In 2020, as Black Lives Matter activists challenged unequal power relations across the world, Dara Latinwo – a One Young World Ambassador – contacted Tax Justice Network to discuss how tax havens and illicit financial flows have thwarted African development in the decades since many states won their independence from European empires. The Tax Justice Network suggested that Dara guest edit a special edition of Tax Justice Focus, their flagship publication, and invite four eminent scholars to contribute their views on the subject. Here is that special edition, and the following blog contains Dara’s guest editorial in full.
This article was originally published by the Tax Justice Network.
Views reflect those of the author(s).
In a year plagued by pandemic-driven loss and lockdowns, the death of George Floyd did the seemingly impossible and pierced sharply into the global consciousness of 2020, sparking fervour that fuelled worldwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
Keen to keep up with those marching in the streets, corporations and celebrities were quick to claim solidarity on social media, showcasing their support for ‘The struggle’ and displaying their donations on blacked-out Instagram accounts. However, wading through this deluge of diversity-themed tweets and posts left me uneasy. After all, many of those hurrying to hashtag their ‘allyship’ with one hand, are also hiding their wealth in tax havens with the other.
"Any debate or discussion that is serious about tearing down racial injustice, rather than just statues, must include Africa."
These secretive repositories starve governments of vital resources that could be used to improve the lives and prospects of millions of people like George Floyd. (Whether those governments would use the resources in this way is a question for another editorial.) Moreover, by harnessing havens for their own benefit, individuals and organisations prop up structures that serve as the final destination for funds stolen from public coffers across Africa – the region with the most black lives.
As long as Africa remains economically hobbled by these exploitative global financial flows and systems, it will not just be capital that flees from the continent but, increasingly, its desperate population too, hungry for basic opportunities to develop and dignify itself. However, more often than not, these economic evacuees find only a frosty reception on reaching foreign shores: described and dismissed as ‘migrants’, they end up at the bottom of yet another pile. With this being the case, it is no surprise – but no excuse either – that the black diaspora finds itself particularly vulnerable to the sort of prejudices that led the store owner to call the police on Floyd last summer and Chinese authorities to hound African expats out of their homes last spring.
For this reason, any debate or discussion that is serious about tearing down racial injustice, rather than just statues, must include Africa. As the competition between actual and aspiring superpower states intensifies, it is imperative that African countries enhance their economic and geopolitical heft on the world stage, especially as other governments have few, if any, scruples about strengthening themselves at Africa’s expense.
Hence, the decision to commission this special edition of Tax Justice Focus which spotlights Africa and explores the international dimension to racial inequity buried in the continent’s past, playing out in its present, and looming over its future.
"As long as Africa remains economically hobbled by exploitative global financial flows, it will not be just capital that flees from the continent but, increasingly, its desperate population too."
In the first article Dr Ndongo Samba Sylla, a former technical adviser at the Senegalese Presidency and current research & programme manager at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, explores the colonial past and neo-colonial present of West and Central Africa’s monetary system. Tracing the origins of the region’s economic entanglement with France, Dr Ndongo illustrates how technocratic control over monetary policy has helped Paris keep its former possessions in a state of underdevelopment long after the end of the formal empire.
Pulling the reader into the present with the second article is Léonce Ndikumana, a director at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) and a UN Development Committee member. His piece follows the trail of devastation left by illicit financial flows, all the way to the poisoned paradises of modern-day tax havens – the temporary homes for ill-gotten gains siphoned from the continent. Casting a glance back at some of the financially hollowed-out African nations, Léonce’s contribution highlights the human cost of havens and the systemic corruption they contaminate countries with.
Gyude Moore, a former Minister of Public Works in Liberia and current senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development use the third article to peer more closely at Africa’s relationship with China in order to present a more nuanced picture of this oft-discussed commercial and political ‘partnership’. Looking ahead to an uncertain post-pandemic future, Gyude offers practical policy recommendations on how Africa can strategically navigate its way along with this second incarnation of the ‘Silk Road’.
"Many of those hurrying to their hashtag their 'allyship' with one hand, are also hiding their wealth in tax havens with the other"
The final feature article in this edition, written by Fadhel Kaboub, Associate Professor of economics at Denison and President of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, seeks to grapple with the question of what a sovereign and sustainability-focused African continent could look like and convincingly maps out the journey there. In so doing, Fadhel persuasively lays out for readers what it would take for Africa to wake up as a real-life Wakanda.
The issue concludes with a review of Tom Bergin’s Free Lunch Thinking, a reminder that underdevelopment in Africa is in part the culmination of a steady process of intellectual decay in Europe and North America.
Although the heady ‘Africa rising’ narratives, which have waxed and waned over the years, strive to create compelling visions of a strong, self-determining Africa that exists beyond a Marvel film fantasy, these narratives often miss a central truth: that Africa did rise. Indeed, its proud pre-colonial past is a testament to this rarely revealed reality.
Thanks to curious history hunters, such as broadcaster Zeinab Badawi with her BBC History of Africa series and the musician Akala with his lectures on ancient and medieval Africa, new light is being shed on the array of technological advances made by sophisticated African civilisations before transatlantic slavery and colonialism shattered the continent’s sense of self and confidence.
Social media support, mingled with sympathy, for black communities across the world ultimately rings hollow without an accompanying readiness to rethink and remove the economic and financial strangleholds that have enfeebled the African continent. This edition of Tax Justice Focus represents an attempt to loosen some of these so that Africa can, one day soon, rise again.
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