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Economic & Environmental Justice For Africa

By Farouk Martins Aresa
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Africans lost their wealth while pursuing riches. You can be wealthy without necessarily being rich as long as you have enough to feed your family or country without handouts and outside income to survive. Riches means more income above and beyond necessities. You can still be wealthy beyond basic need for food, shelter and sex as long as you are contented with your way of life. Agriculture no matter how great a country, still remains the most important survival skill on earth. Always used as weapon by rich countries.

Gold and silver that Africa has in abundance in reserve, were considered secure saving; hoarded and displayed as ornaments without the need to sell. They were transferred from one generation to the next as a symbol of family wealth. We noticed this culture of wealth generally in world history and in African history particularly. This is why Mansa Kaka Musa and Queen of Sheba remain the richest man and woman of all times.

However, our definition of wealth has changed into riches beyond our means when they replaced trade by barter with “hard” international currencies and we accepted. Abandonment of the gold standard created one of the casualties by manipulations. It only worked very well for the continued domineering of the weak by the powerful, they lord over the serfs, the farm owners over the workers and finally the subtle threat of war over weaker countries.

If you think money can make you wealthy or even rich, think about all the money Nigeria made from oil and what their rich managers did with it. Today, if there is one point Nigerians agree on; it is that the oil money was a curse on the Country! When we take all the years it has taken us buying and displaying what we need and all we do not need, our wants became “feferities” or show-off as riches. We wasted years, resources and the income.

Other African countries must learn from Nigeria. One of the leaders claimed in the early seventies that money was not the problem but how to spend it. Another one of the ministers in the 80s said: Americans pick food from the garbage but only crazy Nigerians would do that. Today there are children and families living on environmental dumps.

While wealthy Africans were looking for western riches, they became indentured to Western and Asian countries. After Independence in the 50s and 60s, Africa has nothing to show for its wealth in natural resources but multiple debts sinking Africa further into odious loans from the Europeans, Americans and now Chinese. If you are wondering how we got here, think about the work of Cesar Chavez in North America or better still Kwame Nkrumah on Neo-colonization.

Those of us that remember Cesar Chavez, a lawyer that worked with poor migrants in American farms, know that by the time these workers paid for their food and lodging, they had nothing left from their salaries. Many of them even owed and their wives and kids indentured. The same is true today between African and rich countries. The tough work Africans shun at home, they do abroad. If Africans and South Americans provide slave labor in Europe and Americas, we could provide paid labor in our countries.

Africa has the most arable land of all the continents. American corporations like Monsanto, Europeans and now Chinese are buying land for agribusiness. The same land Africans refused to till at home are been sold in Zimbabwe dollars (after devaluation and Structural Adjustment). The crops that are grown in Africa are dictated and sold worldwide to the highest bidders while we import their food. Yet Africa cannot feed itself.

If you want to dispossess a people, a country or a continent; replace their basic needs and taste, exchange these with exotic ones like food, automobiles and plastics. Turn foreign food into their immediate needs: replace cassava or corn bread with wheat bread. The best way to subdue a people or a country is to make them starve on their acquired tastes and food.

It will generate internal revolts against their rulers, relent to the terms and conditions of their foreign masters as in Devaluation, Structural Adjustment and more. Countries without ways of providing local food for themselves have fallen, not only because of climate change that we blame most: others have found methods of growing food in the most inhospitable environment employing African or poor slave labor by old crude revitalized technology.

We have to bring up a conversation between Mwalimu Nyerere and President Reagan on his visit to the White House. President Reagan made the point that if you give a man fish, you have to do it every day. But if you teach a man how to fish, he will feed forever. Mwalimu answered him kindly. If a man bought a tractor with a ton of cocoa in 1950 and bought that tractor with two ton of cocoa in 1960; only to buy the same tractor in 1970 with three tons of cocoa! Haba!

Another way of making the same point is when foreigners fish in the waters of the West Indies or Africa. Canned fish sold back to you for ten times of what they bought the same fish. Or if you sell them beans and they canned it with some sugar water and label them as baked beans. The same is true for corned beef most of which were mostly imported until recently. Even then, we still import used, stale and expired goods killing our local agribusiness.

How can we be trained in foreign culture and not desire foreign products? The other side of the discussion is that if African countries have to grow and prosper, they do not have to reinvent the wheel. We need foreign technologies to develop. We must seek and pay for them, no matter the cost until we develop our own. This happen to be a fair point but we have been importing pins, pencils and machineries since Independence!

This is not history. It is still going on right now. Ask an average African what he considers to be wealth or riches, most of them are exotic products that are neither made nor manufactured in his community. Someone put it bluntly from what you step on, sleep on, eat, drink in your house to what you wear and ride to work are probably mostly foreign products.

When we examine our educational system, at some point we come to realize how heavily the system is skewed against our food and culture. Growing up in high schools, we were not allowed to speak our languages (vernacular) and some of us took pride in not learning local languages. This is not history because right now, rich parent and their children do not speak their local language to one another. It is either French, English or Portuguese in this 20s.

If we were crawling with our local civilization, we would be ahead and better off by now.