Colonialism In Africa Essay Competitions

President Barack Obama made his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as president in July, 2009, speaking in Accra, Ghana. Despite a decades-long trail of broken promises to Africa on aid and development, Obama’s speech in Accra was marked by finger-wagging and reprimands, and an insistence that African nations’ own “mismanagement” and “lack of democracy” are to blame for their economic and social problems. Obama told the Ghanaian parliament,

Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. . . . No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy; that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.3

Obama’s speech was made at the height of the 2008–2009 global recession. Yet lest we imagine that this approach was somehow exceptional, we can note the echoes of Obama’s words in an address given by International Monetary Fund (IMF) head Christine Lagarde in Nigeria in early 2016. There she likewise chastised the Nigerian government on fiscal policy and corruption in the face of a major commodity price collapse, admonishing them that “hard decisions will need to be taken on revenue, expenditure, debt, and investment,” and prescribing a stern dose of “resolve, resilience, and restraint.”4

Tough-love talk of “responsibility” aside, then and now, US policy makers actually view economic crisis as an opportunity to rebuild the global economy at the expense of ordinary Africans. In 2008, then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner tripled the IMF’s resources from their current level of about $250 billion, with $100 billion coming from the United States. Yet while the IMF directed industrialized nations to enact stimulus plans and bank bailouts, Africa and other Third World regions were compelled to accept spending cuts and other harsh conditions for loans. In fact, said the Jubilee USA Network at the height of the 2008–2009 global recession, “There is a significant danger that the new borrowing that has resulted from a lack of sufficient international grant support . . . will force low income countries to prioritize debt repayment over essential social services and lead to renewed debt crises throughout the developing world.”5

Similarly, today’s economic crisis for “emerging nations” will provide an opportunity for the reimposition of Western fiscal priorities, what anti-Third World debt activist Eric Toussaint has described as “the tyranny of global finance.” As the business presses were reporting in early 2016, a new round of indebtedness and austerity is now unfolding for African economies.6 Likewise, as during the last crisis, ordinary Africans will be compelled to accept punishing conditions handed down by the global financial institutions. 

Obama’s comments turn the reality of African poverty and its root causes on their head. Decades of IMF and World Bank (often referred to as the “Bretton Woods institutions” for their creation at the Bretton Woods conference in New Hampshire at the close of World War II) loans and structural adjustment policies have placed an economic stranglehold on African and other Third World nations. “The massive strength of US capital, with more than 50 percent of world manufacturing and finance at its disposal, was used to create the World Bank, the IMF, Marshall Aid and so on.”7 Using the IMF/World Bank as a battering ram, neoliberal policy of trade liberalization forced its way across Africa and the rest of the globe, leaving in its wake decimated social programs, a debt crisis, and low wages—that is, conditions favorable for US investment. The last few decades of neoliberal policy have spelled disaster for the vast majority of ordinary Africans. Each Ghanaian, for example, owes approximately $350 to international financial institutions.8 Countless other examples of poverty and inequality could be given.

The comments from Obama and Lagarde illustrate two general kinds of explanations in the mainstream media and official circles about the causes of poverty in Africa, neither of which are mutually exclusive: one is a scolding approach where Western politicians, officials, and investors chide African governments on economic policy, with stern paternalism combined with hand-wringing concern. Admonitions from the West transform into narratives of Africa as an eternal basket case using blatantly hypocritical blame-the-victim rhetoric. One version emerges from some development and  global advocacy circles that claim an antipoverty agenda but that also share key assumptions with their Bretton Woods and development bank partners: that the success of any development policy in Africa depends on Western intervention. These shared assumptions include a conviction in the inability of African governments and ordinary people to independently run their own societies. As a case in point, Bono’s ONE Campaign issued a strong finger-wagging about the need for African governments to act more responsibly, warning that the “New global development agenda has little hope of succeeding unless those same governments—together with private-sector partners and many others—also agree on an effective strategy to finance it.”9

However, this version is a vastly distorted account that elides or erases the destructive role played by foreign multinational corporations. As Clark Gascoigne of Global Financial Integrity comments, “In development circles we talk a lot about how much aid is going to Africa, and there’s this feeling among some in the West that after we’ve been giving this money for decades, it’s Africa’s fault if the continent’s countries still haven’t developed.”10

The other narrative is newer, found in the business presses beginning around the early to mid-2000s, championing—with scarcely contained excitement—a new surge in investment on the continent. Certainly Africa has undergone a recent boom for global corporations, asset managers, and the like, with vast returns on commodities that enabled African growth rates to bounce back faster than many other parts of the globe after the recession in 2008–2009. In recent years, investment in other industrial sectors has also taken off, with booms in communications, technology, and the service sector. Accompanying this growth has been the excited declaration of a new African middle class and a “diversified” economy, ready to weather any global downturn in prices. Needless to say, this narrative has already been seriously punctured by the commodities price crash of the last few years.

In fact, shocking levels of inequality, oppression, and poverty are no less prevalent today than they have been since the end of colonialism. Patrick Bond, for one, has argued that Africans are poorer today than they were at independence.11 Today, however, even sharper unevenness exists not only between Africa and the West, but also within African nations themselves. While the dramatic narrative of “Africa rising” in the first decades of the new millennium champions the “boom” in investment and growth, poverty and underdevelopment remain dire. Crippling poverty has meant, for example, a health care crisis that has reached epidemic proportions on a continent where, according to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy at birth is only fifty-eight years; ten times as many people on the continent will die of HIV/AIDS than in Europe; and Africa has one-tenth the rate of physicians per population as compared to Europe and the United States.12 One billion people worldwide have no access to any form of sanitation facilities;13 695 million of those without access live in sub-Saharan Africa.14

Postcolonial economic development on the continent has also resulted in combined and uneven development that has concentrated industrial growth in key centers such as Nigeria and South Africa and left other regions far behind. According to the World Bank, those two countries together have accounted for 55 percent of the industrial value in sub-Saharan Africa, while the other fifty-two countries share the remainder.15 Africa’s manufacturing exports nearly tripled from $72 billion in 2002 to $189 billion in 2012, but a mere four countries—Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, and Tunisia—accounted for a full two-thirds of these exports.16 Class polarization has expressed itself most sharply in these centers, with enthusiastic ruling-class support for market-based neoliberal reform on the one hand, and higher levels of working-class resistance on the other.

In fact, within those centers, the class contradictions are profound. In South Africa, more than 40 percent of the population languishes in extreme poverty while the top quarter of the population earns 85 percent of the country’s wealth.61 In Nigeria, 80 percent of the nation’s oil wealth is concentrated in the hands of 1 percent of the population.62 As John Ghazvinian describes in Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil, 

Foreign oil companies have conducted some of the world’s most sophisticated exploration and production operations . . . but the people of the Niger Delta have seen none of the benefits. While successive military regimes have used oil proceeds to buy mansions in Mayfair or build castles in the sand in the faraway capital of Abuja [Nigeria], many in the Delta live as their ancestors would have done hundreds, even thousands of years ago.17

The surge in commodity prices and foreign investment has replicated this inequality in other sites on the continent. For example, “The boom in exports all too frequently benefited only a tiny stratum. One of the most extreme cases was Angola, a major producer of oil and diamonds. In Luanda, where in 1993 a staggering 84 percent of the population was jobless or underemployed, inequality between the highest and lowest income deciles ‘increased from a factor of 10 to a factor of 37 between 1995 and 1998 alone.’”18 This dynamic has been multiplied many times over across Africa.

Origins of African poverty

The forces underlying African poverty are far from reducible to problems of “corruption” and “governance,” but rather are rooted in historic relationships of exploitation within a larger capitalist system, where political and economic strategies on the part of the West came to the fore and were advanced at key moments. This period will be sketched out here: broadly speaking, the thwarting of industrial development in conditions created under colonialism, the national development models attempted by African ruling classes after independence, and the narrowing of those horizons into single-commodity export economies and IMF/World Bank--imposed austerity, have all combined to produce debt crises, collapses of infrastructure, poverty, lack of access to health care, high rates of HIV/AIDS, low wages, low literacy rates, an explosion of urban slums, and a host of other poor grades on human development indicators.

Deep inequality, oppression, and misery persist despite the African boom. The dominant narrative on African poverty reduces essentially to this question: Why hasn’t a rising tide lifted all boats? A raft of explanations, many of them ahistorical, continue to grapple with these questions, from the academic “economic development” literature to the pages of the Financial Times, many of which conclude that intrinsic characteristics of African societies and economies are at fault. Economist Paul Collier is one influential proponent of what amounts to a static account focused on ostensible weaknesses of governance and lack of accountability (i.e., corruption), an essentially ahistorical approach to arguably deeper structural questions of political economy.19

Charlie Kimber has pointed out that the dogma on good governance has its own historicity. Particularly during the Cold War, the West actively sought alliances with African elites, sometimes with horrific records on authoritarianism, corruption, and brutality, looking away from this track record when expedient. Zaire’s Joseph Mobutu, who managed to accumulate vast sums in the course of his rule, was a case in point. Later, however, with the neoliberal concern about breaking through obstacles to privatization, Western opposition to strong state regulation was increasingly reframed as a focus on political and government “reform,” stressing the urgency for favorable investment climates. As Kimber describes, the moment was one of “corruption regarded as rooted in the state itself and therefore the ‘war against corruption’ could usefully be emblazoned on the banners of the privatizers and the pro-market militias. Today governance-related conditionalities are central to aid packages.”20

How state power and its institutions are characterized is of course a political question. Imperial powers have wielded the hammer of governance as a weapon to ensure the subservience of oppressed nations and as a tool to maintain a competitive advantage against their rivals. On the other hand, these strictures can easily be brushed under the rug when expedient. Apartheid South Africa—like Mobutu’s Zaire—well exemplifies the hypocrisy of the selective critiques of the West: 

On average as much as 7 percent of GDP per annum left South Africa as capital flight between 1970 and 1988, an equivalent of 25 percent of non-gold imports. This was entirely due to the transfer activities of the major corporations like Anglo-American and the Rembrandt Group. And their behavior was no less illicit than that of the dictators. Shifting private funds out of South Africa in the 1980s not only defied local capital controls, but also broke the international sanctions regime on apartheid. As such, the neo-liberal pathologizing of the corrupt black African state simply does not hold. The private ‘white’ capitalists of South Africa were busy engaging in capital flight as well.21

The Left has reached a very different set of conclusions for understanding inequality in Africa today, deriving from a range of frameworks—the dependency theories of Andre Gunder Frank and Samir Amin; Walter Rodney’s underdevelopment thesis; the accumulation by dispossession theories of David Harvey, Patrick Bond, and others; and the classical Marxist approach. Yet the common thread connecting these varied approaches is a shared assumption of the detrimental legacies of colonialism and neoliberalism: essentially, that imperial powers and global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are to blame for both the historic and contemporary inequality on the planet. African poverty is not simply a fact of nature but was manufactured through the historical processes of exploitation and neoliberalism, built upon and impacted by the legacies of colonialism and underdevelopment. Writers such as Eric Toussaint, among many others, have made critical contributions to an understanding that Western foreign policy toward Africa does not merely produce poverty and inequality as an accidental byproduct, but rather, that Third World debt, structural adjustment, privatization, and trade liberalization are intentional strategies of a neoliberal agenda. 

Marxists have situated the neoliberal era in the context of a crisis not just of profitability in the post-1970s recession period, but also more broadly as a political and economic program to manage the contradictions of the system of capitalism: the competitive drive to continuously secure access to markets, investment opportunities, and resources. For David Harvey, among others, the neoliberal era is the period of the post-1970s crisis to the present, marked by a host of economic policies aimed at breaking down barriers to trade and investment by the West and to facilitate the political and social conditions most favorable for capital accumulation. Conditions such as compliant local regimes, low wages, weak (or no) unions, overall high levels of labor exploitation, weak regulatory environments (i.e., legal and environmental safeguards protecting the interests of the host country), and so on. 

In the period of postindependence Africa, Western governments and institutions—through the particular structure of investment, aid, loans, and trade policy—extended relationships whose nature was fundamentally similar to the prior era. In other words, within the newly-emerged rubric of independence, the West aimed to impose economic and political policies that largely continued—rather than overturned—structural conditions of weak states, political instability, and a lopsided structural pattern of their economies inherited from colonialism. Within the historical trajectory of the previous half-century, various strategies can be identified, emerging at particular moments: Western investment and development of the 1950s and 1960s, so as to facilitate extraction and accumulation while balancing the new political realities of independent states; to the devastation of structural adjustment, Third World debt and neoliberal diktat of the 1970s–1990s; to the explosion in private investment and the “favorable business environment” of today.

