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 143.

    Re 142: A very well observed comment. I agree that it is shocking to read such blatant racism as that expressed by Nkolokosa. I am certain that if you or I expressed such views, the BBC moderator would have deleted them,

    But then again, we know that BBC moderators think racism only works in one direction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Mbugwile Nkolokosa, must have an Intense hatred of anything European, I am amazed at many of his remarks, which coming from an educated person some times lacks logic. Too keep blaming the Europeans for all the ills of Africa is like myself blaming the Romans for carting off my ancestors as slaves back in the 1st century AD, Move on and get a life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    and lastly...
    Mbugwile Nkolokosa: "As Africans, we want to write our own history. We don't want a history written for us by Europe." Exactly my point you go and write history. Where did you learn ?:(.. wait?.... was that not a COLONIAL idea... SCHOOL? What have the colonials ever done for us? Remember history is supposed to be impartial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Africa has a bright future. Oh no mineral rights sold off the the chinese. Let me guess this is the colonials fault to? If we stopped aid the people in the wars africa creates they would die in greater numbers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    This whole conversation is reminding me of a Monty python Sketch "What did the Romans ever do for us!?".

    The guys/ Girls? who are obviously spouting racial comments glad you never got to power. Remember Hitler?

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    If you look at Greek history they should be the ones that have a grievance to the world. Read you Homer. Read your Herodotus. What has happened in the african theater of life has happened in europe many times over. What you should be thinking about is, does history repeat itself no matter you colour or creed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    I am from Zimbabwe. and remember one year we were given history books by the dept of education in zimbabwe and the next they were re-written (this is a fact and not subjective) showing that what ever is wrong with africa the colonials where the cause. Which is not true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Your argument is as simplistic as the one of the taxi driver. It it were Africans who sold Africans into slavery, conquered Africa for the colonists, and at independence African elites stepped in the colonists shoes to continue as before. It is about time to rewrite history, yes. Africans were not only passive receivers of policies - they were always also actors following their own strategy

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    @134. You brought up the subject of Western aid to Africa into the debate. Kibazo's article isn't about Western aid to Africa. It is about the selective reading of African history by some Europeans. It is about how the powerful write the history of the poor and the weak. Please read the article again.

    As Africans, we want to write our own history. We don't want a history written for us by Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Re 132: Your correct; discussing anything with ill educated people is difficult. That is why I make little or no reference to your grasp of both the English language and Modern History. Since the discussion was about Europe's influence on Africa, I fail to see why you drag the US into matters. It seems clear that your real point is simply spout bigotry and racism against non-Black peoples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    There are certain people in the West who use Western aid to Africa as a tool to either silence or humiliate Africans who want to argue their corner.

    I would like Western aid to Africa to stop. Aid has made beggars out of Africans. Aid has made Africa's relationship with Europe unhealthy.

    Africa's relationship with Europe will become normal once aid is eliminated. No more beggars and donors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    @126. You brought up the subject of Western aid to Africa. Both Europe and North America give "aid" to Africa. Hence my reference to the White House.

    Maybe, you didn't know that the USA gives "aid" to Africa. If you didn't know, please educate yourself. It's difficult to argue with ill-educated people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Most of human cannot live by truth. If Africans were fighting each other historically like any other peoples in all continents, does it then mean that one should come in between and take advantage to divide and rule. Disputes are disputes and Africans knew how to solve them traditionally, just like Europe is busy building peace with itself still and I praise them for that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    I notice that Mbugwile Nkolokosa wishes that the west would stop sending aid to Africa, I also agree with his comments, for the last 30 years I along with many others have put money into schemes to help the people of Africa, and all i have seen for it is African leaders and their friends getting fatter whilst their people starve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    119: Europe won't last a week if Africa closes its doors. Why calling in China and beg for assistance to curb the economic crisis then if Europe has enough money to throw at Africa. Africa is the lifeline of the European economies and I won't tell you why because it is obvious. Be informed I said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Why is it anything bad that happens In Africa is put down to the psyche of Africans .But Hitler Milosevic Stalin ,unpresidented savagery .Is explained as just bad people

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    I keep my faith In a free Africa,The question I have for people like this is simple .Would you like to see Africa succeed ,And do you try and look at the positive side of Africa today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Re 121: You do understand that The White House is nothing to do with Europe? It's 3000 miles from Europe.

    Your constant, ill-informed, thinly-veiled, racist, anti-white threats are now becoming tiresome as well as grossly offensive. Please, make up your bigotry to suit your politics, as you see fit.

    The World has little time for such hatred in these times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Re 119: Aid to Africa is the HIV/AID weakening good governance in Africa. Please, if the West are not out for business, then let China in.

    At the time of independence, democracy was not an option. Dictatorship was a common practice of the colonial masters while in African. So why blame dictators for practicing what they learned from their masters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Africa, remember your history. But remember all of it, even or *especially* the bits that hurt. There were many bad events in colonial eras, but some good, and there have also been many mistakes made since the end of colonialism. Only by seeing the whole of our past clearly can we understand our present, and build for the future.


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