The Drought in the Context of Colonialism and Economic Dependence

By Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

AFRICA has a history of colonialism, political independence and economic dependence. At the turn of 1884/5, the continent was sliced into different parts to be shared primarily by French, British, Portuguese and German colonisers. It was only Ethiopia and Liberia that were never colonised.

In the process under colonial domination, African countries put up resistance for their independence. Ghana became the first African country to attain independence in 1957 while the majority of countries attained their independence throughout the 60s without, or with less bloodshed.

While some colonisers relinquished power for national independence to some countries during that period, Portugal continued with its colonial power on the continent. It was also at that time when the continent witnessed the emergence of new inhuman policies in a form of apartheid by the South African regime in Namibia and South Africa, respectively, as well as the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in Zimbabwe.

The people of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde stepped up their war against the Portuguese. The war of liberation struggle in those countries ended in 1975 after a successful coup d’état in Portugal. However, the war intensified against apartheid and UDI regimes.

Finally, Zimbabwe got her independence in 1980 followed by Namibia in 1990 and democratisation of South Africa in 1994. That concluded the chapter of foreign colonialism on the continent, not including Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, which is an ongoing case.

The end of apartheid and UDI regimes brought about political independence in Africa, which paved the way to talk of economic independence, although it is moving at snail speed decades after political independence.

Remarkably, the continent is still heavily economically dependent on the former colonial masters. That means most African countries are still on the umbilical-cords of their former colonial masters. Hypothetically, most African leaders continue to blame everything on former colonisers, even after decades of political independence, as a way of hiding behind their political leadership weaknesses.

Living on an umbilical-cord does not mean interdependence. On the contrary, it means dependence syndrome. It is high time that Africa make steady progress with regard to economic independence and interdependence.

As stated earlier, Ethiopia and Liberia were never colonised. Yet they are not economically on par with the rest of developed countries. Ironically, those countries are lagging behind like all other African countries.

To be able to make my point on the dependence syndrome, I shall try to centre this discussion on Namibia, which has been independent now for close to 30 years. Yet Namibia is on the South African umbilical-cord of the former colonial master, even though now democratised.

It is a prima facie (accepted as correct until proved otherwise) that a child while in the mother’s womb cannot produce and stockpile food. Nature made it possible to get feeding through the umbilical-cord.

But by implication, if that umbilical-cord is cut the embryo would starve to death immediately. The same applies to a country that is economically dependent on another country. The moment a powerful country cuts its economic ties, the dependent country will suffocate to death.

Countries that are surviving on umbilical-cords and reluctant to produce sufficient food for their people, hoping that other countries will always keep the line of supply open to ensure enough food on their tables, are doing so at own national peril.

In the case of Namibia, this country is prone to droughts and floods which cause severe food shortages. Unavoidably, as droughts and floods can severely affect Namibia, so are other countries that can be regarded as our mainstay supplier for our livelihood.

Particularly, should South Africa suffer severely from that phenomenon, there is no doubt that government shall pay first attention to its people. And so Namibia will be secondary and get leftover if there is something left in store for a foreign market.

Based on historic facts, the entire upper-northern regions of this country are known for their people having been depended on and survived by crop production every year. Interesting to know, even though they have been dependent and survived on yearly crop production, their production has been almost hand-to-mouth to the extent that if it has not rained for a particular year, those people would inevitably need food assistance.

It is on record this year, like all other regions in the country, those northern regions are equally hard hit by unprecedented drought, as some parts did not plough for there was no rain.           

It is best to understand the pitfalls of economic dependence and the importance of economic independence and interdependence. Economic dependence is a pathetic situation where the dependent entity is deprived of bargaining power.

Economic independence is a powerful tool that strengthens a nation’s economic bargaining power. Economic interdependence is when nations have mutual economic status as bargaining powers. In many instances, Namibia is in a disadvantageous position, having been deprived of bargaining power as she is economically dependent on South African and the rest of the world.

Further, local economic production gives a nation the competitive capacity for bargaining. Local production is normally measured by how much you can avail to the international market and how much you can stockpile for local consumption in the event should there be a crisis that can threaten national livelihood.

A powerful nation must be highly industrialised and self-sufficient and self-reliant in food supply. A nation that is self-sufficient and self-reliant must always have a determined stock level that is able to sustain itself for a longer period should crisis strike.

A nation that depends on handouts and that lives hand-to-mouth shall be vulnerable to economic manipulation and control by powerful nations.

It is my view that, countries that are self-sufficient and self-reliant are those that have set realistic and measurable grand strategies, particularly by making prudent use of land. History has taught us that land is a means of production, as land can be endowed with mineral resources.

Similarly, land is a means to produce food and breed livestock. There are fundamental and hard realities: most of our mineral resources leave the continent in raw form and are processed in other countries where they create jobs for those people and are sent back to us to buy at high prices.

With specific reference to Namibia, this country is losing out because our livestock leaves to South Africa on the hoof to their feedlots from where they are sold at good prices after being well fed.

Namibia as a country needs to strategically, aggressively and prudently explore the usage of land with regard to mineral resources and agricultural potentialities if we are to come closer to economic independence and interdependence.

From the foregoing, for the government to prevent people starving to death this year, it needs to go on the offensive and work very hard to secure enough food. But the most critical question we must ponder on as we go is why during the year of drought is also the same year that this nation is faced with serious food shortages?

Suffice to say, this nation is on an umbilical-cord as it does not have the capacity to stockpile and secure the needed reserves designed for long term strategies.

* Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is a Former Chief of the Defence Force, a holder of Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies, HOD and senior lecturer at IUM. These are the author’s own reflections and views.