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HOW AFRICA DEVELOPED EUROPE AND AMERICA"""""""

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New African , Oct 2005 by Boateng, Osei 
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By cancelling Africa's debts, the G8 countries are supposed to be doing Africa a favour in helping to develop the continent. While this is partly true, the other half of the truthhas not been told... and it is that without Africa's wealth and resources (both human and material), development in Europe and America would not be as we know it today. This month, as Africans in Britain celebrate Black History Month, we take an indepth look at how Africa developed Europe and the Americas. This report is by Osei Boateng. 

You want to cast your eyes back to the end of August 2005. Hurricane Katrina is closing in on the southern states of America - Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Katrina finally passes and leaves utter mayhem in her wake. Since then, everybody's TV screens have been filled with gripping images of Katrina's refugees, wading through streets turned into lakes or shouting "we need help" from rooftops of houses almost submerged by the deluge. 

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, forever being accused by his critics of opportunism, brought some perspective to bear on the whole disaster. "The thirsty, bloody and unsanitary scenes at the New Orleans Convention Centre [where thousands of Katrina's victims took refuge] resembled a slave ship," he said. And he was dead on. Watching the refugees, many people could not believe that the images were not coming from Africa. As one CNN news anchor graphically put it: "And they are so black ... and so poor." Howard Dean, who was defeated in last year's Democratic presidential primaries, added his own bit: "We must come to terms with the ugly truth that skin colour, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not." 

Two-thirds of the population of New Orleans is (or is it was?) African-American, and 25% of them lived in poverty. In the worst hit area of the city, the Lower Ninth Ward which was submerged under the floodwaters, more than 98% of the residents were African-American. And how did they end up there in such huge numbers? The answer, as we shall soon see, illustrates graphically the impact Africa has had on the development of Europe and the Americas. 

The African people so dominant in America's southern states did not go there as tourists. Their ancestors were dragged screaming and wailing into the ships that took them there as slaves. They were fullblooded Africans whose sweat, tears and unpaid labour built the wealth of the country and empire we now called the United States of America. 

On 15 August this year, British TV's Channel 4 broadcast a documentary titled The Empire Pays Back. Put together by Robert Beckford, the film estimated Britain's debt to Africans (both on the continent and in the diaspora) to be in the trillions of pounds. But is it only Britain that owes a debt to Africa and Africans? Every Western European nation (including the USA) which engaged in and benefited from slavery and the subsequent scramble for the territories and resources of Africa, owes the continent and its people zillions of pounds - a debt so huge that it frightens the wits out of even the bravest of Western politicians. 

"For without Africa and its Caribbean plantation extensions," as Prof Richard Drayton, who teaches extra-European history at Cambridge University (UK), wrote in The Guardian following Beckford's documentary, "the modern world as we know it would not exist". One crucial fact often overlooked in die poverty and development debate is that, of all the continents in the world, Europe is the most resourceless. There was some coal, yes; but not much else. Therefore, almost everything that Europe needed (and still needs) to develop and survive, had to (or must) come from abroad. It explains, in a somewhat macabre manner, the brutality of, and genocides committed by, the Europeans who went out into the world to acquire land, resources and wealth which were in turn shipped back to develop Europe, and by extension the USA. 

And much of this wealth came from Africa or was created by Africans. As Prof Ali Mazrui once remarked: "The labour of Africa's sons and daughters was what the West needed for its industrial takeoff. The slave ship helped to export millions of Africans to the Americas to help in the agrarian revolution in the Americas and the industrial revolution in Europe simultaneously." 

Prof Drayton put it even more colourfully in his Guardian article: "Profits from slave trading and from sugar, coffee, cotton and tobacco are only a small part of the story. What mattered was how the pull and push from these industries transformed Western Europe's economies. English banking, insurance, shipbuilding, wool and cotton manufacture, copper and iron smelting, and the cities of Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow multiplied in response to the direct and indirect stimulus of the slave plantations." 

In 1745, Malachy Postlethwayt, the political economist, put it in even more stark terms: "British trade is a magnificent superstructure of American commerce and naval power on an African foundation. "Ali Mazrui expanded it this way: "After African slaves, Africa's minerals became the next major contributor not only to Western economies but also to Western technology. Uranium from the Belgian Congo was part of the original Manhattan project which produced the first atomic bombs. Other minerals, like cobalt, became indispensable for jet engines. There were times when Africa had over 90% of the world's known reserves of cobalt, 80% of the global reserves of chrome, and a hefty share of platinum and industrial diamonds. Africa's impact on the West's technological history in this phase was heavily based on Africa's industrial minerals. The extractive imperative made Africa's minerals fuel the world economy. Africa's minerals enriched other economies rather than Africa's own."

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