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Africa and the West

by Richard Drayton Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 05:50:44 AM EST

promoted by Jerome, for obvious reasons... a few small edits made on the front page

On Jerome's example, I offer here as a diary my article in THE GUARDIAN of August 20, 2005

The wealth of the west was built on Africa's exploitation
Britain has never faced up to the dark side of its imperial history
Richard Drayton
Saturday August 20, 2005

full article below

Britain was the principal slaving nation of the modern world. In The Empire Pays Back, a documentary broadcast by Channel 4 on Monday, Robert Beckford called on the British to take stock of this past. Why, he asked, had Britain made no apology for African slavery, as it had done for the Irish potato famine? Why was there no substantial public monument of national contrition equivalent to Berlin's Holocaust Museum? Why, most crucially, was there no recognition of how wealth extracted from Africa and Africans made possible the vigour and prosperity of modern Britain? Was there not a case for Britain to pay reparations to the descendants of African slaves?

These are timely questions in a summer in which Blair and Bush, their hands still wet with Iraqi blood, sought to rebrand themselves as the saviours of Africa. The G8's debt-forgiveness initiative was spun successfully as an act of western altruism. The generous Massas never bothered to explain that, in order to benefit, governments must agree to "conditions", which included allowing profit-making companies to take over public services. This was no gift; it was what the merchant bankers would call a "debt-for-equity swap", the equity here being national sovereignty. The sweetest bit of the deal was that the money owed, already more than repaid in interest, had mostly gone to buy industrial imports from the west and Japan, and oil from nations who bank their profits in London and New York. Only in a bookkeeping sense had it ever left the rich world. No one considered that Africa's debt was trivial compared to what the west really owes Africa.

Beckford's experts estimated Britain's debt to Africans in the continent and diaspora to be in the trillions of pounds. While this was a useful benchmark, its basis was mistaken. Not because it was excessive, but because the real debt is incalculable. For without Africa and its Caribbean plantation extensions, the modern world as we know it would not exist.

Profits from slave trading and from sugar, coffee, cotton and tobacco are only a small part of the story. What mattered was how the pull and push from these industries transformed western Europe's economies. English banking, insurance, shipbuilding, wool and cotton manufacture, copper and iron smelting, and the cities of Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow, multiplied in response to the direct and indirect stimulus of the slave plantations.

Joseph Inikori's masterful book, Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England (2002), shows how African consumers, free and enslaved, nurtured Britain's infant manufacturing industry. As Malachy Postlethwayt, the political economist, candidly put it in 1745: "British trade is a magnificent superstructure of American commerce and naval power on an African foundation."

In The Great Divergence (2001), Kenneth Pomeranz asked why Europe, rather than China, made the breakthrough first into a modern industrial economy? To his two answers - abundant coal and New World colonies - he should have added access to west Africa. For the colonial Americas were more Africa's creation than Europe's: before 1800, far more Africans than Europeans crossed the Atlantic. New World slaves were vital too, strangely enough, for European trade in the east. For merchants needed precious metals to buy Asian luxuries, returning home with profits in the form of textiles; only through exchanging these cloths in Africa for slaves to be sold in the New World could Europe obtain new gold and silver to keep the system moving. East Indian companies led ultimately to Europe's domination of Asia and its 19th-century humiliation of China.

Africa not only underpinned Europe's earlier development. Its palm oil, petroleum, copper, chromium, platinum and in particular gold were and are crucial to the later world economy. Only South America, at the zenith of its silver mines, outranks Africa's contribution to the growth of the global bullion supply.

The guinea coin paid homage in its name to the west African origins of one flood of gold. By this standard, the British pound since 1880 should have been rechristened the rand, for Britain's prosperity and its currency stability depended on South Africa's mines. I would wager that a large share of that gold in the IMF's vaults which was supposed to pay for Africa's debt relief had originally been stolen from that continent.

There are many who like to blame Africa's weak governments and economies, famines and disease on its post-1960 leadership. But the fragility of contemporary Africa is a direct consequence of two centuries of slaving, followed by another of colonial despotism. Nor was "decolonisation" all it seemed: both Britain and France attempted to corrupt the whole project of political sovereignty.

