Mercantile Capitalism
Bronze, prosthetic eyes
300 x 260 x 330 mm
Edition of 3 (+1 AP)


"This little drama happened in the dingy Slave House on Goree Island, off the coast of Dakar, the captial of Senegal.

The Slave House was, in reality, a prison-cum-warehouse, the ground floor of which was used to house Africans destined for enslavement in the Americas. Upstairs were the traders’ quarters, linked to the ground floor by a dramatic staircase. The cupboard under the stairs served as a solitary confinement for ‘difficult’ slaves. The curator told me that tears had trickled down Nelson Mandela’s cheeks when he was shown the isolation cell.

The Slave House is the only building on Goree Island whose back door opens directly to the sea. It’s known as ‘the door of no return’. The people walking through the door onto waiting ships would never see their home country again.

Fast forward from the Slave House to the oil rigs along the Gulf of Guinea. One evening I flew from Lagos to northern Namibia along the gulf. Running the length of this amazing coastline are hundreds of oil rigs, rendered visible at night by the flames of the natural gas they flare. The rigs are not connected to the mainland; they pump crude oil from the bowels of the earth to waiting oil tankers – those ships again! – which carry the oil straight from the rigs to the great oil-refining industries in the United States, Asia and Europe; another commodity Africa is selling to the rest of the world. In the past it was people; today it is natural resources.

These... experiences are what led me to.... the way the powerful in Africa instead of enriching societies sell off the continent’s assets to enrich the rest of the world. In return for this service these powerful Africans – who I call the elites – receive the crumbs from the tables of the foreigners who make their fortunes by processing Africa’s resources.

What I have described, whether slave trade or oil trade, is known as mercantile capitalism. Mercantile capitalism is the earliest form of capitalism and its principle is buying cheap and selling dear. Capitalism in the West has moved a long way from the days of mercantile capitalism; it went through the stage of industrialisation and Western countries are now referred to as post-industrial societies.

The problem with Africa is that it is still locked in the mercantile stage of capitalism."

– Mbeki, M.; Architects of Poverty; Picador Africa; Johannesburg; 2009; pp.x-xi



Michael MacGarry