This article will trace these historical developments in African political economy, sketching out the origins of today’s conditions to the legacies of weak colonial states, lopsided economies, and the assault of structural adjustment programs (SAPs) that paved the way for the neoliberal boom and the past decade’s investment surge. Yet, as will be outlined below, this rosy business environment is fraught with its own contradictions: intensified local and regional competition, and markedly heightened imperial competition between the US and China. Last—and by no means least—competitive pressures and a downturn in the Chinese economy have recently given way to a new round of crises, one that threatens to drag down other sections of the globe along with it. The classic boom and bust cycle of capitalism—and the possible retreat of the new horde of enthusiastic corporate investors—present a serious threat to working class and poor Africans, one likely to deepen the misery for many on the continent.

Legacies of colonialism: Weak states and economic underdevelopment

The weakness of postcolonial nations was a result of colonialism—which left a political heritage of weak states with limited control over territory and regimes that relied on ethnic divisions, a centralized authority, and patronage systems inherited from colonial rule. Resting on a weak political base, new national leaders were thus vulnerable to the pull of internal influence and corruption, and the support of external imperial patrons, all contributing to conditions where the United States (or in some cases, the USSR) found an opening to replace the influence of these countries’ former colonial masters.  Both sides weighed strategic considerations and influence in various African countries that had become contested states in early Cold War competition, such as Guinea and Mali. 

Under colonialism, the major powers on the continent set up administrative apparatuses that in some cases—mainly the British and the Germans—utilized local rulers, but, as Rodney writes, in no instance would the colonizers accept African self-rule. The French, on the other hand, virtually destroyed all indigenous political systems and established their own networks of administrators. Infrastructure such as roads were built not only to facilitate the movement of commodities and machinery, but also that of the colonial armies and police required to discipline the indigenous population, whether the expulsion of people from their land or the forced cultivation of cash crops. 

African national movements were relatively late-forming in the colonial era and assumed power with a relatively newly created state apparatus and a weak national identity that, in practice, tended to rely upon pitting ethnic groups against each other to mobilize power. Thus, as Peter Dwyer and Leo Zeilig describe in their book on African social movements, “Colonialism had in most cases severely hampered the growth of an indigenous bourgeoisie.”22 This had not always been the case under colonialism, but rather was the product, in the second half of the nineteenth century, of a shift away from the use of educated Africans in colonial administration toward colonially created “native” authorities. Producing these “tribal” leaders allowed European colonial powers to rely on a section of African society for administrative, military, and political roles. 

But by the turn of the century, fierce imperial competition drove an expansionist push in Africa, deepening conflict between European and local populations as they tightened their overall control over the colonies altogether. Under these intensified conditions, alliances with local “partners” were increasingly unsustainable, and African leadership was increasingly excluded from the state.23 These colonial processes undermined the development of a native bourgeoisie and likewise left a political imprint in the postcolonial era, when new ruling classes were attempting to establish some degree of political and economic independence, despite the overhang of these legacies. Dwyer and Zeilig show that in the case of the Congo, for example, with “the economy already cornered by foreign corporations . . . all that [aspiring African elites] could sell was their political power and influence in the state machinery.”24 These historical developments formed the material basis for new regimes vulnerable to the pull of patronage or “clientelism,” as Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani has called it.25

For some new rulers, adhering to the “colonial mold of the state” was a logical objective, cemented by nationalist leaders who fought to secure sovereignty for small states.26 For those states emerging from colonialism, new ruling classes were mainly drawn from the urban middle classes, with little accountability to weak indigenous landowners or capitalists,27 able to remain relatively autonomous vis-à-vis local capital (while remaining under the rule of foreign investors and powers).28 Frantz Fanon describes in The Wretched of the Earth how these new rulers draped themselves in the nationalism and aspirations of the anticolonial revolutions so as to facilitate accumulation in which they would also be beneficiaries:

Spoiled children of yesterday’s colonialism and today’s governing powers, they oversee the looting of the few national resources. Ruthless in their scheming and legal pilfering they use the poverty, now nationwide, to work their way to the top through import-export holdings, limited companies, playing the stock market, and nepotism. They insist on the doctrine of nationalization for business transactions, i.e., reserving contracts and business deals for nationals. Their doctrine is to proclaim the absolute need for nationalizing the theft of the nation.29

Governmental and legal structures bore the marks of the colonial era, an imprint extended to the present day in some cases. “Tribalism” intersected with political rule in the postcolonial period such that district and local-level leaders continued on in appointed (unelected) roles, accountable only to the newly formed central governments. Countries such as Kenya—the site of large-scale colonial land seizures—maintained the legal basis for such practices, keeping laws on the books that enshrined communal land as “government property.”30 Legal loopholes established in the colonial era continue to be used today to sanction the open theft of commonly held land by foreign multinationals, in an agricultural land grab that has seized millions of hectares for corporate investment.31

The ideological visions for these new states were not one-dimensional. A political divide within the nationalist currents expressed competing frameworks at the top among those new layers of leaders who explicitly embraced coordination and collaboration with the West for the coming era, and those leaders advocating and championing independence, “Africanization,” regional unity, and a left-wing framing of state-directed national development. The radical wing of the nationalist movements also tended to draw upon a base of trade unions, migrant workers, and students.32 While himself an influential figure under the mantle of “African socialism,” Ghanaian president Nkrumah also wrote of the tensions between these two poles, and the class implications of this model. Later his class background would prove decisive, and Ghana emblematic of the failure of those left-wing aspirations, the “end of an illusion,” as Bob Fitch and Mary Oppenheimer would describe it: “Nkrumah was the perfect representative of the Gold Coast petty bourgeoisie. With admirable clarity he defined his position as one which opposed ‘particular consequences’ but accepted the assumptions of the political system.”33 However, Nkrumah correctly identified the dynamics in 1963: 

In the dynamics of national revolution there are usually two local elements: the moderates of the professional and “aristocratic” class and the so-called extremists of the mass movement. . . . The moderates are prepared to leave the main areas of sovereignty to the colonial power, in return for a promise of economic aid. The so-called extremists are men who do not necessarily believe in violence but who demand immediate self-government and complete independence. They are men who are concerned with the interests of their people and who know that those interests can be served only by their own local leaders and not by the colonial power.34

These divergent views—left and right—both reflected variants on rule “from above,” a new, postcolonial order that nonetheless retained the class divisions of a society resting on accumulation and competition, along state capitalist lines. As Mamdani has described it, in “conservative African states, the hierarchy of the local state apparatus, from chiefs to headmen, continued after independence. In the radical African states . . .  [t]he antidote to a decentralized despotism turned out to be a centralized despotism.”35

Rodney recognizes the disproportionate weight and importance of the small African working class as a more stable base of resistance.36 However, “Capitalism in the form of colonialism failed to perform in Africa the tasks which it had performed in Europe in changing social relations and liberating the forces of production.”37

According to Rodney, the working class was too small and too weak to play a liberatory role in the postcolonial period. Albeit reluctantly, he identifies the intelligentsia for that role: “Altogether, the educated played a role in African independence struggles far out of proportion to their numbers, because they took it upon themselves and were called upon to articulate the interests of all Africans. They were also required to . . . focus on the main contradiction, which was between the colony and the metropole. . . . The contradiction between the educated and the colonialists was not the most profound. . . .  However, while the differences lasted between the colonizers and the African educated, they were decisive.”38

This leadership was fraught with problems, according to Rodney, but in his view, this balance of class forces was only temporary, and part of the process of becoming a mass revolutionary movement. In his view, “Most African leaders of the intelligentsia . . . were frankly capitalist, and shared fully the ideology of their bourgeois masters. . . . As far as the mass of peasants and workers were concerned, the removal of overt foreign rule actually cleared the way toward a more fundamental appreciation of exploitation and imperialism.”39 Despite Rodney’s somewhat stageist description here of class formation in the postcolonial era, he identified an important characteristic, namely the weak political base of these new nations, hobbled from the beginning by the inherited weaknesses of the prior period.

Lopsided economies

The legacy of the plunder and colonization has been the expansion of capitalism as system and the massive accumulation of capitalists—and “their” nation-states—at the expense of greatly weakened states and economies in Africa. “The wealth that was created by African labor and from African resources was grabbed by the capitalist countries of Europe,” writes Rodney, “Restrictions were placed upon African capacity to make the maximum use of its economic potential. . . . African economies are integrated into the very structure of the developed capitalist economies; and they integrated in a manner that is unfavorable to Africa and insures that Africa is dependent on the big capitalist countries.”40

When colonialism ended, the weak economic and political footing of new African states left them vulnerable to interference from the West. Several aspects of economic development under colonialism produced highly distorted and fragile economies; resulting in economic systems anchored to a narrow export base with a concomitant weak industrial sector and anemic rates of growth. These states inherited an underdeveloped infrastructure geared toward exports, lacking capital, and skewed toward supplying unfinished goods to the advanced countries. In essence, “The development effort of late colonial regimes never did provide the basis for a strong national economy; economies remained externally oriented and the state’s economic power remained concentrated at the gate between inside and outside.”41 These conditions posed severe challenges to the prospects for building sustainable economies capable of protecting nascent industries from the turmoil of global markets. As British socialist Chris Harman has pointed out, “Success in trade in the modern world is only possible if you already have a high level of investment in modern technologies. Countries which do not have that are doomed even when no barriers exist to their selling goods in advanced countries.” Overcoming these historic disadvantages would prove to be immensely difficult.42

Rodney has argued that production proceeded on a different path than in Europe, where the destruction of agrarian and craft economies increased productive capacity through the development of factories and a mass working class. In Africa, he argues, that process was distorted: as in Europe, local craft industry was destroyed, yet industry was not developed outside of agriculture and extraction, and workers were restricted to the lowest-paid, most unskilled work.43

In 1967, a full 90 percent of Africa’s exports were comprised of raw materials such as oil, copper, cotton, coffee, and cocoa.44 For the century up to the late 1960s, the per capita annual rate of growth was less than one percent.45 The growth rate can be contrasted with the United Nations’ goal of a 3 percent growth rate for the 1960s as the “Decade of Development,” launched by President Kennedy at the UN on the heels of his inaugural address where he had declared: “To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves.”46

The growth of cash crops reached such an extreme during the decades of colonialism that food had to be imported, while industrial development was thwarted in Africa itself because manufacturing and the processing of raw materials happened exclusively overseas. Africans were discriminated against in most areas of economic life and wages kept very low, and the profits from the exploitation of African laborers went directly to European bankers and trading companies. 

Economic development under colonialism was highly uneven, especially under British colonialism, which created concentrations of workers in key locations, such as mines of central Africa and at the port of Mombassa in Kenya. While this result was an unavoidable outcome of the orientation on extractive industries and its associated transportation infrastructure, these needs were necessarily balanced against colonial concerns of too much industrialization potentially producing “disruptive proletarianization,”47 i.e., class struggle and resistance. These fears were by no means unfounded: working class and peasant struggles were a central feature of the colonial period, and this resistance—among unionized and nonunionized workers, students and agricultural laborers—formed the basis of the mass anticolonial struggles.

