Economics of us and them



Uba Group

French political thinker, Jean Jacques Rousseau, once quipped that “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” an allusion to the many cultural, economic and political restrictions that man contrives to manacle his fellow men. Here is how a gentleman, obviously cast in the mould of a South African liberation fighter, puts it: “Slavery is not physical anymore.

It’s in the systems: the religious system; the economic system; the political system; the education (al) system.” Every form of racial, ethnic, religious or class segregation is no more than a moat, erected to protect the privileges of a narrow in-crowd, those “approved” to take advantage of the imposed segregation. The idea of apartheid was introduced into the consciousness and politics of South Africa by Hendrik Frensch Verwood, a psychologist, sociologist and editor of Die Transvaler newspaper, who is regarded as the ideologue and architect of apartheid.

Apartheid became South Africa’s state policy in 1948 when the National Party, led by President Daniel F. Malan, assumed power. Apartheid, which separated all categories of non-Whites from whites in South Africa, is Afrikaans for “apartness,” or separate development, of the various races living in South Africa. Apartheid was introduced to retain economic advantages for white-skinned South Africans, the Dutch, English and other European residents, and excluded everyone with any shade of colour.

The apartheid system was born out of the political victory of radical White trade unions in South Africa. It was an essentially economic system that was run along racial lines. Your race determines the economics of your life. The Blacks, apart from those who served the whites as domestic servants, were herded into reservations called Bantustants, away from the social and economic privileges of the White quarters. A cleric justified the capturing of Africans and converting them into slaves with a scripture from the Christian Bible. He reportedly argued that Africans were descendants of Ham, the Kushite who looked at the nakedness of Prophet Noah, his father.

No wonder, Franz Fanon, claimed, in his seminal book, “The Wretched of the Earth,” that the imperialist Western economies were rich because African countries, who owned the mineral resources that are exploited for the advantage of the peoples of the Western economies, were poor.


The United States of America has a most virulent economic system that essentially runs along parallel racial lines. Black Americans, who prefer to be referred to as African-Americans these days, are at the bottom of the economic ladder. They came into America on galleons as slaves, to work on the plantations and as domestics in the homes of the White “Massas.” Even after slavery was abolished, America found a way to keep the Blacks in check, corralled by an invisible fence that separated them from economic privileges.

Thomas Jefferson, who penned the document of America’s Declaration of Independence, which argued that it is “self-evident that all men are created equal,” was the same person who suggested that Black slaves, “when freed… is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture,” with white Americans. But apparently, that discriminatory attitude did not prevent Jefferson from having six children with Sarah “Sally” Hemmings, a slave, who was one-quarter o f African ancestry that he inherited from John Wayles, his father-in-law. When Barack Obama, with a Kenyan father, but a white American mother, asked for America’s highest office, that of the President, they laughed him to scorn. He was undaunted.

So they threw the birther argument against him. Luckily he could prove that he was born in Hawaii. And though his brilliance shone through and he was elected the 44th President of America, he had a lot of troubles wading through the prejudices strewn in the ways of everyone with an iota of Blackness in him. Even his benign Obamacare healthcare initiative, aimed at easing the woes of poor Americans of every colour, was almost shot down. And what remains of it is no more than a shadow of the original. And even after Donald Trump made a fool of himself as America’s President, the American system still thinks that a white man is inherently better to be America’s President.

India had the most terrible caste system that economically, psychologically, socially and almost physically separated the Brahmins, at the apex of the caste system, from the untouchables, who were to perennially remain as hewers of wood and drawers of water for the Brahmins.

And despite intentional steps to eliminate this cruel system, it has remained as viable as it was in the times past, even if it has receded behind a “socio-psychological” screen that eases the conscience of the pretentious Indian elite. The discrimination against Africans was taken to a ridiculous extent at the onset of the Ukrainian-Russian War in February 2022.

You could see videos of blueeyed, blonde Ukrainian officials preventing their African guests from boarding trains that would take them safely to Poland. At times, it sounded somewhat comical that Ukrainians were willing to abandon their country to aliens as they, the hosts, were scrambling to get themselves out of harm’s way. It took a global outcry before the Ukrainians, who were seeking succour from the rest of the world, would begin to consider the Africans in their country as co-victims of Russian aggression.

Nigeria’s version of discrimination weaves religion into ethnic identification, and it is used to appropriate the political powers of the Nigerian state, for the use of a privileged group that you might regard as the political oligarchy. And the major stock-in-trade of this oligarchy is the dispensation of political patronage, first amongst the narrow confine of their group, and then to the grovelling “outsiders,” who are compelled to do their biddings in return for the privileges.

If you scour through the landscape of Nigeria’s sinecure system, you will observe that Nigerians from a certain region, namely the North, a certain religion, namely Islam, and a certain ethnic group, namely the Hausa-Fulani, and their cohorts from other ethnic groups occupy the zenith. If you survey the security agencies of Nigeria, especially under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, you will notice that most of the senior officers belong to one region and one religion.

The same applies to the leadership of the agencies that generate significant revenue into the coffers of the government. By retaining the security and financial agencies of Nigeria in the hands of people of one region and religion, it should be no surprise that Nigeria has an all-inclusive elite group, though there are more than 300 ethnic groups with their peculiar cultures, languages and religions in the country.

But the interesting part is that the ethno-religious barriers in Nigeria seem to be breaking down and are being replaced with another that admits conspirators, from all other ethnic, religious and regional groups in Nigeria, but with a common selfish and self-centred goal.

If you do not belong to the right crowd, you may never get certain kinds of appointments or contracts. They just won’t consider you if you are not corrupt enough. A friend once said promotion kept eluding him until he got smart enough to join the “tribe of office jostlers,” who dance like moths, around the office puppeteers. The informal organisation is the biggest facilitator of this insidious economic “otherness.”