Has decolonisation positively impacted former colonies in the present times?

 

[1] Franz Fanon, a renowned anti-colonial Franco-Algerian political activist and philosopher. 

Many countries across the world has been under some type of formal or informal colonial rule at one point in their history. Whether it has been a British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese, German, Russian colony, a country has always been affected positively or negatively. In this article, I wish to use the three main global empires and their colonies – 1) British, 2) French and 3) Spain, as a medium to analyse the whether decolonisation process has been positive or negative within the overall economic, political and social situation. This will be discussed in each of the three respective colonies: 1) South Africa and Hong Kong, 2) Vietnam and New Caledonia and 3) Cuba. Again, I do appreciate your support and any comments for improvement with this very article is more than welcome.

Like always, before we begin the analysis, it is always important to comprehend the definition of decolonisation itself.  According to Oxford Dictionary, it is “when a state withdraws from a colony, thus leaving it independent” [2]. Furthermore, it is paramount to consider the level of improvement or faltering in a decolonised country. As you may know by now, I do always like to write controversial articles by mainly  posing many key questions to myself and to you, the reader. There are a web of questions that branch out: are the colonies still pretty much the same as it was during colonial times? Should we return to colonialism? Why should these countries stay as they are, as decolonised states? What positive or negative impacts have further emphasised this idea?

Franz Fanon 

As you may know, Franz Fanon was a political activist and philosopher of Franco-Algerian descent, who was dogmatic about the elements within anti-colonialism. Having been born and raised in the French colony of Martinique, together with the fact that Fanon had participated in the Second World War and Algerian War in 1958, this had greatly influenced Fanon’s ideals when writing his critique of racism and colonisation in Black Skin, White Masks [3].

Certainly, the title itself poses much significance in understanding Fanon’s stance. He argues that there is a relationship between the coloniser and the colonised, or indeed the black man in a ruling white class, is to be deemed as a norm. Despite initially considering himself French, the French racism had made Fanon disappointed, believing that this was detrimental to many Africans’ psychological health and well-being [3].  With this in mind, Fanon also argues that speaking French makes the colonised community more immersed into the colonisers’ culture, or indeed in the imagery, wears a “white mask” to conceal its own native opinions, almost blocking its projection of traditional opinions [3]. This is significant as by doing so, this is a negative impact of decolonisation, and prohibits the black man from having his own subjective views, as it has been already heavily influenced by the white and racist perspectives.

So how useful is Fanon’s argument in understanding the impact of decolonisation? Personally, I feel that Fanon definitely has a point, but having written his work as a manifesto, there has been some limitations into its feasibility. The colonised people who live in France and its colonies can still project its own ideas in French about its own native country. Simply because speaking a foreign and adopted language does not necessarily mean to conceal one’s identity or freedom of opinion. It is true that there are customs and traditions that the colonised subjects are to conform to within society, as the mask imagery suggested earlier.

However, this definitely depends on the period and the level of force used by the colonists. This is significant, as this is another example of negative impact within decolonisation, as illustrated through the film Entre les Murs or The Class. It shows that it can be a difficult situation with cultural identity in many adopted countries, where the colonised population or immigrants feel detached from the roots, unsure of their original footprint within the society. If you have not watched the movie itself, I do recommend you watching it to further understand my point. 

 

1) British colonies

[4] South African apartheid: the division between native blacks and the Afrikaans population caused major uproar throughout the continent and the world. 

South Africa

South Africa – imagine a bottle of old red wine, the residue never quite leaving the bottom of its container. Same can be said about what was left of the Anglo-Dutch colonialism in South Africa, and its overall negative remains of decolonisation. After many transitions in and out of decolonisation, firstly in 1934 from British rule, South Africa was finally decolonised in 1994 [5]. However, the remnants during the colonial times continued to stain the country socially and politically. This was and is still one of the richest and most powerful African countries, and yet frequent problems of corruption, racism, trailing towards extremist ideals of apartheid result in killings across the black and white population.