Alongside this unevenness, colonial policy produced some institutional uniformity in methods of extracting capital from the continent. British colonial monopolies in the form of marketing boards not only reinforced the tendency toward single commodity production for export by controlling most of the value of exports. These monopolies also amounted to loans in hard currency on the part of the colonies to Britain in the form of the difference between producer and market prices. This dynamic provides context to the resistance of the British Empire to the decolonization process as these boards provided access to the currencies that enabled the import of capital to Britain itself and thus its industrial recovery in the wake of World War II.48 As Fitch and Oppenheimer, for example, describe in their important account on the heels of the overthrow of Nkrumah’s government, the institutional legacy of these colonial marketing boards, as well as the total refusal of banks to provide local credit,49 were decisive in the outflow of capital from Ghana and the “stunting” of the indigenous capitalist class.50

As at least one study of French colonialism in Africa has shown, Africans themselves—and not the colonizers—far disproportionately carried the weight of colonial expenses through taxation.51 The same study demonstrated that very minimal funds were devoted to “productive sectors,” mainly agriculture, which could have provided the basis for economic diversity. Meanwhile, “colonial investments focused on infrastructure supporting export/import transportation rather than focusing on transforming and improving local productive capacity.”52

Civil society

At the time of independence, staggering human and social needs confronted new nations. Contrary to colonial propaganda, where colonizers claimed an investment in the “well-being” of the colonized, the vast bulk of funds spent went towards the military or the colonial administration. Colonial policy actively suppressed education for the majority. Technical education was introduced only in rare instances. For example, the Congo had only sixteen secondary school graduates at the time of independence, out of a total population of thirteen million.53 Likewise, not one doctor was trained in Mozambique during 500 years of Portuguese colonialism.54 Across the continent as a whole, only 1 percent of those in school reached the secondary school level. In 1960, there were only fifty university graduates per year, when “it is calculated that 10 times the number are needed annually—half of them for government service.”55 All told, colonialism left a wake of destruction across the continent: life expectancy plummeted, ecological devastation spread across rural areas that suffered from minimal social services. As Rodney so succinctly puts it, “Colonialism had only one hand—it was a one-armed bandit.”56

Democratic institutions were similarly very weak. Mamdani describes how colonial political systems actively cultivated accumulations of power in some sites over others, based on the particular political interests and alliances at a given moment. In Nigeria, for example, pre-independence electoral reforms were introduced but applied selectively across the country, generating the seeds of inequality whose reverberations would be felt in the decades to come.57

Imperial objectives in the Cold War era

In this context, what were the imperial aims of the US with regards to Africa in the new era? With the approach of the era of independence after World War II, the US saw the emerging period as an opportunity to cement political and economic ties with the new nations of the continent: to forge alliances so as to curb the influence of their competitors, namely the USSR, but also other Western European powers, and to remake the economic order so as to best facilitate accumulation for US capital. For the United States, but also for the USSR, the end of colonialism opened a door for the rising imperial powers to forge their own relations with the new African nations, free from the domination of the European colonial system, a system that had in fact received overall US support at the time. 

During the Cold War, superpower competition drove both the US and the USSR to create allies and proxies in Africa as a way to extend their global reach and to overcome the historical advantage of colonial powers’ exclusive domination there. As Sidney Lens has pointed out, the postwar military superiority of the United States provided the opportunity for it to maintain a position from which to subordinate its rivals. The Cold War became an expression of this global aspiration: the United States challenge to the geopolitical power of the USSR and the large areas of the world within its orbit.58 Africa of course was by no means an exception within this global dynamic. As Frantz Fanon has described, “Every peasant revolt, every insurrection in the Third World fits into the framework of the cold war. . . . The full-scale campaign under way leads the other bloc to gauge the flaws in its sphere of influence.”59

For the United States, competition with the USSR drove an ever-shifting network of Cold War alliances in Africa, expressed through a host of tactics, from military funding, proxy and clandestine operations, to the use of the CIA. Military strategy aimed at containment or rollback of the Soviet sphere of influence on the continent entailed undermining African nationalist regimes perceived as in danger of aligning with the USSR or charting a path independent of the West, and its concomitant threat to stability — that is, a climate conducive to investment and capital accumulation. Ghana was a case in point, where Africa’s first leader of the postcolonial era, pan-Africanist president Kwame Nkrumah, was removed in a coup in 1966, revealed later to have been orchestrated by the CIA. As one US national security advisor commented at the time, “Nkrumah was doing more to undermine our interests than any other black African.”60 Despite the willingness of the Nkrumah regime to collaborate with foreign investors, from the US vantage point Ghana’s example in charting the anticolonial path posed an ideological threat to US aspirations on the continent, in a context where “the turning of the Ghanaian capital Accra into a staging point for the African anti-colonial movement started almost immediately after independence and the lessons of the Ghana experience were pressed home.”61

Militarism was inextricable from the political and economic aims of the day. Military bases were used as political leverage, and the basis for outright intervention from the earliest days of this new period. Former colonial powers maintained a military presence in their former colonies while the US became increasingly interested, in the 1960s, in establishing outposts of their own, crucially making aid and loans contingent on that presence. Strategic military relationships with African nations such as Liberia, as early as the World War II period, established the precedent of US aid and infrastructure-building in exchange for arms, infrastructure naturally geared towards US interests. Aid in all forms expressed US strategic aims, directed in the early years of independence disproportionately to those nations with large US investments such as the resource-rich Congo-Kinshasa (later Zaire) and Nigeria. 

Not coincidentally, those countries identified for their strategic importance for their investment potential tended to also be on the receiving end of concerted US intervention, notably the Congo, where the United States and Belgium secretly funded the assassination of Congolese radical nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba in 1961. As Renton, Seddon, and Zeilig describe, Lumumba believed that “independence would not be sufficient to free Africa from its colonial past; the continent must also cease to be an economic colony of Europe.”62 Lumumba declared in his famous “Independence Speech” that, “The Congo’s independence is a decisive step towards the liberation of the whole African continent.”63 This stance, and the ties he forged with the USSR, were received with alarm by Western powers anxious to ensure that the Congo was neither pulled into the Soviet orbit nor became a beacon for revolutionary nationalism. 

Coups and other forms of intervention allowed the United States to deepen the vulnerability of new African states so as to pursue their imperial objectives. In 1966, on the heels of the Ghanaian coup, the government established formal ties with the International Monetary Fund, later to be the bearer of devastating structural adjustment policies.64 All told, American fingerprints can be found on numerous assassinations and secret ops in Africa throughout the Cold War.65

In the economic realm, the US aimed to extend its influence through global financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF (founded in 1944 with heavy US support) which used private and public loans to impose their financial terms on the rest of the globe and ram through protective trade barriers to open up new markets on terms favorable to the West.66 Shrouded in the soft language of aid and development, the terms of these global financial institutions belied the intentions of extending the subordinate role of African economies into the new era. Africa must accept, declared World Bank president Robert McNamara, “tax measures” and a “choice of projects that might be politically unpopular,” while demonstrating a “willingness to accept and implement advice from outside experts.”67

The colonial powers were compelled to “give up” state power in three-quarters of the continent. The process of decolonization tended to reproduce relatively strong ties between the new nation and the former colonial powers when they were able to establish trade and political agreements on terms favorable to themselves prior to departure68—i.e., where anticolonial resistance did not prevent the departing powers from “disengaging” on their own terms. 

The US had a particular advantage of appearing as seemingly free of the colonial legacy. Ideological veneer notwithstanding, the US was able to benefit from the political and economic relationships established under colonialism by the older powers, while likewise benefiting from the loosening of the monopolistic ties of the colonies to their colonial “home.” In this climate, the United States was able to project its power relative to both the continent’s new nations as well as those few that had remained free of colonial domination. As early as 1951, the Truman administration and the Imperial Ethiopian government signed an agreement promising “to cooperate with each other in the interchange of technical knowledge and skills and related activities designed to contribute to the balanced and integrated development of the economic resources and productive capacities of Ethiopia.”69

Certainly these challenges and contradictions of nation building were not lost on the anticolonial movements and new national leadership of the postwar period. For left-leaning nationalists, the dangers of the grip of the West were understood to be of paramount importance. For Ghanaian national leader Nkrumah, neocolonialism threatened self-determination and unity among the new nations of Africa, which, in the pan-Africanist view, shared a common interest in regional integration and economic development. So as Nkrumah wrote in 1964, for example,

Now that African freedom is accepted by all . . . as inescapable fact, there are efforts in certain quarters to make arrangements whereby the local populations are given token freedom while cords attaching them to the “mother country” remain as firm as ever. . . .  The intention is to use the new African nations, so circumscribed, as puppets through which influence can be extended over states, which maintain independence in keeping with their sovereignty. The creation of several weak and unstable states of this kind in Africa, it is hoped, will ensure the continued dependence on the former colonial powers for economic aid, and impede African unity. This policy of balkanization is the new imperialism, the new danger to Africa.70

Fanon, from a different perspective, also described the double-edged sword of the process of decolonization and the legacy left by the “departing” powers:

The apotheosis of independence becomes the curse of independence. The sweeping powers of coercion of the colonial authorities condemn the young nation to regression. In other words, the colonial power says: “If you want independence, take it and suffer the consequences.” The nationalist leaders are then left with no other choice but to turn to their people and ask them to make a gigantic effort. . . . [E]ach state, with the pitiful resources at its disposal, endeavors to address the mounting national hunger and the growing national poverty.”71

Of major importance for the US was the goal of ensuring cheap imports of raw materials. And although US investment in Africa was, in reality, a very small proportion of total US foreign direct investment (FDI)—and smaller than the size of investments of the other major powers—the rate of increase of private investment from the US was actually greater in Africa than elsewhere on the globe. Investment in Africa increased by 3.5 times during this period, while US global FDI less than doubled in the same period.72

The objectives of US imperialism did not unfold without opposition, and the white settler regimes were an important case in point. Yet at a time when international criticism was mounting against the South African government, a large bulk of US investment at the time continued to go to South Africa; the majority of investments was in the extractive industries, or in infrastructure to facilitate extraction. By the mid-1970s, US policymakers explicitly acknowledged the urgency of managing political risk vis-à-vis the international apartheid regime so that US and South African capital retained “control of the richest and most strategically important part of Sub-Saharan Africa.”73 Despite growing condemnation of apartheid rule, at the time the value of US investment in South Africa was approximately one-third of total investment in Africa, and increased by 300 percent from 1960 to 1975.74 Given the importance of this economic relationship, the US was content to side-step opposition to apartheid, despite the knowledge that “there was little evidence that US firms deliberately adopted a socially conscious policy of avoiding support of the South African Government or its apartheid policies.”75

In the end, the priority of foreign capital on extraction was no different in South Africa than elsewhere on the continent, priorities that decisively shaped how infrastructure was deployed. For example, investment in electricity and power generation was heavily geared towards digging mines and wells. Laying railroad track, digging harbors, and laying roads were similarly oriented on moving African exports of raw materials abroad. The same can be said for aid in the form of loans. Thus, given the unevenness of natural resources across the continent, development along these lines tended to be concentrated in particular areas, for example, in the Congo or the racist states of South Africa and Rhodesia (as it was known at the time, later renamed Zimbabwe).  

The development project 

The legacy of colonialism reproduced a political and economic straitjacket for the newly independent nations from the beginning. Competing economic ideologies of the postindependence societies battled over whether development would proceed along free-market or state-directed lines. As Marxist Nigel Harris describes in The End of the Third World:

Poverty was not inevitable, nor could the problem of poverty safely be left to the normal working of the world market. . . . The group of poor countries, identified as “underdeveloped” in the late forties, could not afford to await the possible long-term effects of free trade. . . . There were two different conceptions of economic development. On the one hand, the orthodox economists, known as “neoclassical,” envisaged a world economy in which different countries played specialized roles and were therefore economically interdependent. . . . The radicals, on the other hand, saw national economic development as a structural change in the national economy rather than a relationship to the world economy. . . . With a fully diversified home economy, it was thought, self-generating growth was possible on the basis of an expanding home market, regardless of what happened in the world at large. The starting-point for these preoccupations was the attempt to explain why the orthodox theory of world trade did not work for the poor countries—why for them, it apparently produced impoverishment.76

For advocates of national development, economic uplift could only be achieved by extricating Africa from the capitalist system. Championed in the Arusha Declaration by Tanzanian nationalist Julius Nyerere under the name ujamaa (meaning “extended family,” or “brotherhood”)—and picked up by prominent Marxist intellectuals such as Rodney—African Socialism was embraced by some nationalist leaders as models for the underdeveloped world.  The strategic vision of national development—of rapid progress and industrial development—was, for both the African bourgeoisie and the Left, inseparable from key political questions. Its adherents embraced the model of economic development and industrialization they observed in the USSR, typically the path for states emerging from colonialism in that colonialism in that era.77 “In many cases new leaders appeared speaking the languages of ‘socialism’ or ‘humanism’; they would harness the toiling masses behind the efforts of the state, and state-planned economic growth would take place, eliminating poverty, exploitation, inequality and suffering.”78

