By Tabia Princewil
Everything happening in the world right now pinpoints the many failures of capitalism. The white underclass, betrayed by an economic system which promised a trickle-down effect if trade managers were allowed to operate without much challenge to conglomerates’ bottom line, opted for a world of barriers and suspicion, one which rejects the “other”, the migrant and “job thief”.
Capitalism and its legacies, imperialism, colonialism and poverty largely went unchallenged by mainstream thinkers up until fairly recently. The global hierarchy it created institutionalised inequality and the commonly held assumption that the issue of poverty (as we tend to believe in the developing world) is natural and despite humanity’s best intentions, impossible to solve. As a result, in Africa, we who tend to be the custodians of the West’s worst ideas and values, view inequality with fatalism and lethargy. We pretend to subscribe to the idea of eradicating poverty but tackle the issue with little enthusiasm.
It is ironic that the man the American underclass voted in to right the wrongs of the “forgotten people” they believe themselves to be, is himself a product of the oppressive economic system which denies them universal healthcare coverage and minimum wage under the guise of “unsustainability” therefore refusing to tax wealth (or inheritance) forgetting that wealth is created, in the first place, using public structures and amenities which should be replenished for the common good. Consequently, the rich, as demonstrated by the “occupy wall street movement” a few years ago, hardly pay their fair share of taxes and the burden is then shouldered, ironically, by the already struggling middle-class, also troubled by the extreme privatisation of education, health and housing to a perhaps unhealthy level. In this scenario, white anger is channelled and directed by unscrupulous politicians towards ethnic and religious minorities who are accused of receiving “handouts” when the majority has to pay its way through life
. In this context, the “Muslim ban” (which predicates that citizens from 7 majority Muslim countries cannot travel to the US) enacted by the Trump administration can be seen as a distraction to hide the “wheeling and dealing” that has characterised Western foreign policy for decades.
Why should Nigerians care you might ask? Because the West due to its imperialist history and the structures which arbitrarily determine who shall win or lose in the world, has always tinkered with the politics of its former colonies, leaving war and disaster in its wake while simultaneously feeding the Arab, African or Asian mind the fiction that it is inherently inferior.
The legacy of colonialism in the African and Arab world in particular, is the creation of rentier, pyramidal economies where inequality isn’t just the norm but the unspoken law. Nigeria for instance was “owned” by the Royal Niger Company, a British company! The entity called Nigeria was once the “Royal Niger Company Territories”, a British state corporation. Future Nigerian governments merely expanded this practice of running government like a private enterprise benefiting only a few. The concept of public services, meritocracy, fair competition or economic opportunity based on talent and innovation has therefore not taken root because we are unknowingly the inheritors of capitalism’s ideology taken to an extreme. The Western world is outraged by injustice when it concerns the fate of people who look like them and then condescending when it comes to the “endlessly corrupt warzones” of Africa and the Middle-East not realising that while our wealth and slavery built their economies, it left us with a legacy, which due to the combined greed of many elites, we cannot let go of.
Now the narrative favoured by the West, particularly the demagogues which capitalism’s cracks and inconsistencies have allowed to sneak through, is one of a “clash of civilisations”, the ridiculous belief, parroted by some bigots here in Nigeria, that some religions are more peaceful than others or that some religions are inherently opposed to rational thought and progress. One of the greatest tragedies of our colonial legacy is our copycat mind-set, our tendency for apish mimicry that encourages us to loathe what Western imperialism despises which is a Black or an Arab with self-respect. It isn’t a popular view. But I’ll encourage those looking to understand what is happening today to go back to the work of James Baldwin, Aimée Césaire and the like who wrote about the “negro experience” in the ‘50s and 60s. I shudder to say it but little has changed. The West was happy to do business with dictators and military leaders who provided a steady supply of oil and other natural resources while ignoring the fact that these African or Arab leaders invested little in their people beyond vanity projects.
Money flowed in many of the countries Trump has banned from entering the US but without universal education or economic progress for those unconnected to government. How could the West have imagined that the poor in the developing world would continue to watch the rest of humanity move forward without “terrorist entrepreneurs” hijacking their sense of abandonment? In the North of Nigeria, the British, historical evidence shows, encouraged traditional rulers to use religion as a tool to tame the masses and to keep them subservient. Terrorists are funded by savvy, corrupt politicians whose cause is nurtured and enabled by poverty and resentment. Terrorism is the ironic grandchild of capitalism, a systematic mistreatment and abandonment of some, all to profit another.
The “Muslim ban” satisfies the most base fears and anger of core America, hardened by unemployment and debilitating drug use, earning it the unflattering “white trash” sobriquet. But this comforting pantomime will have consequences if unchallenged. Terrorism is big business. It is in fact, one where multinationals and foreign governments are secret stake holders. Poverty, like instability, is no accident.
In Nigeria, defence contracting is an industry (in our case an especially corrupt one) which churns out arms contracts (inflated in our case) for weapons that never come, meant to fight terrorists or insurgents (from militants, to Maitatsine to Boko Haram and other challengers of state authority) funded by often known politicians in their bid to win or subvert elections, create crisis and gain or retain power, all with the often-tacit approval and support, of Western powers. Rather than play out the script predicated by the West, that is, the maintenance of a world order where Africa and the Middle-East, two of the richest regions in the globe, remain poor and underdeveloped due to squabbles based on inherited, artificial notions of ethno-religious, factionalist politics, we the people must gain the maturity to insist on change. Poverty is by far the greatest challenge to democracy and security in the modern world, not religion.
The problem is that even in our own society, we are too selfish to care about the lives and livelihood of people we would rather wish into inexistence. The world would be making a grave mistake if it re-allows the legalisation of ethno-religious profiling. Weapons today are deadlier than in 1945. What is it that we want, a third world war?
Before Chimamanda Adichie made feminism trendy for a new generation of Nigerian women, believing in male/female equality was already a worthy cause. One wonders what Emecheta would have to say about a succession of women in the House or Senate who rather than champion the rights of women seem more concerned with fashion and self-promoting intrigues. Despite the wonky structures and ideas we inherited from colonialism, all we needed were leaders worthy of the name to at least achieve what the Arab world has done, some development and international standing.
Nigeria cannot afford another religious crisis: corruption fights back, often using the ethno-religious tool kit. When unchecked, the narrative that “some animals are more equal than others” (George Orwell) easily sells and the propaganda promoted by some politicians and religious leaders that Buhari “doesn’t care about Christians” while lacking in truth is shamefully powerful.