The Second World War and the economic situation in Africa

March 10, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

By

Durodola Tosin

INTRODUCTION

Following my article on the impact of the Second World War on the political situation of African countries through its contributions to the spirit of self-determination in Africa, it was however essential to write on its impact on the economic situation of African states in order to broaden the knowledge on the effects of the Second World War in Africa.

So many articles and books have halted the critical knowledge of the effect of the Second World War in Africa by making a one-sided analysis which portrays only the positive impact of WW2. Even though it is true that the Second World War contributed to Africa’s political liberation and independence, its effects on the African economic situation deserves to be mentioned.

This paper seeks to examine the impact of the Second World War on the economic situation of African countries. The integration of Africa’s economy into the capitalist system was actualised after the Second World War. This has placed African countries in a disadvantageous position in the international capitalist system whereby the allocation of roles and resources are unequal compared to the developed countries of the world.

 

 

IMPACT OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR ON THE ECONOMIC SITUATION OF AFRICAN COUNTRIES

 

Although the Second World War was indeed politically liberating for Africans, that same war was an important stage in the incorporation of Africa’s economy into the world capitalist system. The integration of Africa’s economy into the capitalist system was actualised after the Second World War. This has placed African countries in a disadvantageous position in the international capitalist system whereby the allocation of roles and resources are unequal compared to the developed countries of the world.

Partly in pursuit of war aims, African agriculture was modified to produce urgently needed supplies and food for Europe. In some parts of Africa there was a major depression later when the war demand for African-produced goods declined, but the structure of African agriculture had by then already entered a new phase of export bias. The trend towards pointing African agriculture in this direction continued unabated.

Some of the post-war schemes for African development initiated by the colonial powers were indeed failures. One of the most spectacular of the failures was the groundnut scheme in Tanganyika, flamboyantly conceived in terms of large-scale groundnut development, and deemed to be an appropriate strategy of interdependence between Africa and Europe. The scheme was designed to help supply Europe with certain food oils while generating development in Africa. As it turned out, the scheme was ill-conceived, badly located, and disastrously implemented by the British authorities in East Africa.

Moreover, the principle of developing African agriculture to serve European needs was already well entrenched and the war had simply helped to consolidate it. The value of Africa to Europe was the provision of raw materials for industries and ready market for finished goods.

Furthermore, another way in which the war laid the foundations of further economic dependency was the manner in which it helped transform colonial policy from the morality of maintaining law and order in Africa to a new imperial morality of increasing development in the colonies and pursuing the welfare of the colonized peoples. Britain established the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund as part of the machinery of this new imperial vision. It was not enough to stop Africans fighting each other. It was not enough to control cattle raids between different communities and tribes. It was not enough to make an example of political agitators in order to maintain the mystique of Pax Britannica. It was not enough to use the slogan of law and order. Imperial power was a kind of trust, a mandate to serve the subject people. The vision itself was of course much older than the Second World War.

However, it was not until the Second World War in fact that development as a major imperative of colonial policy became a genuine exertion. New projects for rural development were more systematically implemented, and new trends in educational policy were soon discernible. Virtually all the major universities in black Africa were established after the Second World War, many of them soon after the war in response to the new developmental imperative in colonial policy. But these thrusts of development were themselves a further aggravation of Africa’s incorporation into Western capitalism. The Colonial Development and Welfare Fund contributed in its own way towards deepening both Africa’s economic dependency on the West and Africa’s cultural imitation of the West.

Nevertheless, African nationalists like Awolowo, Nkrumah, Kenyatta and Azikiwe were watching the developments in the old empires with rising hopes and aspirations for Africa’s own liberation. Even for those Africans who had not been abroad, the war was helping to broaden their international horizons in the effort to follow the fortunes of the different battles on the radio and in ‘vernacular’ newspapers. Never before had so many ordinary Africans tried so hard to understand conflicts in such remote places as Dunkirk and Rangoon, Pearl Harbor and even El-Alamein.

In addition, there were the African servicemen themselves who experienced combat thousands of miles from their villages, who learnt new skills and acquired new aspirations, and who witnessed the white man in a new light, both as an enemy on the other side and sometimes as a frightened comrade in the trenches.

But while the war was thus undermining the political control of the old empires, it was also increasing temporarily Europe’s need for the products of the colonies. There was rationing throughout the empires and a continuing effort to make the colonies produce what Europe most needed. New food products were cultivated with Europe’s hungry mouths in mind; new raw materials were produced in the periphery with Europe’s industries as the intended market.

There was a war boom in the colonies, to be followed later by a new depression. The very dialectic between this kind of boom and depression in Africa was a symptom of Africa’s new level of economic integration into the international capitalist system. The same war which was weakening Britain’s and France’s political control over their colonies was at the same time deepening Africa’s economic dependency upon the Western world as a whole.

 

CONCLUSION

 

The impact of the Second World War on Africa’s economic situation resulted in the incorporation of her economy into the world capitalist system. This placed African countries in an unfavourable position in the international capitalist system whereby the allocation of roles and resources was unequal compared to the developed countries of the world. The Second World War helped to consolidate Africa’s position, having mere primary suppliers of raw materials for European industries and a ready market for finished goods.

Presently, many African countries are undergoing both financial crisis and deplorable economic conditions as a result of the integration of Africa’s economy into the capitalist system. It will be unfair to only blame the past and present leaders in African countries for the present financial situation because an integrated economy is automatically controlled by the world market. The ‘invisible’ forces that regulate prices in the world market has created an inevitable platform for African countries to result to loans with high conditions which eventually forces African leaders to embark on structural adjustment programmes.

Continuous examination of past events will broaden the horizon of Africans on how to solve issues and make critical decisions for the development of their countries. The examination of the impact of the Second World War on Africa’s economy will change and broaden the knowledge of Africans on the present economic situation in various African countries.

 

 

REFERENCES

  1. A .G, Hopkins (1973), “An Economic History of West Africa”, London: Longman Publishers.

  2. UNESCO (1985), “General History of Africa: Studies and Documents”, France.

  3. W, Rodney, “How Europe Under-developed Africa”

 

 

 

 

Durodola Tosin

Durodola Tosin is a writer and diplomat. He started writing professionally at the age of 12. He was a Columnist in Ekiti Glory Newspaper, Nigeria from 2009-2010 and was the Ekiti 2009 Winner of the PETs Competition “Poem Section”. His passion for writing was ignited by his Parents’ profession in Journalism.

He has written on several topics such as “The Effects of The Second World War on the Spirit of Self-Government and Self-Determination among African States”, “How Apt is the Description of 1920s in America History as The Jazz Age” and “Debt Crisis: A Major Developmental Issue in the Third World Countries”.

Durodola lives in Ekiti State, Nigeria. He is studying History and International Studies at Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State, Nigeria and is currently conducting a research on “Nigeria’s Quest for a Permanent Seat at The UN Security Council”.

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