“It is fundamental to remember. It does not mean that we are a resentful people, but we must remember” – Aime Cesaire (1985).
It is not only today that one comes across the argument made by fellow Africans, that colonialism did good to the continent of Africa. Some consider that went on for over 200years was a blessing, when on the continent, murder, theft, rape and slavery were the order of the day for the exchange of schools, hospitals, railroads and forms of government.
R.A Massie-Blomfield, Headmaster at Cavina School, has often argued that were it not for the missionaries, African would have been relegated to its darkness.
Here is Aime Cesaire’s argument about why colonialism is not the same as civilization.
1. Colonialism dehumanizes and decivilizes the colonizer in the process to “pacify,” conquer and maintain power.
2. Colonialism benefits the colonizer who becomes the producer and consumer at the expense of the colonized.
3. Colonialism is not the coming into contact of equal societies as one civilisation sees itself as being more human than the other and therefore violates the human rights of the other.
Excerpts from his French Discours sur le colonialisme originally published by Editions Presence Africaine (1955).
Colonialism or civilisation?
“In dealing with this subject, the commonest curse is to be the dupe in good faith of a collective hypocrisy that cleverly misrepresents problems, the better to legitimize the hateful solutions provided for them. In other words, the essential thing here is to see clearly, to think clearly – that is, dangerously – and to answer clearly the innocent first question: what, fundamentally, is colonization? To agree on what it is not: neither evangelization, nor a philanthropic enterprise, nor a desire to push back the frontiers of ignorance, disease, and tyranny, nor a project undertaken for the greater glory of God, nor an attempt to extend the rule of law. To admit once for all, without flinching at the consequences, that the decisive actors here are the adventurer and the pirate, the wholesale grocer and the ship owner, the gold digger and the merchant, appetite and force, and behind them, the baleful projected shadow of a form of civilization which, at a certain point in its history, finds itself obliged, for internal reasons, to extend to a world scale the competition of its antagonistic economies.”
Colonialism is when the main actor benefits both as the producer and consumer. It is when goods are produced, mined and exported for the benefit of one population and with the exploitation of the “owner population.”
“First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism; and we must show that each time a head is cut off or an eye put out in Vietnam and in France they accept the fact, each time a little girl is raped and in France they accept the fact, each time a Madagascan is tortured and in France they accept the fact, civilization acquires another dead weight, a universal regression takes place, a gangrene sets in, a center of infection begins to spread; and that at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these prisoners who have been tied up and “interrogated, all these patriots who have been tortured, at the end of all the racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness that has been displayed, a poison has been instilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds toward savagery.”
On Pseudo-humanism and capitalism – some humans have more rights than others because some humans are more human:
“Hitler makes it possible to see things on a large scale and to grasp the fact that capitalist society, at its present stage, is incapable of establishing a concept of the rights of all men, just as it has proved incapable of establishing a system of individual ethics.”
No one colonizes innocently, no one colonizes with impunity either; that a nation which colonizes, that a civilization which justifies colonization – and therefore force – is already a sick civilization, a civilization that is morally diseased, that irresistibly, progressing from one consequence to another, one repudiation to another…”
Even though the Africans were asking for social amenities, the colonialists held back on those amenities in order to marginalize the populations. They were also selective on who accessed the amenities when they were present:
“The proof is that at present it is the indigenous peoples of Africa and Asia who are demanding schools, and colonialist Europe which refuses them; that it is the African who is asking for ports and roads, and colonialist Europe which is niggardly on this score; that it is the colonized man who wants to move forward, and the colonizer who holds things back.”
Here is the recording of his lecture: