independence movements while they were still waging anti-colonial armed struggle. During the 1970s, in the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola for example, the rhetoric espoused by the Marxist movements FRELIMO and MPLA, which were to eventually assume power upon those nations' independence, rejected both traditional colonialism and neocolonialism.
Anti-neocolonialists' Allegations Against the IMF
Those who argue that neocolonialism historically supplanted or supplemented colonialism, point to the fact that Africa today pays more money every year in debt service payments to the IMF and World Bank than it receives in loans from them, thereby often depriving the inhabitants of those countries from actual necessities. This dependency, they maintain, allows the IMF and World Bank to impose Structural Adjustment Plans upon these nations. Adjustments largely consisting of privatization programs which they say result in deteriorating health, education, an inability to develop infrastructure, and in general, lower living standards.
They also point to recent statements made by United Nations Secretary-General's Special Economic Adviser, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, who heatedly demanded that the entire African debt (approximately $200 billion) be forgiven outright and recommended that African nations simply stop paying if the World Bank and IMF do not reciprocate:
- The time has come to end this charade. The debts are unaffordable. If they won't cancel the debts I would suggest obstruction; you do it yourselves. Africa should say: 'thank you very much but we need this money to meet the needs of children who are dying right now so we will put the debt servicing payments into urgent social investment in health, education, drinking water, control of AIDS and other needs.' (Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Economic Advisor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan).
Critics of the IMF have conducted studies as to the effects of its policy which demands currency devaluations. They pose the argument that the IMF requires these devaluations as a condition for refinancing loans, while simultaneously insisting that the loan be repaid in dollars or other First World currencies against which the underdeveloped country's currency had been devalued. This, they say, increases the respective debt by the same percentage of the currency being devalued, therefore amounting to a scheme for keeping Third World nations in perpetual indebtedness, impoverishment and neocolonial dependence.
The term paternalistic neocolonialism involves the belief held by a neo-colonial power that their colonial subjects benefit from their occupation. This viewpoint has been described as both supremacist and racist. Critics have stated that the US "liberation" of the Iraqi people is form of paternalistic neocolonialism because the US claims that it has liberated the Iraqis from the Saddam Hussein. The oppression of the revolutionary Shiite elements in Iraq under Saddam Hussein has been replaced by the oppression of the Sunni by the current Shiite-led government. This war has cost the lives of 1 million Iraqis and has devastated Iraq socially and economically. Similarly, the United Kingdom viewed itself as a "civilizing force" bringing "progress" and modernization to its colonies, a mindset that was seen again following British intervention in Sierra Leone. .
Other approaches to the concept of neocolonialism
Although the concept of neocolonialism was developed by Marxists and is generally employed by the political Left, the rhetoric of neocolonialism is now also employed by some promoters of conspiracy theories, specifically one world government, regardless of political views. One variant of the neocolonialist view suggests the existence of cultural colonialism, the alleged desire of wealthy nations to control other nations' values and perceptions through cultural means, such as media, language, education and religion, purportedly ultimately for economic reasons.