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The drumbeat of decolonisation: Africa’s redemption song?

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Picture: Alain Amontchi/REUTERS – Malian refugees queue for food at the refugee camp of Taberey Baraye, some 7km from Ayorou, near the Mali-Niger border. Picture taken January 31, 2013. Today, the aftershock of colonialism’s legacy of structural economic underdevelopment is visible in the poor state of most African economies and the stifling shackle of its dependence on former colonialists and foreign nations, the writer says.

By Kim Heller

For centuries, colonialism ripped through Africa, at a deadly pace, causing grave injury to the Continent’s economic heart and to its spiritual core. Colonialism, the feed of Western Empire building, plunged Africa into an abyss of economic misery and dependency. The incisor of imperialism and colonial conquer wrecked the economies of Africa, and the cultural and familial life of its people.

Africans were dispossessed of land and resources, Indigenous knowledge systems fell, African brothers, mothers, fathers, and sisters were captured, and exported to faraway places to serve as slaves to white masters. To say that colonialism was a vicious, purposely ruinous system geared at snuffing out the spirit and sovereignty of Africa is no white lie. The systemic underdevelopment of Africa and the extraction of its resources, including people, was essential to the empowerment and enrichment of foreign nations. Such is the sense and sensibility of colonial conquest.

Today, colonialism is well and alive on the Continent, despite the political liberation of African nations. It has simply mutated into a newer version of itself. Colonialism has tended to operate well and effectively in the province of political independence. For those who believe that colonialism fell as African nations won their political independence, they are oblivious to the current network of power relations which today keep Africa in bonds, in a post-colonial world. Today, the aftershock of colonialism’s legacy of structural economic underdevelopment is visible in the poor state of most African economies and the stifling shackle of its dependence on former colonialists and foreign nations.

Political independence did not free former colonies from economic domination and control by others. There has been little release from centuries long economic and cultural extraction, or from the ropes of dependency reared so carefully and meticulously by world powers.

There has been little disturbance of or disruption to colonialism in most African nations post-liberation. That some of Africa’s leaders and it elite networks may be complicit in keeping colonialism in flourish in Africa does not weaken the case that colonialism is still strong and kicking in Africa. Rather the fact that so called independent African political leaders, businesspeople and academics have become part of the colonial value chain is testimony to the might of colonialism, in the current day political order.

Colonialism offered no friendly greeting when it invaded Africa. Nor was its entrance into Africa gentle or benevolent in any way. Colonialism was a violent system.

There are some who argue that the very process of decolonisation itself has been captured. In 2019, Zimbabwean columnist, Cetshwayo Mabhena wrote a very hard hitting thought piece entitled ”The theft of Decolonisation in Africa”. He writes of a master plan “ingrained in globalisation and the entire regime of international relations in the present world order” to keep Africa in “colonial subjection” in the post-colonial era.

For Mabhena, decolonisation is a tool of the West. A trick and treat of sorts. He writes that “As early as the 1940s and 1950s, the US administrations of Truman and Eisenhower were determined to permit Western countries to free their African colonies but not allow them to align with the East”.

Mabhena writes how financial aid has been used by the West to ensure that Africa is beholden to it. He writes too about how some African leaders have been rewarded with “massive personal wealth and lucrative kickbacks from investors” to ensure and entrench such relations.

Colonisation was not an orderly or unnoticed process. Colonialism disrupted the status quo, and changed the order of the day to such an extent that countries and cultures were transfigured into something unrecognisable. Decolonisation will also need to totally disrupt with the same intensity that colonialism did. An interesting dissection of colonialism and decolonisation is provided by US academics, Eve Tuck and K Wayne Yang in an essay entitled “Decolonisation is not a metaphor”.

They write that decolonisation should be unsettling, in the same way that colonialism was. They write in many settler colonial nation states, settlers, unlike immigrants were not beholden to the indigenous laws and epistemologies of the lands they emigrate to. Rather they argue, “Settlers become the law”.

The great thought leader, Dr Frantz Fanon wrote of how “Decolonisation never takes place unnoticed”. Fanon argues that “Decolonisation, which sets out to change the order of the world, is, obviously, a programme of complete disorder”.

For now, perhaps decolonisation is more metaphor than verb. For there has been no large scale, all-encompassing deconstruction, disruption and wholesale dislodgement of the patent and pattern of colonial conquest. For now, it appears that true decolonisation is nowhere in sight. For if it was then the unequal and exploitative colonially crafted economic relations would have been dismantled, or at least disrupted.

True decolonisation, not one manufactured and manipulated by Western greed but on a homegrown, authentic drumbeat for African sovereignty, would see unconditional land return, complete control over mineral wealth, and cultural restoration and amplification. It would also mean a solid, gilded African fist of unity; and a divine sense of self-confidence and self-belief which was extracted as fast and furiously as Africa’s natural resources.

In their essay, ‘Decolonisation is not a metaphor’ Tuck and Yang write that: “Decolonisation is not an ‘and’. It is an elsewhere.” The drumbeat of decolonisation is a necessary and noble attempt to restore the majesty of the Continent, economically, culturally, intellectually, and spiritually.

One would have thought that this drumbeat, if loud and clear enough would disrupt, disturb, and dislodge the economic hold that foreign nations have over the Continent. But in the game of monopoly power, decolonisation itself appears to have become a property of the West, rather than former colonised nations. For now, there is no new world order and the drumbeat of decolonisation is no redemption song.

The conquering of colonialism will be long in the making.

Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.