African viewpoint: Colonial forgetfulness

Women collect clams on the Indian Ocean shore line in Maputo September 2010 Mozambicans were left to pick up the pieces after Portugal's departure in 1975

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, London-based Ugandan writer Joel Kibazo considers how easily former colonial masters forget the past.

Is it ignorance or stupidity? With some people it is hard to work out which it is.

I recently found myself in Portugal. The endless downpours that had become the hallmark of this year's British summer called for serious measures.

This African needed some sun without going too far and the warm climes and golden sands of the Algarve offered the perfect answer.

Once I landed and jumped into a cab, I met the first of several people who caused my dilemma about ignorance and stupidity.

Start Quote

The only problem is that Africans don't know how to look after things or to manage them. Look at Angola and Mozambique”

End Quote Pedro Portuguese taxi driver

Having dispensed with the discussion on the attractions of this southern Portuguese region, Pedro, the taxi driver, decided to unburden himself.

"I love Africa. The place is beautiful and I also love the warmth of the people," he said.

"Hmm, where is this going?" I wondered. I did not have to wait long. My new friend had decided I was the man for his well thought out views.

"The only problem is that Africans don't know how to look after things or to manage them. Look at Angola and Mozambique," he said.

"We left them everything when we stopped ruling those countries. The education was good, the health system was the best and then it was all ruined by the governments that took over."

Lost for words

There was no acknowledgement of the brutality of colonial rule, or the plundering of resources that saw Angola's and Mozambique's wealth sent off to build Portugal.

Protesters arrive in front of the Portuguese parliament in Lisbon, Thursday, 12 July 2012, during a teachers demonstration protesting the government's education budget cuts. (AP Photo Portugal is now suffering from massive unemployment

I was lost for words. Not because I had never heard such things before by those keen to rewrite history but because I thought such people were no longer around.

This was a man in his late thirties. To think that the citizens of Mozambique, Angola, and other territories the Portuguese ruled over should be grateful was breathtaking.

Start Quote

If it was not for business with Angola we would be in even more serious financial trouble. Angola and Mozambique are our future”

End Quote Portuguese banker

Many had seen the Portuguese departure in 1975 as one of the most callous; they had unscrewed wall sockets and I recall seeing an incomplete building in Maputo that had been rendered useless by the departing colonialists just to ensure that the new government could not complete the building.

If the Portuguese were so good, how come education, health and the general economic welfare of Lusaphone Africa remained so low and only improved in recent times?

I met several people like Pedro during my stay. All keen to rewrite history.

Only last week I was in southern Africa and I met my friend Arlindo who comes from Mozambique but lives in Angola and played his part in the struggle.

He shook his head when I told him about my experience.

He said what these people do not realise is that our resources were plundered to help develop Portugal and yet they continue to think they were a blessing to us.

The funny thing is that today Portugal is in financial crisis and when Pedro finished telling me about the legacy of the Portuguese, as he saw it, he admitted things were so bad in his country that if he could find a job in Africa, he would be on the next plane. Imagine him in the Africa of today.

Gardeners Angola's buoyant oil economy is a lure for entrepreneurs

Nothing better illustrated how things had changed than a conversation I had with some bankers while I was in Lisbon last year for the African Development Bank annual meeting.

Over lunch, a senior banking executive from a large financial institution that will remain nameless for now said: "If it was not for business with Angola we would be in even more serious financial trouble. Angola and Mozambique are our future."

But the attempt to rewrite history is not limited to some Portuguese individuals. In Johannesburg a few days ago a friend who happens to be white brought up the same subject.

Nearly two decades after South Africa became a democratic nation, he was still meeting people who thought the country needed to have a white-controlled government as if that was the answer to whatever woes the South African people might be facing.

He was as baffled as I was.

So now you see my dilemma.

Are people such as Pedro deliberately trying to turn history on its head because that is the only way they can justify their current situation?

Or is it simply a fact that such individuals have not been blessed with a good enough education to enable them to accept the historical reality, unpleasant as it may be?

Ignorance or stupidity? I still don't know which it is.

If you would like to comment on Joel Kibazo's column, please do so below.