Socialist Leo Zeilig describes how, following the Soviet Union, “Independence represented a race for top-down, autonomous industrialization in scores of emergent nations . . . [where] state capitalism offered the magic key to development.”79 African ruling classes emphasized state investment and national development based on import-substitution industrialization—that is, diversifying domestic production in order to make economies less dependent on foreign imports to compel development of local manufacturing, sometimes described as “industrialization at the periphery.” And as Harris similarly describes, a diversified economy required the central mobilization of capital resources, coherent direction and coordination from above: “For such an economy to be reasonably self-sufficient at a tolerable level of income, it would have to reproduce domestically all the main sectors of a modern economy. . . . Such a strategy could only be implemented by the state; its control of external trade and financial transactions was the key to reshaping domestic activity.”80

For theorists of “neocolonialism” like Walter Rodney, “the remedy to dependence lay in the delinking of the former colonies from metropolitan capital by revolutionary nationalist regimes. In practice, however, such few attempts as were made invariably ran aground on the shoals of Western hostility, impractical economics, lack of developmental alternatives, self-interested leadership, and the demobilization and subversion of revolutionary regimes.”81

The heavy reliance on state intervention was a feature not only of decolonization in Africa, but of the rapid and uneven transition from predominantly agrarian, feudal societies to concentrated industrial development. Statification was the order of the day: “Indeed in the post-war world, above all in the 1950s, 1960s, and the early 1970s, the use of the state to centralize capital and to push development forward, leapt ahead as never before—above all in the newly emerging third world nations.”82

Harris notes that, ironically, “With decolonization, the removal of a former imperial ruling order (as in much of Asia and Africa) vested unprecedented power in the hands of the new states. It is scarcely to be wondered that, as Trotsky observed in tsarist Russia, ‘Capitalism seemed to be an offspring of the state.’”83 By the end of the 1970s, public-sector investment in less developed countries comprised over half of total investment. Nationalized corporations in places like Ghana and Zambia reflected around 40 percent of GDP.84

Despite the expressed political ideology and aspirations, independent economic growth was severely challenged in Africa for a number of reasons. For one, instances of successful economic development, acquired in the prior (colonial) period, were a product of a relatively high level of integration into the world system. This integration translated into hesitancy on the part of some regimes to embark on some of the hallmark tasks of the national development project, such as import-substitution, nationalization of industry, and redistribution of previously colonial-held land. Agricultural production, meanwhile, was retooled so as to focus on exports, with a dramatically negative impact on subsistence farming and consumption by the majority.

Peter Binns’s account of revolution and state capitalism in the Third World describes this contradictory dynamic where, conversely, weaker states could more easily attempt the nationalization project given their position of weaker connection to the world system. Binns provides, writing in 1984, the following example to illustrate the point:

South Africa currently provides Zimbabwe with a quarter of its imports and trans-ships fully one half of all the rest of its trade. The import-substitution industries built up in 1965–79 are no exception to this situation. . . . Mugabe’s government has therefore neither moved significantly against the white landowners nor attempted to do anything that might provoke South Africa into cutting Zimbabwe’s life-line to the outside world. In contrast with Mozambique whose very backwardness made such a policy feasible for a few years, the relative economic strength of Zimbabwe and its greater integration into the world market has, paradoxically, been the very feature that prevented such a policy being possible there.85

Attempts at autonomous national development also faltered soon after independence as a result of the sheer economic weight of economic poverty—that is, the size and scale of capital resources that needed to be marshalled both to develop, and to protect, fledgling industries, were prohibitively high. On top of this, Western powers took steps to ensure that African nations could not establish a basis for economic independence. Intervention aimed at undermining economic development took up a range of strategies that included extending and reinforcing unfavorable trade policy from the colonial era to limiting foreign investment to areas that would directly facilitate extraction.

Binns makes note of another important factor in the weak economic footing of the newly independent nations and the tendency towards state-directed economies during the 1950s and 1960s, that of changes in foreign investment patterns:

The pattern of international investment and trade changed quite dramatically; before the war around 40 percent of world trade was in primary products—agricultural produce, fuel, and raw materials—but by the end of the long boom this figure had fallen by a half. International trade became much less a matter of exchange between primary producers on one hand and manufacturers on the other, and much more a question of the mutual exchange of manufactures between relatively industrialized nations or parts of nations. This meant that international capital flowed increasingly from one industrialized part of the world economy to another; American capital, for instance, found many more opportunities for profitable investment in advanced Europe than in . . . Africa.86

Import-substitution also produced its own problems: for one, domestic manufactures were expensive compared to more competitive imports.  By the same token, low interest rates intended to drive industrial investment created not only high-priced goods, but also very few jobs as well as industrial overcapacity, despite the symbolic value of heavy industry signaling advancement. Many Third World nations, especially in Africa, were hobbled in their ability to overcome these obstacles: “Only some large countries could pursue such policies, and only for limited periods of time in given historical circumstances. Sooner or later, if growth were to continue, the domestic accumulation process—whether wholly or partially in the hands of the state—would have to be reintegrated in the world process.”87

By the 1970s, many of the assumptions of the national development model came to be questioned. The “cures” had come to be seen as the source of the problems of underdevelopment. Theorists such as Baran, Amin, and Gunder Frank correctly argued that national planning and import substitution were bound to fail without revolutionary change in the class structure. Internationalists such as Michael Kidron placed their critique within a Marxist framework by arguing that economic development required revolutionary change on a global scale, not merely within national borders: “Removing the old ruling class, nationalizing the means of production (and expropriating foreign capital), redistributing income and land, forced accumulation, would not suffice to overcome the paralysis imposed by the changed structure of world capitalism.”88 For Kidron, the size and scale of major industrialized powers left weaker ones unable to compete.

By the close of the era of national development, the poorest countries “remained trapped in producing and exporting a single raw material at low levels of productivity, lacking reserves to guard against the ravages of famine. The triumphs of world capitalism were indeed more spectacular in the less developed countries than they had been in the more developed, but victories in the long march of capital accumulation should not be confused with the conquest of hunger.”89

New ruling classes were now called upon to manage “their own” working classes so as to pursue the project of national development of industry and agriculture. Yet working classes across the continent—only recently at the helm of anticolonial struggles—were unwilling to suffer these new attacks silently. In postindependence Nigeria, for example, the government’s calls to unite for “national development” were unsuccessful at papering over their assaults from above or deflecting the rise of class-consciousness and class divisions in the general strike of 1964. Similarly, Zambian mineworkers battled attacks by the new government that were also mounted in the name of national development, while the years following independence in Zimbabwe saw strike waves for wage hikes and social reforms. As elsewhere, new rulers such as Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe faced off workers’ militancy with repression and co-optation.90

The critical issue, ultimately, was not merely one of sell-outs and political betrayal. Ultimately, the contradictions of “African socialism” and the process of turning the reins of the accumulation process over to indigenous capitalists were unsustainable. In the African case, the weak basis of African capitalism, as well as the pressures of the world system, compelled an accommodation with foreign capital. Attempts to establish the advantage of local capitalists ran up against the resistance of capital, a strategy ultimately that couldn’t be overcome with a strategy of national development from above. 


Ultimately, state capitalist/national development models failed in Africa, both in their ability to overcome the legacies of colonialism and specifically in their inability to create nations able to grow while seeking to delink from the world capitalist system. “The third worldist ‘socialist’ vision of utilizing the state against capital and the multinationals is . . . not only a hopeless dream, but has been made dramatically more so by the sharpening competition and increasing internationalization of the world capitalist system itself.”91 The brutal reality of these dynamics and the compulsion of the world market were borne out in the coming decades: the collapse of the USSR formalized for many regimes a shift from state-directed model to free-market capitalism, even those leaders in Africa previously hailed as “Marxist” such as those of Angola, Benin, and Ethiopia.92 The contradictions of these political and economic legacies—the weaknesses of the new national leaders and the newness of the postcolonial state, and above all the pressures of the international economy—thrust regimes toward abandoning the most militant or “socialist” projects. For example, “In the southern African revolutionary states—Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique— . . . revolutionary regimes, often established after a long and bitter guerrilla war, have performed a remarkable about-face and have ended up with a series of very significant accommodations with western capital.”93

In this context, the Left and the organized working classes of Africa were compelled to learn this project’s lessons the hard way. The task of building genuine revolutionary socialism from below was to be postponed. The combined pressures of the legacies of colonialism, the Stalinist development model, and the restrictions imposed by Cold War imperialism proved impossible to transcend. “An incidental byproduct of the process was that the left, in the name of socialism, was subverted,” notes Harris, “and bent to the tasks of supporting and defending the process of national capital accumulation in the name of national liberation. It was a harsh process, and required radical terminology to conceal it.”94

The requirements of the continent’s new ruling classes—accentuated by the structural constraints inherited from colonialism—could by no means escape the competitive pressures of the broader system, particularly as it lurched into crisis. It is to the mass-based workers’ struggles and social movements of today that we must look to find a way out of this impasse.