It is remarkable that none of those in Britain who talk about African dictatorship and kleptocracy seem aware that Idi Amin came to power in Uganda through British covert action, and that Nigeria's generals were supported and manipulated from 1960 onwards in support of Britain's oil interests. It is amusing, too, to find the Telegraph and the Daily Mail - which just a generation ago supported Ian Smith's Rhodesia and South African apartheid - now so concerned about human rights in Zimbabwe. The tragedy of Mugabe and others is that they learned too well from the British how to govern without real popular consent, and how to make the law serve ruthless private interest. The real appetite of the west for democracy in Africa is less than it seems. We talk about the Congo tragedy without mentioning that it was a British statesman, Alec Douglas-Home, who agreed with the US president in 1960 that Patrice Lumumba, its elected leader, needed to "fall into a river of crocodiles".

African slavery and colonialism are not ancient or foreign history; the world they made is around us in Britain. It is not merely in economic terms that Africa underpins a modern experience of (white) British privilege. Had Africa's signature not been visible on the body of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, would he have been gunned down on a tube at Stockwell? The slight kink of the hair, his pale beige skin, broadcast something misread by police as foreign danger. In that sense, his shooting was the twin of the axe murder of Anthony Walker in Liverpool, and of the more than 100 deaths of black people in mysterious circumstances while in police, prison or hospital custody since 1969.

This universe of risk, part of the black experience, is the afterlife of slavery. The reverse of the medal is what WEB DuBois called the "wage of whiteness", the world of safety, trustworthiness, welcome that those with pale skins take for granted. The psychology of racism operates even among those who believe in human equality, shaping unequal outcomes in education, employment, criminal justice. By its light, such all-white clubs as the G8 continue to meet in comfort.

Early this year, Gordon Brown told journalists in Mozambique that Britain should stop apologising for colonialism. The truth is, though, that Britain has never even faced up to the dark side of its imperial history, let alone begun to apologise.

Dr Richard Drayton is a senior lecturer in imperial and extra-European history since 1500 at Cambridge University. His book The Caribbean and the Making of the Modern World will be published in 2006.


Stunning...though not surprising. Thank you, Dr. Drayton, for your post here.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 06:13:10 AM EST
Richard will do ....
by Richard Drayton on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 06:15:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks Richard...I look forward to any future articles here you wish to contribute (or cross-post, as the case may be)

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 06:27:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Aha! Just read this on the Guardian site, was thinking about emailing you Richard, and here you are. Truly EuroTrib is a special place.

As someone of half-Indian descent I am in full agreement with your assessment of the impact of colonialism and the fact that Britain has never faced up to its history. I particularly liked that you highlight how this feeds through to the racism in our modern world.

The question I wanted to ask is, how should we progress? Do you think official apologies help?

Obviously columns and books like yours are a great benefit, but more than anything I have the sense that we need more to realise we have built our modern world on exploitation. It seems sometimes that our whole economic model is based on an exploitation of resources in so called "unowned territories." Now finally in the modern world, it's harder (though we still manage quite often) to steal the resources without recompense, how do we conceive of progress?

(This ties to environmental concerns too, obviously...)

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 06:38:11 AM EST
Besides Metatones questions, I have an additional follow-up question that arises for me too...which is to wonder what kind of responses/reactions you have had to your article, since I'm sure it will touch a chord for people in different ways (and, in a sense, it is kind of an "unconscious" reality...and people react interestingly, when unconscious things are made conscious).

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 06:50:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've now in the first 24 hours had about 40 responses or so by email. This is a third of what was generated by an earlier comment piece I had in the Guardian
about the memory of WW2 in Britain and the United States (its at
http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1480178,00.html )
But that was put up on Counterpunch and published/translated in Australia, India, Russia, and oddly enough in DeStaandard (the Vlamse newspaper in Belgium) so it reached more people

Some of those 40 were just racists who wanted to tell me 'the truth' about Africa/ Africans or to tell me about immigration. But I also had a number of "thank you" messages, and some very thoughful emails asking for clarification of points I had raised (including one from India in which I was asked in passing to explain Japan's success, why Britain became the principal blue water empire etc.) I had requests to reprint the piece.

by Richard Drayton on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 03:37:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I only got 5 e-mails or so from my WSJ article, but then I did not post my e-mail in the signature, only the link to EuroTrib. We did get a big spike of traffic to the site, but a lot of it seems to have come from dKos, where both Booman and I posted bragging/whoring (recommended) diaries that invited readers to come here for the full article.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Aug 22nd, 2005 at 04:02:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think apologies in themselves mean much. But they can play a part in a reconstruction of national identity, and of attitudes towards the world.

