Monday, September 13, 2010

Obama the Anti-Colonialist

Lately in the United States, it seems as though a day does not go by without someone saying something breathtakingly stupid and unfortunate. Or, you know, both. Like this "intellectual" slandering Obama as a "Kenyan Anti-Colonialist". The offending article by Dinesh D'Souza, via Adam Serwer:

It may seem incredible to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States. That is what I am saying. From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction. He came to view America's military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation. He adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America. In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America's power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe's resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet.

For Obama, the solutions are simple. He must work to wring the neocolonialism out of America and the West. And here is where our anticolonial understanding of Obama really takes off, because it provides a vital key to explaining not only his major policy actions but also the little details that no other theory can adequately account for.

This was the hot topic around the American blogosphere, and D'Souza was -- thank God -- roundly criticized. Over at one of my favorite blogs, Ta-Nehisi Coates highlights a Kenyan reader's comment that highlighted the fact that colonialism in Kenya was, well, bad.

Not to go too deep into it, but Colonialism was horrible. In Kenya, blacks were forced off their lands (there is a reason the most agriculturally productive part of Kenya was called 'The White Highlands'), subjected to harsh rules (pass laws, head taxes, enforced segregation, concentration camps etc), and during the Emergency, an estimated 70,000 - 200,000 blacks were killed (torture, malnutrition disease in concentration camps etc). I could tell you my parent's stories and my relatives stories, but that would take too much time. A good book on this is Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya - Caroline Elkins

And just because D'Souza is Indian does not mean he has the first clue about African Colonialism. There are some similarities between African and Indian colonization but given the fact that the British had a racial hierarchy (whites, indian and then blacks at the bottom) means there are things the British did in Africa that they never would even have considered doing in India.

Suffice it to say Colonialism was truly evil. Essentially Britain treated Kenya and Kenyan people as possessions to be exploited by any means possible. The only reason that Britain let Kenya go is that after WW2 Kenya begun being a net drain due to the Mau Mau uprising (whose core group was formed by African WW2 veterans who has been conscripted into WW2 on Britain's side and learned military skills and lost their awe of the white man once they saw that he too could be killed just like any man). And even then, they handed the country to people they knew who would be friendly to their interests (Jomo Kenyatta etc).

At independence, most of the wealth and the land in Kenya was in white hands. The Kenyan govt, over the next few years, took ruinious loans from Britain to buy back the land from those same British land owners. Keep in mind that this is land that had been previously stolen from us. In addition, a huge part of the Kenyan economy has been (and is still) foreign owned leading to a huge outflow of capital.

Stupidity shouldn't be given an audience, this is true, but it is times like these that me wonder if our long years of imperialism where people with a bit more melanin had to endure everything from Tuskegee to Mau Mau has rendered us incapable of equality. As horrible and inhuman the treatment could be of those who wielded their "civilization" like a sword over those who they mercilessly ruled, it still bears reminding that even after all this, people like Obama's father had to go to Western world for his education. People like Obama's father understood that they were living in a world that they didn't create, and had to learn its rules. They were like Okonkwo in "Things Fall Apart" watching the world change before their very eyes, and they could either change with it, or die along with the past. To move forward is to go 'there', whether by physically moving from Kenya to Hawaii, or by learning to speak the language. And even after you do, there's no guarantee you would be seen as who you are. The cruelest irony of the post-colonial years is that people keep running into the arms of those who pushed them away.

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