Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thoughts on Colonialism

In class on Friday we had a warmup debate after reading the syllabus and introducing ourselves. The Professor started off the discussion by asking if perhaps colonialism was ended too soon and would Africa have benefited from a further extended colonial period.  After some general discussion where the merits of colonialism were lauded I offered that colonialism was bad for a number of reasons and to wish for the extension of colonialism was to recommend the continued oppression and subjugation of Africans.   Colonialism varied in its degree of severity from the Belgian Congo where family members were captured and held ransom to force the collection of rubber to kinder systems of colonial control as in Senegal where Africans were given the right to vote and had a voice in French Parliament.  However, all forms of colonialism began with the slave trade, invasion, and violent oppression of the local population. As the export of slaves became less popular Africans instead were pressed into service on plantations and other work that equated to little more than local slavery.  The people lost the right of self determination and a ruling external foreign class controlled the government.  Colonialism was primarily an exploitive activity where foreign invaders subjugated the population, made their own rules, took what they wanted, and gave little back compared with what they took.

A Nigerian student countered that colonialism wasn't that bad and varied from location to location. She commented that of course colonialism in Congo was bad but in many places it was ok and wondered if things could have turned out much better for some African nations if the colonists had resisted the demands for immediate independence in the 1960s. 

I was surprised at an African's defense of colonialism as I thought that most Africans would condemn colonialism. But I was also reminded of when my African-American friend was visiting in Ghana and met a local girl who was upset because her ancestors weren't captured as slaves and brought to America.  I wonder if the lack of progress since independence due to many corrupt governments that continue practices similar to the oppression of colonialism is the reason why some Africans look longingly back to the colonial days.  In many places infrastructure has not been maintained or improved since independence and many of the sparse colonial structures are falling into disrepair.

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