Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The generic colonialism and the generic African (WOF)

Chua begins her fourth chapter, "The 'Ibo of Cameroon': Market-Dominant Minorities in Africa," far from Cameroon, with brief allusion to the generic colonialism. As Chua describes-
"The problem [of communal economic inequality] is starkest in southern Africa. In country after country, a handful of whites engorged themselves on natural resources and human labor, creating enclaves of spectacular wealth and modernization, surrounded by mounting, justifiable hatred among the indigenous black majority" (Chua, 95).
It's good that Chua openly condemns the past colonial administrations in southern Africa, but she does so in a manner that's generic - equating the experiences of all "locals" with a single type of oppression. She quickly moves into examples, thankfully, to move us out of a broad and unspecific idea of "Africa". Unfortunately, in the particulars, Chua's recurrent emphasis on empowered groups. Her first case study, Angola, tracks the experiences of the Portuguese colonists - quoting an entire page from Ryszard Kapuściński's famous account of the last Portuguese huddling in an airport, preparing to leave Angola, now that it was no longer theirs. Chua helpfully adds, after the quote, the reassurance that "Most of the Portuguese go out safely" only as an afterthought also saying that the Angolans quickly saw their nation "disintegrate into a civil war of unspeakable brutality" (Chua, 96). From this description, Chua briefly touches on Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa, where she merely distinguishes that the white enclaves remained intact - with the same supposedly unfortunately conflict between the colonized and the colonizers waiting to happen.

In a new section, Chua goes into greater detail about the remaining enclaves of white colonists (or their descendants) scattered throughout southern Africa, primarily through talking about a particular Boer family she personally knows. Through this she examines the very important distinction between the Afrikaners and English whites, and even briefly mentions the somewhat enfranchised Asian and "Colored" (mixed race) minorities. A perhaps unintentional message is that the groups comparatively high within the South African racial hierarchy are diverse, defined by internal conflicts, and otherwise complex characters. The clear omission of indigenous (or less indigenous) blacks, however, seems to place them outside of such a category - they aren't market-dominant and (coincidentally?) Chua doesn't analyze them as potentially having loyalties to a different group than their "race" as constructed by outsiders. She's enabling the colonial definition of the "native".

Chua eventually progresses into closer looks at Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Namibia as well, but again, the "black" population is treated as uniform, homogeneous, and otherwise without individuality, compared to white enclaves that are contrasted with each other regularly and repeatedly defined by minute differences in original European nation and relationship with outside nations (namely the UK and US). The only example of any such comparison is a brief comment on the Herero, a tribe that the Germans nearly exterminated in putting down anti-colonial revolutions during the aptly named Herero War. Chua simply notes that, during colonial exploitation in Namibia, "Germans, who starting in the late 1890s turned the dozen or so major ethnic groups constituting black Namibia into forced labor - almost annihilating the particularly rebellious Herero tribe" (Chua, 100). The only inclusion of differentiation among what the Europeans decided were "black" Africans is in the context of a response to colonial actors - there's no sense of localized experience in Chua's initial analysis without a stronger emphasis on the distinctions between the white colonizers and the black populace. For now, Chua places the only distinguishing between black Africans in a context that obscures that with the distinguishing between colonial agents and colonial subjects.

Next week, we'll move onto Chua's section on African intermediaries - the only distinct group among black Africans she discusses in depth.

No comments:

Post a Comment