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Mainstream, VOL L, No 32, July 28, 2012

From Colonialism to Neo-colonialism

Tuesday 31 July 2012, by Eduardo Faleiro


The following is the valedictory address delivered by the former Union Minister, Eduardo Faleiro, at the International Conference on “Decolonisation, Development and Diaspora: The Afro-Indian Experience” held at the Goa International Centre earlier this month.

We celebrated last year the golden jubilee of Goa’s independence from colonial rule and I am glad that the Indian Council of World Affairs decided to hold this Conference in the context of Goa’s liberation.

The Conference was to be held last December but it was postponed due to the electoral process here at that time.

It was appropriate to have this Conference in the context of Goa’s Liberation. Indeed, it was a seminar on Portuguese Colonialism held in New Delhi in October 1961 that triggered the decision of the Government of India to liberate Goa. The seminar was addressed by the Prime Minister, Nehru, and by several other leaders of foreign countries including those from the Portuguese colonies in Africa. Until then, Pandit Nehru was reluctant to take any military action to liberate Goa in view of his policy of non-violence. However, the seminar created intense public opinion and led to ‘Operation Vijay’ on December 19, 1961. Goa was liberated within two days without any real struggle.

The liberation of Goa provided the impetus for the anti-colonial movements in the Portuguese colonies of Africa. Independence for the Portuguese colonies in Africa came about in 1975 after the Carnation Revolution and the collapse of the fascist regime in Portugal.

Whilst the former colonies are now indepen-dent countries, the vestiges of colonialism have not disappeared and this Conference is therefore relevant at present times.

Classic colonialism is now practically dead. It consisted of a colonial power taking over militarily a country and staying there to dominate the local people politically and in every sphere of their lives. The objective of colonialism was economic exploitation through (i) control of the resources of the colonies, and (ii) use of the colonies as markets for its products.

Colonialism led to the destruction of economic life in the colonies and to extreme poverty and deprivation. Examples:

In India, we had a flourishing industry of a fine cloth known as muslin which was being exported to several countries. However, in the early 19th century, the colonial administration cut the thumbs of hundreds of weavers and liquidated this industry. Thereafter, India from an exporter turned into a major importer of cloth from the mills of England;

In the 1940s, the infamous Bengal Famine happened where about a million people died of hunger and starvation. The reason was that foodgrains were being exported from India to the Middle East to feed the British troops in the Second World War. When the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, asked Prime Minister Churchill for permission to stop such exports, Churchill refused and retorted: “If there is such a shortage of foodgrains in India how is that Gandhi is not yet dead?”

Twentyfive major famines happened in India during the colonial rule and millions of people died of hunger from Tamil Nadu to Bihar to Bengal. Since independence, there has not been a single such famine in India. There is malnutrition in several parts of the country not so much due to shortage of foodgrains but insufficient and improper storage and lack of adequate transport facilities. This subject is often discussed in our Parliament.

The colonial rule destroyed the Indian economy and greatly impoverished the people of India. By all accounts, India was a prosperous nation at the onset of Western colonialism. The French traveller, Tavernier, in his Travels in India, written in the 17th century, gives the following account of Indian life: “Even in the smallest villages, rice, flour, butter, milk, beans and other vegetables, sugar and sweetmeats can be procured in abundance.” Yet, during British rule, as per government reports of the time, 70 to 80 per cent of Indians were living at subsistence levels, two-thirds were under-nourished and in Bengal nearly four-fifths were undernourished. An estimate by the Cambridge historian, Angus Wilson, reveals that in 1700, India’s share of the world income was 22.6 per cent comparable to the entire income of Europe which was then at 23.3 per cent. By 1952, however, India’s share fell to 2.3 per cent of the world income.

