By Owei Lakemfa
EXACTLY a fortnight from today, Nigeria will be marking its 50th independence anniversary from colonial rule. The motives of colonialism are usually wrapped in layers of religion and the alleged sacred duty of the Whites to spread civilization.
Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1930) Literature Nobel Prize Laureate famous for his poem If, has an infamous poem which rationalized and glorified colonialism; presenting it as a burden and sacrifice of the Whites. Titled: “The White Man’s Burden”, the first stanza reads:
“Take up the White Man’s burden
Send forth the best ye breed
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child”
Far from such childish and racist presentation, Joseph Chamberlain who took over the British Colonial Office in 1895 was emphatic that colonialism was a business enterprise and that the development and prosperity of Britain depended on developing the colonies.
In August 1895 he appealed to the British public: “I regard many of our colonies as being in the condition of undeveloped estates …If the people of this country are not willing to invest some of their superfluous wealth in the development of their great estate, then I see no future for these countries, and it would have been better not to have gone there”.
Lord Lugard who helped conquer and colonise Uganda and Northern Nigeria put the reasons for colonialism in a clear light. In his 1922 publication The Dual Mandate In British Tropical Africa, he wrote that “The congestion of the (European) population, assisted by the discovery of the application of steam to industrial uses, led to the replacement of agriculture by manufacturing industry, with the consequent necessity for new markets for the product of the factory, and the importation of raw materials for industry, and of food to supplement the decreased home production, and feed the increased population.
The same phenomenon was to be seen in Germany and elsewhere in Europe”. Lugard analysed that towards the end of the nineteenth century, tea, coffee and cocoa, previously unknown luxuries were the European’s “daily beverages and white bread his daily food. Sugar was cheap, and rice, sago, and other tropical products were in daily use…These products lay wasted and ungarnered in Africa because the natives did not know their use and value. Millions of tons of oil-nuts, for instance , grew wild without the labour of man, and lay rotting in the forests.
Who can deny the right of the hungry people of Europe to utilize the wasted bounties of nature(?)”
Lugard who was then the colonial governor of Nigeria declared: “Let it be admitted at the outset that European brains, capital and energy have not been, and never will be, expended in developing the resources of Africa from motives of pure philanthropy; that Europe is in Africa for the mutual benefit of her own industrial classes, and of the native races in their progress to a higher plane; that the benefit can be reciprocal, and that it is the aim and desire of civilised administration to fulfil this dual mandate”.
France, he said, was desperate to colonise “due to the belief that it was by expansion in Africa alone that she could hope to find the means to recover from the effects of the war with Germany in 1870”.
King Leopold II of Belgium who seized the ‘Congo Free State’ initially lied that his reason for colonialism was for “humanitarian and scientific research”. Later, he confessed that it was just to loot the territory, and that he owned the Congo and its riches.
He wrote in 1906: “The Congo has been, and could have been, nothing but a personal undertaking. There is no more legitimate or respectable right than that of an author over his own work, the fruit of his labour…My rights over the Congo are to be shared with none; they are the fruit of my own struggles and expenditure”.
The looting, exploitation and dehumanisation of the Indian people by the colonising British East India Company was so criminal that British Secretary of State, Charles James Fox had to take a bill to parliament in1783 arguing that the company cannot enslave 30 million Indians just to make maximum profits. But King George III intervened to stop the bill and Fox was forced out of government for two decades.
The same British East India Company in order to colonise, and for profit shipped tons of opium into China. When the Chinese Emperor Lin Zexu in March 1839 petitioned Queen Victoria that China would impose the death penalty for opium importation, sale and usage unless the British company stopped its harmful trade, the British Empire invaded China and fought what came to be known as the Opium Wars of 1839-1842 and 1856-1860.
The colonialists would not willingly allow independence for the colonies. When the Philippines which was colonised by the United States agitated for self-government, American Senator Albert Beveridge argued on the Senate floor that the Filipinos like other colonised peoples are not capable of self-government.
“Self-government is no base and common thing, to be bestowed on the merely audacious. It is the degree which crowns the graduate of liberty, not the name of liberty’s infant class, who have not yet mastered the alphabet of freedom…The Declaration (of independence) applies only to people capable of self-government.
How dare any man prostitute this expression of the very elect of self-governing peoples to a race of Malay children of barbarism, schooled in Spanish methods and ideas?”
Senator Beveridge believed that colonialism is a divine calling.
“He (God)has made us the master organisers of the world to establish system, where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth. He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples.
Were it not for such a force as this, the world would relapse into barbarism and night.” Please let’s meet next week on the Black Man’s Burden to decolonize.