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A continuing legacy: Europe’s hold over cheap labor from Africa

Gregg Reese OW Contributor | 2/1/2018, midnight
The Middle Passage is well known as a factor in the development of “the New..

The Middle Passage is well known as a factor in the development of “the New World” in the Western Hemisphere and the spread of European influence as part of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Lesser known is its part in a wider, complex circuit of commerce stretching eastward into Asia. For the French in particular, it enabled them to further Western Imperialism into but south and eastward into Africa, and Asia and the Orient as well. As we shall see, the era of colonialism set the stage current events in the millennium, and the specter of human bondage and servitude lingers on.

Although it established a beachhead in Canada and the U.S. early on (known as the "First" French Empire from 1804 to 1814), the French colonies really gained momentum in the late 19th Century as the French moved to regroup after their defeat (by Germany) in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Expanding their empire through North Africa with Algeria, then south along the coast through Senegal, and inland to Mali, Niger, and other countries along equatorial Africa.

Eager to replenish their coffers (since the war shifted the European balance of power in favor of Germany), they moved into Southeast Asia. Therein they gained a foothold in Japan and Korea, and established French Indochina to the south, which set up the Vietnam War and a blemish on American prestige in the late 20th century.

The Second World War marked the erosion of these territories as both the Allies and Axis forces appropriated these territories in the process of conducting the war.

Uprisings in Algeria and Vietnam in the 1950s accelerated the collapse of this colonial empire, although the French cunningly maintained other, subtle ties and influence to their former dependents.

Setting the stage

Libya, too, has toiled under the lash of European servitude, albeit not by the French. The Spanish (16th century) held sway until the Ottoman (Turkey) Empire expelled them and established dominion there for centuries. Italy pushed them out after the Italo-Turkish War (1911-12) and formed a colony in what is now known as Libya just before World War I.

The aftermath of World War II saw a mass division of former colonies with the British and their French allies sharing jurisdiction of Libya. The newly formed United Nations granted it independence in 1952, with King Idris, the former Emir ("Lord" or "commander-in-chief") of Cyrenaica as head of state. His reign saw a shift towards Western influences (aided in no small part by U.S. aid, which was prompted by American designs on the country’s developing oil industry). This reliance on outside authority put Idris at odds with the emerging movement of Arab Nationalist.

During the 1950s, Libya became a leading producer and a major supplier of goods destined Europe as it rebuilt itself from the ashes of the World War. France in particular developed an insatiable thirst for Libyan crude, a dependence which will come into play later. This monetary largess did not filter down to the masses, however, and a major factor of dissent was the wide spread corruption and cronyism. By 1969, the momentum of discord came to a head with a coup d’etat (a governmental overthrow or revolution) by disgruntled members of the Libyan Army. At their helm was a charismatic Colonel who would become the international face of the nation: Muammar Gaddafi.