Colonial debt and reparations

| |

World Bank Group Headquarters 2017 Washington DC.

Southern countries, rich in minerals, are being forced to even export more resources to sustain the industries of developed countries.

Tunisia even went into debt to buy its own land back from its colonisers.

Slavery, beginning as early as the 16th century, seized millions of families from across Africa.

Gold, which represented the most significant African natural resource, lined the pockets of French banks.

Jules Ferry, former president of the French Council, declared in 1885: “The colonies represent, for the wealthy countries, the most profitable capital placement”.

This series of articles has been published in partnership with Dalia Gebrial and Harpreet Kaur Paul and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in London. It first appeared in a collection titled Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal.


Many African countries, upon earning their independence, were left with imposed colonial debts transferred to newly-established independent governments.

During the Cold War loans enticed African countries to steer away from socialist policies, and rewarded corrupt African governments for creating welcoming environments for foreign investment in place of focusing on the well-being of citizens.

Tied-aid has become emblematic in the African continent. For instance, a country may loan 1 million CFA francs to Mali while imposing an interest rate.

The loan is given on the condition that Mali purchase 1 million CFA francs worth of goods from this same - supposedly “donor” - country.


This ultimately results in indirectly subsidising large companies in the Global North, and charging the African people the interest rates for the burden of doing so. 

Any historic “investment” in roads, railroads, harbours was intended to facilitate the export of African natural resources to Europe’s metropolitan centres.

Tunisia even went into debt to buy its own land back from its colonisers.

While slaves have never received reparations for being sold, the British government was - in 2015 - still paying slave owners reparations for their lost property upon the abolition of slavery.

Southern countries, rich in minerals, are forced to export more and more mineral resources to sustain the industries of developed countries.


The looting and exploitation of colonised economies played a role in the underdevelopment of these countries, and has created what we call “economic migrants”.

Most colonised countries never recovered from this pillaging.

France threatened Haiti with another military invasion and the reestablishment of slavery if it did not pay a compensation of 150 million gold francs.

The World Bank of the 1950’s supported the colonial powers through loan grants.

Certain conditions attached to the loans were imposed on the borrowing nations, including population control measures which disproportionate targeted poor women.


Belgium transferred its debt to the World Bank, incurred by the Belgian colonial government, to Congo.

Congo received 120 million dollars of loans, of which 105.4 million dollars were spent in Belgium.

“Colonisation is a crime against humanity” stated Emmanuel Macron in February 2017 in Alger.


Indeed. But it is not enough to acknowledge it: these crimes must be tried and repaired for.

The first real step would be to recognise that the countries considered as “indebted” are in fact the creditors and to correct this particular view of the world.

The second step consists in paying reparations for these human, economic, and ecological crimes committed in history, consistent with the call made by Thomas Sankara, 37 President of Burkina Faso, on 29 July 1987, at the 25th African Unity Organisation Summit in Ethiopia.

This Author

Broulaye Bagayoko is a permanent secretary for the Coalition Of Alternative Debt And Development, in Bamako, Mali.