Europe, slavery, and history’s law of unintended consequences

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday April 08 2015 in Opinion
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Europe, its population about 731 million people living in 48 different countries, is currently the second richest continent – and second smallest – on earth. It has “$32.7 trillion dollars in assets under management”, according to estimates of the European Fund and Asset Management Association (EFAMA). They estimate current global assets at $103.9 trillion.


It means that Europe’s assets are about 33 per cent of global assets. Africa, by comparison, with 1.07 billion people living in 54 different countries, has assets which are less than a third of Europe’s. The second largest continent, Africa is also considered to be the poorest habitable continent. It is projected to reach $29 trillion…by 2050. This means that as a continent, Africa in 35 years would still not have enough wealth to equal Europe’s current figures.


How do both continents compare in terms of resources, mineral and otherwise? Generally, Europe’s main resources – apart from agriculture – would include coal, potash, etc. Citing National Geographic Europe: Natural Resources, “the continent’s top five metals in terms of percentage of total world production are: chromium (10.7 per cent), used in stainless steel, dyes and pigments; silver (8.5 per cent); zinc (7.7 per cent), used as an anti-corrosion agent; lead (7.5 per cent); and titanium (7.1 per cent), used in aircraft, armor plating, naval ships and spacecraft. (Not to be overlooked), Europe also produces 80 per cent of the world’s cork”.


Africa, for its part, has a large quantity of natural resources. These include diamonds, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and, as well, cocoa beans…woods and tropical fruits. Moreover, much of Africa’s natural resources are undiscovered or barely harnessed. According to National Geographic Africa: Resources, the continent “is a major producer of important metals and minerals. Metals exported by African countries include uranium, used to produce nuclear energy; platinum, used in jewelry and industrial applications; nickel, used in stainless steel, magnets, coins and rechargeable batteries; bauxite, a main aluminum ore; and cobalt, used in color pigments”.


Moreover, “Africa’s two most profitable minerals are gold and diamonds. In 2008, Africa produced about 483 tons of gold, or 22 per cent of the world’s total production. Africa dominates the global diamond market. In 2008, the continent produced 55 per cent of the world’s diamonds”.


Also, your cell phone, computer and other communications devices could have come from materials culled not only from Africa’s rare earth minerals, but also from what are called “conflict resources”. Among these minerals most commonly mined are cassiterite (for tin), wolframite (for tungsten), coltan (for tantalum), and gold ore. These are extracted from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Through intermediaries they can be passed for use by multinational electronics companies.


From this abundance of natural resources and minerals, and corrupt governance by too many “leaders”, countries like the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, in addition to such economic powerhouses as China and India, exploit Africa’s natural resources. Thus, most of its wealth leaves for the West and Asia, further impoverishing the continent.


How did a Europe, impoverished in the Middle Ages, with a population base similar to Africa’s (approximately 100 to 110 million), but without a similar resources base, grow to possess in this the 21st century more than 300 per cent of the wealth had by Africa? Two actions, seemingly unlinked, but jointly undertaken by European countries, remain the primary determinants of today’s underdeveloped and impoverished Africa.


There are other causes to be sure, but these, too, are the consequences of the outside influences of others who along with the Europeans contend for the spoils of Africa. In addition to those already mentioned above, are exploiters from the Middle East. All give truth to what scholars like Dr. John Henrik Clarke observed, “No one comes into Africa as friend”. However, Europe, with its “neo-colonialist” strings, still pulls the cords of destabilizing influence in Africa.


In the 17th century, the first of these European strategic designs on Africa was through the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). The second was the Berlin Conference (1815). Occurring 100 years apart, they were, for the former, another attempt to bring peace to Europe; and for the latter, to try to prevent yet another war between Europeans, and over their overseas empires.


The first treaty was a scramble for Africans. The second was a scramble on Africa. The first was to steal Africans away from Africa – under enslavement. The second was to steal Africa away from the Africans – under colonization.


It is ironic that enslaving Africans on the first hand, then colonizing Africa on the second, both had to do with Europeans desperately trying to keep the peace among themselves, as they valiantly competed in the despoiling of Africa. The first gave Europeans an opportunity to avoid escalating their conflicts as they competed, each to snatch the lion’s share of the spoils of empire. A mere century before, they had finally ended their One Hundred Years War (1337-1453). It had been bitter and impoverishing. To avoid possibly falling into yet another catastrophe, this time over African slaves, it was arranged that Spain, now the European heavyweight in the Americas, would annually agree, under an “asiento” – a Spanish trade agreement – on how many Africans would be allowed into Spanish territories and ports, and by whom. Britain, though sworn foe of Spain, but now “master of ocean, and earth and skies” cornered this right to asiento.


Hostilities continued nonetheless. Among these the 19th century Napoleonic Wars (1803 and 1815), ending the same year that the Berlin Conference was convened, again to reduce possible hostilities between European imperial powers battling each other for control of their overseas colonies. Even former European colonies warred for and against the Mother Country. In North America, Canada as Britain’s proxy, and America as Britain’s adversary, were not spared the spectre of war. In addition, America, having defeated Britain’s colonizing efforts, went to war against itself: Its Civil War (1861-65). In this, more Americans would be killed than in many subsequent wars. And over what? Or whom? Whether or not to end the enslavement of Africans.


Interestingly, in these continuous theatres of war, not only did the auxiliaries of French military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, battle unsuccessfully against indomitable Haitian slaves, but Bonaparte, nicknamed “the little Corporal”, also used tactics in Europe that had been utilized for centuries to battle Africans, continental and diasporic: genocide to colonize. A century later, in yet another irony of history, another “Corporal”; this time in Germany, “der Gefreite”, Adolf Hitler, used the same genocidal policies to colonize Europeans.


To conclude, to prevent a return to their 14th and 15th century carnage against each other, European powers convened the 18th century Treaty of Utrecht. And it was all about Africa. Spain, still the largest importer of Africans, would annually sign a trade agreement, or an asiento, between itself and a carrier of slaves. Britain, by now the “master of ocean, and earth, and sky” grabbed the lion’s share of this asiento.


However, not only did this asiento fail to prevent 18th century European wars for empire, but the 19th century Berlin Conference, used by Europeans “to divide the African cake”, also failed to prevent the 20th century World Wars that Europeans would wage against each other. The last was understandably hoped to be, “the war to end all wars”.


Again, what were the issues which generally created conditions for these wars? Overseas empires. And the sparkle among these diamonds was, and remains an Africa, preferably impoverished and genocidal unto itself.


However, with the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, unpredictably at work, a Europe so skilled at erasing and seizing the iconography of others via propaganda props: academies and museums, still overlooks its own ironic history of creating “unintended consequences”. One of these is that the same genocidal policies used to effectively enslave Africans, and colonize Africa, were subsequently returned home to Europe. One was in the 19th century Napoleonic Wars by Bonaparte, and in the 20th century wars by Hitler. As if these wars weren’t enough, on Planet Earth and elsewhere, Europe’s deadliest weapons remain primarily aimed, not at Africa, but at Europe.


To be continued.

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