On the Haitian Revolution

This is from Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and Production of History:

The Haitian revolution therefore entered history with the peculiar characteristic of being unthinkable even as it happened. Official debates and publications of the times, including the long list of pamphlets on Saint-Domingue published in France from 1790 to 1804, reveal the incapacity of most contemporaries to understand the ongoing revolution on its own terms. They could read the news only with their ready-made categories, and these categories were incompatible with the idea of a slave revolution [p. 73]

The discursive context within which news from San-Domingue was discussed as it happened has important consequences for the historiography of Saint-Domingue/Haiti. If some events cannot be accepted even as they occur, how can they be assessed later? In other words, can historical narratives convey plots that are unthinkable in the world within which these narratives take place? How does one write a history of the impossible?

As the power of Louverture grew, every other party struggled to convince itself and its counterparts that the achievements of black leadership would ultimately benefit someone else. The new black elite had to be, willingly or not, the pawn of a “major” international power. Or else, the colony would fall apart and a legitimate international state would pick up the pieces. Theories assuming chaos under black leadership continued even after Louverture and his closest lieutenants fully secured the military, political, and civil apparatus of the colony….. [p. 94]

I read Silencing the Past right after reading C. L. R. James’ The Black Jacobins, and strongly recommend reading both together.

As I read both books I couldn’t help but wonder why my high school history had nothing on the Haitian revolution (which proves Trouillot’s point). It seems like the Haitian revolution, even if in sanitized form, would have been a good fit with the sanitized versions of the Mau Mau insurgency and the Algerian and Malaya wars that I was exposed to as a teenager.

More broadly, it seems like the teaching of decolonization in Kenya could benefit from more Haiti and Fanon, side by side with Mandela, Gandhi, and MLK. It is not a stretch to imagine that the threat of violence made the successes of the Mandelas of history more likely. To talk about the ANC without mentioning Umhonto we Sizwe is to stick one’s head in the sand.

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Africans Covered 98% of the Cost of Administering Colonial French West Africa (AOF)

Elise Huillery writes in the Journal of Economic History:

What share of French expenditure was allocated to West Africa? What share of West Africa’s revenue was provided by France? These two questions are crucial since scholars and politicians who claim colonization had a “positive role” make essentially the two arguments that the colonies benefited from imperial public investments and that mainland taxpayers sacrificed local investments for investments in the colonies.

I find that the costs of AOF’s colonization for the metropolis were low. From 1844 to 1957 France devoted on average 0.29 percent of its public expenditures to AOF’s colonization. Colonization of French West Africa was profitable for France to the extent that the impact on cumulative domestic production exceeded 3.2 billion 1914 francs. The military cost of conquest and pacification accounts for the vast majority (80 percent) of the average annual cost. The cost of central administration in Paris accounts for another 4 percent. So subsidies to AOF account for only 16 percent of the average annual cost, meaning that less than 0.05 percent of annual total metropolis public expenditures were devoted to AOF’s development.

For French West African taxpayers, French contribution was not as beneficial as has been argued. From 1907 to 19578 the metropolis provided about 2 percent of French West Africa’s public revenue. Local taxes thus accounted for nearly all of French West Africa’s revenue. These resources supported the cost of French civil servants whose salaries were disproportionally high compared to the limited financial capacity of the local population. Administrators, teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, and so on, were paid French salaries and got an additional allowance for being abroad. Thus, in the colonial public finance system, most revenues were collected on an African basis while being spent on a French basis. To illustrate this point, I show that colonial executives (eight governors and their cabinets) and district administrators (about 120 French civil servants) together accounted for more than 13 percent of local public expenditures.

The rest of this very fascinating paper is here.

Besides the headline finding, also interesting in the paper are: (i) the extent to which Paris subsidized private firms involved in the colonial enterprise; and (ii) the structure of the public finance system that allowed the AOF administration to borrow directly from French banks with the full backing of Paris (which allowed for lower rates). This might explain the persistence of the monetary relationship between former AOF territories and Paris in the form of the CFA and a common central bank (BCEAO).Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 12.05.23 AM

As I keep saying, Economic History is hot again. And sooner rather than later it’s going to become more apparent to more people that African political and economic history did not begin in 1960, or for that matter in 1884-5. And neither was it just about the unimaginably catastrophic Atlantic experience.

