People And Power Of Asia And Africa Cultural Studies Essay

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Decolonisation, Neo-colonialism and Post-colonialism. A major series of events that shook the world post-World War 2 was the decolonisation of European colonial empires in Asia and Africa. This period of time was to be an exciting moment for newly independent states as they are finally free from its colonial rulers and able to self-govern - flags are redesigned; national anthems are composed; annual parades are organised to celebrate independence. In the conventional school of thoughts, decolonisation means "[the] surrender of external political sovereignty, largely Western European, over colonised non-European peoples, plus the emergence of independent territories where once the West had ruled" (Springhall 2001: 2). However, scholars from this side of the spectrum argued that the West still exerts significant economic and other influences over cooperative local elites in decolonised countries. Radical scholars even went as far as to say that colonist carefully handed over power to local elites to continue to protect the interest of the metropolitan capital. In essence, both parties imply that political, economic and cultural models of colonialism persisted even after decolonisation. There are two theories which are used in order to explain political trajectories in Asia and Africa following de-colonisation. Firstly there is neo-colonialism, which is a discipline that deals with effects of colonisation on economic structures of a country. Also to be considered is post-colonialism, a discipline which studies the effects of colonisation on cultures and societies of a country.

There was a positive outlook towards the future of these newly independent nation states. Rostow (cited in Macqueen 2007: 139) presented the term 'modernisation theory' as a way to argue that with Western countries having already "blazed the trail of economic transformation and industrialisation in the nineteenth century" and providing the technological means to do so, there was a room for new countries to "undergo a process of accelerated development". This swift adjustment to the economic structure will allow these countries to stand firmly among Western countries in a transformed world economy. Not only do they progress economically, social and cultural orders will endure a transformation as well (Macqueen 2007: 140). However, this theory did not go hand in hand with most ex-colonial countries especially those in the sub-Saharan Africa region as they are facing a rapid decline of economic growth instead. Neo-colonialism and theories relating to it were used by neo-Marxists to understand why the ex-colonies are facing major economic downturn

Neo-colonialism, who was conceived by Kwame Nkrumah (1965), is based on breaking up of large colonial territories into smaller states which are incapable of independent development. Therefore they are forced to rely on their past rulers for internal and external security and economical development. One theory that uses the basis of neo-colonialism is dependency theory. Neo-marxists have used this theory to argue that 'Third World' countries are not having poor infrastructure due to internal mismanagement. It is, in fact that caused by global capitalism as the North has made it impossible for the South to survive independently and are forced to rely on the North which just so happens to be their past colonial rulers (Macqueen 2007: 141). If development were to occur in Third World countries, it will mean an end to "captive markets for European manufactured good, supplies of cheap raw materials and cheap workforce" for the West (Macqueen 2007: 142).

In order for the colonists to exert political influence and at the same time please the colonised locals, local elites were given highly-ranked positions. However, they were groomed by the colonisers so that they will be assimilated to European cultures. These elites will administer the colonies while still withholding the interests of their colonisers (Macqueen 2007: 145). Neo-marxists use the term 'comprador class' to refer to these elites. After the departure of their former colonial rulers following independence, the people who will rule the country would be comprised mostly of the comprador class. With the mentality of their former colonisers, the political structure of newly independent states will be mostly Western-influenced. As an example, "post-independence constitutions will mimic those of the metropolis" and "in former British territories, parliaments will become mini-Westminsters" (Macqueen 2007: 146). With the help of the comprador class, the exploitation by the North on the South following decolonisation was simplified.

A variation of dependency theory is called 'world system theories' was developed by Immanuel Wallerstein in order to refine the dependency theory. Both theories based on the premise that no nation in the world can be considered in isolation. However, world systems theory argues that developing countries are not exploited by individual countries but by the whole capitalist system of the globalisation process. (Anderson & Taylor 2009: 219). In this model, the world was divided into three zones: the core nations which control the world trade, the semi-peripheral zone which have urban areas like the core but large areas of rural poverty and the peripheral which provide primary products for both semi periphery and the core. It is also noted that this model is dynamic as the countries are socially mobile as they can move in from the periphery into the semi periphery like the 'Asian tigers' or from the core to the semi-periphery like Britain (Anderson & Taylor 2009: 221).

Even though both theories gave satisfying explanations on the interconnecting relationship between different political, economic and cultural phenomena (Macqueen 2007: 150), the theories have been faced with criticisms on a number of directions. One of the stronger arguments against both theories were the methodologies behind them were too vague. The theories gave a general analysis of the relation between developed and underdeveloped states. Thus, they are unable to explain phenomena which happened on a more specific scale, like country-by-country judgements. Macqueen (2007:151) argued that the economy of the 'Asian tigers' like Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia which were former European colonies do not conform to the dependency model as their economy prosper and has underwent rapid development after independence. Another argument used against both theories was that they do not look at internal factors as a reason of underdevelopment. Anderson and Taylor (2009: 224) reasoned that lesser-developed countries were not developing as expected was due to internal mismanagement and corruption. Despite what has just been said, both theories have been appreciated for "revealing ethno-centric bias of modernisation theory and for showing global system of capital prevents peripheral economies from developing in a manner more appropriate to their cultures and values" (Ashcroft 2001: 68).

Post-colonialism by definition is basically a period of time after colonialism. However, the term means much more complex than that. Post-colonialism is a study which addressed issues pertaining to identity, gender, race, racism and ethnicity with the challenges of developing a post-colonial national identity. It has been used by scholars to understand and analyse the cultural legacy of colonialism (Ashcroft 2001: 199). They argued that the aftermath of colonialism is still felt till today with Macqueen (2007: 156) supporting this argument by saying "the product of the twenty-first century is, inescapably, a product of colonialism".