Decolonisation has definitely had a positive impact on South Africa, as it drove out the repressive white colonial rule by the Afrikaans and British governors. This was significant, as this meant white domination rather than having a more equal society. Despite the fact that not all racism and forms of decolonisation is eradicated, Nelson Mandela has improved the situation dramatically. Mandela was heavily involved with the African National Congress (ACN), as he fought for a multi-racial society in South Africa. This was significant, as this effort was repressed by the National Party and apartheid effort, forcing Mandela to trial and his eventual imprisonment in Robben Island prison and Pollsmoor prison during the early 1960’s onwards until his release in 1990 [6].

With such a recent process of decolonisation, South Africa has indeed come a long way in its rehabilitation. With the introduction of being included in the BRICS summit, the football World Cup of 2010 and more policies under Jacob Zuma, this is significant, as this is indeed an example of positive impact in the decolonisation process, meaning that the country is able to compete on a global scale economically and politically, whilst still fighting for more equality amongst the various races in the country.

Hong Kong 

With Hong Kong, the decolonisation process is interesting in its own right. Since the handover to China in 1997 and one of the latest British colonies to decolonise, there has been and still an ongoing identity crisis amongst the Cantonese local population – whether to return to the more stable, but regulated British government, or the more authoritarian and Communist rule of the mainland as a Chinese province.

The population has replicated many Western styles and attitudes in all three of social, political and economic areas from the British rule. For example, under the Basic Law, China has recognised the ‘one country, two systems’ policy, allowing Hong Kong to freely improve or alter any rule of law independently for 50 years since its handover to China from Britain in 1997 [7].  This is significant, as this shows a positive impact that Hong Kong is able to govern itself with its own ideals and incentives, despite having the mainland Chinese government imposing increasingly more restrictions on its freedom of speech and policy-making. This is a complicated situation, where again, many citizens are divided on the loyalty of either the British or the Chinese mainland. For more information, do check out my previous post about Hong Kong and its identity during and post-colonialism

2) French colonies

[8] Many French architectural buildings show remnants of its colonial past in Vietnam – but how does it compare now? 

Vietnam 

Since the Vietnamese victory in Franco-Vietnamese War, the country has been able to reestablish itself to secure a better politico-economic situation. It must be considered that with the combined Vietnamese effort from the Vietminh and Vietcong, this successfully defeated the French colonists in 1954 and the American effort to prevent another domino from falling, at the end of another proxy war in 1973. This was key, as Vietnam was left heavily crippled economically as a heavy consequence of the war effort [9].

However, since the late 1980s, the Vietnamese government has introduced more free-market reforms and Western styles of economy and policy, attracting more foreign investment. This has made many Vietnamese nouveau riche population confident in spending their money, particularly in big-name brands like Louis Vuitton and Burberry [10]. This is significant, as putting problems of democracy, capitalism and inequality aside, this does show a positive impact of decolonisation, where the Vietnamese economy has been running more smoothly with higher expenditure from the general population.

New Caledonia 

New Caledonia is a more recent international and political affair that has caused extreme controversy within the French overseas government and the UN. Since the late 19th century, New Caledonia became an important French outpost in the Polynesian Islands, primarily to raise competition within the region against the British colony in New Zealand. There has been a divided opinion between self-independence and loyalty since the 1970s, the UN has heavily suggested a referendum by the natives of the Pacific island, offering ideals of “sovereignty, freedom and greater autonomy from France” [11]. This is another example of negative process of decolonisation, where the country is again tied between freeing itself from a patriarchal colonial power or whether to retain its much sought-after independence. As shown, many countries are too anxious about not having the protection of an overlying power, as it has become to dependent on its resources and aid to function stably and effectively. 

The French government responded with a very protective stance and argued it was a central part of its republic, much like the Netherland Antilles or the British Caribbean Commonwealth territories. There has been a complicated and prolonged process and impact of decolonisation, where many leaders within the region particularly New Zealand Prime Minister Malielegaoi, has demanded the Pacific Island to find the most suitable way to solve the problem of independence in the country [11]. The question still remains, will the island ever become independent? If so, will there be or is it necessary to have another revolution to topple the government? Only time will tell…

3) Spanish colonies  

[12] The Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898) posed another historical that weighs the feasibility of colonialism. 

