Minerals attracted colonial rulers more than better life


Afrika is rich! Even though such mineral wealth endowment did not result in better lifestyles for Afrikans, they certainly acted as an attraction point for colonial rule.

In their writings, the late Seithy Chachage (1993) and Walter Rodney (1981) record that mining operations started in the East/West-coast of Afrika in the 2nd and 4th centuries, respectively, and developed through the 11th century into Southern Afrika.

It should, however, be remembered that the first European arrival in Afrika was marked by Vasco Da Gama in the mid-1500s. Originally, mineral resource exploitation activities were carried out by local community members living in the mineral rich areas. These were untrained peasants using traditional -- crude tools.

Today, this group is popularly known as artisanal miners whose activities then served as a source of supplementary income beyond -- farming and out of farming season. The focus on mining became of significance only when the Arab merchants brought with them the demand for gold and spices.

This advent of the Arab merchants introduced a new dimension within production and trade relations in the local communities. Just like any trade exchange, production mentality geared towards primary and secondary needs emerged. The Market was instantly opened for new agro and non-agro products.

In their new founded trade relations, Arab merchants maintained ‘high’ ethical standards in the way they related with host communities.

The focus of the Arab merchants was not much on exploitation of mineral resources as on spices, salt, and later, slavery.

It should be remembered, however, that as in the manner of all ‘good’ traders: they kept their options open to other trading opportunities. In other words, they maintained fluidity in their trading practices. Arab merchants integrated their trade activities into local seasonal production practices. They would buy spices during a crops season and gold and other precious minerals out of the mining season.

According to MacDonald & Roe (2007), collaborative trade relationships between local community members and Arab merchants spanned a period longer than a millennium. Come mid-15th century to mid-16th century, there was an emergence of restlessness in the manner in which exploitation of Afrikan resources was carried out.

The restlessness resulted from the introduction of foreign religious beliefs and practices, as well as the introduction of ‘modern’ methods of mineral extraction. This precedence was set by Vasco Da Gama, a Portuguese explorer who arrived on Unguja Island in 1498.

This was followed by the conquest of the East African coastal belt which saw the Portuguese domination of Pemba and Unguja Islands in Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya between 1503 and 1506.

What is known as the Pemba revolt ensued in 1510, only to be subdued the same year Akinola (1972), Nimaga (2011). The coming of Vasco Da Gama seem not to have just created curiosity of what’s on the continent, but evidenced European covetous attitude towards Afrikan mineral resources.

And so did the influx of gold ‘trade’ related migration from Europe to the coast of East Afrika spread throughout mineral rich Afrikan countries at the beginning of the 16th century.

With the subsequent development of European colonial system, the associational life that was already established between the local community members and the Arab merchants was disrupted.

Chaos followed, as slaves and community members turned against each other and killed their own leaders. Gray (1980), Higginson (1984).

Some sources record that the Portuguese were not as good to the local people as were the Arab merchants. A report by the Afrikan Union and the UN Economic Commission for Afrika (Uneca) published in 2011, suggests that the coming of Europeans disrupted the economic infrastructures that were already established within communities where the Arab merchants had settled.

Violence and suppression which resulted into revolt had a negative impact on the local economies. From this came a rapid increase of harsh economic environment and living conditions.

Local community members were then forced to leave their homes to find peaceful areas where they could start new lives.

From this point onwards, the ‘postcolonial’ environments in Afrika became synonymous to a feedstock for mineral hunger and slave-labour in the production of precious metals for the British, Belgians and the Portuguese colonial powers at the wake of the 19th century.     




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