Similarly  I find reparations an interesting idea to think about, rather than something I would recommend in the sense of a system of money gifts

What would matter to me is to reframe how the West sees itself and Africa and Asia and Latin America, and to reconstruct international economic relations on that basis.

Both in the 1940s and in the 1970s there were lost opportunities to rethink how we might share the world-- on which I should diary sometime

by Richard Drayton on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 10:09:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great article - things very much needed to be said.

BTW, the current famine in Niger was caused by liberalised food prices at Western demand - which makes the Bliar-Brown-G8 hypocrisy even sicker.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 06:47:29 AM EST
What is being done in Niger, by the way, since the planeload of French food...do you know?

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 06:51:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The airlifts are going on - from a week-old article at ReliefWeb:

A total of 950 tons of highly nutritious corn soya blend (CSB) is being airlifted aboard chartered Boeing 747s and an Ilyushin-76, until 23 August, to Niger's capital, Niamey, from Brindisi, Italy, through WFP's Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) there. The CSB - which is given to young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers - complements WFP's general food distributions which got underway earlier this week at village level.

In this first round of free distributions, 4,694 people received WFP rations on Monday and Tuesday in villages around Ouallam, some 90 km north of the capital, Niamey. In Maradi, WFP has begun distributions with NGO partners World Vision and CARE International, as well as in Keita, near Tahoua - one of the most affected areas.

Now, the problem is not insufficient food, but that people can't buy it - Medicine Sans Frontieres says:

ohanne Sekkenes, the mission head of MSF which is mounting the biggest emergency exercise in its history in Niger, says the current emergency could have been avoided. 'This is not a famine, in the Somalian way,' she said. 'The harvest was bad in 2004 and the millet granaries are empty. Yet there is food on the markets. The trouble is that the price of the food is beyond anyone's reach.

It would be better to organise the purchase and free distribution of food available in Niger, too, rather than ship Western produce.

Meanwhile, the $30 million requirement was almost doubled, while the only $10 million pledged a month ago tripled - still way short of the goal:

WFP's emergency operation, which is seeking US$57.6 million has a current shortfall of US$32.8 million, corresponding to 43,000 tons of food.

Hence, your donations are still needed.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 07:33:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The french food is not the only aid getting out there:
by Boudicca (badgerval at hotmail dot com) on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 07:40:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I remember reading not long ago (i think it was a dkos diary, but I haven't bee nable to find it despite quite a bit of time googling for it) someone commenting on the  Jared Diamond book "Guns, Germs and Steel" and saying that it did not explain why Europe rather than Africa had eventually come up "on top", as both continents had similar situations. Thie commenter thne made the point that a vital part of what made Europe's development possible were the trade winds, which allowed to go to America from Africa by thr Southern route and then back via a more northern route. This made the slave/cotton/manufacturing trading triangle possible to the Europeans, while it did not offer the same to Africans.

Have you heard of it? does it make any sense? I'll try to search for that text again in any case.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 08:23:53 AM EST
The trade winds are real... and the triangle route can be seen here

but I would argue that from the point of view of "Guns, Germs and Steel" Africa and Europe were similar, but Europe already had a historical advantage by the time the Americas were discovered.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 08:41:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm both attracted and repelled by geographic-determinism arguments but the argument is made (I think by John Iliffe in his History of Africa) that the structure of the river systems and the north-south flow of Africa make the integration of economic resources on a continental level much more difficult than say in North America.  
by Richard Drayton on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 10:13:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
you can find it here.

The source for the discussion of winds was Alfred Crosby's Ecological Imperialism, not Iliffe's work.

by litho on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 06:15:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks! I have it on my hotlist, as I found it really a great diary, but with the kos archive playing strange games these days it was not accessible, and googling "trade winds" in various combinations with dkos did not help me, sadly.

It was a great diary.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 11:51:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the compliment. I was inspired the night I wrote that thing...
by litho on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 02:55:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am always ready to admit to Britain's shameful colonial and imperialist history, but am also of the opinion that every nation with a history has some shameful episodes in its history. Take a look at this map of Africa in 1930: http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/afri1914.htm

There are those who seek to educate about the realities as well as the accomplishments of Bristish history: Bristol's "British Empire & Commonwealth Museum" has this in its introduction (my emphasis)

The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum draws upon a wide range of experiences and divergent opinions about the colonial period. It presents a history seen from all sides, from explorers to aboriginal peoples, viceroys to freedom fighters, district officers to indentured servants.

