Debt-trap ‘diplomacy’ is Colonialism 2.0

NBE Blog

By Tesfu Telahoun Abebe – Old style colonialism went something like this: European covets a territory and makes acquaintances with the indigenous people, lubricating contacts by presenting manufactured trinkets like mirrors, spinning tops and beads. He gathers information on the local customs, tribal structures, long standing enmities among the region’s communities and other useful details.

Thirdly, the colonist-to-be selects a given chieftain over the others, instantly creating tensions which he exploits even further by strengthening ‘his’ chief’s position. This is done by providing loans or gifts of western weapons and/or manufactured items which the chosen chief distributes to subjects he considers are allies.



This divides the community even more. By this time the chief ‘owes’ ‘his’ European for various services and merchandise rendered. The amenable-and indebted-chieftain approves the European’s request to be granted land to establish a trading post. The European shows his appreciation by writing off the loans and providing access to even more.

The illiterate chief hands over the land after he signs what is to him an incomprehensible ‘lease agreement’ which is actually an unconditional treaty perpetually bequeathing the territory to the clever European. Very shortly, the European brings missionaries, adventurers, settlers, craftsmen and of course, soldiers to protect the new colony.

Eventually the chief and/or other local authority figures demand that the Europeans get out of their territory. The European dangles the so called lease agreement (which, by the way has been given legal legitimacy and political validity by other European states) and mobilizes a large force from the mother country and the indigenous communities are slaughtered and/or subjugated. The Europeans not only remain in their trading post settlement but in fact occupy a vastly expanded area including sea fronts and the deep interior.

The above outline of the imperialist methodology is not hypothetical. In fact, the following from history. It is a telling example which will drive home the cruel genius of the imperialist and colonialist era. I shall begin from the present day-for enhanced readership enjoyment.

It has been described as the center of the world. It is the diplomatic, economic, cultural, media communications and entertainment hub which sets the global standard and pace in these and other sectors. At about 88 sq. Km, its just under one tenth the size of Addis Abeba – the capital of Ethiopia.

This territory is actually the richest county inside a state found in the world’s wealthiest nation. It boasts a 630 billion dollar economy which has diverse world leading services and industries. Nearly 65 million tourists pour in yearly from all over the world.

This amazing county’s assets are estimated to be worth upwards of 3 trillion dollars. The best areas command sales prices of 18,000 dollars and monthly rent of over 32,000 dollars-PER METER SQUARE!

Yes, I’m talking about the New York borough of Manhattan. This fabulously wealthy island was however, purchased from a local Native American tribe for the equivalent of just ONE THOUSAND THIRTY EIGHT DOLLARS! The buyers were Dutch colonists and part of the payment was made with beer and whiskey to which the natives had become heavily addicted to.

During the latter two decades of the 20th century, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico among others were carrying extremely high debt burdens. The nations went into prolonged recessions, hyperinflation and mass unemployment. Some defaulted on their loans and declared national bankruptcy as well as states of emergency.

Even today, countries such as Argentina are still to recover from that meltdown and in fact, may have entered another debt-fueled economic emergency. Meanwhile, most African states were not listed on the debt ledgers-at least not so much that economists and other would consider them to be critically indebted.

Fast forward to the present and we can find several African states which are burdened with excessive foreign debt which they can not hope to pay back.

One country stands out in very prominently for setting debt fueled colonial trap-China. This eastern colossus is no gentle giant but a rapacious and ever so clever manipulator which is unscrupulously applying on Africa the very same methodology that had been used by European powers to take over Hong Kong, Macao and other areas of China.

What a far cry from the 1960s and up to the early 1990s when China was rightly regarded as making common cause with oppressed African states just coming out of European colonialism.

The dragon is busy taking advantage of African states compromised by unsustainable Chinese debt loads. Such is the fate of Africa and Africans in the 21 century. Its a case of the morbid reality of back-to-the-future geopolitics.