Addressing Neocolonial Legacy

Colonialism is a straightforward process where a much powerful country dominates the other weaker nation and eventually controlling their entire administration. Throughout the rich history of the earth, nearly all existing countries that we know today has experienced the wrath of colonialism. In 1960 however, the United Nations formulated the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, marking a significant leap to end colonialism which later lead to the establishment of a specific UN committee 2 years later named SPECPOL to monitor the implementation of the declaration. The year 1990 sees a more aggressive approach in ending colonization by the UN through the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonization which later spurred to two more which is in 2001 and 2011. As of today, there are 17 Non-Self Governing Territories that are still in the list of Non-Self Governing Territories to indicate the process of decolonization is still incomplete.

However, a new problem or issue emerges in this era of globalization. A problem that is quite similar to colonialism but different in a few aspects, which is called neocolonialism. Coined by the late former President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, neocolonialism is where a powerful nation expands its powers indirectly or impliedly. As can also be referred in the Longmans Contemporary English Dictionary, neocolonialism is defined as “when a powerful country uses its economic and political influence to control another country’’. The primary issue of this matter is how it negatively effects the poor nations as they are being economically and politically exploited by wealthier nations for their own benefits. In addition, the absence of written laws and treaties in regards this matter worsens the situation for the poorer nations.

The emergence of neocolonialism occurs due to a few factors but mainly two, which is economic gains and political influence. Former colonizers will eventually cut off administrative intervention entirely with its colonies but some find it hard to let go. The main example being France with its former African colonies in  West African territories being Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Ivory Coast, Benin and Guinea. In 1960, these territories were granted independence by the French government but in later years it seen to prove otherwise. Francafrique or “France in Africa’’ is the term used to determine undying relations between France and West Africa. Former French president Charles De Gaulle once stated in order to maintain French geopolitical long-term needs, they needed to preserve their political interest and trade agreements with their former French Empire. In short, a system of cooperation and compliance was necessary to ensure France’s iron grip on Africa.

As reported by an article published by NewsAfrican, the head of states of Africa, after independence, were elected by two job interviews with the first being with Jacques Foccart whom is De Gaulle’s advisor in African matters and later with De Gaulle himself. It can clearly be seen that the French expand its political influence to ensure control over its colonies for further trade benefits. A perverted sovereignty one would say, where an independent country does not have any full autonomy in administering his country, but only act as a mere representative puppet. Rewind back a few years before we see the epic removal of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo after the 2010 elections. The mainstream media portrayed that the President was removed because he lost the elections, however there is a bigger story behind it. Keen observes or researchers affirmed that the removal occurred due to a long beef between Gbagbo and France. Gbagbo here is a fervent nationalists, alongside his determined followers, hated the concept of neocolonial France and wanted to break free from the iron grip. If this happened, it may eventually cause a chain reaction where other former African colonies to also cut ties with France. In conclusion, the French government collaborated with Ouatarra, to topple Gbagbo of his presidency and eventually alleging Gbagbo for war crimes. Neocolonialism is like a puppeteer which represents the colonizer that pulls the strings to control the puppet, which is the former colony.

Another example of neocolonialism is non-other than the United States of America. This superpower have intervened in the politics and administration of a few poor countries to ensure geopolitical goals. The US is not a newcomer when it comes to neocolonialism given the fact they used to be colonizers which similar to the French, wants to attain control to ensure beneficiaries for themselves. In the year 1953, the United States alongside non-identical twin brother the United Kingdom orchestrated a coup de tat in Iran to overthrow democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh and replace him with the monarchial rule of Reza Pahlavi.

The coup de tat happened when the former PM Mosaddegh decided to nationalize Iran’s oil industry and expel foreign involvement. The United States acknowledges the oil wealth that Iran possess and decides to overthrow the government to allow control over the oil industry alongside the United Kingdom. The United States likes using dictators as their puppets because they know dictators have their own absolute discretionary powers without having to rely on a proper check and balance. Therefore, the dictators do not have to be accountable for their citizens but by orders of the States. In 1973, the United States intervened with the politics in South America when they supported and recognized the military junta to overthrow Chilean Socialist President Salvador Allende when he had an economic warfare with the Nixon administration. This is crystal clear historical evidence that the United States pulls the strings to ensure control over world politics and economics and to ensure it adheres to the their own vendettas.

