The colonial past is still relevant

Source– The post is based on the article “The colonial past is still relevant” published in “The Hindu” on 16th March 2023.

Syllabus: GS1- Colonization and decolonization

Relevance– Colonial legacies and associated challenges

News– Colonialism remains a relevant factor in understanding the problems and the dangers of the present world.

What are the challenges related to colonialism in modern times?

The residual problems from the end of the earlier era of colonization remain unresolved. The conflicts in western Sahara, Jammu and Kashmir, Cyprus and Palestine are legacies of colonialism.  The factors responsible for these events in the colonial era have the potential to reignite conflicts. The war between Ethiopia and Eritrea was due to undefined colonial borders.

Intellectual history of colonialism– It is the cause of more recent conflicts. For example – the Belgian classification of Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi continues to haunt the region of the African Great Lakes.

The British invention of “martial races” in India is another example. Colonial rulers promoted the policy of “divide and rule”. It promoted political divisions between Hindus and Muslims that led to the tragedy of Partition.

Colonial-era distinctions: Such colonial era distinctions were accompanied by an unequal distribution of the resources of the state within colonial society. For example, Belgian colonialists favoured Tutsis. It led to Hutu rejecting them as foreign supporters.

In the present such example, Sinhalese were against privileges enjoyed by the Tamils in the colonial era in Sri Lanka. It prompted the discriminatory policies after Independence and the Tamil revolt.

Mixed colonial history– It is also a potential source of danger. When a state has more than one colonial past, its future is vulnerable.

Ethnicity or language hardly seem to be a factor in the secessions of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Rather, it was different colonial experiences that separated them from the rest of their ethnic compatriots.

A similar example is Yugoslavia, made up of regions that had been under different empires. A Part of the country had been under Austro-­Hungarian rule for 800 years. Other regions were under Ottoman suzerainty. in 1991, a war erupted between these 2 regions in the country.

Border issues– Boundaries drawn in colonial times still create enormous problems of national unity, especially in Africa. Civil conflict along ethnic or regional lines can arise when the challenge of nation­ building within colonial drawn boundaries becomes insurmountable.

colonial powers drew national boundaries in an arbitrary way. Older tribal and clan loyalties in Africa were destroyed by the boundaries drawn by the west.  Civil wars happen when local leaders challenge a “national” leader whose nationalism fails to resonate across his country.

Crisis of governance– State failure in the wake of colonialism is another evident source of conflict. It is a by­product of the newly independent state’s inability to govern.

The crisis of governance in many African countries is cause for concern in world affairs today. The collapse of effective central governments in Sierra Leone and South Sudan, Liberia and Somalia can lead to alarming possibilities.

Underdevelopment in post colonial societies is itself a cause of conflict. The uneven development of infrastructure in a poor country for the benefit of the colonialists has led to uneven distribution of resources. It leads to increasing fissures in a society between neglected regions” and better served regions.

Advancing underdevelopment in many countries of the South has created conditions of desperate poverty, ecological collapse and rootless, unemployed populations. These are beyond the control of  state systems.

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