BusinessDay

Elizabeth Windsor and colonialism’s false binary

Last week, I discovered that expressing a historically accurate opinion about the British monarchy and the activities carried out in its name means that one is bitter, entitled, and unwilling to accept responsibility for one’s own circumstances.

Stating that British colonialism under the authority of Elizabeth Windsor and her predecessors created horrific human suffering and crisis, many of which persist or have indirect effects to date, is the same thing as attempting to outsource all responsibility and agency for changing one’s own situation to a convenient external enemy.

Most curiously of all, I discovered that merely expressing a position about the life or death of Elizabeth Windsor based on one’s own convictions or lived experience is somehow beyond the accepted limits of polite conversation or reasonable public discourse. Whereas, it is normal and completely acceptable to offer less-than-glowing posthumous commentary about certain Heads of State from certain parts of the world, doing the same for the UK Head of State somehow made one a thoroughly disagreeable person and something of a public abomination.

Who says 2 things cannot be simultaneously true?

As someone who often has a lot to say about the false self image and distorted historical narrative that many Africans often project about themselves, I found the entire conversation to be interesting, the way an FI driver might find the Demolition Derby oddly entertaining. In particular, what caught my attention was the way public opinion rapidly split down the middle into 2 opposing camps expressing positions that they thought were contradictory, but were actually nothing of the sort.

It would be like the number 2 meeting the number 3 and then having a fight to determine which of them is more of a number than the other, when in fact they are both perfectly valid numbers and are in fact, part of the same continuum. In this case, the idea that calling out colonialism and its enactors is somehow the same thing as excusing African leadership and African society that enables it, is complete nonsense. It is simply not true.

Read also: The Nigerian relevance of Queen Elizabeth

Africa’s modern challenges for the most part, are creations of Africans themselves, and can be solved by Africans themselves. British and European colonialism are responsible for a lot of the political and economic context that these challenges exist in. Both of these statements are completely true, and are true at the same time. They do not contradict each other, the same way that the existence of the number 3 does not negate that of number 2, but merely follows on from it. One can, of course, choose to get bogged down in the semantic argument of whether 3 would exist without 2, but that is beside the point here – the point is that both positions are valid and do not negate each other.

History is important – ask the Israelis and Irish

Why it is important to point out that acknowledging historical wrongs and maintaining public awareness of them does not negate the need to fix our own problems, is that there is a dangerous emerging narrative within a community of those who consider themselves to be Africa’s intellectual elite. This narrative has it that Europe did nothing wrong throughout its interaction with Africa, and that even if it did, it does not matter because something something the strong eat the weak something something Africans also owned slaves, something something WhatAboutThe [insert convenient red herring].

This narrative paints a false picture of history that not only deodorises genuinely criminal activity and enables historical revisionism, but also provides ammunition for those who want the global economy and political balance to continue exactly the way it is. If one can successfully rewrite history in such a way that removes all responsibility and liability from those who distorted global economics and politics via empire and colonial pursuits, that also means that the world is perfectly balanced and acceptable the way it is. It is an extension of the age-old “but Africans sold slaves” argument used to excuse the existence of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

While the purported African intelligentsia – filled as they are with the wisdom of reddit and 4Chan – push this narrative that helps to entrench the political disenfranchisement of an entire continent in the global arena, other groups that have experience with colonialism or targeted persecution, such as the Irish and the Israelis, have no patience whatsoever for any of these “ButWhatAbout” red herrings. The Jewish holocaust ended in 1945. The Irish independence war ended in 1922. Both of these significantly predate most of Africa’s independence from colonial governments and settler regimes – South Africa only gained freedom in 1994.

If the Irish and the Israelis are still vocal about their historical persecution, and unapologetically so, even to the point of obtaining reparations and kidnapping aged Nazi officials from hiding places around the world, and none of this stopped either country from making economic and political progress, then that only proves the point of this article further. It is not an either-or situation.

One can walk and chew gum at the same time.

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