Patterns of Colonial Legacies

The issue of the legacy that colonialism left in Africa, in my opinion is an often discussed and debated yet under analyzed issue. For more often than not the prevailing narrative focuses on how colonialism was beneficial to the “dark continent,” for it brought education, Christianity, and civilization to the lost benighted heathens of Africa. We of course know that this was not the case for colonialism was rife with human rights abuses, murder, countless daily indignities by the colonial regimes, and in some cases the total degradation of one’s personhood.

In regards to the text I saw several themes from both authors such as the need for a seemingly revisionist history of anti-colonial/independence movements in post WWII Africa. Showing that the goals of African people during the movement were not monolithic. For the role of class (coca farmers), ideology (Pan-Africanism, Africanism, Conservative Nationalism vs Militant Nationalism and religion (Christian Messianic Movement) all played a role in deciding in the kind of Africa that Africans wanted for themselves. I also found it refreshing that the author highlighted the hypocrisy of the western world most notably that of Winston Churchill in his contention that the principle of self-determination applied to only the recent conquest of Europe by the Nazi’s but not to the older conquest of Africa by Europe. Thus, showing that the western world’s rhetoric of freedom, democracy, and self-determination was and in my opinion still a belief and practice that is reserved for the white nations of this world.

Which during the mid-20th century lead to the particular position in which Africans found themselves fighting for the freedom and liberation of their oppressors. Sadly, this situation was not exclusive to Africans on the continent of Africa. For during WWII African Americans serving in the US military, created the “Double V” campaign. Which symbolize the fight for victory over fascism in Europe and racism in America.

However, with that said it was refreshing to read texts that discussed the role of African agency in not just resisting colonialism but fighting for the basic human right to self-determination. Which in my opinion helps counter the ever pervasive narrative that African people never resisted their oppression and were seemingly helpless children that needed to be guided toward respectability and civilization (think Rudyard Kipling’s poem White Man’s Burden). What I found truly fascinating was the way in which Africans used or “reversed engineered” the colonial powers post WWII plans for their colonies to benefit their own liberation movements. For example the French idea of creating a “Greater France” was used as a way for Africans in the French colonies to use the language of imperial legitimacy to claim social and economic reforms. Which took place with the implementation of the Houphouet-Boigny law with ended forced labor and, abolished the distinction between subject and citizen in the spring of 1946. The same can be said about Africans in the Gold Coast who seized the initiative of the belief that they were more politically sophisticated than Africans in other colonies. As well as in South Africa, which many argue was the most repressive to the colonial states. (to most observers including myself, South Africa was not a colony in the literal sense, for the colonization was not from without, but from within reminiscent of African Americans social and political situation in the United States of America.) For even under the most dangerous, life threating conditions African refused to acquiesce by not only seeking to find niches in the urbanize areas of South Africa, but also clearly defying the power of the repressive state they lived under via the squatter invasions of Johannesburg.

I also found the compelling the role that economics played in the colonial legacy. Which our good friend Mamdani calls petty privilege and preferential treatment. What I like the most about how Mamdani expressed this issue is by using a Pan-African perspective to show how this issue once again is not exclusive to the African colonial situation. Thus, he calls on the brilliance of the slain Pan-Africanist leader from the United States Malcolm X to make his case. In which Malcolm X discusses the distinction between the “Field Negro” and the “House Negro”. Mamdni quotes Malcolm X to give a tangible example of the issue of how petty privilege and preferential treatment played a role in the subjugation of African people under colonial rule.

In closing my thoughts on the colonial legacy can best be encapsulated in the reaction that the Rwandian Tutsi had in reaction to their genocide. There can be no survival without power, thus for African to liberate itself of the legacy of colonial is must gain true political and economic power.


9 thoughts on “Patterns of Colonial Legacies

  1. aamudzi89

    Thank you Bro Lumumba for sharing this piece. I agree with you and on your points of their colonial masters bringing “education, Christianity, and civilization” I think that Africans were civilized in their own ways before our colonial master arrived. We had our own ways of doing things and had taboos and norms governing us from doing good and bad things, we also had own own way of educating our people though it wasn’t the western way of education, and worship smaller gods which is traditional religion. They poured libation and made sacrifices to theses gods for protection, long life and healings and all what we practice in Christianity now. They came with the intent of trading in resources and others but ended up oppressing and trading humans which in Morden days we would have classified it as human trafficking. Admittedly i perfectly agree that Africans benefited economically, politically etc… and of course had whisky to drink to relax.

