DAVID PILLING: Are tech firms enabling old patterns of extraction in Africa?
If Jumia is not really African, say its critics, is it not merely the latest iteration in a long history of exploitation?
In 1886, barely a year after Europe’s great powers met in Berlin to carve up the continent of Africa, Queen Victoria granted Sir George Goldie a charter for his Royal Niger Company. The charter gave Goldie, a moustachioed, waistcoated gentleman of Scottish descent, the right to administer the Niger Delta and its hinterland. Like most of his peers, he was motivated by extraction, which in those days meant kola nuts, peanuts and palm oil.
There were many variations across Sub-Saharan Africa, but the pattern of exploitation was basically the same. Europeans arrived with power and technology, and left with goods and profits. First, they took slaves — the original sin — before turning their attention to commodities including gold, cocoa, rubber and coffee. Chartered companies would, in due course, give way to formal empire and Goldie’s was no exception, transferring its rights to the British government in 1900.