|"Argh" Drawing by Zuzanna Lapies|
European nations wiped out cultures, looted natural resources and in many ways reduced vast numbers of people to little more than orphans and beggars. During their rule, few of the colonial powers made any effort to equip their colonies with knowledgable labour pools. The most educated Africans were often only fit to be clerks and petty staff. Bridges, roads and other infrastructure were only built either to facilitate the movement of goods out of the countries or for the pleasure of the colonial masters. Few of the colonial powers wanted to leave.
Colonialism created a ruling elite that was no better than house boys and maids desperately trying aping their masters. They were lost souls who having been severed of their connection with their own people, only wanted access to their nations’ wealth to give themselves the same benefits that their Western maters enjoyed.
Thus, we ended up with leaders who immediately after independence abandoned their populist promises and proceeded to entrench themselves in power using vast systems of patronage and nepotism that are fundamentally at odds with true democracy.
Western support propped up psychotic dictators who inflicted untold horrors on their people then looked away when rose up to fight for their dignity and survival. In some cases, misguided Western aid exacerbated regional conflicts. And the Western media continues to look down on my continent with a shake of the head – declaring it ungovernable, decrying a “culture of corruption,” pretending that things just magically appeared as they are now, overnight.
What has bothered me so much is the tone so many take when talking about Africa. As if war and disease and bad governance are something uniquely to us. As if the West is not prey to strange diseases, as if no one ever takes to the street to protest injustice, as if no politician ever takes money or has affairs.
Colonialism – like rape, like abuse, like war – had consequences. Just as you can’t expect a battered child to shrug off its destructive upbringing without struggle, one cannot expect battered countries, cultures and people to do the same. It will take time, a long time perhaps, for Africa to break out of the abusive cycle it was forced into. We are still too dependent on our abusers; we are still going back to them for more punishment.
Right now, we have a situation in which it seems that history keeps repeating itself. Fifty years on and, in many ways, we are no better than we were under Western rule. We are still being ruled by small, rapacious elite with no connection to the people. It is easier to travel to England than it is to go to Senegal because all our infrastructure is focused on getting goods out of the continent. Nigeria alone imports up to 75% of everything is uses, from rice to shoe polish. And that suits the West just fine.
But there is hope. It only takes one generation to break the cycle of abuse or poverty and decide that there is another way. I doubt that I am part of that generation, but perhaps my children will be.