Essence of Neo-Colonialism in the Documentary 'Life and Debt' and Kwame Nkrumah's Essay 'Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism'
Kwame Nkrumah in his essay ‘Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism’ unleashes two different dimensions where in theory a neo-colonial state seems independent and sovereign but in reality, that state’s economic system, political policy, cultural practices are influenced/controlled by external powers. In the documentary ‘Life and Debt’, directed by Stephanie Black, the director has carefully presented how external power such as the IMF entered Jamaica to save its economy from the financial crisis, but in reality, it was just exploitation of less developed countries like Jamaica. This clearly depicts the theory/reality approach taken by Kwame Nkrumah to present neo-colonialism.
The documentary ‘Life and Debt’ right after riots/crisis like situations start with a speech by the director of the International Monetary Fund, Horst Köhler, who said: “The issue is to make globalization work for all. There will be no good future for the rich if there is no prospect for a better future for the poor”. This substantiates Kwame Nkrumah’s idea in his essay where he mentions how great powers wait for a threshold crisis moment in less developed countries to gain control over the economy. Neo-colonialist control is exercised through economic or monetary means which was clearly depicted in the documentary, where Jamaican leader in 1970’s, Michael Manley, when visited Washington for a loan, the IMF dictated terms and conditions for loans, where they said they will provide only short-term loans under their conditions, but would not entertain any discussion about long-term solutions.
Kwame Nkrumah explains in his essay how foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than for the development of the less developed parts of the world, which can be related to Manley’s speech, where he says: “In Washington, they just looked at us and said: ‘No, no, no. Your inflation last year was 18% and we are not allowing you to lend to your farmers at 12%. You must charge 23%’”. This clearly explains the slow and steady future plan of the IMF to cripple the domestic economy of Jamaica and in the long-term leading to establishing a footprint of developed countries through the vehicle of free markets.
The short-term loan to save the economy came with a huge packet of burden and immense restrictions on the state of Jamaica on all fronts. Jamaica’s post-independence struggle to rebuild was not in its own hand anymore. Jamaica’s continuing financial crises, high unemployment, lawlessness, and social turmoil have to be seen against the background of IMF/World Bank policies that successive governments have been forced to pursue for well over two decades. ‘Life and Debt’ depict how those policies have impacted different sections of Jamaican society in general.
The story of local farmers where they used to make a decent living selling by their products to the local market before the IMF insisted on the removal of tariffs on imported goods. In this documentary, the IMF had couple policies that Jamaica had to follow in order to receive the money from them, which were that Jamaica had to cut off funding their education programs, unemployment benefits, and finally to the local Jamaican industries. The IMF did not handle the Jamaican situation fairly nor properly because their poor decision just kept on bringing in more trouble and problems for the Jamaican economy to handle. Throughout the entire documentary, Black portrayed a variety of examples about how the IMF’s poor decision actually made the Jamaican economy worse. Now they cannot compete with cheap imported onions, carrots and potatoes from the USA. The same story is told in the documentary when dairy unit pours the milk down the drain, because they cannot compete with the cheap imported subsidized milk powder from the US. We hear similar concerns from the chicken farmer, whose business is no longer viable, because his 50-cents-a-pound chicken cannot compete with the 20-cents-a-pound chicken parts from the US. There are also testimonies from banana farmers, whose industry has been devastated by the US-instigated WTO ruling that robs them of their secured tariff-free markets in Europe. These stories remind lines of Kwame, that is, “obligation of the neo-colonialist state to take manufactured products from imperial power through the exclusion of competing for products from domestic markets by liberating checks & balances, i.e., tariffs, etc.”.
In ‘Life and Debt’, a huge disconnect between what Jamaica is commercialized as to those outside its borders is shown, and also how life in Jamaica is really like for its natives. The gap between the two is so large, that one wouldn’t even think that they coexist. By showcasing these two different perspectives and placing them side-by-side, Black was able to create a major contrast between the two, which in essence made them easier to compare. We see Jamaica through the eyes of the tourist where whites pass through customs easily at the airports while the natives were checked intensively before they were allowed to pass through. Antiguan novelist Jamaica Kincaid’s essay ‘A Small Place’ is aptly adopted to provide a poetic narrative in the documentary, Kincaid says, “You move through customs easily, you move through customs with ease. While your bags are not searched”. We also see in documentary that the tourist rarely encounters, i.e., slum dwellers watch themselves on news footage of riots, political violence, and industrial unrest. Footage of the slums of Kingston is underscored by reggae and ragga music and dub poetry, lyrical meditations on the state of the nation. “I and I want to rule I destiny”, chants Buju Banton. This reality from the documentary can be backed from Kwame’s theory where he says an ideal neo-colonial state will be wholly subservient to neo-colonialist interests. In the documentary actions like the ease of customs access difference to whites/natives, one-sided picture of Jamaica which portrays it as a paradise on the earth clearly cements Kwame’s thoughts where the state is working for benefit of their neo-colonial masters, not towards the welfare of the people.
In his essay, Kwame mentions lines quoted by Karl Marx, i.e., the growing gap between the wealth of the possessing classes and the workers it employs would ultimately produce a conflict fatal to capitalism in each individual capitalist state. The documentary shows numerous examples of class conflict in Jamaica where laborers started attacking/vandalizing properties of factories when they were shutdown. It quotes examples of Jamaica Broilers Spring Village plant attack and frustration of beef farmers from several pastures of Jamaica who staged a protest near McDonald’s, which is importing cheap meat from the USA.
The documentary ‘Life and Debt’ and Kwame Nkrumah’s essay both clearly explain the genesis of neo-colonialism, the essence of it, different forms it has taken to achieve its end goal, impact it has created on economic/social/cultural landscape of Jamaica. Even though the context and interpretation of neo-colonialism are different, but the approach adopted to give essence was similar. The essence of neo-colonialism was outlined and connected from different themes in both works.
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