It covers not only the maritime, military and technological triumphs of empire, but also examines issues such as racism, economic exploitation, cultural imperialism and slavery. The 500-year history of the British empire and the modern Commonwealth is presented to the visitor through twenty themed galleries.

by Boudicca (badgerval at hotmail dot com) on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 09:01:25 AM EST
Not about the Bristol museum in particular, as I haven't seen its exhibit, but more generally, I note that the emphasis and coherence of the exhibition counts more than if there is an acknowledgement of the crimes. If there are only a few token tableaus at one corner, while the rest swings high in triumphalism or shows photos of colonial infrastructure without pointing out that just these have been built with slave labour, that's hypocrisy.

(A similar example from my hometown Budapest: the last government opened a 'Terror Museum', dedicated to state terror in a house used by both the Nazi-allied and communist secret police, by itself an affront by equating the industrial genocide of hundreds of thousands with secret police terror killing thousands - but the part reminding of the Hungarian assistance to the Holocaust was minimal, with not much content, and mostly about the acts of occupying Germans.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 09:43:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
this article in The Guardian and now here at EuroTrib. Thank you for posting it here, Richard.

It's a vital point you make about how Africa enriched the West in the 17-19th centuries -- the push and pull of the triangular trade that acted as a siphon, enriching us, impoverishing Africa. (Disorganizing Africa internally too, I believe, though I've no certain knowledge of this and am not sure what sources there are for internal African history at the time of the slave trade). And the dependent trade relations that were set up then have continued down to today, whatever the "official" version of colonialism in vogue at one time or another.

Speaking of which, you mention Patrice Lumumba, an immensely respectable and attractive figure. His Independence Day speech, made in 1960 before the King of the Belgians and an assortment of dignitaries assembled to witness the "benevolent" hand-over of power from Belgium to the new Democratic Republic of the Congo, is fairly well-known, but I can't resist posting this excerpt:

For this independence of the Congo, even as it is celebrated today with Belgium, a friendly country with whom we deal as equal to equal, no Congolese worthy of the name will ever be able to forget that is was by fighting that it has been won [applause], a day-to-day fight, an ardent and idealistic fight, a fight in which we were spared neither privation nor suffering, and for which we gave our strength and our blood.

We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force.

This was our fate for eighty years of a colonial regime; our wounds are too fresh and too painful still for us to drive them from our memory. We have known harassing work, exacted in exchange for salaries which did not permit us to eat enough to drive away hunger, or to clothe ourselves, or to house ourselves decently, or to raise our children as creatures dear to us.

We have known ironies, insults, blows that we endured morning, noon, and evening, because we are Negroes. Who will forget that to a black one said "tu", certainly not as to a friend, but because the more honorable "vous" was reserved for whites alone?

We have seen our lands seized in the name of allegedly legal laws which in fact recognized only that might is right.

We have seen that the law was not the same for a white and for a black, accommodating for the first, cruel and inhuman for the other.

We have witnessed atrocious sufferings of those condemned for their political opinions or religious beliefs; exiled in their own country, their fate truly worse than death itself.

We have seen that in the towns there were magnificent houses for the whites and crumbling shanties for the blacks, that a black was not admitted in the motion-picture houses, in the restaurants, in the stores of the Europeans; that a black traveled in the holds, at the feet of the whites in their luxury cabins.

Who will ever forget the massacres where so many of our brothers perished, the cells into which those who refused to submit to a regime of oppression and exploitation were thrown [applause]?

All that, my brothers, we have endured.

But we, whom the vote of your elected representatives have given the right to direct our dear country, we who have suffered in our body and in our heart from colonial oppression, we tell you very loud, all that is henceforth ended.

The Republic of the Congo has been proclaimed, and our country is now in the hands of its own children.

Together, my brothers, my sisters, we are going to begin a new struggle, a sublime struggle, which will lead our country to peace, prosperity, and greatness.

Together, we are going to establish social justice and make sure everyone has just remuneration for his labor [applause].

We are going to show the world what the black man can do when he works in freedom, and we are going to make of the Congo the center of the sun's radiance for all of Africa.

