Blame not colonialism, but the colonised
The longest-serving British monarch in history passed on on September 8, 2022 at about 8.30pm after a 70-year reign. Her death has expectedly generated reactions – pleasant and not-too-pleasant – from all across the globe. Her first son and now King of Britain, Charles III leads the club of the pleasant eulogisers that also has former US Presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump and incumbent Joe Biden.
In the other camp is the group that harbour reservations for the late Queen and the institution she represented. Led by US-based Nigerian Professor Nju Anya and South African lawmaker Julius Malema, they justify their reaction by the claim that they were victims of British colonial injustice and therefore have no sympathy for the monarch and all she represented. They thus interpret the monarch’s death as some divine vindication, as in nemesis catching up with a supposed oppressor. For them, the late Queen was the embodiment of the evil of colonialism, which in more ways than one is responsible, for Africa’s, nay Nigeria’s arrested development.
For specifics, they point to the brutal killings of people, the lootings of valuable artefacts and iconic cultural creations of African peoples, as well as lopsided political structures that continue to be stumbling blocks to peace and development across the continent.
For this group therefore, the most appropriate reaction to the monarch’s passing is for her former victims to wish her a rough journey as she faces God’s judgement for the evil deeds she brought on fellow humans. This write up examines critically these issues.
Perhaps, it needs stating from the outset that one is not a sympathiser of the British monarchic institution, or of their way of life in general. Even their analytic brand of philosophy is in very bad state these days, whereas the continental tradition of the French and Germans keeps thriving.
For me, the British are very average in everything. They cannot be said to be the best in science, arts, engineering, medicine, law or in sports. Granted that they have had iconic figures such as Isaac Newton, John Locke, Michael Faraday, William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, Joseph Priestley, David Hume, Bertrand Russell etc., most of these men lived some hundreds of years ago. Britain at present are backbenchers in notable global achievements when compared to their German, French and United States counterparts.
The British are cowards when it comes to war. It was Chamberlain’s cowardice and indulgence of Adolf Hitler that emboldened the latter to near-success in the Second World War. They did not also play their bit properly as one of the members of the Triple Entente that had the French and Russians as the other members before and during the war.
But even more relevant to us in this discourse is that the British were a poor colonial lord. They were parsimonious, selfish and never willing to bear the financial burdens of their colonies; they were more interested in exploitation and maximal gains. To substantiate, rather than support the northern protectorate with a grant-in-aid of 500,000 pounds annually, they chose to amalgamate them with their incompatible southern neighbours so that the surplus from the latter could augment the deficit in the former. It was a colonial whimsical blunder that continues to undermine relations in the Nigerian amalgam till date.
It is also a moot question whether the British policy of Association was more beneficial in the long term to us, than the French policy of Assimilation. It is my considered view that Africans generally would have been better off with the progressive Germans or Portuguese as colonial lords.
But we can cut the British, and particularly the late Queen some slack. It was during her reign that 17 Countries in Africa under British rule got independent, beginning from Ghana in 1957 to Nigeria in 1960 up to Zimbabwe in 1980.
However the focus of this write-up is about what is wrong with colonialism. The analysis draws from theological and philosophical sources and shows that contrary to generally held views, colonialism is not entirely evil. In fact, it may have some divine providential endorsement behind it, and is perhaps God’s ordained ladder upon which nations are supposed to climb to higher attainments. But there is a but!
The dialectical principle of development have established that the world operates in such a way that we gain by first losing; one has to give oneself away (or is forced to) in order to realise oneself at a point of higher consciousness. It is a dialectical principle in which an original idea (x), finds itself in alienation as (~x), and then regains itself in a more qualitative form of its original.
This principle also applies in relations among nations on the international plane. Supposedly stronger nations are driven by providence to bring others under their control in what they imagine to be a prideful show of force or a means to consolidating their powers; with the hope that their stranglehold on the oppressed would last forever. To ensure this, they devise sophisticated laws that intimidate their subjects and which declare every challenge to the existing authority a treasonable offence punishable by death.
They deny the oppressed their erstwhile freedoms including the use of their mother tongue. They introduce pedagogies that promote the culture of the imperial power, they rename territories, amalgamate incompatible peoples and give them new identities; they alter their maps and render them rudderless and stranded.
But the point of irreconcilable contradiction is reached when the oppressed, having gained full access to the oppressor’s secrets by means of the same language that was supposed to completely alienate them, soon develop a sense of equality with the oppressor. A master-slave struggle follows that results in the victory for the oppressed or the common ruin of the contending forces. The German philosopher Hegel calls this trickery “The Cunning of Reason”.
To illustrate, the scramble for Africa in the late 19th century and the clamour for independence of the 1950s through the 60s that followed is a manifestation of the principle above. But the principle reaches back to remote antiquity as I try to demonstrate. Black Egypt was the first to attain civilisation. Mathematics, Astronomy, Rhetorics, Logic, Law, Monotheism, Architecture, etc. had their origins in Egypt.
But how would this knowledge be made global? They had to bring others under their authority through imperialism. Israel had to be made to move there by Providence and be captured as Egyptian slaves for 400 years. They returned with these Egyptian knowledge.
The Israelites used this knowledge advantage to conquer others as well and in the process spread part of the civilisation. But it was the Babylonians and Persians who benefitted more from the exercise after they had conquered the Israelites as slaves.
The Greeks not only conquered the Persians through the heroics of Alexander the Great, but also got access to Egyptian knowledge directly through sending their best minds to Egypt to study. Thales, Pythagoras, Aristotle all studied in Egypt.
In each of these experiences, the oppressed learns the language of the oppressor, (or is forced to); after which he translates the knowledge into his own language for the benefit of his own people. During Alexander’s reign, and for a few centuries after, the Greeks were synonymous with civilisation. You had to be Greek or speak the Greek language to be regarded as civilized; otherwise one was merely a barbarian.
The Romans, through Julius Caesar, then overcame the Greeks, and the Latin language overwhelmed Greek. The Romans appropriated all Greek knowledge and arts, translated to Latin, and then became the new world power. The British, French, Germans, Portuguese etc., all became subjects of the Roman Empire. In the process they all had access to civilisation. Providence was at work driving this process.
To be continued tomorrow
Arodovwe wrote in from Warri, Delta State.