More on This Story

Letter from Africa

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Don't blame the cabbie for his ignorance, blame the education system in Portugal. European countries prefer to forget the legacy they left Africa when they scrambled to vacate it after ww2 and therefore don't believe it necessary to educate their children on the bad as well as the good. Anyhow, they have bigger problems to worry about these days and tend to forget what their grandfathers did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    bello- 1 areyou afican and 2 by they i assume you mean te west and what frican nation are you rom if you are african. and no one here has denied the wrong done by eropean in arica but it's also wrog to forget the good they might have done.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I love the way we love blaming colonialism for our troubles.We are a rich well endowed continent but we cant manage our resources.We grow coffee in Kenya and export it and the African famer is paid peanuts.We have oil we cant manage its revenue.Look at DRC beautiful rich country they are still fighting.Corruption and Impunity is the rule in Africa.Should we blame the colonialists for all this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    dr congo is one of those african that was/is corrupt. and regarding the southern slavery thing in the us i think it's it important that the csa was fighting for they're own freedom and they actually offered toabolish slavery towards the end of the war in return for help from britain and france, history is as much opinion as it is fact and in the opinion of the south they where fighting for freedom

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    True story.

    Watching TV in doctors' mess in a hospital in North East England. Documentary on Brazil is on. Young white doctor turns to me puzzled. Where did all those black people come from? Did they move from the USA to Brazil? he asks me.

    I am puzzled at the ignorance of this highly educated young man. Is it his fault or the fault of the education system? I don't know. I am perplexed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I just returned to the US from 2 months in the DR Congo. Recently a good Congolese friend asked, "Why are we not as 'advanced' as people in other countries?" I cringed inwardly knowing my answer about historic colonial plundering and modern day abuses aiding his family's poverty would not be easily conveyed. Your article spoke to me greatly. Continue to be a champion for truth and justice!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Good article, though you're not alone there in Africa. Come visit us in the USA, where certain southern states lobby the textbook manufacturers to describe the Confederacy (during the US civil war) as "fighting for freedom against federal governance" and ignore "that whole slavery thing."

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    the problem in this country regarding our colonial past is that it iant really taught in schools, the jump from the english civil war to ww1 and then junk about america during the great depression. but the world that was coloized forget the good that we did do and focus on what we did wrong, remember we shouldent judge what happend in the past by todays human rights standards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    With all of African natural & mineral resources that the rest of the world need&want & had African leaders developed Africa for all to enjoy, not just a handful elite, many Africans would not be forced to remain in the diaspora. They'll rather be back home.
    It is not all bed of roses in the West for Africans. But for many, coming back home to Africa, would be jumping from frying-pan to fire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Africans were ruled by brutal rulers, and slavers from Arabia/Sudan were operating long before the Europeans arrived. Its interesting to note how many of the 'African' contributors to these columns, apparently much prefer to live in the countries of the ex-colonialists, rather than in the sunnier climes of their African homes ... maybe history hasn't been rewritten?

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Maddy Fry

    The BBC has produced on their website and broadcast on raido and TV, hundreds of pieces on British colonialism. I don't see how any regular visitor or viewer could have missed them.

    You are falling into the trap that so may seem to be falling into, of wanting the BBC to produce/discuss/report only what you are focused on and nothing else.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    No question, colonial masters plundered African natural resources to build their home countries - which included Africans slave labor. However, schools, roads, hospitals & other infrastructure worked better during colonial rule & shortly after independence. Sadly, many African countries is today very chaotic & most things rarely work. How long are we going to blame former colonial masters?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    1. History is written by the winners.
    2. It's neither stupidity or ignorance; victors know the true history; it is vanity - the desire to appear like demi-Gods who could do nothing with backward colonials.
    3. Real history would explore what was happening the the days before western infiltration, the impact of such infiltration. Africa was doing very well - which is why the west interfered.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    . . . and what did the Romans or the Normans do for us?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Pedro isn't trying to re-write history, this is what he genuinely believes. Loads of people think like this (Africans can't run their own countries properly etc) and the mainstream media isn't doing an awful lot to rectify this. Also: Had Moz been left alone after the Portuguese left, things may have been ok, but USA and SA got involved and fueled the subsequent civil war. Not helpful. Sigh...

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I was misled by the title of the article. After only reading this, I was trying to imagine a group of scholars and historians sitting around at the Universidade de Coimbra as they “rewrote” the colonial legacy which, until now apparently, was something they understood quite well.

    Happily for them, no, it was based on a conversation you had with your taxi driver, Pedro.


Page 7 of 8


More Africa stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.