  2. macsfall

    Bacary, Be careful with the french colonies Lol.
    Like i did with DorcasAminaDonkor’s post, I would highlight the point you gave prime to Houphouet-Boigny whose law according to you ”ended forced labor and, abolished the distinction between subject and citizen in the spring of 1946”. In fact, after his election as Ivorian deputy at the French Assembly, he was the one who introduced a law that aimed at regulating labor conditions in french colonies. This law only ended labor forced but did not abolish the distinction between subject and citizen as you affirmed. ”A distinguished lawyer from one of the four communes, Lamine Gueye, and the brilliant scholar-politician Leopold Senghor, from an interior village, became Senegal’s deputies in Paris. Here the old citizenship, restricted to the four communes, burst its bounds. After May 1946 subjects became citizens..” Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present; p.45
    Also, the “Greater France” you alluded to was one of the main mechanisms Houphouet-Boigny used in late 1950s to maintain Ivory Coat (Cote d’Ivoire) inside the French-African community (sort of balkanization) while other Pan-Africanistists such as LEOPOLD SENGHOR (SENEGAL), MODIBO KEITA (MALI), AHMED SEKOU TOURE (GUINEA) under the Rassemblement Democratique Africain (RDA) developed a strong belief that colonial states and boundaries did not correspond to any geographic, economic, ethnic and linguistic reality.

  3. Lumumba1983 Post author

    Yes I am aware of the complete legacy of Houphouet-Boigny. Which is why I stated in class that I was surprised by the fact that he actually at any point did anything that seemingly resembled helping his people. However, for my blog post I was simply expounding on what was stated in the article.

  4. macsfall

    I would not say he at any point did not do anything that seemingly resembled helping his people. He in fact did develop and diversify rubber crops , cocoa and coffee. So economically, in late 1960s, Ivory Coast was even better than countries aspiring a federal African government. But, like Ahmed Sekou TOURE of Guinea use to say: it is a question of choice. Freedom in poverty than wealth in slavery.

    1. Lumumba1983 Post author

      Exactly, the country did well but he was a puppet of the colonial powers. The country was still an colony in every way accept in name, plus his goal to build the largest church in the world. The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace doubled the countries debt, not to mention that it was built by an French company.

  5. lukekubacki

    Really enjoyed your post, Lumumba1983 (I haven’t yet learned who is connected to which blog usernames, so I’ll go with this for now)! I liked how you pointed out how the history that we are now reading is a very specific conversation that is not happening en masse, and that has never been engaged in any general, universal way. We are combatting the revisionist and privileged history of the powerful.

    I think, however, that while it is extremely valuable to combat the lethargic image assigned to the colonized African, I think many of the pieces we are reading actually complicate the inherent good of self-determination. The questions being asked seem to be, what is below self-determination? What were the politics inherent in its performance after independence? The conclusion we all seem to be arriving at is that the self-determination of Africa by Africans was not, in effect, an actual self-determination, but a self-determination regulated or tainted by the institutions and ideologies of colonialism. Black bodies filling previously-white roles of exploitation. So seminal figures appealed to WWII and citizenship politics to bring independence about (essentially to provoke self-determination), but that was just the beginning of what should have been a long process of transformation. Young, Pierce, Ajayi, Mamdani, and Kilson all seem to believe that the process was halted by the new political elite’s insecurity and incentive to maintain their position at the expense of societal transformation from colonialism to actual self-determination.

    1. Lumumba1983 Post author

      I think based on what we learned from todays readings that the process of African states coming into independence was a very arduous one, filled with several issues that were very difficult to navigate. to say the least. However, to speak to the issue of self-determination as I stated in class I do not think that self-determination can be minimized to African people simply wanting to liberate itself from the oppression of colonial rule. For example the second principle of Kwanzaa is kujichagulia (self-determination) which teaches us that we must define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves. This is done in the presence and absence of oppression. A great example of this is the fact that African people practiced politics (self-determination) prior to European incursion onto the continent.

      1. lukekubacki

        I agree with you in your emphasis on self-determination. It is essential, as far as we can tell, to the government that we hope for. Colonial policies robbed African people and societies from their ability to self-determine across a wide spectrum of political and social activities. But, what I was alluding to, what the insistence by the readings to complicate that self-determination. The absence of colonialism did not lead to the existence of self-determination; they are not a binary. Self-determination is still beyond reach as politics operates in an African context with radical influence from its colonial past.

  6. Jasmine W

    I think the quote from Malcolm X was also a useful resource to show how petty privilege and preferential treatment played a role in the subjugation of African people under colonial rule.

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