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 63.

    This author's selective memory also baffles me. May I remind him of all the aid money which Mozambique received after the 2000 floods, from Europeans?

    Ignorance, stupidity or a poor education - you decide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Re 60: Utter nonsense. Britain controlled the seas before and after the Americas became independent. If we had wanted to, we could easily have continued to profit from slavery simply by controlling shipping. Instead, the RN blockaded the West African coast, thus killing the trade, regardless of destination.

    Learn our history. Sometimes, we did do the right thing. This is a case in point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    the slve trade most most valuable to britain in the caribean and just cos the british didnt need as much slaves doesent mean they couldent sell them to countries like spain portugal or the us

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    re. #53.The Rockabilly Red: "Re 52: Very few realise that this country led the World in halting slavery."

    Funny how Britain's moral outrage at the slave trade grew so rapidly after losing the colonies where it was most profitable to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Truth is a bitter pill. What the cab driver was trying to say is that national development & greatness come from good leadership, sacrifice,patriotism & hardwork not just abundance of resources. I should know, I'm from Nigeria. We have allowed thieves & clueless, arrogant clowns to lead thus far. Give a thousand year's head start to lies, truth will prevail in one day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Never any inter-tribal colonisation on the African continent then?
    No African people ever behaved badly towards other African people?
    No Africans ever just plain nasty? Or ignorant?

    How many Europeans might actually be decent?

    Don't play the blame game with ordinary people: shout at the politicians by name, please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Sadly there are many Pedros out there, anything to project some absurd supremacists’ views. think of the untold madness and vandalisms committed by the retreating Portuguese forces when they were being routed by the MPLA! They even plunged so low as to pouring raw concrete in city drainages, killing, raping and looting as they fled. Now just take a look at the sorry state of Portugal today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Africans south of the Sahara need to learn from history. When Europeans sought to enslave our brothers & sisters, only a few good men & women (like King Jaja of Opobo. Exiled by the British colonialists) had the courage & strength to fight back. 'Black' Africans do not cooperate & sacrifice enough for the good of our race. We show each other no love or respect. We must change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    52 im british and i found out about colonialism and the empire in books that i bought and online, the schools jump from the civil war to ww1 and forget about everything inbetween, and if i ever mentioned it id hear yes it happend and that's it.
    53 yes we did stop it we controled 42% of it when it was abolished and from then onwards we devoted our efforts to stop it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    To read an apologist for post-colonial governments in Africa accuse Europeans of trying to re-write history is almost painfully ironic.
    The writer opposes racism, but all the problems in sub-Saharan Africa come from white people and all the good things from black people. Am I the only one who see the unconscious racism? And what will people like the writer blame in 100 years time?

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Re 52: Very few realise that this country led the World in halting slavery. Our RN was instrumental in stopping the African slavers. It would do no harm at all, for sub-Saharan Africa to acknowledge this and thank the UK for it's help in ending their suffering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I am British but spent most of my adult life in Uganda. It is true that in the UK we do not educate our children well on the colonial times, but also it is true that Ugandans in general are poorly educated on the subject.
    For instance many Ugandans are taught Britain took slaves from Uganda. The slave trade was abolished 1833 25 years before Burton and Speke came to Uganda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    It is astonishing how naive and dumb many of us are, Africa south of sahara has the most complicated and diverse human setting in the whole world, a country the size of Nigeria having over 100 different peoples.I mean it is like the European continent in its human diversity sense pressed into 923.768km² this territorial entity called Nigeria. Forever lasting wars and conflicts are inevitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Re 46: Clearly. I intend the term as a collective noun, for a group of people who seem intent on acting in as barbaric a way possible, whilst at the same time, blaming the rest of the World for their plight.

    Never enough money for food, water, and medicine. Plenty for guns and wars though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    what happend happend but there is two sides to every story and the african countries that have done the best out of independence are the ones that where simply given it

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    to answer mr. Kibazo last question: it is both.
    history is a manipulation:
    but that does not mean that events did not happen.
    to give some background: I am portuguese and my father was a soldier on the portuguese side in the war with Angola.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    No-one can change the past. We weren't there. Now is our time on Earth. If we go back far enough all of us have ancestors that were conquered, colonised and enslaved by invaders. Today many Africans and others are under the slavery of poverty, ignorance, lack of education and opportunity, just as our ancestors were in the past.The question is what we are going to do now? On this we will be judged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    45.The Rockabilly Red
    Africa is not one country

    Joel Kibazo - I think you need to choose your friends - white or black- very carefully in future...

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Re 38: Yes, Europe has had wars. That is fair to say. However, there are 3 big differences when compared with African wars: We don't blame everybody else for our problems: We don't look to the rest of the World to save our children. We hold the guilty to account.

    When Africa can do these things without Western intervention, it might be taken more seriously.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Few today know well the history of colonialism in Africa, or that of slavery (from the most ancient times until now). Modern Europeans mostly don't know and don't care; Africans have their own agenda. I researched a book for the Nigerian government and was shocked at the sacrifice made by large numbers of young Brits and how Lever Brothers reduced profits on palm oil to process and employ locally.


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