Laws and Colonialism

The late, Dr. Amos Wilson, once said that laws are just rules; yet those simple rules are like wrecking balls in the lives of black and brown people. Colonialism also has capitalistic components and laws have legalized colonialism whereas subjecting oppressed people to poverty.

Colonialism has been effective, because the colonizers have crafted laws to maintain power over their subjects. Laws have been used to solidify the actions of the oppressor who created privileges’ for themselves while undermining economic prospects for their targets.

In this video, I look at the life of the late Nelson Mandela who spent close to thirty years in prison. Mandela’s only crime was challenging the ways of the Dutch who aimed to dominate South Africa. He would later be subjected to a lengthy sentence that ended his marriage, the deaths of a child and his mother while serving, and the exploitation he witnessed while in prison. Mandela would detail the ugly side of colonialism in South Africa in his memoir, A Long Walk to Freedom.

Mandela’s imprisonment is the story of many black males and females whose lives have been damaged by Eurocentrism(White-Supremacy). Whenever, Europe installed its presence in the colonies, the brutal installment of law came thereafter. Subsequently, the world would see mass incarceration of black and brown people and the detachment from their families. Prison is used to solve problems and laws are clandestinely created to accommodate the colonist’s agenda.

Book Takeaways: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney

The late Dr. Walter Rodney gave the world the greatest case study about Africa when he wrote the book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. In the book, the reader will uncover the culture(s) of African people and their lives before-and-after Europe’s invasion.

Africa’s true contributions to the world will need analysis, because of Europe’s existence on the continent. Europe(west) re-arranged the trajectory of Africa’s destiny with the agenda to divide-and-conquer African people and their territories. As a result, the continent’s resources continue to be plundered but to the disadvantage of African people. 

The different tribes/clans in Africa were writing their own history before the European countries of Portugal, Belgium, France, Great Britain, and Germany entered. The continent experienced vibrant cultural definitions, which were connected to communities and cultural expressions. Dr. Walter Rodney wrote that, “In Africa, before the fifteenth century, the predominant principle of social relations was that of family and kinship associated with communalism.”

To give the reader a greater understanding of Africa’s cultural values, Dr. Rodney explained how labor was conducted:

Similarly, the labor that worked the land was generally recruited on a family basis. A single family or household would till its own plots and it would also be available to share certain joint farming activities with other members of the extended family or clan.

Europe’s presence separated land between the tribes and subsequently created friction between people. This strategy would create the foundation for the implementation of Europe’s capitalistic goals, which differed from the communal rudiment that was in Africa. 

Why did Europe go to Africa?

Europe lacked adequate resources to sustain its civilization, so western European countries used that reasoning for economic supremacy abroad. Consequently, Africa/Middle-East became the target due to their advanced infrastructures which were developed before the birth of Europe. 

Rodney explained the “two general rules” in which he described how opposing dynamics within a capitalist explanation can create different outcomes. He said, “First, the weaker of the two societies(i.e., the one with less economic capacity) is bound to be adversely affected- and the bigger the gap between the two societies concerned the more detrimental are the consequences.” 

Dr. Walter explained Europe’s situation as this:

Inside Western Europe itself, some nations grew rich at the expense of others. Britain, France, Belgium, and Germany were the most prosperous nations. Poverty prevailed in Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and southern Italy. Inside the British, French, and German economies, the polarization of wealth was between the capitalists on the one hand and the workers and a few peasants on the other. 

The big capitalists got bigger and the little ones were eliminated. In many important fields, such as iron and steel manufacture, textiles, and particularly banking, it was noticeable that two of three firms monopolized most of the business. The banks were also in a commanding position within the economy as a whole, providing capital to the big monopoly industrial firms.

Eventually the above countries with the exception of Ireland would secure protectorates beyond Europe. Land-grabbing and the implementation of Europe’s culture into the lives of non-Europeans gave birth to the terminology- colonialism. This was achieved with imperialistic incursions that made Europe rich through the labor and resources of African countries and African people. 

The example of how Europe was practice(d) with groups in the Caribbean and America was explained as:

For example, when European capitalism came into contact with the indigenous hunting societies of America and the Caribbean, the latter were virtually exterminated.

Additionally and according to Dr. Rodney:

Imperialism meant capitalist expansion. It meant that European (and North American and Japanese) capitalists were forced by the internal logic of their competitive system to seek abroad in less developed countries opportunities to control raw material supplies , to find markets, and to find profitable fields of investment…

Dr. Rodney stated that, “The centuries of trade with Africa contributed greatly to that state  of affairs where European capitalists were faced with the necessity to expand in a big way outside their national economies.”