  1. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1963), 27.
  2. Eric Toussaint, Your Money or Your Life: The Tyranny of Global Finance. (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005), 30.
  3. Remarks by the President to the Ghanaian Parliament, July 11, 2009, https:/
  4. Christine Lagarde, “Nigeria: Act with Resolve, Build Resilience, and Exercise Restraint,” IMF, January 6, 2016,
  5. Jubilee USA, Unmasking the IMF: The Post-Financial Crisis Imperative for Reform, October 2010,
  6. Matina Stevis, “Angola to Seek IMF Aid to Cope with Looming Financial Crisis,” Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2016; Matina Stevis, “IMF’s African Push Reopens Old Wounds,” Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2016.
  7. Peter Binns, “Revolution and State Capitalism in the Third World,” International Socialism 2:25, Autumn 1984, 37–68.
  8. Lee Wengraf, “False Pledges to Africa in the Crisis,” ISR 67, September 2009,
  9. Catherine Blampied, “African Governments Must Take Responsibility on Poverty,” Financial Times, October 6, 2014. 
  10. Carey L. Biron, “Africa ‘Net Creditor’ to Rest of World,” New Data Shows, IPS, May 28, 2013.
  11. Patrick Bond, “Is Africa Still Being Looted? World Bank Dodges Its Own Research,” Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, August 15, 2010.
  12. “Doctors’ Dilemma,” Economist, November 26, 2004.
  13. World Health Organization, Meeting the MGD Drinking Water and Sanitation Target: The Urban and Rural Challenge of the Decade, 2006.
  14. World Health Organization, Water Sanitation Hygiene: Key facts from JMP 2015 Report, http:/
  15. World Bank, Africa Development Indicators, 2007–2008.
  16. African Development Bank, African Economic Outlook 2014: Global Value Chains and Africa’s Industrialization, 168.
  17. John Ghazvinian, Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil (New York: Harcourt Books, 2007), 19.
  18. Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (London: Verso Books, 2006), 164.
  19. Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (London: Oxford University Press, 2008). 
  20. Charlie Kimber, “Aid, Governance and Exploitation,” International Socialism 107, June 27, 2005.
  21. Gavin Capps, “Redesigning the Debt Trap,” International Socialism 107, June 27, 2005.
  22. Peter Dwyer and Leo Zeilig, “An Epoch of Uprisings,” chap. 3 in African Struggles Today: Social Movements Since Independence (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012).
  23. Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 74–75.
  24. Dwyer and Zeilig, “An Epoch of Uprisings.”
  25. See Mamdani, Citizen and Subject.
  26. Roger Southall and Henning Melber, eds., A New Scramble for Africa? Imperialism, Investment and Development (Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2009),  41.
  27. Nigel Harris, The End of the Third World: Newly Industrializing Countries and the Decline of an Ideology (London: Meredith Press, 1987), 168.
  28. David Seddon, “Historical Overview of Struggle in Africa,” in Leo Zeilig, ed. Class Struggle and Resistance in Africa (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009), 81.
  29. Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 12.
  30. Ekuru Aukot, “Northern Kenya: A Legal-Political Scar,” Pambazuka News, Issue 401, October 9, 2008,
  31. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa, “No Land, No Freedom,” Pambazuka News, Issue 726, May 14, 2015, 
  32. David Seddon, “Historical Overview of Struggle in Africa,” 78.
  33. Bob Fitch and Mary Oppenheimer, Ghana: The End of an Illusion (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1966).
  34. Kwame Nkrumah, “Neocolonialism in Africa,” in The Africa Reader: Independent Africa (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), 217–18.
  35. Mamdani, Citizen and Subject, 25.
  36. Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1981), 262.
  37. Ibid., 216.
  38. Ibid., 262.
  39. Ibid., 279–80.
  40. Ibid., 25.
  41. Frederick Cooper, Africa Since 1940 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 16.
  42. Chris Harman, “The End of Poverty?” Socialist Review, Issue 297, June 2005.
  43. Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 231.
  44. Third Report of the Economic Commission for Africa, Economic Conditions in Africa in Recent Years, United Nations, 1969.
  45. Ibid.
  46. UNICEF, “The 1960s: Decade of Development,” in The State of the World’s Children 1996,
  47. Frederick Cooper, “Modernizing Bureaucrats, Backward Africans, and the Development Concept,” International Development and the Social Sciences: Essays on the History and Politics of Knowledge, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997), 64–92.
  48. Fitch and Oppenheimer, Ghana: The End of an Illusion, 45.
  49. Ibid., 70.
  50. Ibid., 47.
  51. Elise Huillery, “The Black Man’s Burden: The Cost of Colonization of French West Africa,” 2012,
  52. Ibid.
  53. Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 245.
  54. Ibid., 206.
  55. Frank Church, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Study Mission to Africa, November-December 1960: Report. Washington: US Govt. Printing Office, 1961, 22.
  56. Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 205.
  57. Mamdani, Citizen and Subject, 104.
  58. Sidney Lens, Forging of the American Empire, From the Revolution to Vietnam: A History of US Imperialism (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2003), 349.
  59. Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 35.
  60. William F. Komer, special assistant for national security affairs, 1966, cited in Charles Quist-Adade, “The Coup That Set Ghana and Africa 50 Years Back,” Pambazuka News, Issue 764, March 2, 2016,
  61. Yao Graham, “Nkrumah: Model Challenge for Ghana’s Rulers,” Pambazuka News, Issue 438, June 18, 2009,
  62. David Renton, David Seddon and Leo Zeilig, The Congo: Plunder and Resistance (London and New York, Zed Books, 2007), 85.
  63. Patrice Lumumba, Speech at the ceremony of the proclamation of the Congo’s independence, June 30, 1960, at
  64. Abayomi Azikiwe, “The Re-emerging African Debt Crisis: Renewed IMF ‘Economic Medicine,’” Pan African News, November 23, 2015.
  65. Cf. William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Monroe, ME, Common Courage Press, 1995).
  66. Lens, Forging of the American Empire, 350–351.
  67. Robert McNamara interview in The Banker, March, 1969.
  68. One example is the preparations by Belgian capital for the end of colonialism in the Congo. See David Renton, David Seddon, and Leo Zeilig, The Congo: Plunder and Resistance (London and New York, Zed Books, 2007), 127.
  69. Cited in Alemayehu G. Mariam, “Financing for (Under)Development in Africa? How the West Underdeveloped Africa and is Now Trying to ‘Finance Develop’ It,” Pambazuka News, Issue 737, July 29, 2015.
  70. Kwame Nkrumah, “Neocolonialism in Africa,” 217.
  71. Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 54.
  72. Survey of Current Business, August 1963, October 1968, and 1971.
  73. Dick Clark, U.S. Corporate Interests in South Africa: Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, (United States Senate, Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1978), 5.
  74. Ibid., 8.
  75. Ibid., 10.
  76. Nigel Harris. The End of the Third World: Newly Industrializing Countries and the Decline of an Ideology (London: Penguin, 1987), 13–14.
  77. Zeilig and Seddon, “Marxism, Class, and Resistance in Africa,” in Class Struggle and Resistance in Africa, 27.
  78. Peter Binns, “Revolution and State Capitalism in the Third World,” 37.
  79. Tony Cliff, “Deflected Permanent Revolution,” posted April 23, 2010,
  80. Nigel Harris. The End of the Third World, 118.
  81. Southall and Melber, 10.
  82. Binns, “Revolution and State Capitalism in the Third World,” 51.
  83. Nigel Harris, The End of the Third World. 160. Along similar lines, Fanon wrote in The Wretched of the Earth: “The national bourgeoisie has the psychology of a politician, not an industrialist.” See Mireille Fanon-Mendès-France, “Frantz Fanon and the current multiple crises,” Pambazuka News, Issue 561, 2011,
  84. Nigel Harris. End of the Third World, 163.
  85. Binns, “Revolution and State Capitalism in the Third World,” 46–47.
  86. Binns, “Revolution and State Capitalism in the Third World,” 53.
  87. Harris, End of the Third World, 143.
  88. Ibid., 23.
  89. Ibid., 117.
  90. Leo Zeilig, Class Struggle and Resistance in Africa. See chap. 5, Miles Larmer, “Resisting the State: The Trade Union Movement and Working-Class Politics in Zambia, 1964–91,” and chap. 7, Munyaradzi Gwisai, “Revolutionaries, Resistance, and Crisis in Zimbabwe,” 219–51. 
  91. Binns, “Revolution and State Capitalism in the Third World,” 64.
  92. Zeilig and Seddon, “Marxism, Class, and Resistance in Africa,” 46–50.
  93. Binns, “Revolution and State Capitalism in the Third World,” 38.
  94. Nigel Harris, End of the Third World, 186.

Special Thematic Section on "Decolonizing Psychological Science"

Stages of Colonialism in Africa: From Occupation of Land to Occupation of Being

Hussein A. Bulhan*a

[a] Frantz Fanon University, Hargeisa, Somaliland.


This paper draws primarily on my own scholarship, supplemented by the limited academic resources available in the “peripheries” of the world where I live and work (namely, Somali society and Darfur, Sudan), to consider the relationship between colonialism and psychology. I first consider the history of psychology in justifying and bolstering oppression and colonialism. I then consider the ongoing intersection of colonialism and psychology in the form of metacolonialism (or coloniality). I end with thoughts about decolonizing psychological science in teaching, social, and clinical practice. To decolonize psychological science, it is necessary to transform its focus from promotion of individual happiness to cultivation of collective well-being, from a concern with instinct to promotion of human needs, from prescriptions for adjustment to affordances for empowerment, from treatment of passive victims to creation of self-determining actors, and from globalizing, top-down approaches to context-sensitive, bottom-up approaches. Only then will the field realize its potential to advance Frantz Fanon’s call for humane and just social order.

Keywords: coloniality, decolonial, metacolonialism, Franz Fanon, Africa

Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 2015, Vol. 3(1), doi:10.5964/jspp.v3i1.143

Received: 2013-02-04. Accepted: 2014-11-29. Published (VoR): 2015-08-21.

Handling Editors: Glenn Adams, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA; Tuğçe Kurtiş, Department of Psychology and Women's Studies, University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA, USA

*Corresponding author at: President/Chancellor, Frantz Fanon University, Hargeisa, Somaliland. E-mail:

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

When the editors invited me to contribute an article to the special section of JSPP devoted to decolonizing psychological science, I jumped at the opportunity to do so. The article presents me an opportunity to join in academic discussion on the psychology of oppression to which I was an early contributor (Bulhan, 1985b), but which I had abandoned for more urgent and focused work on trauma treatment, conflict resolution, and social reconstruction in the widely publicized Somali disaster and the Darfur conflict (see Bulhan, 2008; 2013a, 2013b).

With no access to libraries or viable internet links to journals, I have worked mostly in isolation to make the best of a dilemma that an individual of my background encounters. The dilemma is this: either to stay in academic centers in the West and obtain the most current information, but remain practically irrelevant to African needs; or to jump into actual frontiers of oppression in Africa and work toward change, but become cut off from academic circles and resources. Given my choice of the latter option, I therefore do not know how much I can contribute to an ongoing academic discourse that has developed while I worked and lived in “peripheries” distant from Western academia centers. However, my current work and life in Africa affords me the possibility to under-stand—i.e., to comprehend from below—how the colonized peoples in these distant peripheries live, rather than speculate about them from lofty heights of academia abroad. I want to share here some of the benefits I gained from this understanding of colonial heritage while I worked and lived in Africa during the past sixteen years.

Psychology, like all other disciplines and human endeavors, has emerged, developed, and today operates in economic, political, social, and cultural contexts. Neglect of these contexts by establishment psychologists—and their role in oppression generally and European colonialism particularly—has been one of the hidden and not often recognized dangers of a discipline that claims to specialize in the science of the mind and behavior.i Decolonizing psychological science cannot therefore proceed unless we first understand the history of colonialism—the precedents instigating it, its underlying motivations, the transformations it has undergone, and the consequences that followed. I review in this article not only the history of colonialism, but also how establishment psychology continually maintained symbiotic and mutually supportive relations with colonialism. I first highlight the origin and early stages of colonialism, before focusing later on its contemporary form that I call metacolonialism because it shows that colonialism did not end; on the contrary, colonialism in its metacolonial form continues to influence the thought, behavior, and being of colonized peoples even more than did earlier forms of colonialism. I conclude with proposals for decolonizing psychology.

Colonialism and Coloniality [TOP]

Colonialism in its classical form began in the Americas with European invasion, occupation, and exploitation (Quijano, 2000). Its driving motivation was and is not only pursuit of material exploitation and cultural domination, but also European self-aggrandizement to compensate for gnawing doubts on the wholeness and integrity of the self that, in different ways and intensity, assail people everywhere. Colonialism from the very beginning was therefore economic, political, cultural, and psychological. Its economic and political motives were most obvious at the beginning; the cultural and psychological motives integral to it all along became more intense and manifest later. Moreover, the fallout of colonialism is multiple and pervasive; its development and expansion affected the thought, behavior, and generally the life of colonized peoples. The methods and agents of colonialism changed, as did its primary foci of assault.

Colonialism is often misunderstood or narrowly defined. Some mistakenly confine it to either a geographic area or an era. Others, convinced that colonialism is outmoded and passé, view it a system no longer operative in Africa and generally in the world. Still others narrow it to a system imposed by and serving only inhabitants and descendants of Europe, ignoring that colonialism would not succeed or sustain in the past and present without local collaborators, minions, and conveyor belts essential for all forms of oppression to take root and persist. No wonder then that discussion on colonialism turned stale in Africa during the last several decades after most African countries attained independence. Euphoria swept through the African continent before and soon after African territories hoisted flags, sang national anthems, and celebrated the rise of African leaders to power. Africans believed then that the Europeans had left for good, that therefore Africans could move forward unhindered to enjoy the freedom and prosperity they thought in immediate grasp. This was not so. The euphoria and rising expectation soon gave way to disappointment and despair because colonialism left behind enduring legacies—including not only political and economic, but also cultural, intellectual, and social legacies—that keep alive European domination.

A critical legacy of colonialism not sufficiently analyzed is the way formerly colonized peoples acquire knowledge, understand their history, comprehend their world, and define themselves. Latin American scholars (e.g. Dussel, 1985, 1996; Mignolo, 2000a, 2000b; Quijano, 2000) have presented fascinating analyses on colonized ways of knowing, behaving, and being. Particularly valuable contributions of these Latin American scholars are the concepts of coloniality, coloniality of power, and colonial difference. These concepts illuminate not only economic and political consequences of colonialism, but also the Eurocentric epistemology, ontology, and ideology emanating from, supporting, and validating European monopoly of power, hegemonic knowledge, distorted truth, and deformed being of the colonized. Their writings emphasize that colonialism is not identical or coterminous to coloniality. The former refers to political and economic relations by which one nation dominates and exploits another; the latter denotes enduring patterns of power as well as a way of thinking and behaving that emerged from colonialism but survived long after its seeming demise. Mignolo (2000a, 2000b, 2003) in particular underscores that coloniality rests on epistemic and ontological biases that promote validation of European hegemony and superiority while invalidating, marginalizing, and eroding the knowledge, experience, and rights of colonized peoples (see also Alcoff, 2007; Maldonado-Torres, 2007). We cannot understand well why the quest for African freedom and expected prosperity did not materialize after independence unless we understand the historical precedents that gave rise to colonialism, its social and intellectual foundation, its enduring as well as changing aspects, and the cascading disasters that followed.

Discussing the multifaceted, complex, and paramount problems of colonialism can be of necessity brief and sketchy in an article such as this. I highlight below the antecedents of colonialism and quickly review early forms of it before the emergence and lingering on of metacolonialism, the latest and most pervasive of colonialism.

Antecedents of Colonialism in Africa [TOP]

I mention here three antecedents of the adversarial and exploitative violence of colonialism for succeeding generations.

