Saturday, April 30, 2011

Who made them powerful? (WOF)

Chua starts her discussion on indigenously African, market-dominant ethnicities with an in-depth look at the Kikuyu, the largest and wealthiest indigenous "tribe" in Kenya. There's some vagueness from Chua about when exactly the Kikuyu became an economically dominant force in Kenya. She notes - "Before colonization, Kikuyu territory stretched from Nairobi to the slopes of Mount Kenya" implying they had some influential power (not necessarily economic, however) prior to colonization (Chua, 105). She soon after adds, however, "as early as the 1920s, while the country was still under British rule, the Kikuyu emerged as a disproportionately urban, 'capitalist' elite among Kenya's indigenous tribes" (Chua, 105). The unclear wording ("emerged") manages to both implicate colonial rule for introducing capitalist inequalities into a pristine pre-colonial Africa (Chua shies away from overt references to "noble savages") but avoids directly blaming colonial authorities and the Kikuyu themselves for the economic inequalities.

As she moves the discussion forward into the "post"-colonial era, Chua begins overtly blaming government policies, however, showing that she will blame African politicians for inegalitarian economic policies, but not colonial governments. She specifically blames Kenya's first African president, Jomo Kenyatta, for having "adopted ethnically biased economic policies blatantly favoring the Kikuyu" most notably the "transfer to the Kikuyu large tracts of the fertile, cash-crop-producing land formerly controlled by whites to the exclusion of other groups" (Chua 105 ; Chua, 105-106). Here we have the example of a continuation of colonial period inequality continuing beyond the dismantling of the colonial state, by changing hands into a dominant economic group. Chua discusses the facts of colonial inequalities enforced by Europeans dryly, noting contested histories about which indigenous groups were most persecuted, but with minimal attention to the exact means of oppression. Her references to colonial inequalities are only understood as explanations of the origins of post-colonial inequalities. She emphasizes the failures of African-controlled states in a way she does not emphasize European-controlled ones.

In short, her discussion on the origins of indigenously African ethnicities which dominate markets largely ignores pre-colonial inequalities (which is a painful mistake given the centuries of inequality between Hutu and Tutsi, to name a better known example), perpetuates ideas that there is a colonial origin to all major facets of African society (which centers the discussion on European actors), but holds a double standard between colonial and post-colonial governments that to some extent trivializes the unfair practices of colonial administrations while harshly analyzing the inequalities administrated by indigenous African groups (which is just an overt apologetic for colonialism). She repeats nearly every major narrative about Africa that many Africans see as neo-colonial and destructive - that they had no agency or history before colonization, that African history is many about colonial activity and indigenous responses, and complaints that "post"-colonial governance is failing and needs to be regulated by outside sources.

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