One of the biggest impacts of colonialism on former colonised states is the usage of language. The colonisers would enforced the usage of their language on the colonised locals and restrict them to speak in their mother tongues. Furthermore, a number of words from the coloniser's language are even integrated into the native language of the country which has been colonised. Following independence, a number of formerly colonised countries still retained the colonial language as a form of communication. Ashcroft (2007: 176) suggested that the retention of the usage of the colonial language was due to "elite perceptions of 'modernization' and the manufactured disdain for indigenous culture of the westernised 'comprador' class. In Marxist states like Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau, keeping Portuguese as their national language was justified as having a language spoken and understood universally by its citizen will help in administration, education and political propaganda. Besides that, the threat of regionalism and tribalism could be sterilised as a single language can act a tool to unite its citizens. Ironically, the usage of the old colonial language has helped in protecting the nations from neo-colonialism (Ashcroft 2007: 177).

With the aid of 'print-publication', communication between the colonised locals was made easier. Books and printed materials were made easily accessible not only for those living in urban areas but rural areas as well. Local intellectuals, who were bilingual and knowledgeable to Western ideas and norms, helped forge nationalist consciousness as they introduced concepts of nationalism, nation-ness and nation-state (Anderson cited in Loomba 1998: 189) to the masses through publications. With the increased awareness of nationalism, the locals had a stronger view for anti-colonialism and wanted independence from its colonial rulers. Chatterjee (cited in Loomba 1998: 190) commented that Indian nationalism was conceptualised by nationalists through filtering out Euro-centric concepts and integrating them to Indian ideologies. He further elaborated that there should be "a distinction between nationalism as a political movement which challenges the colonial state and nationalism as a cultural construct which enables the colonised to posit their difference and autonomy" and hence, the latter concept giving the colonised state a national identity.

During the colonial era, the European colonisers would bring in large populations of poor labourers from populous areas like India and China to other colonies like Malaya and the Philippines under contractual agreements in order to satisfy the demand for cheap agricultural labour in colonial plantation economies. This movement of labourers has caused world-wide colonial diasporas. According to Ashcroft (2001: 68), diaspora is "the voluntary or forcible movements of peoples from their homelands into new regions" and it is certainly a main historical fact of colonisation. As the following generations after the first generation which experienced the first diaspora movement prosper, distinctive cultures were developed in which they preserved and extended their native cultures (Ashcroft 2001: 69). Colonialism has had deep impacts on post-colonial era Europe as well. The movement of people did not travel in one direction as evidenced by the large degree of movement of people from ex-colonised states to the land of their former colonial rulers. A few factors were used to explain this phenomenon. Besides easy communication by sharing a common language, European acknowledgement of highly-skilled migrant workers was another key cause of this mass migration. Another reason was the accessibility of travelling to the West as shipping and flying routes to their former coloniser's homelands were maintained following decolonisation (Macqueen 1978: 178). Macqueen (1978: 180) elaborated that the existence of colonial diasporas in post-colonial era Europe would give a profound impact on almost all facets of daily life such as "the character of social policy right down to national gene-pool as inter-marriage becomes commonplace".

According to scholars, feminism and post-colonialism share many similarities and for this reason the two fields have long been thought of as perhaps complementary to each other. Firstly, both disciplines are mostly political in nature and focus on the struggle of injustice and oppression. Secondly, both dismiss the established system of patriarchy and imperialism which has sidelined and dominated its subjects through the supremacy of the oppressor (Ashcroft 2001: 101). There has been a heightened discussion of how much impact gender and colonial oppression have in women's lives. Alternatively, both methods of oppressions were considered to be connected to each other as "the condition of colonial dominance affects, in material ways, the position of women within their societies" (Ashcroft 2001: 102). This relationship has led to a call for greater gender equality in the practices of imperialism and colonialism. As a tool to promote anti-colonialism and nationalism, women as national symbols were urged to "literally and figuratively reproduce the nation" in which the reproduction not only meant biologically and economically but also attempted in the reproduction of national, ethical and racial concepts" (Loomba 1998: 216). In Palestine, a Muslim woman was treated as "a factory to produce men, and she has a great role in raising and educating the generations" (Jad cited in Loomba 1998: 216). In a more contemporary aspect, post-colonial feminists have argued that the wider formation of the colonial as well as establishing the single category of the colonised ignored factors like gender differences. This generalisation was criticised as women were experiencing "double colonisation where women were specifically discriminated for their gender, and in a broader aspect, as colonial subjects. Even following independence, this kind of gender bias is still persistent and "constructions of the pre-colonial traditions are often heavily inflected by a contemporary masculinist bias that falsely represents women as quietist and subordinate" (Ashcroft 2001: 104).

On a more personal note, as a Malaysian, I can see such influences of colonialism in various political, economic, cultural and social aspects in this country, which is of course a former British colony. Politically, our parliamentary system retains many components of the European structure, and is modelled after the UK-based Westminster system. Similarly, Malaysia has preserved the distinct cultures and social relations of those who were brought in from nations like India and China as labourers, resulting in a diversified society. Every facet of our community, ranging from ethnicity, religion, language and cuisine to arts, literature and architecture, draws heavy influences from the native lands of those who have since settled in our country, as well as cultures of those who have colonised our land. The Malaysian society comprises three main racial groups of Chinese, Indians and Muslims, who practice a mix of beliefs and religions like Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. Colonialism has contributed to a myriad of languages presently used in Malaysia. English, a language used by British colonists, remains an active secondary language in this country and various dialects of Tamil and Chinese are predominantly spoken here as well. Using theories of neo-colonialism and post-colonialism, it is possible to describe how political trajectories are developed in Asia and Africa following de-colonisation, as explained above in regards to how these regions have been impacted economically, culturally and socially.