Once upon a time there was colonization. The earliest colonizers were all European feudals and kings (so we know where some of our habits come from). They came marauding our resource-rich countries because their own land area was much smaller, their agriculture less productive, and nothing grew there during long freezing winters — only one harvest a year compared to two or three, as in South Asia. Unfortunately, our elected leaders never appreciated how blessed we were, even though most also exploited the peasantry and enriched themselves.

They were smart too, most playing both sides of the game, like double agents. The colonizers imposed on our elite their own education and technology, and our elite in turn did not reincorporate our own knowledge dating back 10,000 years.

After World War II, when the colonials took an awful beating despite subsequent victory, they found colonialism no longer feasible. Once they recovered, the change did not overly disturb them, because former colonies had the kind of administration they understood in the adopted language and could deal with (after all they put it into place). They were aware of the overwhelming new responsibilities that new statehoods come with. They knew that trade and the commodities they still needed would continue, which was all they were interested in, and it would be on their terms for a while at least.

What few fully comprehended then was that America, the unscathed World War II victor, was plotting to mop up the “newly-independent” world, with subdued Europe in tow, through a new global financial system controlled by the US.  They decided which country’s money was worth how much in terms of their own. And because all economists came from the west of our borders, and possessed the rare ability to authoritatively pass off monetary theory (and fiction) as fact, we accepted their word for it, including lower prices than what our exports were really worth.

The facilitator they created was the World Bank. Originally, it wasn’t meant to deal with trade-related finance juggling dozens of international currencies on behalf of countries. It was meant to handle loans to rehabilitate war-devastated Europe. But then America very discourteously almost pushed the World Bank out of business with the Marshall Plan. It dished out all the money Europe needed in the form of grants which didn’t have to be paid back. 

That’s when the World Bank did some fast thinking and invented the business of ‘development’ for former colonies they offensively labeled ‘the Third World’: they’d impoverished us long enough to earn that title. There were huge sighs of relief from the overpaid, overrated bankers who were ultimately a part of the centralized global financial cabal.

It was easy enough to con the naïve newly-independent countries about lending schemes deviously designed to make development a permanent state of affairs by ensuring that our countries never became developed enough not to need the World Bank anymore. (Because, logically, once all countries were adequately developed, which should have happened in a couple of decades at the most, the World Bank should have become redundant and disbanded.) Oh yes, corrupting decision-makers was part of the methodology.

For that, American foresight set in place the IMF to maintain perpetual debt. The ploy worked. Despite the staggering billions we’re borrowed from them, we are still a poverty-ridden country. For every dollar we borrow, we pay back several, unendingly, because usurious interests makes it impossible to repay the principle amount.

The IMF institutionalized and legitimized the violation of human and constitutional rights through so-called “structural adjustment.” Democracy was hijacked from that very moment in the 80’s – albeit willingly by the compromised wielding unelected power at that point. The state henceforth slashed allocations to a threadbare minimum, denying the most basic public services and the right to adequate food, water, healthcare, education, shelter and access to the commons to the poorest. Instead, money was routinely diverted to usurious debt repayments. Did anyone ask the people or our parliaments? No. Does the IMF supersede our governments? No. So, has Parliament and the political parties ever questioned the legitimacy of structural adjustment? No. Why not?

Indeed, the World Bank and IMF re-colonized us at the outset and we didn’t even see through it – or our decision-makers knowingly turned a blind eye throughout! As if that were not bad enough, governments signed a deal with WTO, not even a body of countries like the UN, but of giant private entities, created and dominated by American multinationals and global banks, out to appropriate the South’s wealth, while making us believe we were modernizing through globalized investment. They began to treat the entire South as one massive unit of materials and manpower, outsourcing for cheap labour, and later mass markets as well through new forms of technological and wholesale exploitation, made possible via illegally and deceitfully obtained patents on both manufactures and processes.

The biggest con of all was the concept of ‘free trade’, as if it’s the exclusive right of a select few. Yet there’s no such thing as free trade which assumes equal strengths and bargaining power on the part of all involved parties. But the rules have been made only by the dominating powers, based on unequal terms and imposed perforce, the way paved by World Bank/IMF – a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude –coming at a very heavy and rights-violating cost.

The first duty of a state is fulfilling the basic needs of all citizens before trading its surplus. Instead, the entire economy, especially agriculture, our key source of food and exports, is treated as the personal fiefdom of a parasitical minority — to the extent of maximizing exports before fulfilling all citizens’ needs – for which there is never much left. In effect there are no real political borders that one cannot cross commercially. Elected governments even refused to separate domestic money and commerce from foreign dealings, further muddying finance, and leaving citizens without any protection or sovereignty whatsoever.

We make hefty billions in profits. But we also lose billions in compound interest to IMF (not to mention our own kind stealing us blind). So much so that there’s no money left to complete still unfinished infrastructure to fully provide essential public services needed to spur local economies.

Today, democracy is just a hollow term, our toothless parliaments going through the motions, placing false hopes among simple citizens and a gullible or largely corporate-serving electronic media. For predators, politics is merely the easy route to stolen wealth. Rulers have progressed further into the arms of global investors and corporate entities having no loyalties to any country – which is merely a convenient administrative procedure to enable entry.

Today unilateralism and privatization supersede democracy, and selling off strategic assets to foreign powers or their local fronts is fashionably ‘globalization’. The rest watch helplessly, quietly, for fear of losing their jobs or their lives. The heirs of pre-partition PML have still not restored land to the tillers of the soil as promised. Instead foreign-invested corporate farming with computerized machinery is supposed to work millions of acres as single businesses by displacing peasants who could be employed on lakhs of family farm enterprises to feed both citizens and exports.

The writer is a former journalist and currently director of The Green Economic Initiative at Shirkat Gah, a rights and advocacy group.

Email:najma.sadeque.ns@gmail.com