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The Source of African Poverty Part One: How We Wish for Matthew Perry

Please note that the issue of African poverty cannot be covered in just one article. We therefore will not attempt to cover it in one article. This discussion will therefore have many parts. Also, on the African Camp Fire Stories podcast, as we release more and more of our series and episodes, there will be topics we will cover that will help to establish an understanding of why Africa has gotten the way it is today. So please continue listening to the podcast episodes. Episode 3 is coming soon.

So let us begin with today’s discussion….which is going to serve as Part One of our discussion on The of Source African Poverty.

In 1853, US Navy Commodore Matthew Perry arrived at Japan’s Edo Bay. Today Edo is known as Tokyo. Perry was there on a mission from the then US President. His goal was to open Japan to trade with the USA; by force if he had to. Perry was using what is known among diplomats as “gunboat diplomacy”. This is the kind of diplomacy where one side in diplomatic affairs, usually the more powerful side, runs roughshod over the weaker side.

Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry

Perry arrived at the bay, made threats; and promised that he would be back in a year. In the event, Perry was back only six months later, and pretty much got what he had come for.

This is generally the point in Japan’s history where the Japanese began to westernise ferociously. The feeling amongst Japanese was that if they didn’t westernise their country and develop it in the western manner very quickly, they were going to be puppets of western countries. Thus the Japanese urgently westernised their economy and their military, amongst other things.

First Landing of Americans in Japan

Japan can consider herself lucky. Many other countries did not have the kind of luck that the Japanese had. Why are the Japanese lucky? Because in
many other places there was no notice of a western take-over. No admiral Perry arrived, made threats and left. In the Americas, so-called conquistadors like Francisco Pizarro and Hernan Cortes, rocked up in the Inca Empire and the Aztec Empire, respectively, and began taking over.

Arrival of Perry in Japan

The same applies to many African countries. There was no option to try anddevelop quickly so as to keep colonisers at bay. The colonisation process in Africa was designed to plunder resources; both human and material resources. Thus it would be rather naive to try and ask why were Africans poor during colonisation. Colonisation wasn’t meant to produce wealth for Africans.

Japanese Depiction of Perrys Ship

But starting from the 1950s, Africans began to acquire their freedom. This was a tough and long drawn process however. Some African countries only
received their freedom as recent as the 1990s. So, it would be unfair to judge those Johnny-come-lately countries as harshly as the countries that obtained their freedom in the 1950s and 1960s.

So what happened to the African countries that have had their freedom for about 50 years and more? Is there a theory from history of why African countries are so poor?

We will continue with this discussion on the next article, on Part Two. Which is coming to this website very soon.

Further reading