For well over 500 years, the issue of Black economic liberation has been in question. Once a powerful trading continent--exporting everything from gold, salt and precious metals to ivory, spices, materials and slaves--Africa began to experience serious decline as Islamic trade cities rose to dominate East Africa and Europe discovered alternative trade routes and sources of gold in South America. Between the growing strength of Islam and Europe’s technological advances, Africa had no chance. Africa’s over-reliance on exporting natural resources and raw materials meant that once Europe no longer needed it for gold, the continent was left economically vulnerable to being viewed as only useful for slaves. These shortcomings along with a general lack of visionary leadership are what set the stage for the disastrous 400 plus years of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Ike Okonta’s 2020 book, “The Failure of Leadership in Africa’s Development,” digs deep into the the African ruling class at the time and argues that for centuries they had been indifferent to Africa’s lack of technological advancement, laying “the foundation for the subsequent conquest of the continent,” and setting “African development back for many more millennia.”
His work unveils that:
Extensive studies on firearm technology in Africa show that there were no instances in which the pre-colonial African rulers provided the necessary resources or attempted to create the economic and social conditions that would have enabled their indigenous craftsmen to produce the gun in its entirety and in the quantity needed to supply entire armies, like those of the Ashanti and Zulus. In fact, none of the purportedly wealthy and powerful African monarchs is recorded to have any active interest in the acquisition of gun technology or invested any significant resources toward the production of firearms, a critical technology they needed to defeat their invaders.
“In their failure to chart a new course, even as they witnessed the threat posed to their states by new technological advances from Asia and Europe, they carelessly laid the foundation for Africa’s subsequent underdevelopment.”
This brings us to today. Black people are still suffering from their forefathers’ collective failure to invest in the future of their people. Remaining at the bottom of the economic ladder--regardless of whether due to discrimination across the non-black world or neocolonial power structures across the Black world--Black people all over the globe continue to operate within a painful space of deep powerlessness. As we continue to grapple with how to solve this massive problem, it is important for us to develop solutions that indicate that we are aware of our history.
To only acknowledge the legacies of our oppression as a result of slavery and colonialism is to perpetuate the sentiment that we had and continue to have no agency in our own history. The legacies of the twin institutions of slavery and colonialism are only half of the story. The other half of the story has everything to do with the legacies of our failed leadership--our failed visionary leadership.
Efforts to improve the black economic situation are far too many, far too disconnected and far too ineffective. From the international NGOs that have been known time and again to exploit the very people they claim to help, to the small nonprofits scattered across urban cities doing what they can to simply get black people through the day, to movements that demand justice from the same people who inflict the injustices--the list goes on and on.
What is missing from all of these efforts is a concerted African-led effort to leverage the collective power of the diaspora to reimagine the socioeconomic role Africa could play for its citizens and its descendants if it were to forge its own path and operate outside of the artificial entities colonial powers created for the benefit of the West.
Economic Liberation Requires EVERYTHING Black
Real economic liberation requires black vision, black money and black execution.
In order to be economically liberated, black people living all over the world need to formally recognize that they are connected, that their collective advancement is of the utmost importance and that the first step towards this collective advancement begins with working together to re-empower Africa. They of course, however, need powerful and trusted black leaders and entities to provide them with practical ways to work towards achieving that advancement.
Visionary Leaders with Tactical Plans
Bringing about this sort of revolutionary cohesiveness requires not only visionary leaders who are capable of bringing such collectivity about, but visionary leaders who are also ready to work together to create dependable action-oriented black-led entities.
Such entities must include black-funded and black-led institutions that black people can trust, philanthropy-reinforcing philanthropy, and thoughtful and sustainable repatriation programs for black people across the diaspora who wish to not only reconnect with where they are truly from, but to also work towards Africa’s economic advancement.
Experts, Intellects, Philanthropists and Innovators Must Come Together
There are black people with mind blowing ideas of how to improve the black situation all over the world. There are black people with millions and billions of dollars all over the world. There are black people who know how to masterfully execute complex projects all over the world.
These great minds and economically powerful people need the opportunity to meet and discuss the black situation, commit themselves to the process and develop feasible plans of action. This meeting must be on African soil. The costs must be covered by black people. The agenda must be written by a team of black experts. And the first order of business must be to revisit Africa’s ancient past, more recent past and current situation with the objective to see where we have gone wrong, where we have strengths and how to move forward with where we are, who we have become and where the world is going.
About the Author:
Esi Kagale Agyeman Gillo is co-founder of DIFFvelopment, the non-profit that aims to re-empower people of African descent by developing culturally specific entrepreneurial programs.
Esi is committed to re-empowering people of African descent by holistically empowering college students to disrupt negative patterns of history through personal development and entrepreneurship.
If she had to describe herself in one sentence, she would say that she “is passionate about all things authentic and puts nothing above her freedom."
Esi holds a master’s in African studies from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, a bachelor’s in Afro-American studies and psychology from Smith College and a certificate in African studies from the Five College Consortium. She has also studied in Uganda, Rwanda and Ghana.