Decolonisation 101

These are review notes from a talk I attended by Oxford Common Ground titled “Decolonization 101" at Christ Church College.

Facts

The first part of the talk was very informative and gave a great summary and overview of events and statistics from the colonial project.

The British empire once had 25% control of the population of the globe with an estimation that 90% of all countries invaded by British at some point. During the Atlantic slave trade there were an estimated 3.5 million transatlantic slaves, 1/3 of which were from the British.

During the slave trade the population of Africans in the British Carribean increased from 25% to 80%, where one in seven died from the harsh and brutal conditions of the journey they were made to traverse.

Furthermore, 2.5 million Indians fought in WW11 and several colonies made many contributions to the war.

Resistance

There was much resistance to colonization by western nations in contrary to some who attempt to link the colonization project to progress and liberation. This manifested in primary and secondary resistances and what we know as modern nationalism. There was also the narration of mass conversion to Islam which was explained as a consequence of an attempt to protest against the Christian British rule. This did not make too much sense to me given that most would not have been Christian so were reverting from other beliefs. My reasonings were more along the lines that the before the colonialists the people would have remembered the prosperity, protection and peace that they lived under Muslim rule in comparison to the brutality of the colonialists and perhaps were seeking a return to this. Furthermore, perhaps they had seen the solutions and alternative that Islam had to offer in leadership and ruling in delivering fixed rules of justice as opposed to the treachery of the secular Colonialists who ruled by their own whims and desires.

Following persistent and constistent resistance, governments were set up as the colonialist were slowly losing their control particularly after mass losses following the first and second World wars. However, the colonialists managed to create more centralised colonial governments to maintain their influence and control.

Significant Events

The partition of India lead to the uprooting of 10 million people with an estimate of 1 million deaths. Famines in India caused approximately 12–29 million Indians to die of starvation despite millions of tons of wheat exported to Britain.

Mau Mau uprisings in Kenya, where tens of thousands of Kenyans were killed brutally by the British.

Four million bengali died in the bangal famine which Churchill gruesomly labelled as “their own fault for breeding like rabbits”.

In British concentration camps in South Africa around 115,000 were kept with thousands of deaths.

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, also known as the Amritsar massacre, took place on 13 April 1919 when the British Indian Army fired their rifles into a crowd of unarmed civilians in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab, killing at least 400, including 41 children.

Sadly these may have just been the tip of the iceberg with so many other events with no recorded statistics.

Legal consequences

Mahmood, a Ugandan academic, stated how land before colonization used to be considered as a communal resource, but after was labelled as privatized, which allowed systemic economic disadvantaging of natives and social stagnation.

Labour exploitation

There was the Monopolising of working class to make sure that they could not collectively resist against the slave trade.

Social consequences

Racism and anti blackness ingrained has been ingrained in Western societies to this day.

Scientific racism, such as the using of logic and biology to uphold and defend white supremacy.

Pervasive stereotypes, about “dangerous” black people from ideas of those with mental illnesses who used to flee from the slave farms.

Economic

US and UK investment firms are still bribing goverment officials to this day as means of manipulating and taking resources.

Unregulated UK companies in mining in Congo has caused a large amount of deaths.

What some may argue?

Some use a balance sheet approach and try justify colonialism with statements such as “what about the railways?” The truth is whilst there were minute benefits these paled massively in comparison to the brutal economic and physical conditions that people were subjegated to. This is clearly not the way to be looking at things.

Claims of enlightenment and spread of western values is clearly not a justification primarily as they were not designed for the non-British, not to mention the fact the failure of such values to even regulate conditions in their own country exposing their own flaws and contradictions, so not suitable to be enforced on other nations. Clearly, these values and ideas were a means of enforcing their own rule which as we can see only lead to the benefit of the colonialists themselves.

Oxford’s role

Institutionalised racism in Oxford which is an institution which has benefited and continues to benefit from colonialism, eg Rhodes Trust etc. There is definitely lack of acknowledgement and a dire need for decolonisation to take place.

There is ingrained racism, paricularly looking at the welfare of black students — higher drop out and worse mental health, neo colonial effects on the climate and environment — UN estimate that the most affected by climate change are 80% poor black and brown women

It is also found that 44% of British are proud of colonialism and their empire.

FAQs

They were just men of their time, how can we look at it from a modern perspective?

They weren’t just men of their time they had lots of opposition at the time and also right and wrong does not change with times, we are humans now and they were humans then with the same organic needs and instincts and social characteristics for us easily to realise that what the colonialist did was inherently wrong and oppressive.

They let them have their own nations in the end?

Self governance afterwards caused long term problems as it was reactive and created in a manner to maintain control and influence by dividing lands that before were united and strong.

Overall, it was great to look at an overview of events and summarise the brutality of the colonial project but I do believe that it was looked at predominantly as a historic event without enough focus on the regimes and systems in place today that are very similar to those of colonial times with brutality and oppression at a similar level. If we look at Rohingya, Uyghur, Rwanda, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir just in the last few decades we can see that the same problems persist as the ideolgy and world order in actual fact remains the same.

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Danial Farooq

Danial Farooq

PhD student in Chemistry at UCL. MEng Grad from Oxford with specialisation in Chem Eng and Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Tennis player and Arabic student.