"You're trying to kidnap what I've rightfully stolen!"
By Vaishnavi Pallapothu
This post is part of a series that aims at subverting systemic approaches to producing, presenting, and consuming knowledge. Over the years, our use of the colonizer’s language and framing of arguments in accepted structures and formats has also fomented a form of structural violence. Limiting thoughts, opinions, views, and values into acceptable forms of expression also closes the table exclusively to those that can speak this language. This series centers voices that speak to themes of feminist foreign policy, the WPS agenda, transitional justice, and gender security through unconventional forms of articulation.
In a series of memes, this post aims to outline the lasting impact of colonisation of the European countries on countries in the so-called Global South and across indigenous communities all over the world. As if the damage done by exploiting colonies for resources, labour and territory wasn’t enough, the drawing of boundaries to draw up new states by the colonisers in the newly independent states has sowed divisions which have implications even today. Even after the decolonisation period in the late 20th century, former colonial powers have found ways to exert their dominance in the name of rebuilding and economic growth, foisting capitalism and neoliberal economics onto newly decolonised states. The legacy of colonisation is bound to leave scars for generations and will continue to affect post-colonial states’ development and progress for centuries to come.
Great Britain. The empire responsible for the largest colonial empire in the history of humanity. Spanning from Asia to the Americas, there is no continent left untouched by the wrath of the British empire as the lasting colonial trauma continues to hinder progress in all of Britain’s former colonies.
Let’s not forget about other European powers such as France, Spain and Portugal whose colonial empires pillaged Africa, South America and parts of Asia.
Let’s also not forget about the seemingly perfect Scandinavian countries and Canada who are known to be havens for gender equality, social welfare and good governance. These countries are responsible for destroying native Sámi communities, driving them out of their lands, designing forceful assimilation policies and denying them any kind of justice, reconciliation or reparations. Let’s not erase or ignore the history and legacies of these settler-colonial states. (Credit: Left-reminders on Tumblr)
Once decolonisation efforts and independence movements were underway in the 20th century, European powers withdrew from colonised territories. The colonisers often drew up the borders of the newly independent country arbitrarily and with little regard to history, leading to ethnic, religious, tribal and national tensions that persist to this day. One only need to look at, for example, the India-Pakistan-Kashmir conflict and the multiple civil wars in Africa to see evidence of the lasting impact that the carelessness of the colonisers has produced.
In the post-World War 2 and Cold War orders, the instability of the post-colonial political systems throughout the continent presented opportunities for European powers to assert influence the region in the form of structural adjustment programmes and loans. The irony is clear as day: after pillaging and destabilising former colonies, the colonisers through the Bretton Woods institutions offered economic support with the condition of economic liberalisation in order to attain standards of development deemed as the aspirational yardstick by themselves.
As this comic perfectly sums up, foreign aid, loans and investment were conditional to many demands that suited the national interests of the former colonial powers and brought to light how colonial systems of domination, superiority and power were still very much in play even in the post-colonial era.
When it comes to the crimes of the British empire, there has been little to no talk about reparations, compensations or even justice. British museums are filled with artefacts stolen from its former colonies and boasted as “gifts” in an attempt to revise history. The Kohinoor Diamond is the most well-known example and it only represents a tiny fraction of the wealth that Britain has amassed from its former colonies. There have been several documented reports of British textbooks glorifying or sanitising the country’s history with colonisation, imperialism and violence which is not only dangerous but also unacceptable.
As many refugees, asylum-seekers and immigrants go to the so-called developed countries in the West to seek better lives, they are turned away for many different reasons. The irony is painful: most of these immigrants come from former colonies that have been destabilised due to conflict, poor governance or pillaged economies. All in all, former coloniser countries end up causing the problem and blocking the solution for many people of colour from the decolonised world.
Today, indigenous nations across the world fight for their right to self-determination and autonomy only to be met with fierce violence and resistance from their settler-states. The land and territories that the states refuse to give back to the native people never belonged to them in the first place.