Heart of Arts



Photo: Map of Colonial Africa



Toyin Falola


The concept of decolonization can be best comprehended when broken down into its morphemic elements. Examining its constituents, the word “colonize” serves as the core, while the prefix “de” signifies removal. Essentially, the term “decolonization” implies the elimination of colonialism and its enduring influences.

This interpretation assumes that colonization operates on multiple levels, and confining the experience solely to the past reflects a limited understanding of the concept. The occurrence of colonization before the independence of colonized states does not imply that its impact is confined to history. On the contrary, the comprehensive recalibration of both the concrete and the abstract, the material and the immaterial, of the colonized plays an important role in the reorientation of the people against their epistemic traditions, ontology, and philosophy.  This awareness, thus, necessitated the dislocation of the predators from the reins of power, where the fate of the colonized was decided without their consent. The quest for freedom from this anomaly and the presupposition that true liberation would be birthed through the termination of the physical presence of the colonial imperialists informed the organization of groups determined to unseat the colonizers from the power base in various countries.

In all ramifications, that line of thinking was accurate and well-suited. However, being accurate does not mean it was sufficient. Advocating for independence and freedom does not necessarily reverse the unwholesome damage, deeds, or negative impact that colonization has enhanced during its heyday. Essentially, the reality of independence does not in any way negate the severe problems facilitated by the Europeans.  If anything, it only accentuated the fact that colonial influence was deeper and more difficult to rewrite. Whether the impact of these colonial imperialists extended beyond their stay or otherwise does not escape the attention of decolonial scholars, for they understand that triumphalism against the domination of their state by oppressive regimes and exploitative groups signals a form of liberation and freedom that they could celebrate. This understanding is marked by the commitment of erstwhile colonies to celebrate annually the day on which they obtained “independence.”

Photo: Patrice Lumumba

 However, “juridical freedom,” as employed by Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni in a 2013 piece, does not indicate the cancellation of domination that undergirded colonial politics, for it cannot immediately disentangle the already entwined colonial values that have found their ways into the colonized engagements. From this viewpoint, decolonial scholars have always demanded the reversal of the colonial systems with the understanding that it was necessary for the attainment of true liberation. This viewpoint is reinforced by the notion that it was the implementation of colonial programs and projects that pushed the colonized to their limits.

With this background, it should be emphasized that the decolonization aspiration centers on rooting out the areas where the impact of colonization was unmistakable. Notably, the imposition of the current political geography on Africans upon which nationalist identity is formed has necessitated outright assimilation of a philosophical paradigm of state formation, and the political practices around them all hardly address the problems of the people. Throughout ex-colonized countries, especially in Africa, the creation of states by colonial imperialists to enhance the smooth extraction and exploitation of resources follows the politics of conquest, where those at the echelon of power manipulate and maneuver events for their political advantages.

It becomes apparent, for instance, that states formed in many African countries were unilaterally imposed without careful concern for the people who would be affected by the implementation. This echoes the practices from the colonial era, where groups were separated, joined, or merged without recourse to their unique historical backgrounds. This strategy has ineluctably birthed a more disingenuous issue, which is the root of internal strife and rivalries for domination among the people. Nationalist fighters, therefore, examine problems associated with this development and understand that it is best solved when the process that led to colonial formations is considered.

If decolonization implies the undoing of colonialism, it, therefore, goes without saying that legitimacy is clearly associated with the claim of the people who argue that decolonization begins by unseating colonial imperialists from the helm of affairs in colonized countries. The conflation of decolonization and decoloniality stems from the belief that the latter does the natural duty that follows the attainment of the former. This representation falls short of capturing the true essence of decolonization and decoloniality. If decolonization means the removal of colonialism, the physical removal represents the surface action of the wider process. For instance, when the Governor-General representing the interest of the colonial empire was unseated through agitation for freedom, it naturally births the process of decolonization in some ways. More importantly, it signifies that the new individual at the helm of affairs shares a common trait with the locals, thereby canceling the outrageous psychological trauma associated with unilateral dictates from an individual outside their racial family. In this sense, the colonial instrument in that position is removed, and, by implication, the domination of that political system is temporarily ended.

Photo: Julius Nyerere

 The usurpation of the colonized political system for unmitigable exploitation does not signal the finitude of colonial engagements. Instead, it marked the beginning of that despicable engagement. Having successfully planted themselves at the helm of affairs, the extraction of the available economic opportunities became an integral component of colonialism. As such, the occupants of the economic roles during colonialism were Europeans and their allies, and by that condition, they were able to initiate engagements, programs and even practices that would facilitate their aspirations while the fortunes of the land were redirected away from the indigenous people.  Decolonization, therefore, helped to create an awareness that promoted the economic interests and desires of the indigenous people over their economic system.

On the economic front, decolonization witnessed radical changes in the allocation of economic positions and resource utilization. The ex-colonized population embraced available opportunities, aiming to create an economic atmosphere where they would actively drive, rather than merely observe, the economic transformation of their countries. The decolonization agenda, therefore, necessitated the removal of European participants occupying economic positions and replacing them with indigenous ones.

At the level of knowledge production and distribution, Western schools during colonialism were abattoirs where many aspects of African originality and identity were gruesomely murdered. Colonizers had a limited interest in educating the colonized to the extent that they would have enough mental strength to challenge or ask critical questions pertaining to their marginalization. Instead, they wanted a colonized citizenry that was educated to the level of satisfying the whims and caprices of the imperialists. They wanted to train interpreters who would serve as the links between them and the colonized communities in order to impose their actions and ideas on them without protests. They wanted serfs who would take the position of servitude in service of the colonial imperialists.  The establishment of Western schools served to produce individuals with an African body but a European mindset, posing a significant challenge that required decolonization.

Photo: Kwame Nkrumah

 All aspects of social designs, therefore, experienced the operation of colonial engagements in rapid succession and the juridical freedom that the colonized attained in the middle of the 20th century gave them the needed motivation for the advancement of the anti-colonialist agenda. The termination of European presence translated to the removal of their influences in various positions and replacing them with elements that carried the identity of the ex-colonized communities. It becomes truly obvious that their intentions to remain in power and position as opposed to being directly dictated to by Europeans became successful at the physical termination of the colonial powers across different places of colonial influence.

In academia, decolonization is viewed as the process of aggressively remaking the colonized engagements in ways that thwart programmed imposition done by the Europeans who came exclusively for the exploitation, extraction, and exhaustion of available resources that the colonized require for their transformation. It becomes glaring, therefore, that once they achieve the objective of sending the Europeans away, whether through negotiations or violence, the assumption of these positions indicates a new dawn that they are outside of colonialism. But are they truly outside of it? Decoloniality would answer that question.

To discuss decolonization, please join us for a panel discussion with our distinguished panelists, Professors Julia Suárez Krabbe, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Walter Mignolo, Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Oyeronke Oyewumi, and Shose Kessi.

Photo: Nelson Mandela


Sunday, January 28, 2024
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