No, the West should not have governed South Sudan

In light of the ongoing civil war in South Sudan, Chris Blattman posed the question of whether the West should have governed South Sudan. My simple answer is that neotrusteeship would not have helped much with regard to long-term institutional stability in South Sudan, for the following reasons:

  • Neotrusteeship would still entail the same logic of old-style colonialism, only with a shorter time horizon. Whichever entity was designated as the ruler of Sudan – be it the UN, the State Department or the Foreign Office – would be working on a fixed timeline, with an exit strategy in mind. As Fearon and Laitin (gated) aptly noted: “In sharp contrast to classical imperialists, neotrustees want to withdraw as fast as possible. References to “exit strategy” have led the policy discourse and debate surrounding international and U.S. operations in the Balkans, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and now Iraq.” Assuming that South Sudanese elite are rational, they would play the game, if forced to, and bid their time until the overlords left and then they would get down to the business of settling their grievances. The building of institutions, unlike learning a language or programing, is not something that you are taught and then left on your own to practice. Institutions only work if they reflect the de facto balance of power, something that trusteeship would necessarily not provide. And what would be the time horizon? How long would it take to build good institutions? As Fearon and Laitin note, “….due to the sources of the civil wars that lead to collapsed states, successful exit from neotrusteeship will be extremely difficult in most cases. We have stressed the need to develop local tax-collecting capability as an incentive to move the country from international welfare toward self-governance and, in some cases, the notion of transfer not to full sovereignty but rather as a state embedded in and monitored by international institutions.” 
  • The proposed exit strategy would probably be elections. Such elections would most likely favor those that played the game well under neotrusteeship, possibly the favored choice of the Western administrators [to pay back Western tax dollars, time and connections, etc with contracts and influence in the post-trusteeship era]. But this is not the way to do it. Electoral democracy would then necessarily be used by disgruntled elites who were not given a seat at the table to correct the ills of the era of neotrusteeship. Depending on the outcomes, failure at the ballot would probably lead to armed conflict.
  • Also, the period 1952-1957 was not a benelovent neotrusteeship but the last mile of British Colonialism in Ghana. I would have liked to hear more discussion of post-1957 Ghana by Pascal Zachary and how it is a good lesson on the virtues of neotrusteeship. Are we to forget what Nkrumah did right after ascending to the Political Kingdom and all that happened in Ghana between 1957 and 1981 when Jerry Rawlings finally brought order to the political process with an iron fist?
  • Lastly, a Western-run neotrusteeship would fly in the face of current IR norms and the structural reality of the present international system. I think the myth of the benevolent disinterested Western institution-builder [known in an earlier time as a civilizer] should be put to rest. China and Russia [and probably the African Union] would oppose such a move and work to make it fail. So even if it were workable in theory, something that I highly doubt, reality would render the point moot.

In my view the talk about neotrusteeship as the solution to weak state institutions is an attempt to avoid the ugly face of the state-building process. No one likes paying taxes to another dude who uses it to buy a private jet. Throughout human history states have been imposed on people against their will, most of the time with force. The challenge in South Sudan is not that the leaders had not learned how to govern efficiently, and therefore all we need to do is train them for a few years, but rather that Kir did not have the capacity and full control over the army to credibly deter Machar and his allies from attempting to take power by force.

Put differently, state-building is not value-neutral because it requires the threat or actual use of force, which implies the taking of sides. The logics of local insatiability and time inconsistent preferences dictate that chaps will always want to reorganize existing institutional arrangements. The only thing that prevents them from doing so – from Denmark to CAR – is the difference in the costs of doing so. Even in democracies, people are restricted on how often they can throw out their elected leaders, with a credible threat of the use of force in place to make sure that people obey and accept the outcome of elections [PLEASE read Terry Moe on power and political institutions]. Democratic state-building (the means most preferred on account of our 21st century sensibilities) in the context of weak or severely truncated coercive capacity is very hard.

Seen this way, neotrusteeship can only be useful in the short-term to prevent mass atrocities, the creation of safe heavens for transnational terror networks, and provide an environment for a less violent process of institutional development. But it certainly cannot generate the state institutions required for long-term political stability.

I definitely appreciate the need for international assistance in the process of building institutions in young states. But with regard to strategies of long-term state-building I tend to lean more toward Jeremy Weinstein’s idea of “autonomous recovery” which stresses the need to identity and understand

 “internal processes of change that give rise to successful state-building, the conditions under which these internal mechanisms are likely to work, and the lessons international actors can draw from autonomous recovery for efforts to bring conflict to an end. Although it may be difficult to accept, one of the key lessons is that sometimes it makes sense not to intervene, or to intervene actively on behalf of one side.

To echo Weinstein:

……….. The durable resolution of the world’s civil wars will depend to a large degree on how  quickly international actors incorporate the lessons of history into current strategies. To reconstitute states with governments capable of projecting power, the international community must be prepared to identify and recognize legitimate and effective governance (in whatever form it takes). And if the political change that war produces is to survive the end of the fighting, international actors must develop new approaches to both support and constrain the winners as they consolidate power in the aftermath of conflict.

