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April 10, 2019

The stranglehold of native colonialism

Opinion

April 10, 2019

About 50 countries in Asia and Africa became sovereign, independent nations after Second World War as decolonization by European powers gained momentum. In some cases, the end of foreign colonial rule was peacefully negotiated, while in other cases independence was won after a long and bitter war of liberation from colonial rule.

But as foreign colonial rule ended, did it also mean the end of colonial practices in these countries? Were the promises made to the people who gave immense sacrifices for independence, delivered by their leaders?

Some countries successfully achieved the desired transition. They dismantled colonial instruments of control and exploitation, changed the rules of the game, opened opportunities for all and achieved for their people the power, prosperity and dignity promised during the struggle for independence.

For others, the struggle and sacrifices of the people amounted to merely changing the colour and creed of foreign colonial masters with that of the native rulers who continued with same practices of colonial control and exploitation. This is native colonialism, which is not easily discernible because it hides behind empathy of the same colour, creed, language and customs of the people and is clever enough to market itself under politically correct labels of the times.

New research has given further credence to this narrative. A research study by Utsa Patnaik, published by Columbia University Press draws on nearly two hundred years of data of British colonial rule in India and has calculated that Britain managed to siphon off about $45 trillion from India during the colonial period from 1765 to 1938. The instruments used to accumulate resources from the people of India and transfer them to the UK were taxation and trade policies; the instruments of governance were designed to work for the benefit of the colonial masters.

Another study of Africa by a group of 10 NGOs has shown that after African countries achieved independence from foreign colonialism, 40 percent of the wealth of Africa has been stolen and stashed abroad by its ‘post-independence leaders’. A 2014 estimate further shows that $500 billion of the wealth of Africa has been stolen and hidden away mostly in Europe and the US by its various leaders.

Describing this phenomenon, Franz Fanon had said that the ruling cliques in these countries had ‘internalized the colonial practices’ in the post-independence governance of countries. The instruments of governance were either designed or manipulated to transfer peoples’ resources into the ruling cliques’ pockets and unaccounted wealth was hidden away from the eyes of their people by stashing it abroad.

Although no serious research has been conducted here, but media reports of the last few years have stunned the people of Pakistan with stories of the magnitude of the wealth of Pakistan that has been siphoned away for many years. Hundreds of billions of dollars are alleged to have been taken out and hidden away across a wide range of countries and tax heavens. The magnitude of the people’s resources transferred to the ruling groups in Pakistan by manipulation of policies, laws and rules has been calculated by Hafiz Pasha to be Rs2 trillion every year. Projected for 200 years to compare with the funds siphoned off from colonial India, the fund transfers from the people of Pakistan to its ruling groups would come to a hefty $4 trillion. This shows the extent to which our instruments of governance have ‘internalized the colonial practices’.

These are the very tactics – as listed above by Utsa Patnaik – which were used by British colonialists in siphoning off resources of colonial India. This also looks eerily similar to the ways adopted by leaders of post-independence Africa as shown in the study mentioned above.

Such practices have stunted the growth of Pakistan. As the rights and resources of the people have been taken away from them for decades, this has led to catastrophic consequences for a vast majority of people who have been forced to suffer the miseries of poverty, disease, illiteracy and unemployment for three generations after independence.

These days we are again going through the annual ritual of lamenting about the problems dragging our economy down: current account deficit, fiscal deficit, stagnant exports, deindustrialization, mountain of debt and rising unemployment. These are all are genuine problems. But these have existed for a long time now and their solutions are no rocket science.

Some very good suggestions have been made in these pages and elsewhere by knowledgeable persons about addressing these challenges. But we are assuming that if only we provided rational, logical solutions, the decision-makers of this country would take immediate steps to implement these and rid the country of these long recurring problems. Such assumptions have never come true.

So the more important questions are: What is wrong with our systems of governance that the rulers do not listen to sane and sensible advice, and how do they get away with irrational and unjustifiable policies that keep pushing the country into one embarrassment after another? And how to change such a cavalier attitude to governance in a developing country which has continuously seen its potential going waste?

A similar call comes from a recent publication about the economy of Sindh; the publication argues its case with enormous data and comprehensive analyses about opportunities lost and the widening gap between the potential and the performance of the province of Sindh.

‘The economy of modern Sindh’ is a book by three eminent economists of Sindh, Ishrat Hussain, Aijaz A Qureshi and Nadeem Hussain. The book covers a wide range of social and economic, agricultural and industrial and rural and urban sectors. It has ably documented downward slide across all sectors, the stagnancy in agriculture, declining productivity in industries and services sectors and declining per capita income of the urban and rural population of the province. It identifies divisive polity, politics of segregation, large-scale immigration from other areas of the country, and law and orders issues as contributing factors which have damaged the prospects and potential of the people in both urban and rural areas.

The book refers to the unpublished World Bank Report of 2015, which confirms its analysis and shows that the per capita income of Sindh which was 55 percent higher than the rest of the country at the time of independence, declined to 36 percent by 1990 and further down to 17 percent by 2014-5. However, no light is visible at the end of the dark and divisive tunnel and no sign of creating synergies by an inclusive governance to turn the tide and help people in both urban and rural areas to realize their potential.

These instances show that be it the continent, country or province, colonial practices have been internalized by ruling groups in various shades of grey – albeit under politically correct labels. In many cases, foreign colonialism was replaced by native colonialism. It similarly prevented people from realizing their potential while their resources continued to be transferred into the pockets of the rulers and stashed abroad to hide unaccountable wealth from the eyes of their fellow citizens.

So, the million-dollar question is: Can the economics of a continent, a country or a province be right if its politics is wrong?

The writer designed the Boardof Investment and the First Women’s Bank.

Email: [email protected]

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