Colonialism is no longer seen as a threat to peace and security since there are no more empires left. Yet those who follow world affairs would not be entirely wise to consign colonialism to the proverbial dustbin of history, as it remains a relevant factor in understanding the problems and the dangers of the world.
IT is, thankfully, no longer fashionable in our country to decry the evils of colonialism in assigning blame for every national misfortune. The imperial statues have been toppled, cities and streets renamed, the vestiges of a foreign presence either abandoned or adapted. With the sole exception of Zimbabwe in its struggles with the land question, no leading politician in any post-imperial country has made a significant speech in recent years attacking colonialism. That great staple of political rhetoric in most of the developing world appears to have been buried once and for all.
Internationally, the subject of colonialism is even more passi. There was a time when the votaries of one kind of new international order or another decried the evils of imperialism (sometimes, but not always, prefixed with a “neo-”) in justifying their demands for a more just dispensation. That theme has died out in diplomatic discourse. This is not simply because of the irresistability of globalisation. There is little room for controversy, since the need for decolonisation is no longer much debated, and what little remains of colonialism itself no longer generates much conflict. Colonialism can no longer be seen as a threat to peace and security since there are, after all, no empires left whose maintenance or withdrawal might trigger extensive warfare. Of all the subjects worthy of addressing in a national newspaper at the dawn of the 21st Century, colonialism must surely seem the least plausible.
Yet those who follow world affairs would not be entirely wise to consign colonialism to the proverbial dustbin of history. Curiously enough, it remains a relevant factor in understanding the problems and the dangers of the world in which we live.
To begin with, residual problems from the end of the earlier era of colonisation, usually the result of untidy departures by the colonial power, still remain dangerously stalemated. The dramatic events in East Timor in 1999 are still fresh in the memory, and associated difficulties linger, most notably in the plight of the militia-menaced refugees in West Timor. But at least closure seems in sight there, unlike in Western Sahara or in those old standbys of Cyprus and Palestine, all messy legacies of European colonialism. Fuses lit in the colonial era could ignite again, as they have done, much to everyone’s surprise, in the Horn of Africa, between Ethiopia and Eritrea, where war broke out over a colonial border that the Italians of an earlier era of occupation had failed to define with enough precision.
And in Zimbabwe, colonial land ownership patterns that gave most of the viable farmland to White settlers lie at the root of the political crisis in that country a century later. Zimbabwe was, strikingly enough, the only major colony (aside from a few islands in the South Pacific) to have been named for an imperialist — “Rhodesia” was created to honour the man who had openly declared that the only way to “save” the United Kingdom from “a bloody civil war” was to “acquire new lands to settle the surplus population”. It is all the more ironic that an African President is now using Cecil Rhodes’ own logic to reverse land ownership in the country once named for him. Even more ironically, it was Rhodes who famously pronounced the colonial dictum “the Empire is a bread and butter question”. So, it now seems, is its dissolution.
But it’s not just the direct results of colonialism that remain relevant: there are the indirect ones as well. The intellectual history of colonialism is littered with many a wilful cause of more recent conflict. One is, quite simply, careless anthropology: the Belgian classification of Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi, which reified a distinction that had not existed before, continues to haunt the region of the African Great Lakes. A related problem is that of motivated sociology: how much bloodshed do we owe, for instance, to the British invention of “martial races” in India? And one can never overlook the old colonial administrative habit of “divide and rule”, exemplified, again, by British policy in the subcontinent after 1857, which led almost inexorably to the tragedy of Partition. Such distinctions were not just pernicious; they were often characterised by an unequal distribution of the resources of the state within the colonial society. Belgian colonialists favoured Tutsis, leading to Hutu rejection of them as alien interlopers; Sinhalese resentment of privileges enjoyed by the Tamils in th
Source: The Hindu