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The return of colonial relations?

MARION O'CALLAGHAN Monday, July 21 2008

click on pic to zoom in
INGRID WEEPS: Colombian ex-hostage Ingrid Betancourt (R) cries in the arms of her sister Astrid on the stage yesterday in Paris before a concert as pa...
INGRID WEEPS: Colombian ex-hostage Ingrid Betancourt (R) cries in the arms of her sister Astrid on the stage yesterday in Paris before a concert as pa...

Gordon Brown, speaking after the Zimbabwean elections, made two important points. They are of interest beyond Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The first was a general remark on colonialism. The Labour Party, according to Gordon Brown, was never part of colonisation – they colonised no one.

The second important remark concerned the conditions under which the UK’s and Europe’s opposition to the Zimbabwean regime would end. These conditions were not only free and fair elections. They were also the return of lands seized, to their owners, or the payment of compensation. It should be noted that without in any way denying the personal horror of gangs unilaterally seizing property, this last is in contrast with the recent Canadian Government’s position on the alienation of Amerindian lands. It is also in opposition to one of the gains of the 1970s and 80s: the recognition of communal ownership – the type of ownership in pre-industrial societies.

What Gordon Brown’s statement does emphasise is the centrality of the Land issue. This is not, as in the case of South Africa, the question of Europeans there for centuries. In the 1969 census out of a White population of 228,296, only 92,934 were born in Rhodesia. These had purchased their land – but that land was not open for African purchase. It was also land initially grabbed by Cecil Rhodes Company and by the conquest of Zimbabwe. An unspoken part of the problem is the legitimacy of Rhodes conquest and colonial legislation after this.

There was also a difference in the capacity to borrow money to purchase land. Africans did not benefit from either bank overdrafts or from the possibility of borrowing from an Agricultural Fund set up to facilitate the acquisition of Farm Lands by Europeans. It should be noted that, where Africans did emerge as Master Farmers, they did not join Liberation Movements until quite late. It is generally agreed even by Mugabe in his more lucid moments, that there should be compensation for those who have had their lands seized. The question, emerging as early as the Lancaster House discussion between the Patriotic Front and British officials, is who compensates. The UK Government insists that, if lands are seized or nationalised it is the Zimbabwean Government which compensates. The Patriotic Front, whether the ZANU or before this ZAPU, has held that (a) land reform was a priority and that (b) compensation must be paid by the colonising power: Britain. This is the fundamental issue. Mugabe has clouded the issue by backing the grabbing of land. But the issue remains.



Colonialism, Mother Patrick and Sidney Webb

Some time before Gordon Brown’s statement, Claire Short, former Labour Minister, had made a remark similar to Gordon Brown’s on the colonisation of Zimbabwe. She was Irish and the Irish had never colonised.

In this article I will not discuss who is responsible. This would entail examining a certain Left ideology shared by various strands of socialism as by Communist Party ideologues. According to this ideology, racism, colonialism and wars were the work of the bourgeoisie: the Working Class was not part of this. Unfortunately the reality is quite different.

In the case of Zimbabwe, steps were taken early o’clock to ensure that conflictual relations within the White community in Europe or in South Africa, were not present in Rhodesia. The Jesuit Superior of the Zambezi Mission, Father A M Daignault, in a note of 8 June 1891 explained why it was necessary for Catholic Missionaries to be part of the Rhodes column. It was not only to re-enter Missions from which Lobengula had excluded them. It was also “to secure our being in the field with the first Protestant Missionaries and on an equal footing.” In line with this, he requested a party of Dominican Sisters from South Africa. They came as a nursing component of Rhodes column. They were led by Mother Patrick – Mary Ann Cosgrave of Summerhill, County Meath Ireland. She was the daughter of a member of the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) and is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of White Rhodesians.”

It is correct to say that the Irish never colonised. It needs being repeated here in Trinidad and Tobago. However this bald statement does not explain settlement in Rhodesia. In the case of the Labour Party, the Labour Colonial Secretary in the second half of the 1920s was Sidney Webb, more famous as a Fabian. It was Webb who was Colonial Secretary when the question of segregated land ownership in Rhodesia arose and when the unequal division of land was legally enforced. While it is true that Sidney Webb, faced with the opposition at first of the Aborigine Protection Society, the Manchester Guardian and the London Missionary Society, delayed signing the Land Apportionment Bill, he did not refuse it. It is this Act of 1930 which produced the land situation on Gordon Brown’s Labour plate today.



Colonisation and Civilisation

Gordon Brown was speaking within the immediate context of a review of sanctions that the European Community had already taken against the Mugabe regime. These sanctions largely follow the model of American sanctions against the Aristide regime in Haiti. According to this pattern, not only is there the withdrawal of funds whether as aid to the State or as earnings from exports. Funding is channelled through selected NGO’s including churches and front organisations of Opposition Parties.

There is however a wider context. Over the last decade there has been a rehabilitation of colonial relationships. Nicholas Sarkozy in a campaign speech in Toulon of the 7th February 2007 states it clearly: “Colonisation was not so much a dream of conquest as a dream of civilisation.” The force of this statement rests in 19th century colonial legitimation. For Britain it was “the White man’s burden.” For France it was a “civilisation mission.”

It is within this optic that relationships with vulnerable former colonies are increasingly argued in terms of the group and outside of any colonial responsibility. It is not only the refusal to look at the historic origins of the land issue so useful, it turns out, to Robert Mugabe mobilisation. It is there in the terms of the immigration debate and actions.

The criminalisation of immigrants permits immigration to be debated only in terms of national security. It evacuates the debate of unequal economic relationships whose genesis is largely – although not totally – the result of unequal colonial development. The threat of visas for all Trinidad and Tobago nationals wishing to visit Britain is part of this. After all drugs are more easily taken in Britain through Eastern European networks than through Trini suitcases. There is another reason for the re-emergence of colonial attitudes: the emerging conflict with China for the control of Africa’s resources. In the case of Europe, conflict with China is both for the use of resources and to limit the rise of commodity prices. This isn’t far from reasons for 19th century colonial endeavours. Then the conflict was between Britain and France or Germany.



The Will of the People

The observers from the SADEC countries or from the OAU did not limit their consideration of “free and fair” or of “Will of the People” only to the conditions under which a ballot paper was deposed. They pointed to the unequal access to the media as between Government and Opposition. In doing this they have gone much further than ourselves. We are yet to analyse the democratic process in terms of channels of information whether directly government or through paid advertisement. The slant of information often selects the items of campaign interest. This is particularly so when “information” is in the form of high pressured sloganeering.

There was another factor which was underlined by one SADEC observer interviewed by BBC. In speaking of the lack of democracy in a large number of African States including Zimbabwe, she mentioned the concept of the Leader as crucial. It was, she contended, this concept of the Leader in African political culture, which silenced views contrary to that of the Leader and reduced democracy only to the act of voting on a particular day.

Anything else is perceived as unacceptable or as incipient treason. In this atmosphere, it is difficult for democracy in its real sense, to exist. Anyone listening?

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