Portugal Seeks Angolan Investment

The Portuguese once ruled an empire that included Brazil, Angola and Mozambique, among other smaller possessions. But since the loss of empire Lisbon has fared rather poorly. First it was the Brazilians who managed to economically dominate their former colonizers. The Angolans are beginning to also get in the game. Angola is one of the top three oil producers in Africa, and has the third largest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The BBC reports:

Portugal’s prime minister is travelling to oil-rich Angola, which is boosting its investment in its former colonial power caught up in the eurozone debt crisis.

Angolan presidential aide Carlos Maria Feijo said Portugal’s privatisation scheme would be discussed. The International Monetary Fund has ordered Portugal to sell state companies to qualify for a bailout.

Angola’s investments in Portugal have risen sharply in recent years.

The figure in 2009 stood at $156m (£99m), compared to $2.1m in 2002, according to the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS), a Lisbon-based think-tank.

Angolan companies own the equivalent of 3.8% of companies listed on Portugal’s stock exchange, from banks to telecoms and energy, it says.

More on this here.

HT Louise Redvers

conflating inept autocracy with independent mindedness

Col. Gaddafi has been having an independent foreign policy and, of course, also independent internal policies. I am not able to understand the position of Western countries, which appear to resent independent-minded leaders and seem to prefer puppets. Puppets are not good for any country. Most of the countries that have transitioned from Third World to First World status since 1945 have had independent-minded leaders: South Korea (Park Chung-hee), Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew), China People’s Republic (Mao Tse Tung, Chou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Marshal Yang Shangkun, Li Peng, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jing Tao, etc), Malaysia (Dr. Mahthir Mohamad), Brazil (Lula Da Silva), Iran (the Ayatollahs), etc.

Between the First World War and the Second World War, the Soviet Union transitioned into an Industrial country propelled by the dictatorial, but independent-minded Joseph Stalin. In Africa, we have benefited from a number of independent-minded leaders: Col. Nasser of Egypt, Mwalimu Nyerere of Tanzania, Samora Machel of Mozambique, etc.  That is how Southern Africa was liberated. That is how we got rid of Idi Amin. The stopping of genocide in Rwanda and the overthrow of Mobutu, etc., were as a result of efforts of independent-minded African leaders. Gaddafi, whatever his faults, is a true nationalist.  I prefer nationalists to puppets of foreign interests. Where have the puppets caused the transformation of countries? I need some assistance with information on this from those who are familiar with puppetry. Therefore, the independent-minded Gaddafi had some positive contribution to Libya, I believe, as well as Africa and the Third World. I will take one little example. At the time we were fighting the criminal dictatorships here in Uganda, we had a problem arising of a complication caused by our failure to capture enough guns at Kabamba on the February 6, 1981. Gaddafi gave us a small consignment of 96 rifles, 100 anti-tank mines, etc., that was very useful. He did not consult Washington or Moscow before he did this. This was good for Libya, for Africa and for the Middle East. We should also remember as part of that independent-mindedness he expelled British and American military bases from Libya, etc.

That is Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, talking about Col. Gaddafi. More on this here.

My thoughts on this: Dictators have no internal affairs (HT Han Han). I will forever be skeptical of autocrats screaming “sovereignty.” Oftentimes it is when they are jailing, exiling, killing and dispossessing dissidents left, right and centre that they will shout loudest about the principle of non-interference.

How different would Uganda be today minus economic aid and any form of interference from the West? Let’s not pretend that it is Western interference that has stunted African economic, social and political development. Achebe was right. The trouble with Africa is simply and squarely a problem of leadership. For every Lula, Lee Kwan Yew or even Stalin, Africa has had Mobutu, Museveni and Mugabe. Where the former had controversial (and sometimes despicably murderous) but well thought out and ideologically driven plans for transforming their societies, African leaders have more often than not willingly mortgaged away their country’s futures while engaging in ideologically bankrupt and crass tribal politics.

African resources have created billionaires elsewhere while African masses  starved. African leaders signed off on most of these deals in exchange for kickbacks. The African tragedy over the last 50 years is just that. An African tragedy. Foreigners only played a supporting role.

At a meta-level I sympathize with Museveni. It is the nature of the international system that the strong prey on the weak. But where I disagree with him is how to deal with this fact. He wants the strong to benevolently keep off and condone his mediocrity. I prefer the continued pressure from the strong so that even states like Uganda can develop capacities to stand up to the strong, both economically and militarily.

It is a pipe dream to continue nurturing and protecting mediocre leadership all over Africa while expecting the strong nations of the world to benevolently keep off. China, India, Brazil, Russia and the usual suspects from the West will continue preying on Africa as long as clowns like Kabila, Mugabe, Gbagbo and the thieves in Abuja are in charge. Let’s not kid ourselves. What would stop Europe from re-colonizing Africa if Brussels and Washington signed off on the idea? And if Russia and China joined in, would they defend Africans or access to African resources?

I am glad that the threat of regime change is alive and well. Perhaps it will wake up the inept kleptocrats all over Africa from their 50-year stupor.