April 16, 2010 Leave a comment
The deeply embedded nature of colonialist discourse in the colonial period meant that the psychological transcendence of colonialism was not simple and straightforward. Much of the complexes and tendencies of the colonial period continued after the de-colonisation period, in Africa as well as the West, proving the need for psychological liberation on top of the (partial) physical liberation achieved at independence.
Post-independence African rulers, most of whom had Western university degrees, might have condemned the West publicly but they secretly admired it, denigrating African history, culture and indigenous institutions in much the same way as had the colonialists, eagerly modernising their countries along Western lines. Along with the “obsession with grandeur” that most of these leaders showed, this demonstrated both a lack of psychological liberation from colonial discourse and an inferiority complex. Kenya’s former president Moi’s claim (in 1991) that Kenya was “at least 200 years behind the West” exemplifies this. Moreover, many of these leaders were seemingly as elitist as the colonisers, dismantling little of the oppressive colonial administrative machinery and employing the same instruments of coercion and tyranny that colonialists had widely used. The “second” liberation of Africa in the nineties was equally elite-managed. The power of these post-independence elites was enhanced by using ethnicity to “divide and rule” in much the same way as the colonisers, and used to loot their countries, treating public resources as private funds to be stashed away in foreign bank accounts.
Even so, such elites are only intermediaries whose strings are pulled by the powerful and faceless system of capitalism, operating in its global mode as imperialism. Whereas colonial domination was upheld by direct rule, neo-colonialism is upheld by a dual system of trade negotiations, aid conditionalities, debt management and concessions, and so forth, which depends upon the African countries themselves “voluntarily” adapting Western systems of government and economics, and a continued belief in dichotomies such as African irrationality and passivity opposed to Western rationality and innovation.
Such dichotomies were central in legitimising colonialism and held up as a reason for Western development and African underdevelopment, but can also be seen in the continuing impact of colonialist discourse in the aid world. This line of thought, where Western culture ought to become that of the world and modernisation is equated to that of Westernisation, or what Claude Ake refers to as “universalising the Western model”, has its roots in colonialist discourse and the Rostowian modernisation theories of the fifties.
It presently continues in the claim of the Good Governance paradigm that a liberal market economy is the only plausible model on which to base a successful society. An example of the continuing effects of such Eurocentric universalism is the Aid Industry’s continual representation of and speaking for their African aid recipients, regardless of the present partnership discourse of such organisations, as well as the view of Western superiority held by many individual development workers.
Legacies of colonialism have evidently continued beyond the actual colonial period and continue to inform contemporary discourse and politics. To fully understand the impact this legacy has on present-day people, European as well as non-European, as well as transcend it, consequently calls for a coherent theoretical understanding of the nature of colonialist discourse that acknowledges the consequences of this fact.