Crusades [TOP]

The material greed, cultural domination, and self-aggrandizement characteristic of European colonization—as well as the use of religion and racism to justify the pillage and massacre of non-Europeans—are evident in the Crusades. The Crusades started in 1095 when Pope Urban II appealed to all Christians to defend the Eastern Orthodox Christians against Muslims, liberate Jerusalem, and enable Christian pilgrims’ safe passage. This was the stated goal; an unstated goal was that the Catholic Church, then the most powerful and wealthiest institution in Europe, faced pressure from competing kings and warlords who threatened the Church’s hegemonic authority and land monopoly in Europe. Similarly, European kings sought to unify their people and enlarge their power by joining the Crusades against Muslims. The European public too found opportunity for personal wealth and glory in the pillage of Muslims. They believed the Pope’s promise of forgiving their sins if they killed Muslims. They thought that they would return to Europe with a clean slate from sin, wealthy and glorious (see Graham, 2006, for a succinct account).

In short, the diverse motives for the Crusades included desires for power, wealth, spiritual salvation, personal glory, and especially a need to construct coherent European identities against an external and convenient enemy. The massacre and pillage of Muslims and Jews alike during the Crusades unified Europeans with the myth of superior race waging a “just war” on behalf of God.

Colonization of the Americas [TOP]

The colonization of the Americas subsequently offered Europeans new opportunities for material exploitation, cultural domination, and self-aggrandizement through claims of religious and racial superiority (see Quijano, 2000). Not only did the distinction between Europeans and Non-Europeans become more concrete in the Americas, but also the distinction of races became a convenient justification for exploitation. This distinction of races and associated claim of natural superiority enabled Europeans to carry out three cataclysmic assaults by use of maximum violence (including genocide) that later became global. The first assault was on the world of things, particularly the land of conquered non-European peoples to exploit gold, silver, and other commodities. The second assault was on the world of people for obtaining free labor and carrying out sexual exploitation. The third assault was the world of meaning by changing indigenous religions, knowledge, and identities.

African Slave Trade [TOP]

The colonization of America subsequently fueled the capture, transport, and enslavement of Africans in the Americas and the Caribbean. The Atlantic Slave Trade represents the largest importation of slaves in the history of the world. This trade not only caused immense suffering for persons forced into slavery, but also enabled Europeans to expand their settlement in the New World and earn substantial capital for Europeans to finance the industrial revolution (cf. Williams, 1966).

At least three outcomes of slavery seem certain. Firstly, slavery pauperized and depopulated the African continent, stealing its young and productive members and derailing the political history and economic development of its people. Secondly, this system of slavery consolidated the dominant-dominated relations between Europeans and non-Europeans, making racism the primary justification for colonial exploitation that continues to the present in different guises. Thirdly, Europeans and their descendants reaped more than economic benefits from slavery. Fed better, their population increased. With new wealth and industry, they developed better technology with which to further conquer and exploit others (cf. Rodney, 1974).The Atlantic Slave Trade therefore intensified the mix of different motives—greed for material possession and consumption, combined with racism and self-aggrandizement—that began with the Crusades.

Slavery ended when it no longer was economically productive because the burgeoning Industrial Revolution made it inefficient and dispensable. Yet the European pursuit of profit, racism, and self-aggrandizement did not end. Instead, it grew more with the development of industries that required more raw materials, more cheap or free labor, and more markets for manufactured goods. Classical colonialism provided a convenient alternative to satisfy these needs.

Classical Colonialism [TOP]

Classical colonialism in Africa started in the nineteenth century. Like the colonization of the Americas and the Atlantic Slave Trade, it was systemic violence—organized, continuous, methodic, and willful. It was not only integral to capitalism, but also coexistent with racism, cultural domination, and European self-aggrandizement.

Whereas slavery focused on exploiting isolated and captive individuals, the submission and exploitation of entire populations required sophisticated methods and numerous agents. The first point of colonial assault was occupation of land by force of arms. Land contained not only the world of things, but also the world of people. Taking control of the land provided colonizers the raw materials they needed and geopolitical advantage in the competition among them for colonies. After occupation of the land, control of the population followed to acquire not only cheap or free labor and market for manufactured goods, but also gradual erosion in the world of meaning. Thus, instead of exploiting defenseless individuals in alien lands as in slavery, classical colonialism held populations captive in their own land, forcing them to serve the same economic, racial, and self-aggrandizing motives that gave rise to and sustained the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Lasting occupation of land, exploitation of human and material resources, and quelling resistance required the erosion of social bonding, indigenous beliefs, values, identities, and indigenous knowledge. Colonialists achieved this by using different agents including missionaries, anthropologists, physicians, and journalists. Since violence and outsiders’ propaganda alone cannot sustain oppression, colonizers resorted to local agents to carry out the colonial mission. The most important of these were individuals educated in colonial schools or serving as subordinates in the colonial system. These so-called local elites inherited the colonial state whose function was not to serve the colonized but to exploit them. Classical colonialism ostensibly ended when these local collaborators demonstrated, through training and internalization of colonial values, their proclivity to serve as auxiliaries of neocolonialism.

Neocolonialism: Return by the Back Door [TOP]

The ostensible demise of classical colonialism in Africa began in 1957 when Ghana became independent, followed by the formal independence of other African countries in the 1960s and 1970s. The world wars were a critical historical juncture in stimulating the ambition for freedom because they showed three essential facts. Firstly, Europeans did not share the solidarity they previously projected; instead, they fought one another with shocking brutality. Secondly, the war revealed to Africans that the White man was not superhuman; in the battlefield, he too panicked, bled, and died like Africans. Thirdly, Africans realized that they could challenge Europeans in armed struggle in the quest for freedom since they had risked their lives during the world wars to defend European freedom. Recognizing these three facts initiated—firstly in the mind, subsequently in action—the demise of classical colonialism.

The African public found new inspiration in hearing from their children the rhetoric of freedom and call to end of colonialism. Not surprisingly, their anticolonial rhetoric focused on liberating the land—that is, to kick out the colonizer. Neither they nor their leaders gave much thought beyond that specific and narrow goal. It turned out that the so-called local elite wanted only to replace the former rulers and govern in the same way, using the same laws and institutions. After independence, the flawed colonial state turned into a neocolonial machine that not only oppressed the people, but also worked to the advantage of former colonial powers and their allies (Bulhan, 2008).

A number of African politicians and intellectuals focused attention on neocolonialism (Amin, 1973; Nkrumah, 1965): ways in which former colonizers (joined by the United States and the USSR) controlled behind the scene economic and political power. They also presented evidence on how European countries continue to plunder material resources of the former colonies and dictate flawed policies serving European interests. Similar to the dependency theorists (Frank, 1970; Prebisch, 1960), these writers on neocolonialism shed light on the methods and consequences of European economic and political domination in Africa. However, most analyses held that economy is the substructure of neocolonialism; hence, they did not discuss the role of culture and psychology in the perpetuation of colonialism.

Metacolonialism: Latest Stage of Colonialism [TOP]

The latest modification in the previous form and presentation of colonialism is metacolonialism. According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary (1993, 2nd Edition), the prefix meta in Greek translates to after, along with, beyond, behind, or among. I therefore mean by metacolonialism a socio-political, economic, cultural, and psychological system that comes after, along with, or among the earlier stages of colonialism that I described in the preceding pages. One can also define it as a colonial system that goes beyond in scope or behind in depth what classical colonialism and neocolonialism had achieved.

Metacolonialism revives an old system of colonial exploitation and oppression that masquerades in the more savory euphemism of globalization. Many analysts write about globalization in glowing terms, often extolling it as a system of worldwide innovation that shall bring great advances to humanity. Yet these writings seldom answer this question: Who actually benefits from this new craze, and who suffers because of its global effects? We find the answer not directly from the words of its promoters and defenders, but in the structures of power and global locations where its decision-makers concentrate. Specifically, metacolonialism emanates from the same geography and societies as did the Atlantic Slave Trade, classical colonialism, and neocolonialism.

Unlike earlier forms that were national or regional, metacolonialism not only grows globally and penetrates deeper in the psychology and social relations of all peoples, but also exercises its global power of hegemonic mystification that blurs to some degree previous distinctions of social class, ethnicity, and race. Although writers on colonialism used dichotomous distinctions between colonizers and colonized or between White and Black races to draw attention to the drastic contrasts of the two groups’ unequal fortunes and history under colonialism (e.g., Fanon, 1967, 1968), such Manichean distinctions are no longer adequate. Metacolonialism brings about a wide spectrum of beneficiaries and victims. Some of the formerly colonized elites are today material beneficiaries of metacolonialism (especially in comparison to the mass misery of their societies), flaunting trivial material benefits while ignoring their subjective victimization. Even the traditional beneficiaries of colonialism—namely Europeans and their descendants—are today in some respects victims of metacolonialism in ways they neither realize nor wish to critically examine. Accustomed to racial hubris—exaggerated pride and inflated self-confidence—passed on to them by earlier generations, they remain stuck in the old Manichean division of the world associated with myths of racial superiority. Our concepts, formulations, and analyses must therefore keep pace with the dynamic and sophisticated changes of metacolonialism.

The Psychology of Metacolonialism [TOP]

Metacolonialism manifests in both objective and subjective domains to a far greater degree than the classical colonialism and neocolonialism that preceded it. I illustrate below some of its manifestations, realizing that space of an article permits neither extensive listing nor detailed discussion (but see Bulhan, in press).

I begin this review with a discussion of the contest over reality and memory. Much writing exists about colonial onslaught on the worlds of things and people, but not much about its assault on the world of meaning and associated contest over defining reality and preserving memory. Although less obvious than the contest of arms and political control, the contest over reality and memory plays a central role in the objective and subjective lives of the colonized. What do I mean by contest over reality and memory?

Contested Reality and Memory [TOP]

Much of recorded history is partly mythology, partly a product of selective recall, and partly interpretation of what transpired. What is recorded is seldom that which actually took place because the events that transpired have gone through different recall, interpretation, and retelling by people who experienced them, people who heard about what had transpired, and (generations later) people who write about those events. Even participants of the same historical events differ in their account and interpretation of what actually took place. Each generation modifies written history according to its needs and interpretation, building on selective recall and distortion.

The contest over reality and memory becomes most intense in conditions of oppression where both reality and memory distort to preserve the status quo of domination and exploitation. Metacolonialism in the way I define it enlarges the distortion of events in memory because written history is mostly about the valor and benevolence of the European colonizer. Students continue to learn this history in schools, libraries preserve it, statutes freeze it in time and place, and public and professional media disseminate it. In short, the worlds of things and people exude, reflect, and perpetuate the story of the European colonizer. This story valorizes the colonizer and turns into a potent weapon of domination while it invalidates and vilifies much about the colonized, including their culture, their epistemology, their ontology—indeed their very existence as human beings. The colonizer’s reality and memory under these conditions take the status of the only valid knowledge worth preserving and disseminating while the colonizer’s self-aggrandizement entails the diminution or negation of the colonized.

Accordingly, the colonized do not exist except for the needs and convenience of the colonizers; they are no more than appendage and fodder to the history of colonizers. The story of the colonized remains untold due to censorship and social amnesia enforced in crude or subtle ways. If writers of this story are not directly harassed, the media industry seldom publishes their alternative story; professional journals winnow it out; publishers reject manuscripts; and tenure review committees consider it a sign of radicalism or proof of idiosyncratic obsession to excavate a long forgotten past too uncomfortable to recall. Not surprisingly, then, many avoid such adventures, making vague the distinction between enforced censorships and self-censorship.ii

There is another problem. If one endeavors to tell the story of the colonized, the teller is from the start stuck neck deep or totally submerged in the maelstrom or disaster the colonizer had created.iii Not only does one wade in the dissimulated history and scholarship of the colonizer’s metacolonial systems of education, but also the world in which one lives—including institutions for which one works—contradict one’s story about the colonized. Moreover, any work that one manages to publish will be in media inaccessible to the people the story is about.

One who writes critically on colonialism in the peripheries distant from Europe and North America faces a different problem. The writer does not have the latest information and technology, or even a reliable internet connection, to keep abreast on the work of others or to participate in exchange of ideas with them. This state of isolation diminishes critical engagement conducive to scholarship. What is more, life in that part of the world presents two other perils. On the one hand, local tyrants find threat in ideas unfamiliar to them, assuming that what they do not know or understand is necessarily subversive. On the other hand, security agents of those who control global power are likely to apply the label “terrorist” or “terrorist sympathizer” if the writer is non-European or especially a Muslim who lives in the distant frontiers that contests of reality and memory provoke atavistic religious radicalism. Either way, whether in the West or outside of it, imposed censorship and self-censorship limit discourse on colonialism and coloniality.

