History doesn't repeat, but it rhymes.

Author:Wambu, Onyekachi
Position:BACK TO THE FUTURE
 
FREE EXCERPT

What caused the collapse of the 1,000-year-old Benin Kingdom? Are similar forces at work in today's world?

After nearly 1000 years, with a golden age in the 1700s, the Benin Kingdom collapsed first gradually, then suddenly over a period of 50 years.

A kingdom that had controlled its resources and territories, established an impressive trading empire, which included receiving tribute from surrounding weaker states, and produced fine artworks, was unable to protect itself and was utterly destroyed by the British in 1897.

Ovonramwen, the resisting Oba/ King, was exiled away from the Kingdom (dying in exile), while his more compliant son was imposed by the Brits as part of their system of indirect rule, what was responsible for such a disaster?

Of course, Benin was not unique. Two separate processes had unfolded over 50 years--one external, the other internal, each creating a feedback loop. Externally, the world was changing, and the Kingdom was under geopolitical pressure. The trade it controlled (principally enslaved fellow Africans) had rightly been choked off. Outside powers engaged in trade in the new commodity, palm oil, and demanded direct and monopoly control of the plantations, local markets and other resources, driving European territorial empire-building. These powers cooperated with each other frequently (such as at the 1884 Berlin conference). Internally, the Kingdom was weakened. Neigh-bouring states which provided tribute had been conquered, leading to a drying up of resources, a sense of impending doom and a pathetic resort to increasing human sacrifice as a way of forestalling this doom rather than adopting a strategy of re-arming and striking alliances with unconquered neighbours. A succession battle for the throne amongst competing brothers also contributed to disunity and internal exhaustion.

International norms shredded

Venezuela's scenario today repeats many lessons from Benin, down to the attempts to replace the country's leader, the embargo and strangulation of the economy and the refusal of the Bank of England to return gold reserves to the President.

Venezuela sits atop the world's biggest oil deposits and other huge mineral wealth, which is much coveted by external players. Internally, alongside a weakened economy, Venezuelans are so divided that they are on the brink of a civil war.

But like Ovonramwen, the Venezuelans should have been more acutely aware of the external...

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