In theory, postcolonialism was a thing, but today’s pragmatic nations are ditching it


“Postcolonialism of what?”

That was the response when I mentioned reading Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction.

Not a bad question.

I’d picked up this book from Oxford’s Very Short Introductions series hoping in 178 pages (including notes and index) to find a key to the global chaos. For example, can Islamic terrorism against the West be viewed as an inevitable development in the postcolonial era? Are we experiencing the last gasp of nationalism?

But while this very short work by Robert J.C. Young is beautifully written and compelling to read, it crepitates with age. Since its publication in 2003, we have witnessed Cuba’s Black Spring, the emergence of Shenzhen and other Chinese megacities, the rupture between Fatah and Hamas, the Arab Spring, and the ongoing collapse of Venezuela.

Meanwhile, the smartphone has come to dominate so much that, on my last visit to the pool, people stood in the water making videos and gazing at social. (“Oh, we’re not worried, it’s water-resistant!”)

Fifteen years ago, Africa looked like a lost cause. Today, the world’s top 10 fastest-growing air travel markets are Sierra Leone, Guinea, Central African Republic, Benin, Mali, Rwanda, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Madagascar. “This is the Africa that Africans live everyday; not the Africa that post-colonial and Cold War mindsets keeps [sic] fresh through the willing channel of conventional media,” writes an Amazon reviewer of The Next Africa: An Emerging Continent Becomes a Global Powerhouse—which happens to be co-authored by Jake Bright, my motorcycle-riding pal.

Jake thinks very hard about emerging Africa.

What makes Mr. Young’s very short book creak very loudly is its relativism and the fundamental presumption that more socialism is the answer. In a chapter titled “Space and Land,” he writes about the Movimento Sem Terra, the landless workers’ movement in Brazil. He extols the MST as a “grassroots movement formed to fight a system of injustice and gross material inequality that is sustained by powerful local interests and international power structures of banks, businesses, and investment funds that want to maintain the status quo of the global economic market.”

I take no exception here. But Mr. Young refers to the 2002 election of a man of the people, Lula da Silva, founder of the Workers’ Party. As Brazil’s leader, this reformer would combat hunger, and the MST would work at the local level but also take on the World Bank. Socialism—as we later learn when Mr. Young paraphrases none other than Che Guevara—indeed “cannot be imposed from above: it must be produced as an ethical as well as material value from the people themselves.”

Lula and his Workers’ party successor Dilma Roussef, who was impeached last year, sure got the material value part down, having perhaps set a new grafting record in their shakedown of Petrobras. If they were also involved with the JBS meatpacking scandal, we should incidentally thank them for giving us another reason to limit our churrasco consumption.

From Ramallah to Pyongyang, does anyone deserve leadership like this? Yet once they’re in, nothing but death (Hugo Chávez, for example) gets them out. Not only was Daniel Ortega elected to a third term in Nicaragua, but also his wife, Rosario Murillo is VP.

Much of the what of postcolonialism derives from Che and Frantz Fanon, whose The Wretched of the Earth was an early favorite of President Obama’s.

“Everywhere that he spoke on his whirlwind trip around Africa, Che had emphasized Cuba’s identification with African liberation struggles, and the need for unity not just in Africa, but also amongst all the world’s anti-colonial and anti-imperial movements and socialist countries.”

At least 10 African countries with a growing middle class didn’t quite get the message and are lifting themselves toward the blue skies. In Mozambique, one of the poorest countries, more than $1 billion in loans to state-owned companies has disappeared.

Despite Mr. Young’s inspiring passages on ecofeminism and activism, my original questions about terrorism and the health of nationalism went unanswered. Maybe I had chosen the wrong book. Or maybe I should listen to Mr. Young lecture on YouTube.

Meanwhile, in a wonderful development, Narendra Modi has just visited Israel. A realignment of nations is taking place, and it may signify that postcolonialism is nearly kaput. 

One thought on “In theory, postcolonialism was a thing, but today’s pragmatic nations are ditching it

  1. Your reading is leaping a few steps ahead of mine, but I see Postcolonialism as a conceit of self-anointed elites. It won’t take very long for the real world to bring them to heel. Modern nationalism, in the competitive sense, seems to produce the most vibrant environment for prosperity to flourish. Viva Capitalism and all of its fruits.

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