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 123.

    For 1000s of years powerful tribes conquered, stole from and made slaves of less powerful ones. European tribes united into nations - super tribes - who dominated the globe in the same way... eventually they stopped. For a long time the white settlers retained privilege, but the day is over. More recently black Africa has grown its own oppressors again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    This article represents the convenient half-truth of Mozambique and Angola. The larger story would include the infrastructure development that the Portuguese put in with the intention of staying on land they'd won was being taken away from them and they were being pushed into the sea by violent nativist movements. Of course they left as little as possible to reward the violent usurpers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    @119. Have you ever seen a group of Masai, Igbo, Yoruba, Sena, Shona, Zulu etc gathered outside No.10 Downing Street demanding that they be given aid? Maybe you've seen a different group of African tribes gathered outside The White House demanding aid.

    If you haven't seen such gatherings, neither have I.

    We are not going to forget our history. And Europe's role in it. You don't have to like it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    @119. Aid. This is the trump card every Westerner draws out of their sleeve. I beg you to stop all your so called aid to Africa today. Nothing will happen to Africa. Africans lived perfectly well for thousands of years without so called aid from the West.

    Aid is an imposition of the West on Africa. It is a device for buying political and economic advantage. Aid is of most benefit to the donors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Re 115: How about Europe withdraws all the multi-millions it pours into Africa in humanitarian aid? Lets see how long it takes Africa to forget things that may or may not have happened 120 years ago.

    Modern Europe is a very different place to the 19th Century. You would do well to accept this and move on. Bring Africa forward. Stop holding it in the past. That helps nobody, least of all Africa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Re 116: Mugabe? Truth hurts? Not so much as the starvation and brutality he's heaped upon the people of Zimbabwe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    This story of the taxi driver and the journalist leads to many facets interlinked. This very moment I pity the aboriginal people who have been emasculated. The almighty is watching. That was the aim of the settlers in Africa as well that time. It is just because Africa is big to conquer. Mighty Africa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Re: 109. Please leave out Robert Mugabe from that list. You should be fair. I don't think you know what you are looking at. You should be well informed. That leader is still powerful and is successful in defending his country and is busy negotiating to improve the situation. And they are listening. He was pushed to the wall and showed bravery. Truth hurts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    There are some people in Europe who would like to forget or ignore Europe's role in African history. These same people want us, Africans, to forget Europe's role in African history. They don't want us to mention anything about Europe's role in African history.

    As Africans, we can't forget the part that Europe played in African history. It would be a crime to forget. We can't forget. We wont.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    they forget for the same reason that king leopard claimed he was civilizing people in the congo while chopping their hands off, or going to liberate women in the middle east, while children and women are dying everyday there, and warren jeff clan still rocking in utah. they just believe their own propaganda fed to them by the rich and govt who end up benefiting from the exploitations of others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Most people would agree that colonialism was not a mutually beneficial relationship. The colonizing power exploited the colonized nation’s natural and human resources. I have not heard many coherent arguments that colonialism benefited, in this case, the African nations. There has been little research conducted as to how these nations would have developed without being colonized.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    I think forgetfulness is a problem affecting many people: we especially tend to forget what we do not like and remember only what we like.
    Certainly Mozambique and Angola were plundered by colonial Portugal. Bu the writer conveniently forgets that after independence both countries went through decades of civil war: Africans killing Africans and destroying their countries.
    Is this ignorance?

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    possibly there was a failure to invest in education during colonial times?

    there was certainly a poverty of interest in africa. what you hear from the taxi driver is what he is conditioned too by the education he has recieved.

    if only people would read history, instead of reinventing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Some Europeans like to trumpet about the education and other blah blah they gave us and never mention the plundering and the genocides they did.
    When Belgians left Rwanda in 1961 not a single Rwandan has college education. The president, ministers... had high school or secondary education and that what we called our elite ready to deal with Western and Asian systems with that kind of education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Re 107: "Denying the past means denying knowledge. Stop denying the past and learn from it."

    Well said. The evil that gave rise to Biaffra, Rwanda, Robert Mugabe, and Idi Amin, is to learned from and prevented. These are African evils, done by Africans to Africans.

    Stop your racist attacks on each other, and on non-Africans. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    As far as Africa is concerned day and night, is still attractive. Even so more the world still needs it so much. Can't keep away. All Africa needs is visionary, market oriented leadership to develop its economy. The past is the past with its pain and ills. Yes we are seeing the symptoms. It is time to continue to take a leap into entrepreneurship and strengthen trade within Africa. Barriers exist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Re 106: Yes Africa’s problems are for Africans. To attain sustainable solutions, history must be reviewed and its negative elements avoided. Elders in Africa are well respected and regarded as “libraries” because they have sound knowledge of the past. Their advices are regarded valuable. Denying the past means denying knowledge. Stop denying the past and learn from it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Re 100: Africa has had an independence made by Africans. If Africans fail in their independence, that is the fault of Africans. You seem to imply that Africa is incapable of of making it's own way, and can only function when there is somebody else to blame for it's problems.

    I have more faith in Africa than you seem to have. Africa will fix it's problems. But they are Africa's problems to fix.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Re 99: Regardless of where Africa's guns were made, Africans seem to have no trouble in affording them do they? The place is awash with them.
    And Africans seem to have no trouble at all when it comes to using them.

    Just so as you know, most of Africa's favourite gun, the AK47, is made in China, India, and Eygpt.

    Africa's problems are African made. Only Africans can solve them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    A second scrabble for Africa may be the way out of the current Euro Crisis. Watch out for a “Berlin Conference.”


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