What is colonialism?

Rwanda

On to the next political idea! Admittedly, not an amazing idea — but an idea nonetheless.

Colonialism — that’s right, I’m back to talking about ISMS.

This article features a lot of talk about developing and smaller countries, because, well … they were the targets of colonialism. Also, I would invite the reader to think about how colonialism might of had an effect on relations between people, relations between governments and people, and relationships between states and states. … I’m actually going to use Rwanda as an example, which is extreme, but gets the point across. Rwanda is a really sad case, but it highlights how things can spiral out of control over the years.


COLONIAL.

So, what does the word colonial mean, anyway? First off, colonial is a descriptive term (adjective for your English types), and it means that something relates to a colony, or a group. There can be colonial flowers, or colonial people. … colonial X, if you will.

The people who follow this ism find that establishing colonies of likeminded people is a great way to develop stuff. If we all approached problems of politics, economy, and religion the same way, then we obviously could get along. … but first, you need to get everyone on the same page. And this means that the “heathens” must adapt to civilization.


First, you have to buy that Western civilization (free markets, emphasis on individual rights, Christianity, materialism) is the superior way of life. Opposite Western civilization, there are all sorts of exotic religions, tribes, communal living, paganism, barter (as in, non-currency) economies, and stuff that doesn’t make sense to a Westerner. This means that, for a person from the West, the quality of life is far more advanced than anything else in the world.

In the end, colonies are the best way to spread the Western love.


Spreading influence.

Cool. Now how do we spread the Western message? Step one: send some ships full of (maybe armed) people, and set up camp. Step two: exert administrative control over the power structure. Step three: perhaps “employ” the locals. Step four: teach the locals English, Christianity, and all about economics by having them build Western mansions, while the “employer” pays virtually nothing to the employee.

— What colonialism ended up doing was little more than exploit the natural resources and people who were being colonized. This stuff was going on up until the 1960s (again, watch BATTLE OF ALGIERS).

When Africa was colonized, European countries really did just sit down, look at Africa, and barter over lines to carve out which country would colonize what area. This is a HUGE part of why Africa functions at low levels.


CASE: Rwanda

First off, Rwanda is probably the most-rural country in Africa. There are really only two primary groups of people in the state: Hutus and Tutsis. They both speak the same language, and are both generally Christian.

At first, Germany was in administrative control of Rwanda in the late 19th century, but they did little more than support the existing power structure. Belgium, by contrast, started more direct rule. Belgians tried to start massive infrastructure overhauls (education, improved agriculture to avoid famine, etc).

However, a huge problem with both Germany AND Belgium, is that they emphasized the role of Tutsi rule. At first, labeling Hutus and Tutsis was probably for census reasons, but the countries ended up preferring one over the other. They overemphasized alleged differences between the two groups (e.g. group A have more beautiful women with slender facial features, and are taller, or group B looks more primitive). The Europeans effectively sold the idea that there were two very different races in the country, and propped up one group over the other. There was also a third group, the Twa, but they all were mostly driven out because of Hutu/Tutsi tensions. In reality, there are very few differences among these people — and debates are still continuing.

Well, because there were two distinct races and socially constructed groups, there were obviously tensions over the years, and about 100,000 Hutus killed Tutsis in 1972. But, the worst occurred in the 1990s. An important leader was killed in a plane crash, which prompted a mass execution of as many Tutsi (and politically moderate people) as possible. This genocide was well-coordinated, well-executed, and orders were given from the top down, and 500,000 — 1,000,000 people were killed, many with machetes or small arms. There were also mass rape camps organized (to eliminate the Tutsi race), and the UN came under fire for allowing the operation to continue (and Clinton failed to do anything).


What did colonialism have to do with the genocide?

First, the Hutu/Tutsi differences really weren’t that big of a deal, until the European countries made it a big deal. Once you weaponize distinct sides and groups of people, there doesn’t even need to exist a real difference for the hate to be real. … it’s like Romeo and Juliet, the two families couldn’t even remember why they hated each other, they just knew they had to. That is socially constructed hate.

Second, modern day African leaders are able to capitalize on this condition, and consolidate power. If my group can take all the power, why not? Not only can they run the country as they please, but they can effectively eliminate any opposition, and then all is well for my group (race, or whatever).

Third, racism and colonialism are very much linked. While colonialism emphasized the spread of a WAY of life, racism emphasized the superiority of one RACE over the other. So, if you believe one race is better than the other, you are in fact racist. If you think that the Western way of life should be spread everywhere, then colonialism is probably what you believe in.

The worst part is that once these problems exist, the group who commits crimes refuses to admit it ever happened, and then blame the victims! This happened in the Baltics as well.


What effect does colonialism have on people?

Colonialism was really bad because it invited European leaders to dictate the affairs of other people in a very intimate way. They created tensions that weren’t there before, they instilled a particular view of the world in the people, and European countries set up a structure where future leaders can take advantage of that mindset.

The British notoriously ruled countries all over. The United States got into the game late (but got the Phillipines, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico). Spain, Belgium, Russia, China, Japan … a lot of countries colonized — so I suppose it isn’t fair to say it’s only Western states (but mostly, it is).

This has repercussions for today. In the Middle East, you can weaponize people according to Islamic variance. In Africa, according to tribe or race.

If I were a leader looking for political control, I’m going to appeal to the majority, stereotype the other side, ridicule them, and highlight why the majority is better. I can then effectively justify actions necessary to make the community better — even if that means eliminating the minority problem. This is a Hitler logic as well — and it’s only possible when conditions allow such hate to be harnessed. Africa and the Middle East are also dangerous because of the lack of education, increased poverty, and increased ruralness. Because these people are highly superstitious, it’s easier to mobilize and weaponize them.

What this means for people in former colonial states is that even today there exists tensions between groups. Also, the people within the system hardly know what to do sometimes, because during colonial times, the parent colonizer was responsible for administrative control — this means nobody knows how to govern a country! So, nobody knows how to rule, the groups within the state are fighting, and political leaders are trying to manipulate the system to gain control. When meddling in the affairs of other states, I would advocate extreme caution, because what happens during the present has a huge impact in the future — and we see this countless times with colonialism. Vietnam, Iraq, basically all of Africa, Latin America, Taiwan, Tibet even — really the list continues.


Finally, what’s the difference between colonialism and imperialism?

Colonialism is the act of setting up colonies and administrative influence to smaller states. Imperialism is the expansion of state power — where the state, or empire, would absorb the state, and be under the same banner. Like the US claiming Hawaii as a state (although that was all done by voting and stuff … allegedly).

Bummer of an article, I know — but it’s one of the many messy political ideas to be thought of.

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3 thoughts on “What is colonialism?

  1. Pingback: What is politics? | Political Ideas and Education

  2. Pingback: What is Racism? | Political Ideas and Education

  3. Pingback: OPINION: How to get more power. | Political Ideas and Education

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