by Zafar Bangash (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 5, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1444)
European powers relinquished direct control of their colonies in Asia and Africa more than 70 years ago. It was not a voluntary act. The Second World War had caused so much devastation in Europe that it was no longer possible to continue to hold on to their colonial possessions.
Barring a few exceptions, the majority of countries that emerged from the bowels of colonialism have not fared too well since. What are the reasons for such failure when all countries claim to be independent and celebrate their “Independence Day” with great fanfare?
Most of them are still governed by laws that the colonial powers had imposed to keep the natives in check. The institutions they had established to implement such laws are also still in place. For the long-suffering masses, the only difference has been that brown or black masters have replaced white masters. So, are they truly independent?
Some people may argue that they are because they have their own rulers, whether kings, amirs, presidents, prime ministers or even military dictators but nonetheless indigenous. They also have their “national” armies, “national” flags and even “national” anthems.
Some of them may even hold periodic elections so they can be said to fulfill all or most of the requirements for being called ‘independent’. Besides, they are all members of the United Nations, the ultimate stamp of ‘legitimacy’ in the world today.
Alas, if standing armies, national anthems, flags and airlines could make a country independent then the 57 Muslim nation-states as well as a host of non-Muslim majority countries in Asia and Africa would be considered independent. But independence means more than such trappings.
Let us consider some fundamental requirements that must be fulfilled for a country to be considered independent. The first and foremost is that a country must be able to formulate policies that serve the interests of its people rather than those of the colonial powers. Further, it should be able to secure a fair market price for raw materials and is not dependent on handouts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Bank.
Despite possessing vast natural resources, most countries in Asia and Africa suffer from acute poverty and dislocations. While corruption and incompetence have much to do with this dismal state of affairs, there are other factors as well that come into play. One is the unfair trade practices imposed by the west on raw-material producing countries.
Oil is a good example. When producing countries got together to demand a fair price, as in the case of the Organization of Oil Producing Countries (OPEC), the collective west manipulated some members to keep the price of oil artificially low. For every dollar decrease in the price of oil, the producing countries lose $1 billion/day. Over several decades, it amounted to trillions of dollars sucked out of their economies.
Oil and gas were first discovered in West Asia some 100 years ago. The west arbitrarily determined the price and paid a pittance to producers. Major producers like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran were massively exploited.
In 1953, when Iran’s elected Prime Minister Dr Mohammed Mossadegh nationalized the country’s oil industry, the British and American intelligence agencies conspired to overthrow his government.
The Shah, an American puppet, was installed back in power and supported with massive infusion of weapons, intelligence sharing as well as the training of SAVAK, the hated intelligence agency of Iran, that tortured hundreds of thousands of people and murdered countless others. While the Shah and his family got rich, the people of Iran suffered extreme poverty. The Islamic revolution of 1979 finally put paid to the Shah’s regime as well as US domination of Iran.
Today, Islamic Iran is perhaps the only country in the global South that is able to formulate its policies completely free of foreign dictation. There also now exists OPEC+ that has brought Russia into the fold of oil producing countries. Interestingly, when OPEC+ held its meeting at the organization’s headquarters in Vienna last month, it pointedly kept several western media outlets out from its deliberations (and see here).
The collective west, led by the US is working furiously to undermine OPEC+ so that it can continue to dictate oil prices. The US demanded that Europeans not pay above a certain price for Russian petroleum products. Apart from Europe, the rest of the world simply ignored this American demand.
While Russia has had to sell its oil at heavily discounted prices, such sales have brought windfall profits. It has boosted Moscow’s earnings beyond the levels witnessed prior to its attack on Ukraine in February 2022.
Such changes are recent phenomena. The unequal equation between the collective west and the rest has existed for decades. This inequality was articulated as far back as 1949 by two economists—Paul Prebisch and Hans Singer—who pointed to what they called the ‘dependency theory’. They postulated the hypothesis that the prices of primary goods (such as raw materials and agricultural products) tend to decline relative to the prices of manufactured goods over time. This theory has influenced in shaping policy debates about trade and development, at least among members of the global South.
The Prebisch-Singer theory argued that the relative decline in the prices of primary goods has negative consequences for developing countries, which tend to be major exporters of primary goods and, therefore, rely on them for a significant portion of their foreign exchange earnings.
As a result, the Prebisch-Singer hypothesis has been used to support policies such as import substitution (which promotes domestic production of goods that are normally imported) and export promotion (which encourages the export of goods to increase foreign exchange earnings.
The African continent, rich in mineral resources, is another striking example of the unequal trade practices that results in dependency. Such western dominated institutions as the IMF and World Bank are instruments used to deepen inequalities and promote dependency. They impose conditions on recipient societies that result in distortions in growth patterns.
Leaders of the global South—Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Soekarno, Salvador Allende, Muammar Qaddafi and host of others—who dared to chalk out independent policies for their countries were overthrown through coups. Almost all of them were killed; Qaddafi was publicly lynched.
He was made into a horrible example because he had the temerity to try and break the western stranglehold on Africa by proposing to establish an African Monetary Fund as well as an African Central Bank. More natural resources and capital have been sucked out of Africa to the west after “independence” than during direct colonialism.
Britain’s drumbeater for capitalism, The Economist, sagely declares ‘Africa faces a mounting debt crisis’ without explaining why. According to a report in the Conversation, “In 2020, sub-Saharan Africa had a total external debt stock of US$702.4 billion, compared to US$380.9 billion in 2012. The amount owed to official creditors, including multilateral lenders, governments and government agencies, increased from about US$119 billion to US$258 billion.”
In a May 24, 2017 article in Al Jazeera, Nick Dearden, the director of UK campaigning organisation Global Justice Now, candidly admitted that “Africa is not poor, we are stealing its wealth.” Such honesty is rare among western analysts but it periodically slips through.
Let us, however, return to the discussion of majority Muslim countries. Are they free to formulate their own economic, political, military, cultural or social policies? Even societies that are not financially dependent on the west suffer from the dependency syndrome.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates offer good examples. While awash in wealth, they are still subservient to the west in formulating their political, social, cultural, military or educational policies. Even in the economic field, they cannot make policies to benefit their people.
Only recently has such western fraud been reduced somewhat because of the rise of China on the global economic scene and Russia joining OPEC.
Flags and national anthems aside, what is the solution to the problem facing Muslim societies? Any attempt to answer this question merely through economic analysis will not yield the correct answer. Muslim societies are unable to formulate policies to serve the interests of their people precisely because they are not independent.
For true independence, they must first undergo an Islamic revolution to overthrow the colonial imposed order. Iran has shown how this is done.
For more than 44 years, western “experts” and “pundits” have been predicting the collapse of the Islamic system in Iran. What they fail to understand is that an Islamic revolution changes the very nature of the society and renders it impervious to sanctions and boycotts. As the noble Qur’an states so eloquently: “Allah does not alter the condition of a people until they change their attitude” (13:11).
It is through this consummate change — a clean break from the exploitative milieu created by fear of temporal power to an Islamic system that fosters confidence by reliance only on the Sustainer of the worlds — that Muslims will gain true independence. Until then, Muslims will only delude themselves into believing their countries are independent.