Apologists of the empire


Sam Akaki writes in a Guardian article thus

Britain may have “buried a large part of its 20th century history, along with the rest of the country’s tradition of brutality and crimes against humanity in building its empire” (Building Brexit on the myth of empire, 7 March). But, to give the devil his due, it is an incontrovertible fact that Britain left positive legacies of social and economic development in the empire. In Africa, for example, the British transformed a borderless continent inhabited by warring tribes and clans, ravaged by disease, into modern nation states. They built hospitals, schools, elaborate networks of roads, railway lines, air and sea ports. Crucially, they introduced the rule of law, which protected all Africans irrespective of their tribe, clan or religion.

Tragically, the baby was thrown out with the bath water at independence, ushering in a vicious cycle of self-destructive civil wars across the continent, as demonstrated by the current violence in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. At the same time, despotic leaders are amending their constitutions and clinging to power for the sole purpose of stealing development funds. The result is a widespread lack of opportunities, which is forcing hundreds of thousands of African men, women and children to take risky journeys in search of a better life in Europe. In 2015 and 2016, an estimated 10,000 African migrants perished in the Mediterranean.

Ironically, it is Britain which is funding several NGOs that are performing the role of governments in providing basic education, health services and clean water. It is also feeding millions of refugees in internally displaced persons’ camps across the continent.

He, without shame, wants his readers to believe the British in building the Kenya- Uganda railway were concerned with improving our infrastructure for benevolent ends and not to exploit the hinterland. 

He tells us Africa was borderless and warring without presenting any shred of evidence. It should be remembered, especially for those who are ignorant, Africa before colonialism had nation states. They had their boundaries they had their system of governance and they definitely were guided by rule of law. Had they been a lawless horde, they would possibly have been all dead. Besides, in many places, for example in kenya, the boundaries many places have were extant before the colonialists and we’re adopted and have retained their names. I know Akaki doesn’t know this and that explains why he is an apologist for the colonial administration. 

Again, to demonstrate his ignorance further, he points to the Sudan which has been mired in civil war partly because of the actions of the colonial administration that forced the north and south into a marriage where the south is the abused partner that keeps on giving. It is ignorance that is only possible in the mind of a present day African fed on silly TV sitcoms and who does not bother to engage with the history of the continent. 

Lastly in giving the devil his due he tells us about NGOs in Africa. He forgets to mention the history of colonialism that forced almost all the able bodied African men and women to look for work in the settler farms and business to pay a tax regime that served only to impoverish Africa. He conveniently does not mention that most of the whites sent by the colonial administration as administrators were idiots and had failed back home. What were they to teach Africans in governance? 

African states have their own failings. That I must admit. But for an African to start lecturing us on how the British and other powers in Europe helped us is unbecoming of an intellectual. 

One must address issues of imbalance in trade agreements, puppet presidents, SAPs and their effects on the civil service in African countries and other emerging economies of the South. Finally one must address the plunder of resources from Africa that continues to date. The destruction of local ecology to feed Europe. An example in point is introduction of Nile perch in Lake Victoria mainly for export to Europe that has in about 40 years killed almost 400 indigenous species that were only found in the lake.

Akaki,  please give us a break and learn a bit of history. 

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

38 thoughts on “Apologists of the empire

  1. Nice one Mak. Did you have me in mind? (She writes, egotistically.)

    Empires, of whatever type, even closet neo-colonial American ones these days, are ALWAYS about money. Capitalism par excellence. Exploit the poor for the benefit of the rich few. [insert sick bucket]

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  2. Only almost? Shame on you!

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    • makagutu says:

      I was told never to be over confident. Just have enough it.
      But that Akaki fellow has surprised me with the level of his ignorance

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      • You know me well enough 🙂

        Standard of journalism these days. Seriously. It. Is. Appalling.

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        • makagutu says:

          You didn’t teach them before you left? I mean how can such sloppiness be allowed to stand in a paper with such wide circulation?

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          • Haha. I moved into management for more money and left that silly writing thing alone. But the standard of guardian writing these days is terrible. It’s like they have kids off the street wet between their ears. It’s mostly airy fairy opinion, which is rubbish. News analysis is crap. I think the only decent writer I have read is Chakrabati (or some such). He does decent social analysis. The rest is dross. Utter detritus. Better off reading blogs.

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          • makagutu says:

            It is not just the Guardian. I see what passes in our papers as journalism and shudder

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          • The issue however, is the Grauniad *used* to be seen as decent reporting, even if it did have a few misspellings (hence Grauniad).

