Current (Anti)Colonialist Discussions in the News: African Focus

I meant to mention previously that we can observe, after a decline and almost dismissal of ideas of imperialism, dependency, and colonialism in the 1990s academic and anthropological literature to be specific, one can see a return of the terms “imperialism,” “empire,” and “colonialism” in the titles of mainstream journal articles. It’s nice to see reality being welcomed back into the discussion. In some parts of the world, colonialist reality was never marginalized. Here are some links and quotes to current newspaper debates concerning colonialism and tradition in contemporary Africa:

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The rebirth of Africa means discarding foreign religions
by Sentletse Diakanyo
Mail & Guardian (South Africa), July 20, 2008

The traditional religions of most Africans altered significantly as a result of colonial rule. Colonial rulers interfered with the African way of worship. Where the modes of worship conflicted with those of the colonialists, restrictions were placed on religious practice. African cultures were seen as primitive and were gradually impoverished through neglect and suppression by colonial hooligans.

The rebirth of Africa has become even more urgent under growing recolonialisation of Africa under the false guise of globalisation. Africans need to reclaim their religion and culture, and discard many of those which were imposed on them, by embracing Afrocentricism as the essential element of the African renaissance as popularised by President Thabo Mbeki in recent times.

See the tremendous debate that follows beneath the article, almost every imaginable position is voiced, and few appear to be in favour of the argument above. The author of the piece is himself a Formula One race car driver, and that too became the subject of some comments.

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African traditions corrupted
by Keith Ross
IOL (South Africa), July 21, 2008

African traditions have been corrupted over many years by the influence of Western values, with its emphasis on materialism.

The corruption is particularly marked in the urban areas of South Africa, where there has also been a breakdown of the family as the vehicle of traditional values.

This was one of the conclusions drawn in SAfm Radio’s After Eight Debate on the topic: “Are African cultures being corrupted?”

The debating panel felt traditional culture would have to be restored by a conscious and broad-based effort, through the family and all levels of education.

‘To be poor in the world is to be the doormats of people’

“We should accept that the culture of any people is dynamic and we should not be afraid of its dynamism,” said Dr Mongane Serote, executive chairperson of the Freedom Park Trust.

“But Africans as a whole on the continent went through what was almost like nuclear war on us in terms of ideas,” he said.

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Mugabe, Britain and the abuses of anti-colonialism (version 1)
by Priyamvada Gopal
ZNet, June 29, 2008

Somehow, this version seems to have more balanced criticism of British political and media hypocrisy in their war against Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, than does the version (below) published by The Guardian in the UK. I wonder if that was the point in publishing “the longer version” at another source? Given that bias, underplayed by The Guardian, I am emphasizing the comments here that are critical of Britain’s stance:

Were the BBC and Channel 4 to show as many close-ups of injured and dead Iraqis as they do of Mugabe’s maimed victims, criticism of violence against innocents might be somewhat more evenly distributed than it currently is. The British government turns accusatory fingers in Zimbabwe’s direction while Mugabe shouts back anti-colonial slogans. It is a perfect symbiosis, a mutually convenient embrace of denunciation, with each party laying claim to the higher moral ground. The only innocents, however, are ordinary Zimbabweans. …

Britain’s persistent refusal to acknowledge its own colonial legacies is contradictory. It reneged on its commitments to the land reform programme claiming, in Claire Short’s words, that there were no ‘links to former colonial interests’ while nevertheless concerning itself with the fate of the white farmers who represent these interests. Alongside an extremely selective use of human rights discourse, such contradictions mean that Mugabe’s denunciations have some truth to them even if their main purpose is to detract from the ruling elite’s own depravities. While Africa is ostensibly central to Britain’s international development agenda, the emphasis has always been on the paternalism of aid rather than acknowledging and making reparations for the economic devastation wrought by colonialism. Rarely do condemnations of land seizure, violence and intimidation extend back to the time Matabeleland came under British rule. This too was accompanied by the seizure of vast swathes of fertile land by a handful of British farmers while large numbers of Ndebele and Shona people were killed or forced into labour. Brutal modern regimes in that part of the globe didn’t begin with Mugabe.

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Mugabe has recolonised his people (version 2)
We should recognise that Zimbabwe was brutalised by colonisation. But Mugabe liberated his country only to install another tyranny

by Priyamvada Gopal
The Guardian (UK), Friday, June 27, 2008

Mugabe and fellow African liberationists should reacquaint themselves with the real meaning of anti-colonialism. Having resisted the anti-poor agendas of international monetary institutions and initiated necessary land reforms, Mugabe has also refused all responsibility for those many failures of his rule not reducible to the colonial past.

A party of freedom fighters has degenerated into thugs brandishing liberationist sticks to starve and brutalise an entire population. Real anti-colonialists like Gandhi and Fanon always insisted that freedom was not about replacing the white tyrant with the black one, whereas Mugabe has essentially recolonised his people. Indeed, the very techniques of suppression and intimidation deployed by the Zimbabwean leader, a knight of the British Empire until Wednesday, were taught him by the colonial masters he professes to despise. Quick to claim credit for spreading parliamentary democracy, Britain is less forthcoming about acknowledging the legacy of authoritarian rule also left behind by its empire.

I must say that I like Gopal’s analytical approach, embracing both Fanon and Gandhi, and not aiming for “balance” as much as an anti-colonial perspective that is directed at both external and internal neo-colonialists. Because she is equally critical of Robert Mugabe and Gordon Brown, some might mistake that as a middling position, which in that very limited sense it is.

What I also appreciate about Gopal’s approach is that she reminds us of the legacy of British authoritarian rule. One must recall in the Caribbean context how Britain’s colonies were directly administered from Britain, hence their designation as Crown Colonies, without any effort, any pretense, to allow locals to practice democracy. Token opposition in local legislative assemblies was usually opposition for the sake of opposition, there was no need to be responsible to an electorate, and no role to be played in governance. The colonial governors themselves were not slow to exact merciless physical punishment against their non-white critics. From that, a rapid transition to “self-rule,” with a colonial historical context and cultural repertoire of power exercised through beatings. Why massacres of political opponents are not the norm is incredible testimony to the power of the “formerly” colonized to escape the cultural bindings of the recent past.

2 thoughts on “Current (Anti)Colonialist Discussions in the News: African Focus

  1. I find revising to be tedious, so let me add my addendum here: One should note that this Mugabe “tyrant” has in fact entered peace negotiations with the opposition to work on a government of national unity. I would like to see others accused of being dictators do that.

    Gopal leaves a blind spot. Who is Tsvangirai? Let’s say we take Mugabe’s accusations at face value, then there is another side of the Fanonist drama that Gopal has left out: the native collaborator with colonial interests.

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