Another case study is shown by economic dominance by the powerful Chinese government. As reported by International Monetary Fund, China is the second largest economy in the world and that does not stop them there to further expand their economic philosophies. The vast wealth that China possess allows them to take advantage of less developed nations that are in dire need of development. China will give loans to these countries for a transformative infrastructural projects but with high interest rates and short repayment method. As predicted, these poor countries could not afford to compensate their loans within the specified time limit which led to a sovereign default, and the default led to China obtaining the land through a long lease. Economists called it the Debt-trap Diplomacy and it has caused several poor countries to suffer debt burden which will eventually lead to territorial dominance. As can be referred by a study conducted by the International Monetary Fund from 2013 to 2016, China’s contribution to public debt indebted by poor countries doubled from 6.2% to 11.6%. Majority of these poor indebted countries comes from the African region. In Zambia, their total debt stock was $8.7 billion of which $6.4 billion comes from the Chinese lenders. Majority of the money is utilized for economic development and projects. In Congo, their debt with China amounts up to a staggering $7.1 billion and some say they might be more and in Djibouti a total of 77% of their total debt comes from China-based investors.

The international community is starting to showcase concerns in regards the rising influence these superpower countries have over international markets. Post World War II, majority of countries crave for the need of globalization in order to achieve economic and political success. However, US economist and academician Richard Branson in his book The Great Convergence stated that the benefits from globalization is concentrated in six countries. The World  Economic Forum have held a forum to further discuss in this issue of globalization that they used to champion for in the past as it is clear that the unfairness of distribution of wealth is taking place. The dominance shown by these wealthy nations have hindered multiple poor countries to enjoy their own resources in their capacity and also effected developing countries as they need to pay extremely high prices decided by these much richer nations despite the fact it is not produced by them. This means that the global trade is decided by national objectives of these powerful countries and not the world. For example, look how the trade war between the United States of America and China have a detrimental effect on global trade since they own or have deciding power towards majority of the resources due to the fact of Neocolonialism.

As mentioned earlier that there is no particular written law that exists to curb matters regarding neocolonialism, the relevant authority that can be referred upon is non-other than the United Nations Charter. The countries involved in this matter are all members of the United Nations, hence they need to abide by its principals. Article 2 specifically stated on the principle of sovereign equality amongst all members. Since neocolonialism basically deters national sovereignty, member states need to reconsider their actions by revising the UN Charter. The United Nations as the main international mediator can help resolve the issue of neocolonialism by adopting the International Decade for Eradication of Colonization by considering the matters of neocolonialism. The resolution throughout its time have seen great development in ending colonial control over territories. Hence, the United Nations can imitate similar actions as of the aforementioned resolution and see the results from there. If this were to be adopted and in addition revising Article 1 and 2 of the UN Charter. The problem of neocolonialism will potentially be a problem in the past.

Another example on what the international bodies can do is either forming economic blocs or strengthen their current regional blocs. There are multiple regional organizations that exists based on their respective geography such as the African Union, Arab Union, ASEAN, Non-Align Movement and many more. These establishments have similar economic interests and objectives due to main fact that they are created within their sphere of location which gives a reason why they understand each other more in terms of trade and culture. Therefore, by strengthening their relationships and economic ties with one another, they can potentially reduce the dependent on these wealthy nations and instead become interdependent with one another. Internal trade or regional trade can collectively benefit all existing states within the region as it the tariffs are much cheaper and more lucrative. For example, in ASEAN there is the ASEAN Free Trade Area which is an initiative to promote economic growth between neighboring countries. To conclude, reliance on neighboring countries by forming economic blocs are an effective solution to eradicate domination and exploitation by powerful countries.


Daniel Qayyim bin Hasdi

Setiausaha International Law Club, Fakulti Undang-Undang, UiTM Shah Alam

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