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  3. limey says:

    Here in limeyland the BBC have a TV series called ‘Who do you think you are’. Where a well known public person goes over their family history.

    Over the weekend I watched an episode which featured a TV presenter whose family moved to the UK from India before she was born (or maybe when small). It turns out that one of her great grand parents was a writer and the programme featured some of his comments on the horrors that occurred during partition from the perspective of those who lived there.

    I genuinely felt for the TV presenter featured because she had fully adopted the British culture, having grown up here, and here she was faced with the horrors of the past told in a way which shone a poor light on the British legacy there. This was a story from her own family history which she did not know but was an important story to hear and it brought her to tears.

    Yeah, not everything that the British did in the lands they conquered was great, and much of what was great was only great because it was self serving. They would not have done it if it wasn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      That’s interesting limey
      How does she square the two or she was blissfully unaware of the other and will quickly forget it

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      • limey says:

        The programme didn’t dwell on that so I can’t answer. it is a personal interest series after all, not a political commentary.

        I suspect that she will see it as something that happened in the past and while it was awful and the policies then should be condemned, it isn’t something that Britain does now.

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  4. Tish Farrell says:

    A very silly article indeed. And I really don’t know how the Belgian Congo came into it, or Burundi – a whole new horror story in the colonial history of Central Africa, and actually not down to the British. One thing the British did in East Africa when they invaded was curb the slave trade, although I think it took until 1920 to put the lid on it in Lamu. One could argue that in much of Africa the colonials moved in on the tails of the slave traders who had caused massive social disruption and misery. But you are so right – to imagine that the British had a philanthropic perspective on say, the building of the Uganda Railway is very naïve. In the long slow build up to WW1 it was to built to protect the Nile headwaters from presumed German saboteurs and so protect Suez. Also to facilitate all the riches the Brits imagined were there for the taking in Uganda. It was totally bonkers, and many politicians at the time thought so, but they were more concerned with the cost to British taxpayers than the effect of the railway on the locals.

    When the German ‘threat’ fizzled out and Uganda proved not so plunderable, the pro-railway lot then had to justify the line by encouraging ‘gentleman’ ranch and plantation settlers into Kenya so they could produce export goods, thereby carving up the cultivatable territory that has created the land problems that Kenya has today. The British did not encourage education. There were mission schools, and all that those entailed in terms of undermining local cultures and communities. Kenyans who wanted a higher education had to go abroad, and there was much official opposition to educating Africans beyond clerk level. Likewise local cultures were actively squashed. The aim was to ‘civilise’ Africans sufficiently so they would buy British goods, but in the meantime they could provide cheap labour and pay taxes all for the privilege of living on reserves in their own land. Africa and its peoples were only ever seen as a resource by colonial occupiers.

    And I know you know all this, but I thought I’d stick my oar in as a Brit. The irony of Mr Akaki’s article in his borderless, lawless and warring tribes angle is that he is espousing the colonial rewriting of African history. Another example of Ngugi wa Thiongo’s ‘colonisation of the mind’. Very cross-making on a Monday morning.

    Have a good week.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Arkenaten says:

    Ah, yes … Colonialism. ”Where’s me pith hat, Carruthers, what?”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. john zande says:

    My mother always said, and in many, many ways she was right, “Just thank your lucky stars it was the British, and not the French, the Spanish, or the Portuguese who settled Australia.”

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  7. renudepride says:

    An excellent rebuttal to the original source. The modern world is a disaster bordering on destruction and the blame lies with imperialism.Great post to start the week, my Kenyan brother. Naked hugs!

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  8. Highly disrespectful article…
    Shortened and honest it would read:
    “They came to take.
    They brought tools to take.
    They took what they came for.
    They’ve left.
    They’ve left some tools…”

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  9. Akaki writes with a very narrow mindset. He doesn’t see the bigger picture which makes me wonder about his age and education. Many learned people know of the brutalities of the colonial administration since the Berlin Conference that divided Africa. The question I personally can’t seem to get over is why aren’t we learning from the pain of the past? Why do African leaders (at the neglect of the real job of governance) continue to carry bowls and continue to knock on the doors of their former colonial masters to beg for loans when there is gold, diamond and oil under their very feet? This absurd situation may have influenced Akaki to naively conclude that the British were charitable after all. It’s obvious where he gets his “facts” from – Radio and TV shows.

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  10. basenjibrian says:

    Happily, the new Empire, China, is now swooping in to pillage. At least Chinese pillaging is a little bit less brutal than the western version. But, the Chinese still prop up the local WABENZI, so….

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