Lumumba, of course, was driven from power and murdered. Dictator Mobutu replaced him until his death forty-odd years later. We in the West support democracy and freedom, and we even invade countries to put dictators down. Well... Sometimes.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 09:40:28 AM EST
I saw the chilling documentary that exposed Lumumba's murder as done by the Belgian secret service, with CIA and the British only in the support crew. They interviewed the agents who murdered him, and the sick assholes are still proud of what they did...

Belgium's colonial amnesia is probably worse than Britain's. The current conflict in Kongo is the worst in the world, but pales in comparison to the Belgian rape of that land a century ago.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 09:46:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this-- I've never read that speech before.


by Richard Drayton on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 10:15:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The full text, in this English translation (the speech was made in French) can be found here.

I remember seeing this ceremony in a documentary. Lumumba had presence, dignity, style, intelligence. And he didn't pull a single punch. There were all these white dignitaries looking as if they'd just swallowed a toad.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 10:40:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary, Richard.  If you follow the link to my dKos diary, I think you'll see we're thinking on pretty much the same wavelength.

The one thing I would add to yours, though, is that Europe's debt to Africa is not just Britain's debt.  In fact, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was pioneered by the Portuguese, picked up by the Dutch, and only became British in the eighteenth century.  By then, tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of slaves had already been transported across the ocean.

Brazilian sugar was the first major slave-produced good from the Americas to make it big in Europe, and there's a good argument to be made that all those secondary effects you attribute to British Caribbean plantations are already at play by 1570, about a half century before the first British settlement in Barbados and nearly a full century before those settlers learned from the Dutch how to cultivate and process sugar.

If I really wanted to quibble, I'd mention you might be downplaying the role of American silver in European industrialization.  The Mexican and South American mines produced enough silver to provoke a Europe-wide price revolution, contributing to a transformation of market relations in the Old World.

by litho on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 09:19:39 PM EST
I agree on the list of nations, though you must certainly add France. Bordeaux and Nantes flourished as triangular trade ports just as Liverpool, Glasgow, and Bristol did. And the French had very considerable sugar island possessions in the Caribbean.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 01:01:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think we agree.  Spanish American silver is the superlubricant which removed a lot of friction from  the wheels of long distance global commerce
by Richard Drayton on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 03:40:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was thinking more of internal (albeit long-distance) European commerce as the key to the manufacturing revolution, and the role American silver had in lubricating that...

I wish I had some cites to throw at you, but all I've got handy are the volumes on the transitions debates (Hilton's and Ashton and Philpin's), which are too early, Hobsbawm's Age of Revolution, which is too late, and Braudel on the Mediterranean, and he's skeptical of the role of American silver.

Was it Henri Pirenne who came up with that theory, that increased market activity led to early modern capitalism?  I know the transitions marxists trashed him, but I can't help thinking there was something to it.

by litho on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 09:24:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Was there not a case for Britain to pay reparations to the descendants of African slaves?"
I have mixed feelings about this kind of articles.
I am convinced that up to some degree European wealth is built or at least triggered by slavery and colonialism.
The golden age of the Netherlands, or in this case it better be called Holland, is strongly correlated with the first company that worked with shareholders. The Dutch were among the profiteers of slavetrade too.
It is very good that this relations are studied and made public. Especially when it concerns situations from less then 50 years ago.
My problem lies in the suggestion that countries can be guilty. When you seriously consider to pay descendants of slaves you may have forgotten to ask yourself the following questions. First who is going to pay and who is going to receive? My father who always  got something like the minimum-wage. My grandfather was an illiterate man working as a coachman for some horrible capitalist. When we go back a little further most of my ancestors were exploited and oppressed by the ruling class. So now I should have to pay for what the oppressors of my ancestors did to other people. And to whom? If one or more of your ancestors happen to be the result of a black woman raped by a slavetrader should you be paying or receiving?
It is utter nonsense of course.
You can rightly object that reparations to the descendants of slaves was not the main issue raised here but if you come up with blaming the tragedy of Mugabe on the British you really lose me completely. And not just me.
To put it sharply: with that you suggest that Africans are not even capable of evildoing on their own!
And then on top of it you suggest that the shooting of  Jean Charles de Menezes is just another expression of the universal racism in Europe.  
Of course I can not judge what exactly happened there  and then. (I would be surprised if you can) It is even possible that the policemen involved were of the most vicious kind of racists. But please do not suggest that the UK in both its foreign policy and its policework is soaked with racism.