Colonialism in its earlier form has practically ceased to exist but we do live now in the era of neo-colonialism. There is no military conquest in the traditional sense and political control of the population within a territory but the objectives remain the same: control of natural resources, such as oil, and control of the markets. The wars that we have witnessed in recent times in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere are aimed at the control of local resources and to install pliable and subservient governments. The present moves against Syria and Iran are in the same direction—change governments through economic strangulation, if possible, whilst the military option is always on the table.

What should the countries of the South, the developing countries, do in such circumstances?

In the political sphere, we should strive through NAM, G77 and all other organisations of the developing countries for a more just, equitable and peaceful international order through democratisation of the United Nations system, reform of the Security Council and strengthening of the General Assembly; elimination of all nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

In 1988, our Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, had proposed, in his speech at the UN General Assembly, universal, complete and verifiable elimination of all nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction within a time-frame. This has been the constant demand of the Government of India since then. A few countries with nuclear weapons and others with none leads to nuclear blackmail and to nuclear proliferation.

On the economic and social fronts, countries of Africa have made major progress. They are growing faster than almost any other region in the world. The IMF expects the sub-Saharan African economies to grow by six per cent this year. The African rate of growth has surpassed that of East Asia. The African Lions have now taken over from the Asian Tigers. The rate of return on investment in Africa is currently the highest in the developing world. Africa, in particular, and the developing countries in general, are indeed the major engines of global economic growth at this point of time. Yet, many important problems remain unresolved.
The Millennium Declaration of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2000 identified eight goals to be achieved by every country in the world by the year 2015. They include elimination of abject poverty, universal primary education, elimination of epidemics such as malaria etc. One of the goals is global partnership. In 1970, 22 developed countries undertook at the General Assembly of the United Nations to contribute 0.7 per cent of their GNP towards ODA. According to the UNDP if such contribution is made fully by those countries it would gather financial resources sufficient to achieve all the eight Millennium Development Goals in every country of the world. As of today, however, only five developed countries have contributed their share. They are Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands and Luxemburg. The remaining have not yet done so whilst several have committed themselves to attain that level by 2015. Among the countries that have neither contributed the amount pledged nor have committed themselves to do so by 2015 are the USA (0.2 per cent), Canada, Australia, Japan and some others.
In addition, not in substitution to the North-South cooperation, South-South cooperation is also necessary.

I visited the Frontline States in the eighties. I had then been put in charge of the Africa Fund created by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi along with some other world leaders to help the Frontline States withstand the depredations of Apartheid South Africa. I met the leaders of those countries including President Samora Machel of Mozambique, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, Mr Sam Nujoma who was not yet the President of Namibia, and other leaders. At that point of time trade between India and Africa was around 26 billion US dollars. According to FICCI, the present trade between India and Africa is around 60 billion dollars and it is likely to reach 80 billion dollars by 2015. It is growing exponentially at almost 25 per cent every year.

The Duty Free Tariff Preference Scheme which was announced by our Prime Minister at the India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi in 2008 has contributed in this regard. The India-Africa Forum Summit held in Adis Ababa last year adopted a Framework for Enhanced Cooperation in different fields ranging from economics to politics, science and technology, environment, energy, etc. I would like my own State of Goa to also be involved in the India-Africa Enhanced Cooperation. For instance, we could have more students from Africa at the Goa University with scholarships under the ITEC. There should also be interaction between the Goa University and African Universities.

Notable advances here been made by former colonies after their independence. In Goa, we have achieved remarkable progress since liberation particularly in the core sectors such as education, health and infrastructure. The literacy rate in Goa was around 30 per cent at the time of liberation and it is now hundred per cent if we exclude some persons above the age of 50 years. In 1961, in my own village, there was just one primary school with about 100 students. Today, we have in the village, several primary schools and high schools with thousands of students in their rolls. Significant headway has also been made in the fields of health care and development of infrastructure such as electricity and water supply, roads and other forms of communication.

At this point of time, our countries face several challenges. We ought to confront them with courage and determination, with a rational outlook and commitment to a value system anchored on work ethics and the quest for excellence. To quote President Obama, “We can do it!”

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