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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    because they're liars. (from someone born in the UK).

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    It is indeed significant to realise that the African countries south of sahara are products of the European colonization put together artificially, without the least knowledge of the peoples involved.They were principally to serve and source the european continent ecnomically. After independence it became obvious that these many Europe made African states are without the Europeans UNAFRICAN.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Another quite toe-curling piece from an African 'writer' that keeps banging on the colonial suffer drum, all while he 'reveals' how ignorant (all) white people are. Joel: Instead of insulting intelligent Africans with this rant, I'd say you'd win more support by quitting this suffer scenario and focusing on real solutions instead subtly showing off that you are a world man with high up friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Wow, this is the first HYS open for comments I have seen in a week! I log in after work each day, but by 6:00pm EST the HYS is always closed. Even the articles about the USA. I would just like to join the rest of the BBC HYS crowed in blaming everything including static cling and stale bread on those nasty USAeans. USA BAD BAD bad country,.... no biscuit!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Is the picture of new housing in Angola not from a previous article describing a ghost city, built with chinese money?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    #37 Rockabilly Red: You have to be a little logic and objective in your comments. While no one like the horrors of wars, name one country anywhere on the planet that never had wars. Whether it was a civil or being attacked or invaded by another nation.The West often like to describe African countries as being ravaged by wars. But the West have their own history of past and recent wars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    You can concoct as much revisionist history as you like. No amount of it excuses the barbarity with which Africans have treated Africans in the post-colonial period. Europeans didn't cause Biaffra, Angola, or Rwanda. The supposed rape of Africa by Europe doesn't seem to have stopped Africa successfully killing it own children from the late 60's to now. If they stopped the World might listen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Reading the comments to Joel's article I am struck by how many make an appeal to a supposedly objective "history" which contains a host of "facts" which can be marshalled by one side or the other. But "history" is seldom objective: it is made up of misreadings, often coloured by naked, uninformed prejudice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    it wasent a holocaust a holocaust suggests ethnic cleansing, the slave trade carried africans across the atlantic but the slave trade was going on before the atlantic slave trade began and it was african rulers and arabs who sold the africans in the majority of cases.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Spiller. Ever heard of the African holocaust, a.k.a the slave trade?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    bello- im british im just fasinated by history, and i wanted to know if you where african because it influences your opinion.

    liberiapad- europeans only controled tiny fractions of europe for the time you wrote, most of africa was under european control for around 80 to 100 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    @29. Bello - Actually, they can. The board of education for each state can insist upon the content of textbooks, as they make the decisions for which books the schools are allowed to buy and use.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    @spiller, 22
    I'm West African by origin (if it helps). However, I can't help but imagine you (from your blog) as a victim of colonial oppression.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I call it convenient amnesia. But it will NEVER erase the fact of the brutality that Europeans inflicted on Africa over the last 300-400 years. Hitler's murder of the Jews pales in comparison (no pun intended)!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    @WoeIsMe, 16
    Really? Can the 'text book manufacturers' also be responsible for disseminating historical facts in the American education system? I think not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    26- that post is very far from the truth, africashistory has been written and it doeent matter if t was written b he devil or by god himself, africa was colonized by europeans, but that obiously isant the continents entire history nrt africa has been dominated by carthage, rome, byzantium, egypt, the arabs the ottomans and europe. youshouldent deny what has happend because it happend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    There are ignorant white and black South Africans who mistakenly believe minority rule itself was responsible for a better standard of living and incorruptible government . The reality is that Economic sanctions in the late 80's pretty much ripped the economy apart (like what happened to Zimbabwe more recently) and left a mess that will take decades to recover from.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    No history about Africa has been, and will eve be wrtten by former colonialists. What they managed to write was combination of pure lies, propaganda and myths about us. Imagine the devil wrtting writting a history about the Holy spirit; can you get the truth?.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Colonial interference in Africa didn't end with independence: ever heard of "Franc-afrique"? Note that France and the UK made a habit of removing progressive leaders and replacing them with obedient kleptocrats. Of course, Africa's leaders must share blame with the West. I just want to note that saying "everything since independence is your own fault" is inaccurate and unfair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    i dont regret histroy i egret history not being taught i didnt find out thatbritain had and empire until i was 15, and i foundout by myself outside of school and ivebeen fasinated with colonial istory ever since.


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