African studies, Post-colonial studies

Posted on

Bekeh Utietiang Ukelina | Who Owns Africa?

Bekeh Utietiang Ukelina


“Africa is not a piece of pie or cake for Global Powers to want to take a piece for themselves.”


Who Owns Africa? addresses the role of foreign actors in Africa and their competing interests in exploiting the resources of Africa and its people. An interdisciplinary team of scholars examines the concept of colonialism from a historical and socio-political perspective. Q&A with editor Bekeh Utietiang Ukelina.

Briefly and concisely explain in plain language what the book is about.
The book explores the question of African sovereignty. It explores the dynamics of Africa’s relations with global powers, arguing that the interests of these powers on the African continent today are neither altruistic nor mutually beneficial but exploitative. Like the old European imperialism, which cloaked the exploitation of African people behind the mantle of mission civilisatrice, these neocolonial powers use terms such as ‘investments,’ ‘development aid,’ and ‘cooperation’ to cover up their agenda of extracting and exploiting African resources.

What or who inspired you to choose this topic?
I was inspired to edit this book because of the recurring question I get throughout my travels in Africa: ‘Is China going to own Africa like the Europeans did in the colonial period?’. Many people on the continent are troubled by the huge presence of Chinese laborers doing construction and mining jobs, and the loans that African countries are collecting from China. As I started looking at the China question, I realized that this cannot be answered without also interrogating the theme of colonialism and neocolonialism. This book is an outcome of a scholarly virtual workshop we held in 2021 on this topic. The workshop was a part of the New York African Studies Association annual conference.

Do you have any reading suggestions to share (books, blogs, journals, …) for anyone who wants to know more about the subject?
A few suggested readings are, Kwame Nkrumah, Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism; Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth; Frederick Cooper, Africa since 1940; Howard French, China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a new Empire in Africa.

How did the writing process for this book go? Did you experience anything surprising, amusing or strange?
Edited volumes are always challenging because you are dealing with multiple scholars and their multiple schedules. For the most part, keeping to deadlines was not as challenging for this project. Many of the scholars adhered strictly to the deadlines. The most challenging for me was dealing with scholars from different disciplines and with different methodologies. I decided earlier in the project that we were going to use the Chicago Style for citations. Some of the contributors are more familiar with the APA and Harvard and so we spent a lot of time trying to fix the citations. The editors at Leuven University Press were awesome to work with. They were just so responsive and accommodating!

What would you like readers to remember about your book?
I want the readers to remember that Africa is not a piece of pie or cake for Global Powers to want to take a piece for themselves. Africa is owned by Africans and Africans need to recognize this fact, believe it, and act accordingly because the now and future of Africa is in the hands of Africans and not any global super power. None of them are in Africa because they want to help Africa, they are in Africa because of what they can get.

Do you have any plans yet for another publication? What will it be about?
Definitely. I am working on a monograph that will also be published by the Leuven University Press. The Editorial Board has already accepted the proposal. It is tentatively titled, A Civilizing Mission: British Colonialism and the Evolution of Education in Nigeria. The book examines the evolution of colonial education in Nigeria, historicizing the policies and practices that shaped education in Britain’s most populous colony in Africa.

In addition, I am also organising a conference to be held in Nigeria in June 2023. This conference, Decolonizing Global Hegemonies in Africa and the African Diaspora (see CFP), will build on the insights from Who Owns Africa? and further open up this theme to global hegemony in multiple territories, and also in relation to the African diaspora.