Analyzing African Formations

Multi-national Corporations, Non-capitalist Relations, and 'Mothers of the Community'

in Social Analysis
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The West gazes hard at the continent it is has exploited for so long. Reflecting Western discourses of Africa as that ‘dark other’, texts use epithets immersed in preconceptions of Africa’s inequality: differences of race and religion, with Western ‘civilization’ standing for, and justifying, unequal power relations of apparent antiquity. Nineteenth-century Royal Geographical Society audiences, enthusiastic supporters of Britain’s growing empire and overseas Christian missions, learned from distinguished travelers about ‘the slave trade’, ‘ju-ju’, ‘paganism and devil worship’, ‘Mecca’, ‘the import-export trade’, ‘white traders’, and ‘black middlemen’. Favorite twentieth-century discourses included ‘black nationalism’, ‘weak states’ and ‘African indebtedness’, ‘corrupt government’, ‘ruthless multi-national oil companies’, ‘environmental pollution’, and ‘poverty’. Twenty-first-century researchers write of ‘endemic violence’ coalescing around inter-state international borders or intra-state ethnic boundaries; ethnic militants fight for ‘ethnic sovereignties’, jostling to wrest from the nation-state customary rights of ownership and control over ‘our god-given’ oil, clashing with giant multi-national corporations that lease from nation-state governments—not oil-producing communities claiming customary ownership—vast blocks of swamp, desert, and sea under which lies ‘black gold’ (Ifeka 2000: 452; cf. Hertz 2001: 194ff.).