MWANGI: Banks, capitalists came from the same womb, stop them!


bank
Customers arrive at a branch of the Equity Bank for money transactions in Kenya's capital Nairobi November 11, 2015. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

The contrast could not have been more stark between the two seemingly unrelated events taking place the same week in Nairobi. The masses celebrated both, save for those who were more discerning. And so, after all the cheers for signing the Banking (Amendment) Bill into law, President Uhuru Kenyatta then hosted a high-profile meeting involving a different, more distant but even more lethal group of usurers: International financiers.

The only difference between the two groups is that the effect of banks has been felt directly, not just in Kenya but throughout the region. Businesses have been brought down, land and property auctioned, and families brought to destitution by a banking sector that seemed untouchable. Because of this, Kenyans were keenly watching their president to see how he would tackle the banking lobby, especially considering that the Kenyatta family owns one of the major banks in the country.

But debt at the individual level isn’t quite the same thing as national debt. At a macroeconomic level, everyone in the Third World suffers the effects of the growing debt burden that these countries have been forced to bear. And with everybody feeling the impact, it is taken as a normal thing, maybe something we really cannot do much to resolve.

Yet the reality is quite different. Increasingly, more people are becoming vocal about the outright theft of national resources that Africans have been subjected to for so long, with the connivance of the so-called development partners.

The debt burden is the new face of colonialism. Countries from both the East and the West are competing for Africa’s seemingly inexhaustible resources. In return for extracting and carting away these resources, these foreign countries offer Africans poorly-paid jobs in mines and factories, measly taxes that they always seek to evade, and a promise of helping these countries to develop.

The problem is that most African leaders have fallen for these tricks. The loans that our countries receive are paid back in foreign currency and with interest, crippling these young economies. In addition, most of the money is stolen and spirited away to private offshore accounts in tax havens. Donor nations and agencies know only too well about these weaknesses, yet they continue to lavish Africa’s leaders with loans.

The net effect has been an increase in debilitating poverty across the region and continent. This in turn has bred civil wars and conflict. Donor nations will then come in once again to offer loans for reconstruction, leading to even greater indebtedness.

The first casualty of this situation is human dignity, as Africans become the laughing stock of the rest of the world. They have suffered, and continue to experience, racism from both East and West. Yet, stoically, we pretend that we are negotiating as equal partners in development.

It is extremely demeaning for African presidents to gather in Nairobi waiting to receive largesse from the generosity of the Japanese. That a tiny country in the Far East with hardly any resources worth talking about can create excitement across the entire continent of Africa is laughable. No wonder, the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI), with all the hype, wasn’t worth Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s time.

In the same way that masses of impoverished people saw the trickery of banks for the usury it really was, the deteriorating social conditions in the region will make more people aware and intolerant of these faceless international capitalists.  And just as President Kenyatta was prevailed upon to rein in the banks, a way will have to be found to break the marriage between international profiteers and their African collaborators who seek to keep the continent in perpetual poverty.

Any effort to bring order to the financial sector at the national level and regionally can only be done despite opposition from those who profit from a distorted market, principally banks and financial institutions. Similarly, the effort to raise Africa from the pit of enforced indebtedness will have to be done through pressure from the masses and despite the best efforts of leaders to lie to their citizens about the “benefits” of loans from the West and East.

Citizens throughout the region may want to ask themselves: Why can’t we be the ones to lend to the Chinese, Japanese, British, French and other nations? Why can’t a resourceful country like Kenya be the one to introduce a Nairobi Conference on Asian Development to be held in Tokyo?

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Story By Isaac Mwangi
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