There has never been doubt of the damaging impact colonialism has had on Africa; it created a totalitarian world that embraced the doctrine that a black African was an inferior race, and treated him as such. Colonialism lay foundations for new ‘civilisation’ – total dominion of a people and place by another being the objective; it targeted and upset locals’ way of life – the nature of political institutions and engagement, economic activity, education, traditions and customs (including the legal system) which were purposely demonised and relegated to the margins of the new state authority and replaced by Western values with no regard to the African.
Perhaps the worst thing that colonialism did was to cloud our view of ourselves, and our past. We lost our identity after buying into the idea everything white was good, and an ambitious young black person set his eyes on attaining the standards set by the white coloniser including the language, religion, behaviour, actions and interests. We were blinded to anything good from our pre-colonial life and ignored all innovation of that time.
Because the white coloniser came with the mentality that they belonged in a much higher civilisation, they set about physically and mentally coercing locals into those ideals of white superiority, and black uncivility that needed transformation, and only them were capable of doing the transforming. This state of mind allowed the white man a clear conscience to lie, cheat, steal from and brutalise the black man with moral impunity, as he had convinced himself that the black person, the owner of the land, was sub-human.
Another major damaging factor of colonialism was the effective removal of participatory democracy in our political space only to be replaced by a half-baked, partially applied representative democracy. It is significant too that with that came the death of women contribution in the decision-making process in the national discourse.
The capitalist economic system, an organised, politically protected robbery, was not only a male domain, it was incompatible with traditional order; it became a tool of social destruction; it upset households, their economies and community socioeconomic dynamics which oversaw what was effectively an economic power transfer away from women to men, from many to a few, from natives to colonisers, and this severely impacted social order.
Males became an invaluable assert of the system as most jobs were strenuous; men were withdrawn from their traditional economic activities into the exploitative industry; they did not own the industry but got financial reward determined by the white man for their labour while women’s household work was not ascribed any economic value and remained unpaid. The available paid domestic work paid less.
Unfortunately, with that came economic division and imbalance which saw women become appendages of men and being increasingly more dependent on men’s earnings for economic survival.
Education became synonymous to disenfranchisement of Africans; it prepared the young man for the white man’s system and institutions while detaching him from relevant local knowledge and skills. No surprise some ‘educated’ young people disconnected with local values.
Furthermore, economic activity was extractive in nature and concentrated in specific locations often far away from individuals’ families, thus effectively fracturing families and communities. Associated with these areas of high economic activity was better public service provision, but there was also immense cultural strangulation and estrangement.
Luckily, the brutality of the colonialism did not go unnoticed or unfelt by most natives. No surprise that people started resisting the system for its dehumanising effect, the racism, imperialism and the erosion of the Africans’ very being.
Devastating as the effect of colonialism was to Africa, it would be disingenuous to blame all of the present-day problems to it. Our leaders have a different and better experience of the independent Africa than the rest of the population; local accountability is required.
Justified as it was, the independence the natives fought for has unfortunately brought little relief for the masses, but more misery; it has not helped restore local dignity, reintroduce or modernise pre-colonial systemic checks and balances, improve incomes, and protect citizens from the impact of poverty. Instead it has become a highly divisive elitist institution whose only beneficiaries are politicians and their cronies.
We cannot improve our circumstances if we are not prepared to take ownership of the present. Colonialism does have a role to our circumstances, but how much? The black person’s suffering today is under the watch of a black leadership. People are not free, systems today are the worse version of systems we fought from the mid-20th Century.
Going forward, we need to be objective and loud in our apportionment of blame for the black person’s poverty phenomena to the local leadership. Leaders have not sought to transform economic and political policies to benefit states but have retained many of the colonial laws around restrictions on freedom of expression and low status of women; they have removed the checks and balances; the role of tribalism has been amplified in the system where tribal supremacy fanatics are using tribal allegiance as their power bank.
Pointing fingers at colonialism is failure, not a solution for what is happening in Africa. If we saw the need to fight a white criminal and fought to the end, let us fight the black tribal supremacy fanatics with equal vigour. Let us build a political system that empowers and protects locals so that they will see the need to empower and protect their national politics. Education must have a better balance between learning facts and acquiring analytical skills to ably challenge the status quo and create effective new things.