Why the International System is Not Our Friend
Written by Morenike Adebayo on December 23, 2018
Whether it is by telling incomplete and one-sided narratives of history or keeping African nations out of the global power elite, one thing is clear. The international system is determined to keep this continent down. This is not to say that the international system is maliciously subjugating our part of the world for no reason. Not at all. The truth of the matter is that the global capitalist system benefits from underdevelopment in some parts of the world. It depends on poverty and underdevelopment on one side so that there can be prosperity and development on the other.
One of the best examples of this is in a basic device that we all own. Tantalum is a very rare and valuable mineral used in mobile phones. 80% of the world’s tantalum is found in Africa, mostly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many international corporations have imported the mineral from the Congo for use in Europe, Asia, and the United States. “Stolen” would be a more accurate word to describe the tantalum trade than “imported”, however, as the trade is conducted using rebel groups which encourage violence and infringe upon the basic rights of the state of Congo. According to international as well as Congolese law, the tantalum trade is illegal, as it violates the state of Congo’s right to implement economic development to benefit its citizens.
However, the international system allows the illicit trade of tantalum to continue, as its most powerful states – the United States, Japan, and the European Union – benefit from the exploitation of this part of the world. This is why we cannot continue to expect any meaningful aid from the international system or the powerful countries that dominate it. They are well aware of the fact that their oil companies are destroying the South of our country.
They are also well aware of the fact that thousands on this continent continue to die of easily curable diseases while one of their biggest health challenges is that their people have too much food to eat. In light of all of this, the international system continues to benefit from exploitation and fight for its right to do so. They have found colourful ways to describe the inequalities that they perpetuate. “Third World” versus “First World” or “Global North” versus “Global South”. Somehow the international system is able to acknowledge that there are vast inequalities in wealth and development between some parts of the world and others.
However, somehow, they are blind to the fact that the current distribution in power between within the international system depends on some parts of the world struggling with conditions of poverty. The truth is that they are happy to let parts of the world suffer as long as it means that their countries enjoy some level of security.
This is very aptly illustrated by the Bengal Famine of 1943. India, then still a British Colony, faced a devastating famine in the North-Eastern region of Bengal in which at least 3 million people were believed to have died. Meanwhile, 170,000 tons of wheat from Australia were transported right past the starving people of India to Britain for storage, not even immediate consumption.
The British Empire was happy to siphon resources from India, but allowed the Indian people to starve despite having a surplus of food just a few thousand kilometres away. This is the same way that the international system allows its selfish desires for material gain trump basic human and state rights established by its own international conventions to this day.
If we are to take any lessons from all of this, we must realise that the international system and the states which dominate it are not to be trusted. The conditional aid that they offer us at times is nothing compared to the capacity for growth and development that they have stolen from us.