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Colonialism never really came to an end; it only changed it’s shape

The doctrine of imperialism, essentially justification for external control of one people by another, manifests itself in many ways amongst them being varieties of colonialism.

These are classical/territorial colonialism, neo-colonialism, and postmodern colonialism. In Africa, classical colonialism was European political governance based on beliefs in racial superiority of the white people which required poverty creation as a tool of control and exploitation in the service of the empire.

Subsequent anti-colonial activities in Africa, therefore, tended to be racial and rarely challenged the structure of colonial control. This made independence a transfer of positions from white officials to black officials enjoying the same trappings of imperially derived powers to govern territories. Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah dubbed and popularised the continuing external control as neo-colonialism.

As a successor to classical/territorial colonialism that was political governance based on concepts of racial superiority, at least in Africa, neo-colonialism was a conceptual advancement in the doctrine of imperialism. It was essentially a leadership relationship, between leaders in the master states and leaders in the client states. The master states like the United States, France and Britain, protected leaders in the client states often against their own people and in return leaders in client states protected the corporate and geopolitical interests of the master states in their countries.

The failures of this doctrine of control forced a reassessment and dumping of the entire neo-colonial doctrine because it failed to protect the perceived interests of the master states. The alternative was post-modern colonialism which did away with ‘leaders’ in client states in favour of globally powerful institutions as instruments of state control and exploitation.

The glaring failures in neo-colonialism, as control doctrine, were many in the Global South and forced rethinking. Among the first was in Vietnam, leading to virtual civil in the United States. It was propelled by what David Halberstam called The Best and the Brightest of the Americans obsessed with defeating semblances of communism/socialism and full of disdain for nationalist aspirations.

This obsession and disdain manifested themselves in 1953 in Iran by overthrowing Mohamed Mossadeq and in Guatemala in 1954 by overthrowing reformist Arbenz. In Vietnam, the US thought it was better than France, sabotaged an election because the Vietcong were likely to win, and then inched its way into what became the Vietnam War; it lost in the 1970s. Since it similarly lost in Angola, Iran, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, the ‘why’ question arose. It concluded that the fault was in the support it gave to the chosen ‘leaders’ of the client states who had outlived their usefulness. This was blame shifting in order to dump ‘friends’ and adopt alternative means of controlling client states.

If control and exploitation through ‘leaders’ was no longer fruitful, the alternative was a new form of ‘indirect’ rule. Post-modern colonialism made leaders in client states lose power and become irrelevant. It uses supposedly independent institutions that de-border states and have capacity to destabilise countries that fail to conform to given dictates. In the new control doctrine, countries such as Kenya found themselves answering to non-governmental organisations, civil society organs, the IMF, World Bank, and giant media.

As condition for getting ‘aid’ or loans, leaders were forced to downsize such essential services as health and education. With universities losing their ability to generate knowledge, countries outsourced advice on policy. As in classical colonialism, leaders in client states became creators of poverty and enhanced under-development even as they individually became rich as they failed to deliver services. The master states often hid behind these institutions whose global reach was beyond the capacity of small client states and could mount destabilisation forces to make client states comply.

Post-modern colonialism replaced the failing neo-colonialism as a doctrine of control. It uses institutional proxies to exploit client states, instead of ‘individuals’, to advance the interests of master states. It is subtle in shifting blame to victims.

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Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU

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