Reverse Colonization

NPR’s European correspondent Sylvia Poggioli filed this piece on Friday. Titled “Portuguese Seeking Opportunities in Former Colonies” it takes a breezy look at how the economic crisis in Portugal has sent the Portuguese to the shores of former colonies in search of employment. A number of such articles have circulated in the international press in the last year. Like the others, Poggioli’s article settles for the easy irony of angry everyman opinion in place of in-depth analysis. It makes for a quick, four-minute piece with provocative sound bites (and why should I complain, it gave me something to post about?) but lacks anything but the most superficial sense of history. Enough of my blathering. Let’s just dig right in, shall we?

First, this is not about the former colonies, in the plural, it is really about Angola. Angola was the jewel in the Portuguese imperial crown – their India, their Algeria (get the picture?) – the former colony that created the most bitterness at independence that followed a grueling 13-year anti-colonial war.

As Portugal’s economy is tanking, Angola’s is booming, Angola being the second largest producer of oil on the African continent after Nigeria. Poggioli notes that Portuguese workers are headed to Angola to work in construction, restaurants and hotels. While Poggioli interviews a man on the street standing in line at the Angolan embassy waiting for a visa, she does not note that Portuguese companies – precisely in the industries she names – are invested in Angola and profiting there.

But the relationship between Portugal and Angola is never a straightforward economic one, even when for hundreds of years Portugal exploited the former colony through the slave trade, forced labor (that continued until the 1960s) and unequal terms of trade. These economic relations also did political work in the form of empire for the Portuguese monarchy, the Portuguese republic and the fascist dictatorship of António Salazar. It’s worth keeping this political history in mind, and the fact that the institutions and administration of colonial Angola did not include Angolans except at the lowest level of civil service. Colonial rule was an authoritarian system. The institutions of state that the independent Angolan government inherited at independence were not built to facilitate democracy, very much to the contrary in fact.

So when the editor of the financial daily Negócios, Pedro Santos Guerreiro says: “people have to give up some of their beliefs in order to be in a regime that demands more from people than it should,” he exposes a huge blind spot in his knowledge of that history. And when one is a foreigner in a country one never exercises the same rights as the local citizens – one does not, for example, vote. Mr. Guerreiro, in a sense, forgets that Angola is no longer a part of metropolitan Portugal.

Then there is the quote from the foreign investment lawyer, Tiago Caidado Guerreiro, who says that “we’re being colonized after 500 years by them,” referring to investments by Angolans in the Portuguese economy. True, wealthy, politically powerful Angolans have been buying up parcels of Portuguese companies, but that does not equal colonization, not by a long shot. Angolans are not, for example, creating settler colonies in Portugal, or changing the nature and character of local institutions of education, government and culture.

The final concern registered in the article is that this new economic interest (and it isn’t just Angola but…surprise!: China, Poggioli is careful to point out) is not so transparent. This is similar to Guerreiro’s concern but the space is now Portugal not Angola.

The initial post-colonial fear was manifested as fortress Europe, i.e. constraints on African immigration, the battle over the veil in France, etc. That was how the empire struck back, as one small green collection of post-colonial essays put it. Portugal, as Poggioli represents it, seems roiled by a mix of humiliation, resentment, hyperbole and lack of historical understanding as large numbers of Portuguese again (they did so in the 1950s) migrate to Angola for economic opportunities and Portuguese intellectuals claim that Portugal is being colonized by an authoritarian Angola.

But what is really at stake here? Is it that the Portuguese fear they will be as badly oppressed by those whom they oppressed? As economically dependent on those who were once economically dependent on them? And all they can do is dress up this primal fact in an Atlantic Charter type discourse about democracy? In the end, the only people they really have to blame are their own, democratically elected, leaders, many of whom are quite close to the Angolan President they are critiquing.

12 thoughts on “Reverse Colonization

  1. “But Miguel Gaspar, deputy editor of the daily Publico, is worried about the lack of transparency in business and the questionable labor practices of Portugal’s new financial partners.”

    Since when has the Portuguese establishment ever been concerned with the Futungo’s probity?

  2. African dictators have always put their loot into Europe – that they would invest instead of hoard seems like a kind of improvement of mentalities. Instead of calling it re-colonization, the migration of Europeans to make a living in Africa is rather a neo-colonization, if we should call it like that. Yet the terms of engagement seem different. The young Portuguese woman with her little boutique I encountered on Tofo beach seemed quite a different ‘colonizer’ than her foremothers.

  3. I dont know if this counts as reverse colonialism. I would envision reverse colonialism as Angolan Businesses owning everything in Portugal and the government of Portugal being highly indebted to Angola. If and when this happens, I think the tag reverse colonialism can be used. I see this as Portugal and the Portuguese using Angola to help reduce the effects of their economic collapse. The bottom line should be, does this favor the people of Angola?

