When Senegal and Nigeria got knocked out of the world cup, I automatically moved to France, because it was the only African team left. Sure the question has been debated on whether they really are ‘African’ being French players but I believe there’s a blood line and we Kenyans know how to claim people. Look at what we’ve done with Obama.
During the finals, we were thrilled when France won. I’m sure there’s a child somewhere called Pogba. Then out of nowhere a discussion on colonialism starts, whether or not colonialism was a good thing. I thought we were all high from the win, but this was a group of church youth so no, no one was getting high or vaped. But to my shock quite a number of people thought colonialism was a good thing that happened to us.
The beauty of having been to law school is they teach you to look at both sides of the story. Even when you think the facts are obvious, you still have to listen and observe. So I sat there and listened to people say that our forefathers got colonialism as a bonus and I’ve done a bit of observation.
In school History teachers would take us through a road map of the Scramble for Africa. We had to memorize which territories were colonized by who and which year they got independence. After this we’d make short notes about the advantages and disadvantages of colonialism. Looking back, I wish I had a problem with that. I wish I asked, why will you teach us that the Mau Mau went to fight in Mau forest to send away the white man then expect us to say the ‘advantages’ of this white man who kept us from independence?
In the United States, parents object to assignments that require kids to write the advantages and disadvantages of slavery; because, since when do we teach children to see the good in buying and selling of human beings? Yet here we are having gone through a system that needed us to recognize the advantage of an oppressive regime. The system we went through wasn’t about learning and questioning what we learn. It was more of get the points, cram them, pass in your exams and take an A home then you’ll get picked into a good university. We’ve lived the drill.
But even today, in 2018, people still believe that colonialism was of advantage to Africa. I read an article by a writer called Dingwall who says, ‘if there was no European colonialism Africa would be in a much worse state than it is now’ through the article he credits Europeans being responsible for elimination of slavery in Africa. Further, our system of government is credited to our colonial masters; ‘Africa got much more experience than they lost’ and he is convinced that imperialism and conquests are not automatic evils.
These are all very good points some I even agree with. I mean, the machine I’m using to type this is because of technology acquired from influence by our colonialists. The language I speak is from them, the books I read, from them, the clothes we wear from them. Yes I agree, they were responsible for doing away with slavery which is pretty great and we should give credit where due. And we’re not saying here weren’t conquests for kingdoms in Africa.
Before we get excited however, someone in Ethiopia is speaking the language I am speaking and using a machine such as this. That person did not have their country colonized and unmistakably they have a GDP up at 51 Billion US dollars being 10th in top richest countries in Africa last I checked. We also don’t forget their rich culture which despite external influence they retain to date. The question is would we really ‘not be ready for the rapid changes of the 19th century without colonialism?’
I believe we would do better than most people believe we would.
In as much as our minds were narrowed to believe that colonialism was here for our good, we paid a price. That’s why our flag has red representing the blood shed and its not just Kenya, the Scramble and Partition for Africa affected the entire continent in various shapes and forms. It just so happened to be very down played in our curriculum so that the education system that is supposed to empower us with knowledge just scratched the surface of what we ought to know unlike in other continents.
Take this example;
‘In Germany, no child finishes high school without learning about the Holocaust. Not just the facts of it but the how and the why and the gravity of it-what it means. As a result, Germans grow up appropriately aware and apologetic. British schools treat colonialism the same way to an extent. Their children are taught the history of the Empire with a kind of disclaimer hanging over the whole thing. “Well, that was shameful, now wasn’t it?”
In South Africa, the atrocities of apartheid have never been taught that way. We weren’t taught judgement or shame. We were taught history the way it’s taught in America. In America, the history of racism is taught like this: “There was slavery and then there was Jim Crow and then there was Martin Luther King Jr. and now its done.” It was the same for us. “Apartheid was bad. Nelson Mandela was freed. Let’s move on.” Facts, but not many, and never the emotional or moral dimension. It was as if the teachers, many of whom were white had been given a mandate. “ Whatever you do, don’t make the kids angry.”
