The death of Queen Elizabeth II of England has exposed a generational gap between African leaders and the bourgeoning African youth who are keen on redefining the terms of interaction between the continent and former colonial powers in particular and the West in general. Indeed, while the queen’s death has thrown African leaders into mourning, it has also rekindled the memories of the root of the current state of Africa’s development. As official condolence messages poured in torrents from leaders across the continent, African academics and youth-dominated political organisations have stirred a global debate on the role of the British imperial overlordship in torpedoing the continent’s development trajectory. The negative implications of this generational gap on the future relationships between Africa and the West cannot be simply dismissed.
On the one hand, African leaders were very prompt and courteous in paying tribute to the British monarch. The President of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, sent the ‘deepest condolences’ of the Union to the Royal Family, the people and government of the United Kingdom and the member-states of the Commonwealth. While Ghana, Nigeria and several other member-states of the Commonwealth flew their flags at half-mast for seven days, the government of Kenya went a step further to declare a three-day national mourning period in honour of the late queen. Those who defend the decision of African leaders to mourn argue that the late queen is not personally responsible for perpetrating and perpetuating all the ugly and dark historical and contemporary developments in Africa. And beyond matters of diplomatic courtesy, the disposition of African political leaders to the late monarch is based on the fact that many of them are still tied to the apron-string of the British government through heavy indebtedness, and the so-called foreign aid and official development assistance.
On the other hand, prominent young African academics, social critics, politicians and organisations that are in touch with the feelings of young Africans have shown their disinclination to express any adulation for the late queen, which has helped in stirring a global debate on the role of British imperialism in Africa’s development. They are opposed to rewriting Africa’s history to suit a certain Euro-American agenda and have launched virulent criticisms of the late monarch due to the widespread perception that she was the symbol of the British colonial empire. In one of her responses to her now-deleted tweet, Uju Anya, a Nigerian-born Professor of Applied Linguistics at Carnegie Mellon University, stated that: ‘if anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch who supervised a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family and the consequences of which those alive today are still trying to overcome, you can keep wishing upon a star’. By the same token, a statement from the Economic Freedom Fighters, a South African pan-Africanist political party, observes that the late queen reigned ‘for 70 years as a head of an institution built up, sustained [by] and living off a brutal legacy of dehumanisation of millions of people across the world’. Further, Omoyele Sowore, a Nigerian politician and the 2023 presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, flayed the Nigerian Government for directing that flag be flown at half-mast for Queen Elizabeth II. This begs the question: what do these criticisms portend for Africa’s future relations with Europe?
The atrocities of the British imperial rule across the world have been well-documented. The memories of these historical atrocities in Africa are central to the grievances being expressed by the younger generation of African scholars and organisations. These atrocities range from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the so-called legitimate trade during colonial rule, plundering of the Cape Colony (by Cecil John Rhodes who laid the foundation of what later became a white minority racial supremacist apartheid regime in Southern Africa), to the suppression of the Mau-Mau resistance movement in Kenya, among others. The common objective of the British imperial domination of Africa was the pillaging of economic resources of Anglophone African territories for the benefit of the British authorities.
In the immediate post-independence Nigeria, the Biafra War (1967-1970) was prosecuted by the Nigerian state with the total support of the British government because of the latter’s economic interest in Nigeria’s petro-resources. Needless to say, the war led to the death of about three million people most of whom died as a result of the use of starvation as an instrument of warfare. As posited by Colin Campbell, a number of great and small nations, including Britain and the United States, worked to prevent supplies of food and medicine from reaching the starving children of the short-lived separatist Republic of Biafra. One cannot exhaust the list of atrocities perpetrated by the British Empire in one article. Suffice it to say that the gap between African leaders and the younger generation in terms of reactions to the queen’s passing suggests that if there is no significant change in the behaviour of former colonial powers – and the West in general – towards Africa, then they cannot expect future generations of African leaders who will emerge from this youth population to be as accommodating as today’s leaders.
The usual Eurocentric gaslighting of the effects of imperial suzerainties in post-colonial Africa has inflicted more psychological wounds on the present generation of Africans who are yet to recover from the long-lasting effects of the historical contact between Europe and Africa. Moreover, this gaslighting suggests that the West in general and the former colonial powers in particular are not ready to draw lessons from these developments and change their supremacist, racist and contemptuous attitudes towards Africa(ns). This was evident last July when President Emmanuel Macron dismissed the virulent and widespread anti-France sentiments in West Africa, particularly in Mali, as being the result of Russia’s propaganda rather than a strong desire from younger generations to free their countries from France’s tight grip on critical economic sectors.
These young Africans also view France and Britain as responsible for the security disaster in North Africa and the Sahel region following the ill-advised intervention in Libya that was launched under the pretext of protecting Libyan civilians. As shown by a bipartisan investigative report of the British House of Commons’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, the British government did not carry out accurate intelligence and proper analysis of the nature of the 2011 rebellion in Libya. The report found that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included significant Islamist elements, while the avowed limited intervention to protect civilians was allowed to drift into an opportunistic campaign for regime change. Hence, beyond the subterfuge of protecting civilians, the 2011 NATO-led military campaign in Libya resulted in political and economic turmoil, inter-ethnic and inter-militia warfare, humanitarian crises, widespread human rights abuses, and the growth of the Islamic State terrorist operations in North Africa and the Sahel due to the availability of illicit arms that streamed out of Libya to these regions. Overall, the French and British-supported NATO forces accounted for the transformation of Libya from a country with the highest standard of living in Africa into a war-torn fragile state.
More than 60 years after the direct colonial rule in most African states, are Africans justified in their opposition to rewriting the history of their over 500 years of imperial exploitation? Yes! The endogenous factors accounting for post-colonial Africa’s development challenges are embedded in the external and historical manipulation of internal African affairs. Hence, an interdependent relationship based on mutual respect for the sovereign integrity of nation-states should be the guiding principle for organising the relationship between African and Western countries in the international system. The gaslighting of the effects of European imperialism in Africa will only project the Western powers as unrepentant overlords with utter disregard and contempt for the sovereignty of African states, which, to their dismay, could accelerate the West’s loss of influence on the continent. As things stand, Western powers may either reckon with historical facts and change their attitudes or keep blaming China and Russia’s propaganda for pointing to the obvious, in which case they stand to lose.