    • Yes, I agree Sir Fariku, more Angolans won’t have jobs because the invasion of Portuguese to work in construction, oil companies, restaurants, fashion, television, and so on. Yes, Angolans did the same, when they went to Portugal to work in the same areas, but with a difference they were never in top positions. I am sad for the poor Angolan people, without a godfather (connections) in the system.

  4. I too agree, Sir Fariku. And I should have put a “?” after the title. I do not think this is Reverse Colonization, I rather meant to call into question that characterization by the Portuguese interviewed in Ms. Poggioli’s piece.

  5. The effects of colonialism past and present are visible all over Africa. Africans are torn away from their past, propelled into a universe fashioned from outside that suppresses their values, and dumbfounded by a cultural invasion that marginalises them.

    Africa is the Mother of Humanity. Africa is the cradle of the first human civilisation and that for thousands of years…Africa was in the forefront of all world progress. The First Renaissance on this planet was the African Renaissance. Africa was “the first world” economically and technologically. Africans built the pyramids which even in this 21st century no one can reproduce.

    The “Atlantic” Ocean was called the Ethiopian Sea as late as 1626 and the so-called “Indian” Ocean the Azanian Sea. Azanians stimulated trade with the East. The people of Azania whose country colonialists called “South Africa” through the British imperialist Union of South Africa Act 1909; mined gold and copper in Mapungubwe as early as the 9th century.

    Africa has suffered the worst genocide and holocaust at the hands of the architects of slavery and colonialism. What is called “European Renaissance” was the worst darkness for Africa’s people. Armed with the technology of the gun and the compass it copied from China, Europe became a menace for Africa against her spears. So-called “civilised” Europe also claiming to be “Christian” came up with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. There was massive loss of African population and skills. Some historians have estimated that the Gold Coast (today’s Ghana) alone, lost 5,000 to 6,000 of its people to slavery every year for four hundred years.

    What would have been Britain’s level of development had millions of her people been put to work as slaves out of their country over a period of four centuries?

    As if slavery had not already done enough damage to Africa’s people, European leaders met in Germany from December 1884 to February 1885 at the imperialist Berlin Conference. The Belgian King Leopold stated the purpose of the Berlin Conference as “How we should divide among ourselves this magnificent African cake.”

    Africa was thus plunged into another human tragedy. Through the Berlin Treaty of 26 February 1885, the European imperialists sliced Africa into “Portuguese Africa”, “British Africa”, “German Africa”, “Italian Africa,” “Spanish Africa”, “French Africa” and “Belgian Africa.” There was no Africa left for Africans except Ethiopia, encircled by paupers of land dispossessed people who were now the reservoir of cheap native labour for their dispossessors.

    Somalia, a tiny African country, had the misfortune of becoming “British Somaliland”, “Italian Somaliland”, and “French Somaliland.” Colonial brutality on the colonised Africans knew no bounds. Here are a few examples of atrocities committed against Africans by colonialists. A British philosopher, Betrand Russell wrote about some of these colonial atrocities perpetrated by Belgium in the Congo in the name of “Western Christian Civilisation.” Russell wrote, “Each village was ordered by the authorities to collect and bring in a certain amount of rubber – as much as the men could bring in by neglecting all work for their own maintenance.

    If they failed to bring the required amount, their women were taken away and kept as hostages…in the harems of colonial government employees. If this method failed…troops were sent to the village to spread terror, if necessary by killing some of the men…they were ordered to bring one right hand amputated from an African victim for every cartridge used.” (Introduction To African Civilisations, John G. Jackson 310-311)

    The result of these atrocities according to Sir H.H. Johnston was the reduction of the African population in the Congo from twenty million to nine million people in fifteen years.

    The worst genocide also occurred in Namibia in 1904. Namibia was then a German colony. The Herero people resisted German colonialism. A well armed army under General Lothar von Trotha defeated the Hereros at the Battle of Waterberg. The German colonial aggressors drove these Africans from their land to the desert where there was no water. Seventy percent of the Herero population died of dehydration in that desert. In South Africa the Khoisan people were exterminated by colonialists after being hunted like animals and dispossessed of their land.

    In 1830 the French occupied most of the coastal plains of modern day Algeria and gradually began to root their colonial occupation into local communities. Indigenous tribes supplied soldiers for auxiliary colonial troops called Harkis and the Jews were recruited as local officials. From 1845 rabbis from the French mainland were sent to local Jewish communities “to inculcate unconditional obedience to the laws, loyalty to France, and the obligation to defend it.” The French government granted Algerian Jews French citizenship in 1870, putting them on a par with the French colonists from the mainland.