Colonization was used in Africa, because of Africa’s valuable natural resources. To achieve this goal; Europe crafted a mission to rob Africa of its wealth and identity.

Dr. Rodney used this angle:

Imperialism is essentially an economic phenomenon, and it does not necessarily lead to direct political control or colonization. However, Africa was the victim of colonization. In the period of the notorious “Scramble for Africa,” Europeans made a grab for whatever they thought spelled profits in Africa, and they even consciously acquired many areas not for immediate exploitation but with an eye to the future.

The resources in Africa have always been lucrative for European countries and to the extent of the carving of African countries by Europe. The borders between Africa’s countries were crafted without any African country present in 1884-1885 by European nations. Since then, the continent has become a playground for Europe’s unhealthy appetite for socio-economic dominance. Even in the 21st century world, the social effect of that advantage has given European nations like Germany, France, and Great Britain geo-political privileges over the lives of non-Europeans. 

Modern-day companies like De Beers diamonds in South Africa emerged  successfully since its inception. De Beers’ ownership started with the infamous, Cecil Rhodes in 1887-1888 . The goal was to monopolize the mines and to sell the diamonds in London. This was accomplished with phases of imperialistic strategies, which enabled the company to grow into the conglomerate that it is today. 

According to Sarah Cords of History of Yesterday:

In the late 1800s, South African mines began producing a massive amount of diamonds. For a stone that had previously derived almost all of its value from its rarity, this was actually a disastrous turn of events. Eventually, the British industrialists who owned those mines determined that they had to set up a business cartel to exert more control over diamond supply and marketing. And so De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. (now simply De Beers) was born. 

Consequences of Colonialism:

Upon reading Dr. Walter Rodney’s book, I could see the pattern of colonialism and its continuation into the 21st century world. His book raised my understanding of how colonialism is not a past idea that should remain sealed. Instead, colonialism has been an influential force that is still governing socio-political systems.

Dr. Rodney wrote this in his case study:

Colonialism went much further than trade. It meant a tendency towards direct appropriation by Europeans of the social institutions within Africa.

This reference to “social institutions” which were impacted due to colonialism helped me to see the layers of destruction, which were used toward oppressed people.  I was able to connect information from Dr. Rodney’s book to what I knew about ancient African civilizations to see the phases of disruption that was caused by Europe. 

In his analysis, Dr. Rodney concluded that, “The negative impact of colonialism in political terms was quite dramatic. Overnight, African political states lost their power, independence, and meaning- irrespective of whether they were big empires or small polities.”

Excerpts about existing socio-political bodies in Africa before Europe- according to Walter Rodney:

> It should be made that the groundwork for the socio-political development of the Aja or Fon people of Dahomey was laid down in the period preceding the influence of Europe on West Africa.

> European travelers who have left written accounts of Zululand in Shaka’s time were impressed by the cleanliness (as they were in Benin in the fifteenth century) and they were equally struck by the social order, absence of theft, sense of security(just as were the Arabs who traveled in the Western Sudan during its period of imperial greatness).

> The interlacustrine kingdoms fell mainly in what is now Uganda , Rwanda, and Burundi. Only in the northeast of Tanzania are there representatives of the interlacustrine complex of states. 

> The westernmost portion of the interlacustrine zone comprised the king-doms of Rwanda and Burundi. The two countries which today bear those names are centered around the old kingdoms. 

> The Arabs had acquired Africans as slaves for centuries, but they were exploited in a feudal context. African slaves in Arab hands became domestics, soldiers, and agricultural serfs.

Colonialism is systemic and it is institutionalized in the same way as racism is. Many educators and psychologists have contributed to the evidence of examining colonialism and its workings. Dr. Walter Rodney was one of many intellectuals who discussed the depthness of Europe’s cultural immersion into the lives of non-Europeans. 

The occupation of people and their borders are not just ways of the past. The current geo-political landscape of those who colonized and that of the colonized still shows a relationship. European countries which were in Africa still view the continent as protectorates; in addition, to the Americas and the Caribbean where their culture-of-control continued. 

Finally, even independence from European nations did not completely remove Europeans from the continent. Instead, the presence of European languages can be heard by many people of African descent. Also, the “social institutions” citation that was mentioned by Dr. Rodney holds an attachment to colonial powers. Sadly, Africa’s story received snippets of European culture which are meshed into its social fabric. 

Cords, Sarah. (2021, February). The Dark History of Diamonds and De Beers. History of Yesterday.