The rise of imperialism…with untold suffering for the colonised

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THE material voracity, cultural domination and self-aggrandisement characteristic of European colonisation as well as the use of religion and racism to justify the pillage and massacre of non-Europeans are evident in the Crusades.
The Crusades begun in 1095 when Pope Urban II appealed to all Christians to defend the Eastern Orthodox Christians against Muslims, liberate Jerusalem and enable Christian pilgrims’ safe passage.
The reason that the Catholic Church, the most powerful and wealthiest institution in Europe at the time, was facing mounting pressure from competing kings and warlords who were threatening the Church’s hegemonic authority and land monopoly in Europe.
By the same token, European kings sought to unify their people and expand their own power by joining the Crusades against Muslims, while the general populace found an opportunity in the Crusades for personal wealth and glory in the plunder of Muslims.
They believed in the Pope’s promise, that of forgiving their sins if they killed the ‘infidels’.
They fully believed and had complete confidence they would return home wealthy and glorious as well as free from sin.
The various motives for the Crusades included the desire for power, wealth, spiritual salvation, personal glory and especially a need to construct coherent European identities against an external enemy.
The massacre and pillage of Muslims and Jews alike during the Crusades unified Europeans with the myth of a superior race waging a just war on behalf of God.
The colonisation of the Americas and Africa, centuries later, offered Europeans new opportunities for material exploitation, cultural domination and self-aggrandisement through claims of religious and racial superiority.
Not only did the distinction between Europeans and non-Europeans become more tangible, but also the distinction of races became a convenient justification for exploitation.
This distinction of races and associated claim of natural superiority enabled them to carry out cataclysmic assaults through the use of maximum violence on indigenous people that later became widespread.
The first of these cataclysmic colonial attacks was on the land of the conquered peoples to exploit their natural resources such as gold, silver and other commodities.
The second colonial assault was the conquering of the people to obtain free labour and other exploitations.
The third colonial assault was changing indigenous religions, knowledge and identities as well as indigenous identities.
The colonisation of America was to subsequently fuel the capture, transport and enslavement of millions of Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean.
The Atlantic Slave Trade remains the largest importation of slaves in the history of the world.
This trade not only caused immense suffering for persons forced into slavery, but also enabled Europeans to expand their colonial settlements in the New World and earn substantial capital for themselves that ultimately financed the Industrial Revolution.
With new wealth and industry, they developed better technology with which to further conquer and exploit others.
Slavery pauperised and depopulated the African continent, stealing its young and productive members while derailing the political history and economic development of its people.
Furthermore, this system of slavery consolidated the ‘dominant-dominated’ relations between Europeans and non-Europeans; making racism the primary justification for colonial exploitation and appropriation of their lands.
The Atlantic Slave Trade, therefore, intensified the mix of different motives that included greed for material possession and consumption, combined with racism and self-aggrandisement, that began with the Crusades.
Slavery ended when it no longer was economically productive because the burgeoning Industrial Revolution made it inefficient and dispensable.
Yet the West’s pursuit of profit, racism and self-aggrandisement did not end. Instead, it grew more vicious with the development of industries that now required additional raw materials, cheaper or free labour and new, additional markets for their manufactured goods.
Thus, colonialism provided a convenient alternative to satisfy all these needs.
Like the Atlantic Slave Trade and the colonisation of the Americas, when colonialism in Africa, including in Zimbabwe, took place in the 19th Century, it was through organised systemic violence which was continuous, methodic and willful. It was not only integral to capitalism, but also co-existent with racism, cultural domination and European self-glorification.
Whereas slavery focused on exploiting isolated and captive individuals, the submission and exploitation of entire populations required sophisticated methods and numerous agents.
The first point of colonial assault was thus the occupation of land by force of arms.
Taking control of the land provided the colonisers with the raw materials they needed and the geo-political advantage they required in the competition among themselves for the colonies.
After the occupation of the land came the control of the population.
This was achieved mainly through the help of the missionaries, not only to gain cheap or free labour and markets for manufactured goods, but also the gradual erosion of indigenous traditions and beliefs — the very essence of self.
Therefore, instead of exploiting defenseless individuals in alien lands as in slavery; colonialism made it possible to hold entire populations captive in their own land; thus forcing them to serve the same economic, racial and self-serving motives that gave rise to, and sustained, the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Lasting occupation of land, exploitation of human beings, plundering material resources, plus quelling any resistance, all required the erosion of social bonding, indigenous beliefs, values, identities and indigenous knowledge systems.
This was achieved by means of a plethora of different agents, among them missionaries, anthropologists, physicians, the fourth estate and an ever-increasing tide of new settlers.
Since violence and outside propaganda alone could not sustain oppression, the colonisers had to resort to local agents to assist in carrying out the colonial mission.
The most important of these agents were individuals serving as subordinates or educated in colonial missionary schools within the colonial system.
Similarly converted African clergy were among the most misguided influential agents of colonialism in Africa.
When the demise of colonialism in Africa began to take hold, beginning in 1956 when Ghana became independent, followed in the 1960s by the formal independence of more African countries and others in the 1970s, and in the case of Zimbabwe, in 1980, not surprisingly, their anti-colonial rhetoric focused on the liberalisation and return of the land.
Conversely, Cecil John Rhodes, as the Crusaders before him, believed Britain had had a moral right to bring all uncivilised nations (like the infidels) under its rule. He also believed that sharing British imperialist ideals would benefit all humans, especially the uncivilised savages in darkest Africa. Hence Rhodes proclaimed:“…I contend that we are the finest race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. I contend that every acre added to our territory means the birth of more of the English race who otherwise would not be brought into existence.
Added to this, the absorption of the greater portion of the world under our rule simply means the end of all wars. The objects one should work for are first the furtherance of the British Empire, the bringing of the whole uncivilised world under British rule, the recovery of the United States, the making of the Anglo-Saxon race but one Empire…”
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For comments e-mail: linamanucci@gmail.com

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