    During the 19th century most Jews in North Africa discarded local customs and clothing in favor of the French language, culture and dress. Their affiliation with French culture and power also brought Jews protection, as in Tunisia after 1855. After a legal dispute with the local Arab Prince about blasphemy, the French emperor Napoleon III intervened with a naval force in favor of the Jews. Jews were subsequently granted equal religious rights but more legal rights than locals: Jewish assessors were attached to criminal courts to provide input on the sentences incurred by Jews charged with crimes in order to safeguard a fair trial.

    Jewish collusion with the French in the occupation of North Africa, ultimately encompassing Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, had also negative side-effects in regions which were not firmly in French control. In Morocco, which remained independent until the beginning of the 20th century, Jews were always targeted by the public when the French launched military campaigns against Morocco or other local powers defying French expansion. Jews were seen as traitors by the local population, which were deprived of the right to vote and were economically deprived in favor of French settlers and their Jewish henchmen.

    In Algeria the number of French citizens reached 1.4 million in 1961 (13% of the total population), including 140,000 Jews (10% of all French citizens). Those settlers dominated public life in the big cities, enjoyed colonial privileges and were in control of the economy. Jews were often the middlemen between the French rulers and the local subjects, because they knew the country best. The local Muslim population resented French occupation, not in the least place by their display of cultural-religious power by erecting huge cathedrals and synagogues. The Algerian war of independence was an exceptionally brutal one with terrorism, torture and murder squads from both sides. It was been estimated that approximately 1,000,000 Algerians lost their lives in the struggle for independence.

    The French in Algeria had the ruthless parachute general Massu and the OAS (Organisation de l’armée secret: Secret Army), which was ultimately suppressed by none other than De Gaulle. De Gaulle granted Algeria independence in 1962, which led to the exodus of French colonials (Pieds noirs: blackfeet) and their Jewish collaborators. In the newly founded Algerian republic, both Christians and Jews were excluded from Algerian citizenship in revenge for support for the French occupation.

    Most Jews left Algeria for France but a substantial portion went to Israel, the post-colonial apartheid state in the Middle East. Israel was founded in 1948 by a Jewish settler-minority from Europe, which deposed the Arab majority by brutal expulsion. The remaining natives were politically disenfranchized and economically exploited, similar to the French occupation of Algeria. It was (and is) seen as an offspring of European colonial domination: for example, the Balfour Declaration of 1916 by the colonial power Britain, and the Israel’s siding with the colonial powers France and Great-Britain against Egypt during the Suez crisis in 1956.

    • “Africa has suffered the worst genocide and holocaust at the hands of the architects of slavery and colonialism.”

      I would dispute that. I would say that the colonisation of the Americas took a far greater toll than in Africa. The main evidence is this: the vast majority of Africans today are indigenous. The vast majority of Americans are not. Furthermore, the slave trade did a lot to increase the Afroid race ultimately in new territories, in Europe and the Americas.

      The final evidence is this: You are here to put forth the narrative. The reasons we are not hearing so loudly about the genocide of the Tainos or the plains indians is not that their story is less tragic; simply that their decimated (or destroyed) populations have by now been mostly forgotten by the world, leaving only silence.

      History is a numbers game. If the French had settled Algeria more thoroughly and formed a majority I am certain the revolution would have succeeded. We would be used to a white, Christian, francophone Algeria, in much the same way as we are used to a white, Christian, anglophone USA. We would be treating the berber’s stories of mistreatment with the same curious irrelevance with which we treat the stories of the plains indians.

      If the Portuguese had settled Angola enough to create a majority or engaged in wars of extermination against the natives; likewise, it would be a creole nation of similar character to Brazil or Argentina, and the modern Angolans would be less concerned with that part of history. But in Africa that tipping point was never reached, and African nationalism was able to succeed in reversing European domination.

      It would however be naive to suggest that European colonisation was entirely negative. It has brought the larger part of the world into modernity and brought countless improvements to many lives. The idea that everything was just fine in Mexico, or in the Congo before the white man came, is plainly ridiculous. The Mayans slaughtered their own people in the thousands, the Bantus engaged in genocide and enslavement of entire tribes, the Maoris enslaved their neighbours without mercy. The Arab conquest of North Africa was not noted for its gentleness.

      Hopefully Africa will be able to move on from the lamentable episodes of the past and construct a mature relationships with its past; nurture interchange, assimilation, immigration, development, which have emerged as being the great strengths of countries like Canada and Brazil. Monoculture has never been healthy.

  6. “Angolans are not establishing settler colonies”. No, not as such, but many thousands of Angolans have made Portugal their home since 1975 and have become a significant and integral part of Portuguese demography. There is nothing wrong with this. Nor should the migration of jobless Portuguese to the ‘former colony’ be ringing alarm bells with the left-leaning intelligentsia. It has to go both ways and both peoples have plenty to offer one another.

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