Imperial Gangster Nations: Peddling “Democracy” and Other Goodies to the Untutored

Gangsters are adept at convincing you of your binding need for their protection, to guard against impending perils — largely of their own creation.  The fee for this unsolicited service is that it must be reimbursed in recurrent fashion. This mobster tactic has become the preferred model of economic relationships between imperial financial institutions and the developing world.  Prescribed recurrent reimbursements are preceded by offers you dare not refuse, since they are sure to “whack” you or your government agents should you summon the courage to decline the contrived protection services.  Besides being a flawless self-fulfilling prophesy, it is a strategy that is at once an original and bizarre model of economics, or the now familiar neoliberal rabid tactics employed in the lopsided imperial economic relationships with developing nations.  Regardless of the origins of the strategy, imperial and settler governments have employed that tactic of protection racketeering and plunder along with recurrent fees, as indispensable for the economic success of their hegemonic undertakings.  And they do so without inviting much domestic attention or censure, especially in their relationships with other nations they view as puny or whose citizens they regard as inferior.  That these gangster methods rarely are the subject of domestic censure is a direct result of the ideological foundations sown by the Powell memorandumthat set in motion an unrelenting propaganda campaign to advance the gangster neoliberal economic model and setting the stage for recruiting a primed, credulous public to its cause.  Before that there is the the divinely ordained racist Manifest Destiny . The inescapable feel-good doctrine of American Exceptionalismadds a racist postscript to a gangster dimension of the republic.

The very organ that should hold governments to account — the mainstream version of the Fourth Estate — is at the frontline cheerleading the twin acts of theft and mass murder (the whacking arm of the economic aid package) in distant lands committed in the name of their citizens and lies cloaked as honorable principles.  They are the flagbearers of a formidable propaganda front in the service of Empire, one that effectively mesmerizes its constituents into accepting a fictional munificence and a deceptive nobility of the imperial cause.  A journalistic arm of gangster republics is in full swing. Its mission:  to sell to a thoroughly programmed citizenry the fiction of their country being a force for good.  What is omitted from this façade is that it is intended to benefit a miniscule economic elite and corporations for whom the state apparatus now shamelessly serves.

Current imperial ventures of modern times can be usefully analyzed within the mobster framework.  The two entities (imperialism and gangsterism) share a common precept: gangsters thrive on protection rackets.  On the other hand, colonial subjects deemed inferior have an imagined, inherent need to be protected from themselves, giving rise to protection rackets that co-evolved with colonialism, later in the case of the US, “alliances” for or against a variety of causes prescribed by the imperial metropolis.  In essence it is a guise for unrestrained capitalism, wanton theft and murder firmly rooted in exceptionalism. It befitted the “civilized” barbarians of Europe to embark on a self-styled salvation project for the colonized.  On occasion, colonial rulers recruited the colonized to fight their wars as occurred among many colonial subjects during WWII.  The recurrent protection payoff is unlimited access to the vast natural resources and virtually free labor in colonized lands for the express purpose of enriching the colonizers who then quickly return to their colonial possessions to peddle their processed and repackaged merchandise at exorbitant profits and to be paid in colonial or imperialcurrencies, courtesy of savages unworthy of such blessings.  That the protection racket is alive and well is amply demonstrated by a recent barefaced statement by America’s Secretary of State, Chuck Hagel, that America will protect the Philippinesfrom the Chinese threat.  The Philippines was a country once “sold” by one mobster country, Spain, to another, the US. That transaction excluded the Filipinos. An ensuing anti-colonial resistance war against American rule led to an estimated 200,000 Filipinos dead.  Libya and Syria sound familiar?

The imperial extractive method was not lost on North Korea when calling American demands in the ongoing denuclearization negotiations as “gangster” diplomacy.  You would have thought that a country that steps forward to commit to eliminating its nuclear program would be met with uncommon reserves of goodwill to facilitate confidence building measures to allow the smooth implementation of an undertaking with untold peace dividends.  But that approach did not serve Libya well as the death and destruction visited on that country clearly showed.  But the mobster mentality places its own interests above all else.  Absent anticipated significant gains from ongoing jockeying for positions and posturing with rivals, meaningful concessions would not be in the books.

Mafia dons are also known to confer with each otherfrom time to time in solemn meetings when turf and merchandise wars spin out of control. These meetings would reach agreement on territorial delineations and merchandise distribution to usher in an interlude of peace until the next war erupts.  In true Mafia style, European colonial gangsters held their infamous meeting in Berlin in 1884 – 85 convened by the then German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.  This gathering was prompted by mounting rivalries between European powers – Britain and France were at each other’s throats at about that time.  Respective countries carved out their chosen African lands in conference halls in Berlin – naturally in the absence of Africans themselves.  The meeting drew haphazard boundaries of coveted colonies with no regard to local and cultural demarcations that represented over 1000 indigenous languages, cultures and regions.  The meeting for the “Scramble for Africa” was to formalize a process that had already been set in motion.  The result: the random creation of some 50 countries with muddled results.  African countries along with their internal incongruities fashioned by colonial powers survive to this day, often enduring costly secession and civil wars or bitter ethnic rivalries in which winner-take-all constitutes an overriding economic blueprint.

The French invented an even more shrewd model of gangster colonialism, “assimilation”.  On paper, this approach ostensibly drew inspiration from the French revolution—freedom, equality and fraternity, one that should apply to anyone who was rendered French, regardless of race or color…The reality was quite different. The French “mission civilisatrice” as the pivot for assimilation was based on notions of French superiority and whose duty it was to civilize the “barbarians” they encountered and turn them into Frenchmen.

A blatantly Mafiaesque extortionist plan for her former African colonies was concocted by France; it was designed to keep them enslaved and impoverished while enriching France:  charging “colonial tax” to 14 African countries.  This tax continues to be imposed as compensation for the “benefits” of French colonial rule.  The gangster analogies get even more apt.  Those that opt out of this egregious practice by declaring independence from France, as did Guinea under Ahmed Sékou Touré in 1958, were left completely rundown.  Anything that could not be taken by the departing French, including schools, nurseries and public administration buildings were razed. Foodstuffs in warehouses were burnt or poisoned and livestock killed.  Many decades later, racist American soldiers during the invasion of Iraq were to loot priceless artifacts from Iraqi museums and jewelry from private homes, leaving a once prosperous country in tatters.

Former French colonies that showed the slightest signs of restlessness would invite direct military intervention, assassination of heads of state, or furtive coup de tats engineered, election rigging and the business of French extortion put back on track.  Over $500 billion of these impoverished nations’ funds would end up in French coffers.  As Chris Lehman of once noted succinctly: “Feeding France, Bleeding Africa”.  A former President of France Jacques Chiraq once stated that without this involuntary largesse from Africa, France’s economy would be no different from that of many third world countries.  In fact, absent theft of African natural resources by capitalist sharks protected by Western governments, African economies would be quite robust.  The unstated fact is that contrary to popularly held beliefs that Africans depend on Western handouts for their subsistence and survival, it is African involuntary aid that continues to keep the economies of many former European colonial powers afloat.

Parts of this essay were published (11 April, 2018) in the Black Agenda Report.

Kweli Nzito is a retired scientist now living in the Philippines.