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September 16, 2009

What if Europeans hadn't 'discovered' Africa? (Part 5 of 5 - African power)

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry"There is indeed a strong tendency in African studies to regard Africa as the passive continent par excellence, and insulting to both Africa and women, some have called Africa the female continent in the special sense of passivity-patient and penetrable."

Professor Ali Mazrui, The Africans

How can Africans today free themselves from Western recolonization, led by the U.S. and France? In short, Africans must unite, and the African diaspora in the Americas must help.

Africans must work to create what professor Ali Mazrui calls, “counterpower”: “The power exercised by those who, in absolute terms, are weaker, upon those who are, by absolute measurements, stronger. Counter-power can be used to attain liberation within the weaker countries, but it can also be used to influence change in the stronger countries.”

Mazrui described four counterpowers that Africans must use.

The power of population

Africa is home to 1 billion people, equal to India and close to China. By working together, all Africans—north, central, south, west and east—can undo the successful Western colonial strategy of divide and conquer. Even though divided into 54 countries, they can use their number, as Mazrui suggested, in the United Nations and other international forums. These 1 billion people can also act as one consumer power if united.

The power of natural resources

Africa is rich in natural resources, including oil, and U.S. crude oil imports are coming increasingly from Africa. Africa also supplies most of the West’s manganese, chromium, cobalt, vanadium, platinum, germanium, tungsten, and uranium. Only if Africa establishes protective organizations, the way OPEC works for oil producing countries, will the West pay fair market value for its wealth.

The power of debt

African countries have some $500 billion in debt, and it is increasing. “The idea of using debtor power arises out of the assumption that there is a scale of indebtedness which makes the creditor as vulnerable as the debtor,” says Mazrui. “The threat of default on the part of the debtor becomes counter-power … A trade union of the indebted is called for—a lobby against the Shylocks of the international banking system.”

The power of the military, including nuclear capability

Military power can be used in African peacekeeping, and African nuclear capability can be used to force the West to reconsider the legitimacy of its own nuclear weapons. Africa’s political heavyweights—South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt—say that Africa is not now ready for the United States of Africa, but perhaps for a loose federation of states.

In 2002 the African Union was established as a successor to the Organization of African Unity established in 1963. However, any African effort to coordinate political or economical policies has been sabotaged by the U.S. or France.

Africans are still grappling with border disputes and tribalism produced by Europe’s disruption of the social fabric and political structures over the last 600 years. Europeans, both in Europe and in the Americas, profited tremendously from African slaves, whose contribution to the economic development of the Americas was invaluable.

At the Conference of Berlin in 1885, seven European colonial powers— Belgium, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain— carved up Black Africa for themselves and drew arbitrary political boundaries. Today, most of the continent’s 54 countries are small and have boundaries that reflect this colonial past.

Europeans also practiced a policy of cultural separatism. For example, Egypt is treated, not as a part of Africa, but as part of The Middle East. The Arab-based culture in North Africa is not truly African, so we have Arab Africa and Black Africa.

Somalis, who form one ethnic group, speak one language (Somali), and practice one religion (Islam) were subjected to five different colonial powers: France, Great Britain, Kenya, Italy, and Ethiopia.

Eritrea and Ethiopia share a great deal culturally, but the long Italian colonization of Eritrea was designed to mould a new sense of nationhood among the nine different ethnic groups of Eritrea, many of whom have deep roots in Ethiopia.

The challenges facing Africans today can be overcome through the four counter-power outlined by Mazrui, a great African academic. It is time for Africa to claim its own future.

I would like to end this five part article with two poems by two Africans:

The Sudanese poet Muhammed Al- Fayturi wanted Africa to wake up:

“Africa, Oh Africa,

Wake up from your dark self

Many times has the Earth rotated

And many times have the burning plants rolled

The rebel has built what he destroyed

And the worshipper debased what he once adored

But you are still as you have always been

A rejected skull, a mere skull.”

And Tunisian poet Abu Al-Qasim Al-Shabi, encouraging Africans to stand up against Western imperialism, says:

When people choose to live free,

Fate will follow and gives in,

The dark nights will end,

And all shackles are undone.

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, an Egyptian-born African-Canadian, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Engineering, University of Waterloo. He can be reached at

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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