16 July 2011

Colonialism, Today

For those unable to take care of themselves, life will always be a a vale of tears.

Unless someone else steps in.

Peoples, like water, should be allowed to find their natural level.  An adult can guide the hand of a four-year-old to create the Mona Lisa.  It's lovely, but when you let go of his hand, he may go back to drawing simple forms.  It's no use getting distressed that he can't do what you did for him.  Pretending otherwise is a recipe for frustration. 

Let him draw what he is capable of drawing.  He may want to reproduce your Mona Lisa.  When he can't, he may cry and ask that you give him better crayons, or more paper, or a better table or chair.  Give him all these things if you'd like; nothing you can give him will allow him to do what you did.  Nothing but picking up his hand and drawing it for him again.

Much as it pains you, let him draw his simple forms. Perhaps one day he'll advance to a point where he, too, can draw a Mona Lisa.  But if he can't--not ever--you must accept it. You and he both must steel yourselves and be content with whatever he can produce.  This can be frustrating.

But it is the price of true freedom.

Were every people in the world to find its 'true level,' many would live at a standard much lower than that known in the West.  This may distress some Westerners.  It certainly did in the past, which is why colonialism was such a popular enterprise among progressives in Europe. 

But the benefits of enjoying flush toilets, electric lights, paved roads, and automobiles were offset by the distress at being governed by a foreign people.  Africans wanted to rule themselves.  Westerners agreed to allow them to do so.

In the fifty years since this self-rule began, much of the infrastructure put in place by foreigners has fallen into disrepair.  Apart from the ruling African elites, many Africans live less well than under foreign colonial rule, and there are a great deal more of them today to share the misery.

This reality is well understood by the average African, who would welcome a re-colonization of his country.

But what is materially best for the average African is of little interest to Westerners, or to the African elite.  Westerners would rather enjoy the moral satisfaction of allowing African countries to rule themselves, even if that means the average African is materially less well-off.

Westerners of the post-colonial generations then, confronted with this unpalatable and perplexing state of affairs, have simply chosen to continue their forefathers' tutelage by other means. 

This consists of several things:

  • Sending medical teams roaming the continent to vaccinate as many children as possible, an activity Africans, one must then presume, are incapable of carrying out themselves.

  • Sending volunteers to explain modern birth control methods to African women, another activity that Africans must then be presumed to be incapable of doing. 

  • Sending volunteers to explain to Africans the damaging effects on food production of over-grazing land, of over-farming land, of setting brush-fires to land, and of not collecting rain-water to irrigate land.

  • In the absence of comprehension of the aforementioned explanation, sending millions of tons of free food aid into countries unable to feed themselves year in and year out.  In many cases these countries were food-independent under foreign colonial rule.  

  • Sending volunteers to establish and operate refugee camps for those fleeing violent conflict.  Again, it must then be presumed that Africans themselves are incapable of establishing or of operating such camps.  

  • Sending volunteers to build and to equip schools in places where they had not theretofore existed and, in places without money to pay teachers' salaries, sending that too.  

  • In exchange for money disbursed by the International Monetary Fund, the lending institution from which governments are obliged to seek loans when all the world's private lenders consider them too high a credit risk to lend to at reasonable interest rates, Africans are expected to reform their governments in a more Western sense.  This includes separating the powers of the government branches, establishing sound fiscal policy, and setting up Anti-Corruption Ministries.  Western volunteer judicial and economic experts are sent to explain to Africans how to implement all of these things.  Once again, the presumption seems to be that Africans are incapable of figuring them out on their own.

Wisdom says:  To ascertain a man's true beliefs, watch not what he says, but what he does.

Westerners' mouths say that Africans are perfectly capable of ruling themselves, and in so doing, creating and maintaining societies that resemble modern Europe's.

Westerners' actions say something else.

In March 1957, the Republic of Ghana became the first sub-Saharan country to free itself from foreign governance.  By October 1964, almost all of sub-Saharan Africa had done the same.

Your author pens these words in July 2011. 

The only logical assumption to make, then, is that Westerners believe that today, two generations after independence, sub-Saharan Africans are incapable of vaccinating themselves, obtaining modern contraception for themselves, managing their own natural resources, feeding themselves, setting up their own refugee camps, building and financing their own schools, separating the powers of their own governments, writing their own tax laws, or establishing their own anti-corruption offices.

Having now, from observing their actions, ascertained Westerners' true beliefs about Africans, how can one explain the vast gulf separating what they say they believe and what they really believe?

It is a puzzle indeed.

Thank you for stopping by and all the best on your future journeys.

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