“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” –MLK, Jr
In the wake of what has been happening globally as a result of the death of George Floyd at the hand of the police, we have decided to dedicate this whole month to his memory. Globally black people have freedom on paper not in real life, and this is why we still get treated the way we are treated. Even by those who have sworn an oath to serve and protect us.
Decolonisation or freedom is on the tip of our tongues and minds because of the current global context. That said, for me to start talking about decolonisation, it’s best to take a little bit of time to talk about what colonisation or colonialism is.
Colonialism, basically, divided the world. It was a move that divided the continent amongst conquerors and conquered, amongst masters and slaves, and also amongst members of the human species. Some thought they were more human than others and that’s why at the time of colonialism, you’d have conversations about whether the colonised had souls.
Colonialism was a sense of dehumanisation amongst human beings and in order to do that at a systematic level and across continents in the world, you had to have a couple of things to help you achieve that.
The first thing is you had to use religion and the name of God as a way of justifying the act. Religion would have to make the conquerors look at themselves as just and better off than the conquered.
The second thing is you’d have to have a very thorough government structure that would help a minority of people to be able to govern over the majority in whatever country they colonised. And with that comes the force of arms that you see coming with colonialism. That force could have been from outside (from the colonial countries) or inside (through policing).
The third one is an economic system that would justify exploiting people not as human beings but as a thing or product. This economic system would also have to justify the exploitation of nature in a particular way. The nature of that economic system had to be one that’s quite extractive.
Last and very important, you’d have to have a knowledge system, philosophies, ways of thinking that also built on looking at the world in the ways mentioned above.
With all that said, how do we get freedom? That question is answered by understanding what decolonisation is.
Decolonisation is a raw celebration that we (people or Africans) are still here. It’s also the appreciation of the different forms of being that have been left in exile
Decolonisation is allowing the previously conquered to look at the world in a different lense, be it religion, governance structures, economic systems, our relationship with nature and other human beings, our relationship to knowledge (most importantly), and our freedom etc.
It is also important to note that decolonisation isn’t a recent phenomenon. Its history spans hundreds of years of people trying to assert their way of life, trying to hold on to their sensibilities in a world that keeps bringing up forms of representation that only justify one way of being around the world, trampling on teh freedom of others.
One may then ask; since decolonisation spans centuries, isn’t it a futile exercise? When you look at the struggles of independence across African countries, they fared in very different ways. For some countries, at the time of independence, the government structures that they moved into really kept some aspect of colonialism in place.
It’s important to consider whether the independence movements and the countries that were in place afterwards were able to think carefully enough about recasting the social system or not. In many cases, there’s a strong continuation of the same story in most African countries.
If you look at South Africa, you hear a lot of people saying, “It’s almost 30 years and we are still not yet Uhuru”. That means we are still circling around issues that weren’t resolved at the time of independence.
As one of the youngest countries in Africa, what can South Africa learn? We see that things continue to fall apart, not to quote Chinua Achebe, in the same ways. And we see that the thinking around going “economic” first or creating “growth” first or the myth of trickling down just doesn’t happen. We continue to create societies that really bolster an elite few and just fail completely to address the sense of social exclusion that makes all of our lives incredibly precarious.
What about the decolonisation of education? I think we need a little more introspection about this one and I say this respectfully. If you look throughout history and how people have tried to challenge colonialism or seek freedom, you clearly see that these colonial systems are very resistant and I don’t think quick-fix activism will change the situation and the kind of resistance that these systems had and still have. If we will have true freedom it iwll take more than a march or a protest, it will take re-education. We need to grow as a people.
When considering decolonisation, we should consider and challenge every aspect of colonialism, i.e religion, standards of value, intelligence, what’s considered, governance structures, land distribution, economic systems, education, social systems, etc. Only dealing with one or two won’t work and we see that today.
Next we will be looking at the miseducation of the african child, we are excited about the few weeks ahead. As always, stay safe and be great!