I start with these remarks to underscore four points. First, a key indicator of domination is the power to name the world and the self, interpret the past, and preserve memory of it. In usurping that power, the colonizer finds a more insidious and potent psychological advantage than use of lethal arms. Second, because of the lost contest over the defining and naming of reality, the experience and story of the colonized await documenting and telling. Not hearing or reading about either, people assume they do not exist. Third, the forgotten or distorted past leaves the colonized in a state of ignorance and confusion, with no lessons learned to understand the present or chart a new future. Fourth, establishment psychology historically played a significant role in the contest of reality and memory, serving as a potent tool for concealing the violence of colonialism and distorting the experiences of the colonized. To this day, the Eurocentric and reductionist roots of establishment psychology prevent even well meaning researchers and practitioners from exposing the ravages of colonialism or acknowledging the experience of the colonized.

Manifestations of Metacolonialism [TOP]

I turn now to manifestations of metacolonialism. To begin with, metacolonialism established the dollar and (recently) the euro not only as the primary currencies of exchange, but also as measures of human worth. This is colonization of economics, wealth, and self-evaluation. Metacolonialism also dictates that international laws promulgated by Europeans are just and essential laws for ‘civilized’ conduct in national and international relations. This is colonization of individual and group behavior, nationally and internationally.

Europeans and their descendants today enjoy freedom and opportunity in space not only in their land but also beyond. iv Indeed, after nearly denuding resources of the earth, they endeavor to colonize outer space (including the Moon and Mars) for more resources. In contrast, space increasingly represents unfreedom and constraints for the metacolonized in ways worse than described under classical colonialism by earlier writers —like Nkrumah (1965), Amin (1973), and Rodney (1974). For example, urban communities in Africa have become concentration camps of disease and death—with profuse shantytowns, crowded hovels, open sewers, pervasive poverty and filth. In addition, their lands and coasts are dumping sites for the West’s toxic waste—including nuclear and medical wastes—with devastating and enduring consequences for the fauna, flora, and human health. This is colonization of space.

Home too is no longer a place of intimacy and security for the metacolonized. Economic forces beyond the control of individuals invade it to instigate conflict among members, caught as they are between confused needs and increasing wants, neither of which they can satisfy. Meanwhile, radio and TVs programs bombard them at home and other private places with metacolonial propaganda, mesmerizing people with images of material rewards and ostentatious display of European models of beauty. Children bring to the home metacolonial ideas contradicting their culture and identity while their parents live in crushing frustration in the workplace or more likely suffer chronic unemployment. Their governing state, often a tool of metacolonialism, invades homes at will, usually after midnight, to capture anyone suspected of sedition, terrorism, and the like with no due process of law. The minority of Africans with access to internet and mobile phones are also subject to external controls without their knowledge. These new technologies permit agents of metacolonialism near and far to snoop what they say, do, and think. This is colonization of place.

Metacolonialism also surfaces in the colonization of time since most people today believe that real time is only the way Europeans define, interpret, and measure it. In reality, time has no single or universal meaning, and cultures vary in how they understand and interpret it (e.g., Bulhan, 2013a; Mbiti, 1970). The dominant conception of time in the world today rests on a Newtonian paradigm and global capitalism that not only equates time with money, but also divides, manages, and manipulates time and human energy for productivity and profit contradicting the culture and interest of the colonized. Today, almost everyone in the world, regardless of culture, wears watches based on European conception of time and pegged to a location in Europe. In short, European conceptions of time today regulate energy, work, and therefore lives of peoples in the world. This is not only colonization of time, but also metacolonized regulation of human energy.

Metacolonialism also affirms that Europeans and their descendants are superior to all other human beings in intelligence, power, beauty, and wealth. This is colonization of values. Related to this is the notion that Europeans and their descendants represent the ideal or personification of beauty. People of color increasingly internalize this self-defeating notion. They use chemical and electrical means to lighten their skin, turn smooth their kinky hair, or simply wear imported wigs to hide their natural hair texture and color. This is colonization of beauty. Metacolonialism, like its antecedents, also glorifies Western education and knowledge as the tickets to enlightenment and the ‘good life,’ while vilifying and eroding indigenous education and knowledge. This is colonization of knowledge. Using modern telecommunication equipment and the internet, Europeans have the right to monitor communication and information of all people, including who talks to whom, how often, where, and for what purpose. This is colonization of digital information. Metacolonialism also sets the Europeans and their descendants as the sole dispenser of aid and compassion for victims of violence and oppression in Africa. Yet, this compassion is primarily self-serving since the countries and organizations delivering the aid gain indirectly or directly by selling products of their farmers and manufacturers or by collecting hefty overheads for service rendered (Maren, 1997). This is colonization of compassion, reaffirming simultaneously the incompetence and dependence of aid recipients, while reasserting and further inflating the self-aggrandizement of Europeans (Bulhan, in press).

Promoters of metacolonialism also affirm that one finds the good and moral life by embracing Europeans as demigods and assimilating their culture while eroding the religious heritage of non-Europeans. Advocates of Global Western Culture do not mince words or hide their mission. They malign and deprecate the lives of non-European peoples. This is colonization of not only culture but also religion. Moreover, western education in non-European societies erode or change indigenous languages. For instance, Africans schooled in neocolonial educational systems choose to speak English or French to show sophistication and so-called modernity, gradually abandoning their indigenous language. They even change their indigenous first names to European names like Peter, James, and Joseph. If they speak to their people in the indigenous language, they sprinkled English or French terms in their statements to achieve the same impression of sophistication and modernity even if their people do not understand the full meaning of their remarks. This too is colonization of language and identity.

Metacolonizers also claim that only their classifications, their diagnoses, and their treatment of physical and psychological disorders are most scientific and effective when they turn a blind eye to the oppressive social conditions that cause or contribute to hunger, disease, premature death, depression, trauma, and psychosomatic disorders. In the name of advanced treatment, they also manufacture potent drugs that silence the rage of injustice and they erect institutions with high walls that sequester victims. Instead of healing victims, the forced silence and incarceration condemn them to psychological and social death. Cut off from society and inter-subjectivity with others, those identified as mad have become less accessible to ordinary human contact and social bonding; therefore less psychologically and socially alive. If truly scientific and socially responsible, their metacolonized healers and caretakers would contribute to change the historical and social conditions producing these symptoms and afflictions. This too is colonization of medicine and madness.

Metacolonial Motives and Goals [TOP]

As successor and culmination of earlier forms of colonialism, metacolonialism likewise serves Euro-American material exploitation, cultural domination, and psychological self-aggrandizement. These motives persist by inertia of history, residual social and political structures of domination, and collective socialization through effective media and schools. Metacolonialism added to these factors its potent methods: conditioned mass passion for consumer goods imported from abroad and an effective dissemination of the belief that this stage of colonialism (globalization) represents a great advance in human history. What therefore changed are not the motives but the methods and tactics of satisfying those motives.

By focused assault on the world of meaning, metacolonialism also penetrates deeper than classical colonialism and neocolonialism into the psyche and social relations. It occupies and controls the self or being of the metacolonized both in their psychological and social existence. After subjective occupation and control, the metacolonized automatically cooperate without need for the crude methods used by previous forms of colonialism. Nonetheless, metacolonialism, true to its colonial roots and essence, resorts to outright violence when necessary. It has in store efficient and deadly violence in case of resistance to it, including modern tanks, deadly missiles that seldom miss their target, drones controlled from distance, war robots that neither bleed nor die, and nuclear bombs capable of complete annihilation. Because the Being of the metacolonized is occupied and possessed, they also come to believe that they are materially better off than ever, even when they see in TVs and newspapers only the alluring images of the consumer goods (like cars, flashy clothes, and electronic equipment) by which metacolonialism entraps and mesmerizes. If few of them get only a small number and cheap imitations of these goods, they believe that they too share in “the good life” of the European—a belief reinforced by the admiration and envy of the less fortunate majority around them. While starving for lack of food, these less fortunate compatriots continue to be enthralled by the shared delusion of metacolonial material opulence and redemption supposedly coming to them in the near future by magical means.

There is indeed more to metacolonialism than the consumer goods or the desire to satisfy constantly invented and therefore insatiable wants. At its highest advance not yet achieved, metacolonialism aims to establish a “New World Order” which already shows its telltale signs. This New World Order will for instance do away with the colonially formed nation-states, as we know them today, and replace them by a central authority managed by Euro-Americans and local allies they select. It will use one currency, one international court, and one mega-military establishment like the expanded NATO or its successor supposedly to ensure world peace. It will “homogenize” cultures into Universal European Culture, as stridently advocated by neo-liberals for “Global Western Culture.” Most languages will die as will indigenous knowledge in non-European societies. Religions will gradually erode in substance and meaning, but devotees may retain rituals that do not threaten the new world order. If they present threat, as do some Muslim fundamentalists, most of whom use Islam for self-serving political aims, metacolonial powers and their regional allies will jointly organize themselves to clobber them to total submission or eliminate them using a sophisticated technology of death. Computers based in the United States and Europe will store personal details of individuals, wherever they are in the globe, monitoring their movements, their human connections, and their communications.

These metacolonial prospects and plans are not far-fetched; we are already in the throes of metacolonialism. However, the most devastating application and consequences of it fall on Non-European populations who—by culture, politics, and behavior—are on the fringes of the envisaged New World Order. That is too why institutions like the IMF and World Bank focus their work on these societies. This is why the International Court in Hague investigates or tries more Africans dictators than American or European perpetrators of similar or worse crimes against humanity. It is also in Africa that the largest numbers of “international peacekeeping forces” operate, because people of color once again occupy the lowest rung in the hierarchy of human rights and expected norms of equal treatment.

Psychology and Colonialism [TOP]

The emergence and growth of psychology as a discipline took place not only at a time of social change and conflict in Europe but also while Europeans and their descendants carried out violence in search for profit and self-aggrandizement of a cultural, social, and psychological character. As Europeans conquered much of the world, imposing themselves in action and ideology as the only honorable model of humanity, the discipline of psychology emerged as a specialty and arbiter of human experience. Never emerging in a social vacuum, psychology (and its medical counterpart, psychiatry) played their part in the history of European colonialism serving as its agents in its different stages (Bulhan, 1980, 1985b, 1993). They also benefited funds and prestige from the conquest and exploitation of the rest of us. They justified slavery, as did missionaries, journalists, biologists, and anthropologists. For instance, some declared severe psychopathology in slaves who ran away from plantations. Soon after emancipation, others declared that emancipation of slaves would bring their extinction with “unerring certainty”. Still others insisted that emancipation already brought former slaves severe and manifest deterioration in mind and body because they were innately incapable of living freely.

During classical colonialism, psychologists and psychiatrists embarked on racial comparisons of the size of the brain, concluding from biased measurements that Africans belong to a lower evolutionary phase. Studying Africans “in health and disease,” Carothers (1953) concluded from a small sample of patients in a Kenyan psychiatric hospital that Africans were akin to “lobotomized Europeans” or at least to neurotic Europeans. Other researchers measured IQ pegged to their culture and affirmed that Africans and their descendants show lower intelligence in comparison to Europeans (e.g., Croizet, 2008; Croizet & Dutrévis, 2004; Kamin, 1974). Taken together, these works justified colonialism and perhaps assuaged the troubled conscience of Europeans about colonial violence.

The contribution of psychologists and psychiatrists in justifying colonialism did not end with classical colonialism. After 1960 when Africans attained formal independence, the Eurocentric psychological and psychiatric literature shifted from affirming the innately incompetent Africans to asserting alarming rates of mass depression and other psychiatric disorders (Bulhan, 1985b; Prince 1967). This recalls earlier claims that Black slaves were innately incapable of living free or sane without a White master. In the era of metacolonialism, the psychological and psychiatric literature is more subtle and refined, as is the case with its other covert applications. Actively incorporated into control of the mind and the market are new ‘technologies’—subliminal programming of TV broadcasts, psychological techniques of interrogation and torture, and a wide range of potent psychiatric medications with little discussion of the social causes of distress or disorders caused by the ravages of colonialism.