What is the use of trying to make common people in Europe feel guilty about things that happened centuries ago?

    ...Save democracy from direct elections
by FransGroenendijk on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 09:27:55 PM EST
I'm not sure guilt is the word.  Responsible might be more like it.

The facts are that in today's world, there are tremendous disparities of wealth and living standards.  You in the Netherlands and myself in the United States are both likely to live much longer than average folks throughout Africa, Latin America, the Mideast, and parts of Asia, and the way we live and the things we consume appear to millions, if not billions, of people throughout the world as simply an unachievable dream.

Richard's point is that things didn't just naturally arise this way, but they came about through specific historical processes.  Your wealth, that is, is directly related to the actions of your Dutch ancestors four hundred years ago, when they conquered Pernambuco, established slave trading outposts in Africa, and seized the Spice Islands in Indonesia.  My wealth is directly related to the actions of the British colonists in North America, who stole the land I live on from Native Americans, and developed an industrial economy off the profits of African slave trading.

The economic and political relationships established four and five hundred years ago live on today, and with each passing moment we contribute to the continued impoverishment of those who have the misfortune to live in the Third World.

That's the way I read Richard's post, and I think he makes the points very well.

by litho on Sat Aug 20th, 2005 at 10:03:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With the third paragraph of your comments I agree 100%. The public at large should be better informed on this, this should most certainly be taught in our schools.
So efforts to check / improve the schoolbooks on these issues are most valuable. But even then one should avoid to discuss history in terms of "guilt of countries".
Again: no, the people organising colonialism and slavetrade were not my ancestors. Most of my ancestors were the Dutch victims of these oppressors.
In the reference to Mugabe I sense this weird and countereffective sentiment of: the capitalist west, bad egoistic white people; non-capitalist south, poor noble black people.
It is counter-effective because when young people discover that coloured people can do, do and did very very nasty things (lets say: severe genital mutilation. Hard to blame that on colonialism), most of them will start to believe that the history of colonialism and slavetrade was not all that bad too. That we do not owe the bigger share of our wealth to a the efforts and suffering of lots of other people especially people from other countries.
That is happening already and should be strongly opposed.

So that is my main objection. This article is not a contribution, in my opinion, to fight ignorance about what we owe the south but it is more like a strange mixture of arguments to feel guilty with hints on strategy. A strategy that is not mine. To say the least.

    ...Save democracy from direct elections
by FransGroenendijk on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 11:03:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Let me ask you this: is your living standard today equal to or lower than your grandfather's? Than your great, great-grandfather's?

I suspect, in fact, that it is exponentially greater. I suspect that your living standard is typical of native-born Europeans, and would be considered unimaginable by most islanders in Indonesia, by most villagers in Africa, by most Indians in South America.

In other words, you have inherited the wealth of those who oppressed your direct ancestors. In the same way that I have inherited the wealth of the British colonists who founded the nation I live in -- even though at the time of the founding my ancestors were farming in a shtetl in Poland and the Ukraine.

Our responsibility comes from our enjoyment of the fruits of the past, not from the noble or ignoble actions of those who happened to procreate us. As long as we benefit from the assymetrical distribution of wealth and power on the planet, we are all responsible for the actions of those who traded slaves and slave-produced products, of those who conquered foreign lands to loot their wealth and distort their development.

by litho on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 11:39:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with wath you wrote; so I only append it.

Frans (BTW whom I know from elsewhere in the euroblogosphere; hy there!) wrote: In the reference to Mugabe I sense this weird and countereffective sentiment of: the capitalist west, bad egoistic white people; non-capitalist south, poor noble black people.

This is a very valid point, and as you explain, can have adverse effects once people discover that it is false. However, there is also an opposed problem: when people forget that the conditions for the rise of evil black political leaders was often greatly influenced by Western actions. This could be rather direct, like the Belgians' slaying of Lumumba and the installment of Mobutu; less direct, i.e. the paying and arming of nasty dictators to maintain political or economic advantages; and indirect, by which I mean the 'local elite' left behind by the colonialists, and the borders they shaped.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 02:10:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with you DoDo (Hi). So what we really need more is investigative journalism to dig into the details of this specific influences.
For example the way Alex of the Yorkshire Ranter (that other blog with the INN,RNC-button on it) follows armstrader Victor Bout.

