Decolonisation! A term I got acquainted with when I first commenced my studies at the University of Cape Town. It’s rather a peculiar term that I had never heard before and I must say, I was confused at first about its meaning or significance. How do you undo something that has already manifested itself?
My idea of colonialism stemmed from the vague education system I received in high school. The chronological events of colonialism: the Berlin West African conference, the partitioning of Africa, the arrival of missionaries and the colonial administration systems. Therefore, with such a layman’s understanding of colonialism – one that emphasized the course while neglecting the cause, the consequences, implications and effects – I really wondered what people meant when they spoke of decolonisation. Did it mean we ought to reverse the whole colonial process? As in go back to Berlin and redraw the borders and build ships and take back all the descendants of the white man? Take back all they stole from the hinterland? It sounded rather unrealistic for me.
There ought to have been more to this, perhaps I was missing out on something and was oblivious to a more conscious understanding of what colonisation was exactly and its implications.
Exploring the concept of Colonialism
Have you ever heard of the poem “the white man’s burden”? This is a poem which grasps on the idea that the white man was burdened with the task of trying to civilise the dark continent of ‘savages’. That is what they called us. To them, civilisation involved causing a paradigm shift in the mentality of the natives. It was a doctrine that regarded the natives lost souls in dire need of redemption, education and a new language. One wonders what was to be left for the natives to take pride in.
Therefore colonialism primarily involved addressing the mind of the native in a way that would lead to a people with an inferiority complex. A people who might unconsciously disdain their uniqueness, colour, customs, culture and heritage, discarding it for the culture of the white man.
Another important aspect of colonialism was the issue of divide and rule. It all started from the macro level by dividing territory without the consent of the ethnic tribes. This proved to be problematic for it meant imposing unity among different tribes and perhaps separating tribes without any consultation with those tribes. On the micro scale, this division entailed enticing enmity among the natives, tampering with and undermining their existing customs and elevating the ‘good boys’ at the expense of the traditional chiefs which resulted in tension between the former and latter.
Then, the most apparent aspect of colonialism was the extraction of Africa’s raw materials, which further boosted the economies of the metropolitan states of the colonisers while impeding Africa’s growth.
Therefore what does decolonisation entail?
If we are to address the issue of decolonisation pragmatically, in a way that does not make it ambiguous and cause confusion like it did for me when I first heard of it, we ought to begin by addressing the key elements listed above. This means for the purpose the article, trying to achieve decolonisation first entails deconstructing the mind-set and mentality of Africans. Dispositioning them from a state of inferiority to one of self-pride.
Decolonisation also entails promoting the ideology of unity and Pan Africanism. This might assist in fixing our continent which is deeply entrenched in intra conflict within states of which Politics, ethnicity and religion remain the genesis of the conflict. Decolonisation also means addressing the major problem of Africa’s resources which seem to benefit external players. We dwell in a neo colonial system that has found inconspicuous means of continuing to suck out Africa’s wealth while disguising itself as the functional global economy.
Well, is the Decolonisation Project Practical, Viable and Possible?
- Knowledge is Power. Addressing the mentality of the African people will take a great amount of effort on both the people instilling this knowledge and the people receiving it. With the education system pervasive in Africa, one that emphasizes primarily on making people potential job candidates, we might not reach the level we want as a continent. We need to incorporate elements in our education system where we expose students to different narratives of African literature, ones that are also intellectual and not primarily academic. Ones that do not enforce a white supremacist doctrine.
Now, we are forced to depart formal education with the mentality that civilization and modernisation is western and affiliated to whiteness, neglecting the fact that Africans and black people have made major contributions to the world’s modernity. So what we need is an education system that exposes the detrimental effects of colonialism and its impact today, while promoting a culture of breeding think tanks and problem solvers with solutions on how to fix the problem. Only then can we envisage the decolonisation Project’s success.
- The problem of Unity. Unfortunately, we have not excelled on the topic of unity and we might not have taken any steps in this journey of a thousand miles. This is linked to the previous point as our education system can also endorse the agenda of uniting and appreciating each other as Africans in our distinctiveness.
I am also convinced that unity should not be a concept that is only ideological but should carry practicality in it. If Africa does not promote a culture of interaction between states, through regionalisation, trading and more multilateral and bilateral relations we will always remain a delusional continent. This notion stems from the neo liberal school of thought and the ‘prisoner dilemma’ notion that states are likely to cooperate together when there are institutions that promote practical interactions and trade among them. I was impressed by the recent development as there might be an introduction of the African passport. However, its implementation remains in question.
- Thwarting Neo-Colonialism. Today, Africa remains a continent that boasts of its mineral wealth but shies away from the fact that it remains an impoverished continent up to date This is the incongruent nature of Africa’s current affairs. Many will blame the international system for continuing to undermine Africa’s potential however I must state that the endurance of the enemy’s oppression is partly determined by our tolerance and acquiescence. The main problem remains political. Africa suffers from the cancer of unscrupulous leaders, who enrich themselves at the expense of the economies of their respective countries while serving the interests of the western and eastern giants hungry for Africa’s goodies. Therefore decolonisation in this regard will depend on the willingness of the leaders to prioritise national goals and the national and African vision above their self-interests.
My next article will carry the same theme as I analyse the African Union’s contribution to the decolonisation Project.