In spite of this sordid history, psychologists and psychiatrists often show a convenient social amnesia, ignoring their complicity with colonialism both in its crude and subtle forms. For two disciplines that claim commitment to study and unmask repressed psychological experience, such neglect and avoidance about evidence of service to colonialism is curious indeed. In moments of idealistic reverie, a person sharing professional affinity might hope that psychologists and psychiatrists would be different from colonial soldiers and administrators. Yet studies of the history of colonialism, as well as knowledge of psychologists’ and psychiatrists’ role in colonialism, lead to this conclusion: Economic self-interest, political allegiance, defense of delusional superiority in race, and wish for self-aggrandizement take precedence over commitment to reason, objectivity, and justice in scientific thought and behavior.

Decolonizing Psychology [TOP]

Social and political systems seldom die or dismantle easily; they often reinvent themselves for three chief reasons. Firstly, the economic and political interests they served in the past continue to prevail in subsequent generations. Secondly, the institutions—schools, law enforcement agencies, courts and others—that served those interests do not readily change. Thirdly, those who grow up under these systems―beneficiaries as well as victims―get so indoctrinated through childhood socialization, schooling, and adult experiences that they do not seek or accept alternative ways of looking at the world. Turned into true believers or acting as programmed robots, they defend the oppressive structures as if life would be impossible without them. In fact, they would (and often do) sacrifice life to defend and perpetuate these systems, however unjust.

As I described in detail elsewhere (Bulhan, 1985b; Chap. 4), several conceptual problems of establishment psychology derail it from its declared mission of advancing the well-being of people and push it toward unquestioned service to colonialism in its different stages. The first of these problems is Eurocentrism that not only infuses cultural bias and errors in establishment psychology, but also makes it a ready tool for European exploitation, racism, and global self-aggrandizement. Related to this is its assumptive, methodological, and experiential solipsism that predisposes Europeans to believe that their experience is the most valid in the world and provides the only model of humanity. The positivist foundation of psychological inquiry also limits and distorts human experience as it seeks to measure, control, and predict human behavior not only by emulating the basic sciences, but also by remaining loyal to the colonial project of measuring, controlling, and predicting the colonized. Positivism also brings with it other problems—like establishment psychology’s analytic-reductionist bias, its trait-comparison bias, and stability-equilibrium bias—all of which exclude holistic, contextual, and dialectical perspectives. Decolonizing psychology requires abandoning these flaws in theory and practice incorporating the following steps.

From Individual to Collective Well-Being [TOP]

Establishment psychology rooted to capitalism and the resulting culture of misanthropy gives priority to the fetish of individualism instead of advancing collective well-being. In theory and practice, its diagnostic classifications, narrow definition of liberty, and positivist method of inquiry rest on individualism. Individuals do indeed count and deserve focused study, care, and liberty. However, exclusive focus on individuals—shorn of their historical, cultural, and social context—reveals avoidance or disregard of the fundamental truth that human beings are above all social beings and that individual well-being or liberty means little without collective well-being and liberty. Only when collective well-being and liberty are secure can questions and comparison of individual difference have meaning and value. Better still, study and treatment of individuals must work from the perspective of advancing the well-being of the collective on the one hand and reducing tyranny of the collective on individuals on the other.

From Obsession With Instinct to Promotion of Human Needs [TOP]

Since its beginning, establishment psychology was obsessed with instincts. Theories of instincts seldom led to valuable and lasting insight on human behavior. Instead, such theories not only postulated fixed traits, but also reified characteristics of people in ways that afforded justification of slavery, colonialism, racism, and sexism. (For instance, McDougall [1908] catalogued numerous instincts and attributed “instinct of submission” to black people.) Focusing on human needs introduces a different outlook and outcome. Individuals cannot state their presumed instincts, but they can affirm their needs and wants. Thus, while theory about instinct exists in the mind of its proponent who claims institutional authority and professional credibility, study of human needs forces one to shift the line of inquiry and predisposes one to engage in dialogue with the persons concerned who can explain what they need and want. In short, emphasis on needs and wants may reduce the scourge of solipsism and Eurocentrism in establishment psychology.

From Adjustment to Empowerment [TOP]

The promotion of adjustment to oppressive structure and alienated living often occur in psychotherapy or the larger industry called mental health whose overriding aim is to change persons referred to as “patients” rather than enabling them (if not joining them) in changing the conditions (economic, political, cultural, and social) that primarily caused or contributed to the distress, mild or severe. Emphasis on adjustment not only decontextualizes the problems of the oppressed but also burdens the “patient” with inordinate degree of patience to an oppressive system, including the obvious hierarchy of power in the doctor-patient relationship replicating the colonial situation. Moreover, traditional therapy begins with a subtle process of Eurocentrism, racism, and victim-blame, all affirming or implying that the “patient” caused or contributed to his or her problem. Little wonder then, that patients from oppressed communities seldom seek therapy unless brought under duress by relatives, the police, or by court order. If they seek therapy on their own, they frequently drop out at very high rates because of the adjustment-orientation, power-relations, decontextualization, and victim-blame of Eurocentric psychology (Bulhan, 1985a, 1985b, 1993).

From Passive Victims to Self-Determining Actors [TOP]

No doubt, oppressive systems produce countless victims subjected to hardship and injury. Yet a perspective promoting change avoids freezing people in the status of victims who only deserve sympathy and charity. Even when people experience hardship, danger, and injury, they make choices. Albert Camus said that even a person forced to the gallows chooses how he or she faces certain death—to weep, scream, shake, or die with dignity. People always make choices by rationally calculating their prospects of winning or losing in war, business, and other human encounters. In each case, they consider the resources and means available to them as well as the conditions favoring them or not.

Slaves and the colonized must choose between two impossible options: die, thereby avoid oppression altogether; or live, marking time until ready to regain freedom and perhaps turn the table on the so-called victor of today. Just as the person forced to gallows makes choices, enslaved and colonized people also make choices, whether or not they make them out of ignorance, fear, rational miscalculation, or a combination thereof. To overstate their victimization prevents critical analysis of choices and freezes them in permanent incompetence, dependence, and hopelessness. It also reinforces their belief, internalized under oppression, that they have no choice but to continue life in misery from one generation to another.

At the same time, to affirm that the colonized have choice not only declares that they can transcend their present condition, but also prepares and empowers them to make choices. Frederick Douglass, a former Black American slave, stated that power concedes only to a demand and that refusal to endure oppression sets the limits of tyrants. Decolonized psychology analyzes the conditions that victimize people, making them objects or minions of others; it also affirms that they are self-determining actors—if not immediately, then at least in the future. It educates them about self-defeating strategies, explores with them how best to set limits to tyranny, and prepares them to make necessary and effective demands for change.

From Top-Down to Bottom-Up Approaches [TOP]

Fifthly, decolonized psychology pursues change using bottom-up rather than top-down approach. The top-down approach is not only imperialistic and arrogant but also it seldom works, neither at the level of the individual nor that of the collective. Many therapeutic interventions or programs of social change fail because they are imposed top-down by individuals or groups who claim superior authority and knowledge, often supported by threat or exercise of violence. The change they claim to bring about is also minimal, superficial, half-hearted and self-serving. Not only do they affirm or imply that they alone know best what is good for the individuals or groups they claim to help but also they devalue and infantilize them by their approach that actually replicates the situation of oppression. They also show that the project of change is theirs, claiming victory for all successes and blaming the recipient of help for all failures. These characteristics of the top-down approach often breed resentment and subversion among those supposed to be recipients of help. That is why traditional approaches to therapy and international peacekeeping missions fail with people caught in colonial oppression and associated devaluation.

The bottom-up approach requires patience and humility as well as openness to learn the experiences, thoughts, and perspective of the other. In this approach, one abandons the hubris and imperialism of the top-down approach. The bottom-up approach forces the self-declared helper to examine motives, question dominant theories, and be open to learn the experiences, thoughts, and traditions of those one seeks to help. The bottom-up approach also affirms that the so-called recipients of help own the process and product of change; that success and failure are shared; and that change is reciprocal because the supposed “helper” learns, gets healed, and grows alongside “the recipient” of help (Watkins, 2015, this section).

Conclusion [TOP]

A broad consideration of colonialism suggests that this system of domination entails contest of reality in three worlds: the world of things, of people, and of meaning. Driven firstly by economic motives, colonizers attacked the world of things to obtain raw materials and markets for manufactured goods. To obtain cheap or free labor, they not only occupied the land but also assaulted the world of people to force submission. Once they conquered the people and occupied the land, they assaulted the world of meaning because no system of oppression lasts without occupation of the mind and ontology of the oppressed.

The old and crude forms of colonial rule have changed to the more subtle and sophisticated (also more intense and expansive) form that I have called metacolonialism: a consolidation of capitalism, liberal democracy, and Western Culture into a unified and globalized force for economic, political, and cultural domination. In metacolonialism, the primary target of domination is the total being of the colonized—economically, culturally, socially, and psychologically. The governing values, ethos, and ideology of metacolonial ways of being include a connected and interdependent world with a shared set of international laws, markets, and monetary standards formulated and governed by supposedly “neutral institutions” like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. The prime indicators of metacolonial well-being are the quantity and quality of the imported material goods people consume, the houses they live in, and the gadgets they own. Their common demoninator is crass materialism in a world of power and wealth inequity confirming the being of a minority, partially confirming that of an intermediary minority (called local elite), and totally disconfirming that of the majority.

In this context, the analyses and insights of Frantz Fanon (1967) in Black Skin, White Masks are more relevant today than they were in the heyday of classical colonialism and neocolonialism. Clearly, there can only be occupied, distorted, and shriveled being (versus wholesome and healthy being) when so much of objective and subjective life—the economy, the political order, space and time, culture, knowledge, beauty, and even reason—are occupied. When the colonized believe they are happily marching toward prosperity and redemption, it makes liberation far more complicated and difficult.

In short, colonialism is today more entrenched objectively and subjectively than it was in the past. Effective and sustainable change can come only when those within the center of the metacolonized world and those in its peripheries work together both to deconstruct metacoloniality in its different forms and jointly reconstruct a more just world on the ruins of the old. The call for collaboration is not appeal for sympathy or generosity; those at the centers of metacolonialism also pay heavy but hidden costs for injustice and dehumanization of others. I therefore see the project of decolonizing psychology as a means toward broad-based critical thinking and collaboration on what to deconstruct and how to reconstruct for the benefit of all.

I endeavor to contribute to systemic and peaceful change in the meta-colonized part of the Africa in which I live, trying to make a difference in Somali society that has experienced more than its share of colonial violence and metacolonial mystification. To this end, I started Frantz Fanon University in Somaliland so that a new generation of African students can learn and advance decolonized psychology, medicine, and social sciences. This is no doubt a small step in the global project of decolonizing psychology that requires larger, coordinated, and sustained work by people in different parts of the world. Frantz Fanon University welcomes collaboration of individuals and institutions in that respect. I also hope this issue of JSPP devoted to decolonizing psychology will inspire such collaborative work.

Notes [TOP]

i) By European, I mean not only those citizens of Europe but also their descendants who settled in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, or elsewhere and who promoted and benefitted from colonialism. I also mean by establishment psychology the discipline of psychology that first emerged in Europe, subsequently grew in North America, and today dominates psychological theories, method, and practice of psychology in the world.

ii) I learned this subtle censorship in academia while teaching at Boston University when a high-ranking administrator tried to block my tenure, approved at all levels of university committees and by six external reviewers, because the administrator found my book on Frantz Fanon too radical. As soon as I earned tenure with approval of the Board of Trustees, I took a year-long sabbatical leave and soon after resigned from Boston University. After several years running a thriving consulting firm I co-owned with my former student, I returned to Africa to help in conflict resolution, social reconstruction, and treatment of trauma victims.

iii) I use male pronouns only due to limitation of language, not to suggest that the colonial experience is exclusive to men. I use these pronouns to represent both men and women.

iv) For these definitions and a fascinating discussion of space and place, see Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, St. Paul, Minnesota: the University of Minnesota, 1981. As he explained, space—a geographic unit, an interval between two points or objects precisely measurable—allows freedom of movement and transcending our present condition. Place (like home) is marked off space to which we endow value. While we universally associate space with freedom and opportunity, we associate place with intimacy and security.

Funding [TOP]

The author has no funding to report.

Competing Interests [TOP]

The author has declared that no competing interests exist.

Acknowledgments [TOP]

The author acknowledges the valuable support of the editorial committee of this issue and in particular Glenn Adams.

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