The new colonialism

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Human rights advocate Gerry Caplan claims Western ‘aid’ is an investment in dictatorships

Natasha Tersigni
News Editor

To help celebrate International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, as well as the 50th anniversary of Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO), the University of Winnipeg’s Global College brought in Gerry Caplan, a Canadian who has been active for over 50 years in the fight for equality, social justice, and peace around the world.

Along with being a world-recognized expert on the genocide in Rwanda, Caplan has held many positions throughout the human rights’ struggle. He was a CUSO field officer posted in Africa , senior consultant for the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa (capital city of Ethiopia) , author of several books on the human rights’ issues in Africa, and is currently a columnist on human rights’ issues for the Globe and Mail.

With an extensive background on the issues of human rights, Caplan captivated audiences by sharing his experiences.

A major issue in his presentation was the misrepresentation that Western countries, including Canada, are helping African countries, which in fact is not true.

“There was not a single tyrant, not a single dictator [that] could have gotten into government in Africa or could have stayed there if hadn’t been for the backing of one white country or another,” Caplan said.

“In every single case, the elites of Africa work with the elites of the West in betraying the people of Africa. Together, the rich Western world and the African leadership, time after time, in dozens of ways, betray their own people.”

Capaln used the Rwanda genocide and the Mobutu dictatorship in the Congo as examples when the West failed Africa.

Mobutu Sese Seko, known just as Mobutu, was president of the Republic of Congo from 1965 to 1997. During his time in office, Mobutu formed an authoritarian regime, amassed vast personal wealth, and attempted to purge the country of all colonial-cultural influence.

Early in his rule, he consolidated power by publicly executing political rivals, secessionists, coup plotters, and other threats to his rule. To set an example, many were hanged before large audiences, including former Prime Minister Evariste Kimba. According to Transparency International, Mobutu embezzled over $5 billion from his country, ranking him as the third-most corrupt leader in the past two decades and the most corrupt African leader during the same period.

Caplan blames the West for Mobutu gaining power and keeping it for all those years.

“Mobutu was put there by the Americans, and was kept there by the Americans,” Caplan said. “He was given tens of millions of dollars of aid, which everyone who gave him the money knew would never be repaid, while he disembowelled and hollowed out his own country.”

The genocide in Rwanda is just another example of the West destroying African countries, said Caplan, who has spent 12 years studying the infamous killings.

“The Rwandan genocide would have never have happened if a group of greedy Hutu leaders hadn’t brilliantly managed to mobilize hundreds of thousands of Hutu citizens to hate and ultimately kill mercilessly the[ir] fellow Rwandans who happen to be Tutsi,” Caplan said. “But [it was] white missionaries who came and virtually created the division between the Hutu and the Tutsi, which had not existed previously in that way.”

Along with white missionaries, Caplan called out Belgium, France, and the United States for their role in starting the genocide, as well as letting it continue as long as it did.

“If it hadn’t been for the Belgium administration having not done terrible enough work in the Congo for thirty years under King Leopold. If they hadn’t institutionalized those divisions and exacerbated the hatred and the conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsi. If it hadn’t been for the government of France, including socialist president Francois Hollande. If they hadn’t come the French on the side of those that have been plotting the genocide in the early nineties it would have never of happened,” Caplan said.

“The most famous [negligence] is what the UN Security Council failed to do. led by the Clinton administration. It failed time after time to reinforce General Romeo Dallaire’s puny little troops in response to his urgent, urgent pleas to send him more people.”

In both those events, the rich world was in the middle because it is the beneficiary, Caplan insisted.

He said the West is still exploiting African nations, thru subsidies, tax evasion, and stealing its skilled and trained workers.

“You can simplify the history of Africa and the relationship to the West in this way,” Caplan said. “It goes from slave labour, to cheap labour, to skilled labour, and the West has exploited all of it.”

Capaln said the West is still exploiting Africa today and used many examples, one being the “Brain Drain.” The “Brain Drain” is when the West benefits enormously from bringing trained, skilled Africans to the rich white countries, depriving their countries from what they need most, Caplan explained.

He used a recent study from a British medical journal that looked at nine African countries and their relationship with Canada, United States, Australia, and Britain, and how those four countries are continuing to receive skilled, trained doctors from Africa.

“The calculation is that Canada saved $400 million and the four white countries together saved $4.5 billion in having these trained doctors, which the countries didn’t have to train themselves,” Caplan said. “The African countries lost anywhere between two, and depending on how you calculated it, $13 billion that they had spent training these skilled workers.”

Subsidies are another way Caplan said the West is benefiting from Africa. Capaln said there are trade deals in Africa based on free trade for them and subsidies for the West.

“If you went to an African country and you wanted a chicken, it would be cheaper for you to go to a modern supermarket [and] buy a chicken from Holland then it would be for you to buy a chicken from a neighbour up the street who was growing chickens, because that chicken from Holland would be so greatly subsidized in the European Union,” Caplan said. He went on to say that fact is true for many other commodities.

Caplan also talked about the West’s idea of investing in Africa.

“When we talk about investment, ‘investment’ overwhelming means our mineral companies go in and rip of their minerals, their diamonds, their trees, their cotton, their gold,” Caplan said. “In return, they bribe local officials, they bribe senior officials. They leave behind environmental disasters. They pay tragic wages.”

As for the myth of foreign aid, Caplan said, Western governments just tell the public what it wants to hear.

“Don’t believe a single thing you hear about foreign aid; the numbers are all wrong,” he said. ‘The numbers are distorted. It is impossible to know what a government really gives except we know it’s not enough. In every single case it ends up helping us more than the recipient.”

Caplan said there is an entire network set up from the Western countries to get foreign aid back. 

“In the last forty years, it is calculated $1.8 trillion is estimated to be shipped out of Africa by an entire network of lawyers, accountants, bankers, and economists, working with various Western institutions helping to get that money off the continent,” Caplan said. “All that money is worth many times the amount of foreign aid [the West] pretends to give to Africa.

“We’ve thought of ourselves as solution to their problem. We’ve thought of ourselves as the great initiators, the great entrepreneurs, the great go-getters, while they sit there waiting for us to help them. The fact is we are the recipients of their extraordinary generosity.”

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