- Trevor Noah, Born A Crime
Now doesn’t the story of Sarafina ring a bell.
Trevor’s version in Kenya would be we go to school, learn about the Maji Maji rebellion, the Mau Mau movement and then independence and we are good to go. Don’t forget the 20 mark question on advantages and disadvantages of colonialism in Kenya.
I know African leaders pre-scramble were powerful. I mean have you read about Shaka Zulu of South Africa, Shongo of the Oyo Empire and King Jaja of Opobo? Take King Jaja for instance, he shipped Palm Oil to Liverpool from West Africa. If we were so primitive, as we have been made to believe, then how does an African man undertake such business so successfully. After colonial supremacy and being tricked by a treaty of protection he was done. Someone may say ‘but King Jaja was also involved in slave trade before it was abolished.’ Yes he was and no I am not trying to say slavery was okay but the only reason slavery was such a big deal back in the day was because the demand was created by the same people who had it abolished. Basic rules of supply and demand.
The Scramble for Africa happened for the economic, social and military evolution in Europe, that much we agree on. It wasn’t for the benefit of Africa as a continent. Yes we got the railway line but we paid for it with a harsh labor system, racism and oppression of our forefathers. Yes, we got missionaries and schools but we paid for it with our land being taken from us. Our forefathers went to fight in wars and won them only for those who made it back alive to live in squatters in their own country. Sure, we got education, but that was only for the high and mighty. Education was never compulsory for Arabs and Africans and school systems lacked in information on how colonial rule influenced the Africans. We got all these things but the price we paid was higher. Aren’t we beneficiaries today of technology simply by engaging in trade? Are we not beneficiaries of good road and railway network simply by concluding agreements? Was it really impossible to do what we are doing now back then? Do we really believe we were that unintelligent? If our forefathers could drive out the white man without ‘sticks that spat fire’ to gain independence do you really believe colonialism was a fairy tale for Africa and we were sleeping beauty waiting for the kiss of life?
I think the colonial era was efficient. If we still believe there was an ‘advantage’ to it then they were very successful. Look at us today. We work through school and immediately we see the problems we have as a country we can’t wait to live some place outside it. The irony is, the places we run away to and the homes of some of our colonial masters. It’s not bad to want to leave and go somewhere else, I think colonialism was just very efficient in negating even our patriotism. Let alone that our culture, something we have given for the taking. We don’t like going to ushago, I mean there’s no power there, no hot water and who still speaks their native language. We hide behind globalization in an attempt to pretend our culture is not important. But Mandela wasn’t out of it when he said, ‘if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’
Someone may say but no, corruption is the reason we want to leave Kenya and get a ‘better place’. Unfortunately, the history of corruption is pegged to the colonial era. It’s not an innate Kenyan problem it was taught to us and we happen to have been very well taught that five decades later it is crippling our society. Again as Nelson Mandela would say;
‘No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.’
Now I would interpret this quote as we are not born hating our country. Yes we have massive issues today. But the level of patriotism that we have isn’t where it should be, especially if we still think we owe our survival through the 19th century to someone else. Unfortunately, I think this is where our dependency syndrome is birthed from. We haven’t gotten on our feet because we think we can’t move forward. We need the boost of a grant, a loan or some form of aid then maybe, just maybe we’ll get our road systems in order.
It’s a bit obvious now that I am pained by the argument that ‘we wouldn’t be anywhere without colonialism’. Looking back I wonder, how did we sit through class in a lesson about the ‘Scramble’ and ‘Partition’ for Africa, like Africa is some sort of jig saw puzzle that couldn’t wait to be pulled apart? And not have a problem with even that title? Or we just did it to pass exams?
Maybe, but we should have know better, we should even now know better and go back to our history before it repeats itself. And indeed it does seem to want to repeat itself.
Image credits: nation.co.ke