The reason why you find me here too now (as compared to commenting at FistfulofEuros and posting on my own blog) is that I hope to learn and exchange views with people who are not just willing to find out or claim how things really work but want to think about how changes can be effectively brought about. Changes on the most important issues. Taking into account unintended consequences of our writings and other actions.

    ...Save democracy from direct elections
by FransGroenendijk on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 08:31:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If "we are all responsible " means responsible to take this into account and make efforts to change the world I agree with that.

    ...Save democracy from direct elections
by FransGroenendijk on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 08:19:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the reparations issue I was quoting Beckford and suggesting it was an interesting problem to think about. You will note from the piece that I didnt actualy go on to explore the issue in detail. Mostly because I'm still thinking about if/how it could be done, and to what end.
by Richard Drayton on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 03:41:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I noticed that the issue of reparation payments was not the core issue of your article. Apparently you did not notice that however.
I took the quote as my opening sentence of my comments because it illustrated best my worries on the issue of the Guilty Countries.
I am a little bit disappointed that you did not make your mind up about them yet.

    ...Save democracy from direct elections
by FransGroenendijk on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 08:16:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is another one of those very complex problems. Slavery, particularly as practiced by European and American slave industry, is an abhorrent evil. And yet it remains difficult to blame all the problems of Africa on slavery.

Africa was only "conquered" by Europe in the late 1800s; the slave trade mostly coastal forts and there was little penetration inland by westerners. Then, most Westerners were evicted from west and central African governments in the early sixties (they booted me out of Ghana). So there were at most 100 years when Africa was not under the control of Africans. This is a long time, but another 50 years has gone past since then and things are still pretty grim from one end of the continent to the other. Further, the slave trade concentrated on West Africa, but Africa's problems span the depth and breadth of the continent.

I've waffled on this topic for decades, but perhaps one useful point of insight is the part in Stanley's "How I Found Livingstone" where he has to deal with passage through territory inhabited by small groups who are continually at war. It is disheartening to read about what goes on, even after factoring out the sensationalism and Euro-centric bigotry that permeates Stanley's viewpoint. The fact is that the Africans were fighting with each other before the Westerners showed up, and they continue to do so after kicking them out.

Africa is a very tough cultural and sociological mystery: Why does the continent not move, even gradually, towards "civilization"? And why do Africans have such difficulty integrating with other cultures, including obviously the United States but also Britain, France, Sweden...

by asdf on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 11:04:30 AM EST
I don't know that I agree about "difficulties integrating" as I am not quite sure what you are getting at but as a generality, the key problem in a lot of Africa (and Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan and in Bihar in India and no doubt other places I don't know so much about) is tribalism.

The extended loyalty of the tribe is something that seems to gum up the works of modern institutions. This is a huge subject, but I think it is a fruitful angle of thought.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 03:15:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Africa was only "conquered" by Europe in the late 1800s; the slave trade mostly coastal forts and there was little penetration inland by westerners"

Quite right-- in fact I have a little phrase in my book NATURE'S GOVERNMENT  (which I will shamelessly plug here) in which I write that before industrial technologies of transport, warfare, medicine that in general around the world "Europeans were waterborne parasites, quick to command trade and the coasts, slow to penetrate inland"

by Richard Drayton on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 03:44:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In East Africa many of the coastal forts were taken from the Arab traders.

Slaving in East Africa was not initiated by the Europeans, and in the 17th & 18th centuries it was carried on by some European nations, Mombasa if I remember rightly was a Portuguese trading station at one time.

Eats cheroots and leaves.

by NeutralObserver on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 09:31:20 PM EST
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But I have serious problems with your paragraph

"Why does the continent not move, even gradually, towards "civilization"? And why do Africans have such difficulty integrating with other cultures, including obviously the United States but also Britain, France, Sweden"

Perhaps English is not your first language, because to me as a native speaker this reads strangely

I don't know what you mean by "civilization", nor do I see any 'difficulty integrating with other cultures". On the contrary Africans have been the master cultural integrators of the New World, and have done an interesting job in Europe too

by Richard Drayton on Sun Aug 21st, 2005 at 03:47:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And still is.

The "no brainer" economy of flourishing through exploitation still alive today. Slavery may get second birth soon with that bankruptcy bill of Bush. Who was talking about Dred Scott lately?

by das monde on Mon Aug 22nd, 2005 at 04:40:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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