Colonial terrorism, global capitalism and African underdevelopment: 500 years of crimes against African peoples.

Author:Jalata, Asafa

For almost five centuries, European empire builders, namely Portugal, Holland, France, England, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Spain employed different strategies and tactics in Africa to make money through the ownership of human beings, exploration, evangelization, colonization, commercialization, banditry, robbery, and theft. The processes of merchandizing some young Africans, dominating and controlling trade, destroying African cultures and religions, imposing Christianity, destroying independent African leadership and sovereignties through establishing colonial and neo-colonial governments, and dispossessing lands and other economic resources, and transforming Africans into coerced laborers involved various forms of violence including war, terrorism, and genocide. Using different forms of violence in merchandising young and able-bodied Africans and taking over the homelands and resources of the indigenous peoples were acts of terrorism. Terrorism and other forms of violence enabled these empire builders to enrich themselves and their collaborators at the cost of Africans; consequently, they established themselves as powerful countries, claimed racial superiority, and imposed their cultures and Christian religion and ruling ideas on Africans peoples. They also imposed their hegemonic scholarship or geo-culturally limited knowledge that has drastically failed to explain the conditions of Africans.

Although several scholars have explored the impacts of racial slavery, exploration, Christianity, colonization on the entire continent, and geo-cultural knowledge, they have ignored to study the essence and role of European terrorism in the destruction and dehumanization of African societies and in the establishment and maintenance of the European dominated racialized capitalist world system. (1) Despite the fact that these European powers and their agents used the discourses of commerce, Christianity, modernity, and civilization to cultivate their African collaborators for dividing and conquering Africa, systematic terrorism and other forms of violence enabled them to dominate African societies and exploit their economic and labor resources beginning in the late fifteenth century and reaching its climax during the last decades of the nineteenth century. "Everywhere the conquests of Africa brought similar paradoxes of public disaster and private profit in their train," John Lonsdale (1985: 722) notes. The slave system and colonial orders were established and maintained mainly through terrorism. European countries and others that involved in Africa try to forget the deaths and suffering caused by racial slavery, the blood spilled, mass murders and genocide, the severed hands and heads, the shattered families, and other crimes committed in Africa to extract wealth and capital. As Adam Hochschild (1998: 295) notes, "Forgetting one's participation in mass murder is not something passive; it is an active deed. In looking at the memories recorded by the early white conquistadors in Africa, we can sometimes catch the act of forgetting at the very moment it happens."

When various African peoples intensified their respective resistance to racial slavery, colonial expansion, domination, and exploitation and later engaged in national liberation struggles in the mid-twentieth century, some of these empire builders increased their levels of terrorism to prevent the reemergence of African independent African leadership and sovereignties and to continue their theft and robbery of African resources.

Jean Ganiage (1985: 157) asserts that European policy makers planned and acted "to crush African resistance by a ruthlessly systematic exploitation of the technological gap between European and African weaponry and military organization." The "war of any sort is not much more than 'a series of errors and accidents' ... Its annals have more to tell us of man's nature than anything else. Those colonial wars, in particular, leave us to wonder whether the conqueror's violence has been an authentic expression of human nature, or a derangement of it" (Kiernan (1982: 230). Whatever human nature is the European colonial powers engaged in all forms of violence to make blood money and enrich themselves by merchandizing human beings, committing mass murders and genocide, and engaging in theft and robbery. Africans were exposed to two waves of terror: The first wave started in the late fifteenth century with merchandising some young and able-bodied Africans at gunpoint and colonizing some limited coastal islands or territories (about 10 percent of Africa). The second wave emerged in the first half of the nineteenth century and consolidated with the partition and colonization of the remaining 90 percent of the continent in the late nineteenth century. (2) For the sake of clarity and a better understanding of terrorism, it is necessary to define and theorize it in relation to the capitalist world system.

Some Conceptual and Theoretical Insights

Considering the historical and global context in which colonial terrorism emerged and intensified, we need a more comprehensive and broader definition of terrorism. So, I define terrorism as a systematic governmental or organizational policy through which lethal violence is practiced openly or covertly to impose terror on a given population group and their institutions or symbols or their representative members to change their behavior of political resistance to domination or their behavior of domination for political and economic gains or other reasons. Both state and non-state actors use terrorism; the former has used it to maintain state power or to loot resources and the latter mostly to resist the oppressive and exploitative policies of states. There are also non-state terrorist agencies that advance extremist religious and racist ideologies and practices on a sub-national or international level. According to John W. Sloan (1984: 84), "Since governmental groups have the resources of the state at their disposal, they are usually capable of engaging in higher levels of terrorism than the guerrillas." However, transnational terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda have adequate human, financial, and intellectual resources to impose horrifying terrorist activities on targeted audiences on a global level. All forms of terrorists though attempt to hide the lethal consequences of terrorism and their crimes against humanity by discoursing over civilization, progress, democracy, national liberation or religious rights. Most people are easily persuaded by such discourses and take sides without understanding or ignoring the consequences. Unfortunately, the terrorism that powerless or colonized peoples experience receives inadequate attention while terrorism that is visited upon powerful groups or nations receives more attention and publicity. Some states and powerful peoples do not recognize that all human groups have the right to life and liberty and should be protected from all forms terrorism.

There have been human groups that have engaged in peaceful co-existence and cooperation and have shared their available resources. History also demonstrates that some individuals or groups have engaged in conflict and war over economic interests such as land, water, and commerce as well as over religions since time of immemorial (3) (Black 2004: 23). However, the intensity and danger of terrorism and genocide have increased with the advancement of technology--first with gun making and subsequently with the production of other powerful weapons. According to Paul Wilkinson (1979: 45), "We really understand very little about the origins and causes of human violence in all its daunting variety.... There is no substantial theoretical literature in social science concerned specifically with terrorist phenomena." Nevertheless, since the frequency, intensity, and the volume of terrorism have increased with the emergence and development of global capitalism, a definition and a theory of terrorism cannot be adequately developed without considering terrorism as an aspect of the racialized capitalist world system. Beginning in 1492, European colonialists engaged in terrorism, genocide, and enforced servitude in the Americas and extended their violence into Africa through racial slavery. Then, in the sixteenth, seventh, and eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they incorporated other parts of the world into this system through colonial terrorism and genocidal wars.

Most scholars have avoided providing a comprehensive and critical analysis and an objective definition and theorization of this aspect of the modern world system. Even those critical scholars like Karl Marx, (4) Andre Gunder Frank, (5) Immanuel Wallerstein, (6) and others who have studied the emergence, development, and expansion of the racialized capitalist world system have primarily focused on trade, the international division of labor, exploitation, capital accumulation, political structures, development and underdevelopment, and social inequality and have ignored the role of terrorism in creating and maintaining the system. Such critical scholars have not provided an adequate explanation for the role of state-centered or state-sponsored terrorism in destroying or enslaving the indigenous peoples of the world and in creating, developing, and maintaining the racialized capitalist world system. Although Marx recognized the cruelty and consequences of the capitalist world system, he did not explore the idea that terrorism was an integral part of the broadening of the system. Marx focused on capitalist development in Europe and indirectly studied its relations to the colonized societies. Other critical scholars have also followed his Euro-centric paradigm. We learn from history that political violence has increased as different societies engaged in improved techniques of production, produced surplus wealth, developed their organizational capacity, and improved...

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