Cuba 

Cuba is a negative case of the decolonising period under the American intervention in the Cuban War of Independence and Spanish-American War. With the Spanish being increasingly more aggressive in their pursuit of riches in Cuba, this had significantly handicapped the autonomy of the nation. At this particular time, the US were aiming to achieve a proper overseas empire particularly within the US Frontier and the Mexican-American War [13]. Having gotten defeated in the Ten Years’ War against the Spanish, the Cubans’ incentive for independence did not die out – instead it persevered, where it had become more and more dependent on American economic wealth and aid for their lucrative business in cane sugar production. This was significant, as this meant a rather controversial situation, where Cuba, like many South American countries was swinging from a ruling country to another, dictatorship and authoritarian rule, ultimately not retaining its independence [13].

Sure, America’s intervention and political aid had been crucial in maintaining a stable country in Cuba through the Platt Amendment. Yes, under Batitsa and Castro, there were more acts to draw foreign influence within the country particularly from America and the sugar production, aiming towards a nationalist and sovereign country [13]. However, by leaving colonial rule and foreign aid, Cuba has struggled immensely, even more so under the allegiance towards the USSR during the Cold War, for purchasing its 5 million of its sugar and subsidising the country $100 million worth of Russian technology [13]. Was the USSR not another country hovering above Cuba, not allowing itself from independence? By now, Cuba was far too reliant on USSR, a subordinate to her Cold War capitalist rival in the US, to successfully survive industrially and economically, where self-determination was still questioned until late into the 20th century [13].

In summary, many countries have been under colonial and foreign rule. I have used the British, French and Spanish empires to discuss the level of impact in their respective colonies. On the one hand, countries like Cuba and New Caledonia have been ruled so much that it has become over-reliant on its patriarchal country, thus a prolonged struggle and anxious approach towards its self-autonomy and independence once and for all. This is further hardened by many years of dictatorship driving out many intellectuals to make it consistently competitive and stable as a country socially, politically and economically. On the flip side, Hong Kong and Vietnam have been increasingly more competitive and successful, despite having driven out their respective British and French colonists. They are able to shoulder the burden many economic issues themselves, with many encouragement of the free-market and capitalist policies in the nouveau riche or the practise of the Basic Law, in Vietnam and Hong Kong’s case. This could perhaps be a showdown between the true controversial debate of the effectiveness within capitalism and socialism themselves, but that is for another day’s worth of discussion. Finally, in South Africa’s case, many social problems, unfortunately, still continue to linger on, as there are many cases of cross-racial murders every year. Certainly, the sooner this problem is completely rectified, the better. However, that being said, South Africa has seen many positive outcomes of the decolonisation process. This is highlighted in the battle for racial equality against apartheid mainly by Nelson Mandela and the ANC, which has transformed a country to become more economically and politically powerful on the global stage, particularly with its recent inclusion into the BRICS summit. Thank you for your support and do comment for anything you find needs to be improved. Till next time and all the best! 🙂

References
[1] http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_meiqlbph2G1qh48heo1_400.jpg
[2] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/decolonize
[3] http://postcolonialstudies.emory.edu/frantz-fanon/
[4] http://espressostalinist.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/apartheid-signs-in-south-africa-1956_jpg.jpg
[5] http://africanhistory.about.com/library/bl/bl-Independence-SA2.htm
[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/people/nelson_mandela
[7] http://www.gov.hk/en/about/abouthk/facts.htm
[8] http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get/I0000elVmJj0McKI/s/900/900/Woman-way-market-selling-banana-Hoi-An-Vietnam-Francis-Roux-NOI-Pictures-4141.jpg
[9] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/asia_pac/05/vietnam_war/html/introduction.stm
[10] http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=3640240&page=1#.UcMUa_k3uSo
[11] http://inside.org.au/highjacking-decolonisation-french-polynesia-at-the-united-nations/
[12] http://www.spanishwars.net/img/spanish-american-war.jpg
[13] Williamson, E., The Penguin History of Latin America, (Penguin Books Ltd., London, 2009)

 
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