In messages leaked last week, Conservative MP and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch made these points, familiar to anyone who comes from a former colony. “I don’t care about colonialism,” she wrote. “They came in and just made a different bunch of winners and losers. There was never any concept of ‘rights’, so [the] people who lost out were old elites not everyday people.”
Idle nostalgia about empire, or indifference to it, can rarely be separated from the sort of worldview that established the empire itself: that there is some inherent natural order to the process of colonisation; might is right. If the British had the more evolved means – both in terms of technology and finance – to dominate a people and commandeer their natural resources, then they also had the right to do so.
This criticism coming from an Arab Sudanese. You know, the folks who were still slaving among those blacker than they to the south and west ooooh, what was it, a decade back? Who fought a substantial war for decades to maintain their hold on the colony which became South Sudan?
The propaganda that then sustained empire, which imbued the “might” with the “right”, was the lie that empire was in fact really a civilising mission – a burden on the white man who brought not only Christianity to the heathen but also the order and hierarchy of his more sophisticated society.
The suppression of both animists and Christians in favour of Islam?
In my native Sudan, colonialism was a relatively gentle and short-lived experience (Sudan’s resources were not easily extractable and most of its lands inaccessible).
Colonialism by Sudanese lasted quite a long time actually.