Season 1: The Big Picture

115 Decolonization, or “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

Today we’re going back to the 20th century and Decolonization, or as I like to call it, “Don’t Let the Door Hit You On The Way Out”.So remember about how WWII discredited the idea of empire? The Allies spent the war fighting against the Nazi empire in the name of freedom and self-determination. Which backfired when European colonies or mandates were like, “Um… Can we get some of that, please?” Plus, Europe was broke and couldn’t really afford to maintain land overseas anymore. For all of those reasons and more, Asian and African nations got full independence, sometimes for the first time in thousands of years. But it wasn’t easy and the stink of imperialism hasn’t fully worn off yet.

Act 1: Thanks Gandhi! | India & Pakistan

Act 2: Thanks Mandela! | South Africa

Act 3: Decolonization in Africa

In our mind today, we look at the news about Africa and see mostly negative things. We’re like, “Come on, Africa. Get it together!” But remember: they haven’t been able to completely rule themselves since the postclassical era. The slave trade decimated their population, imperialism structured their economies to benefit the leadership and foreign companies, and often the independence movement exacerbated tribal tensions. Not to mention the fact that their borders, based on the Berlin Conference, make absolutely no sense.


Africa is a great case study for the entire future of the so-called “Third World.” All of the places that have been the subjects of imperialism – Latin America, Africa, and Asia – are still trying to find their place in the new globalized world. They haven’t had a lot of time to figure it out yet and the so-called developed world isn’t doing much to make it easier. Think about it: they come into independence right at the moment when the west is trying to break down barriers to trade. That’s fine for the U.S. and Europe, but there’s a reason those barriers are called “protectionist.” They’re meant to protect domestic economies from being overrun by outsiders who are more developed.


So they finally push their way out of colonialism, only to have the industrialized world telling them that the only way they can get loans or have businesses set up shop in their country is if they open up their economy to the new globalized trade. And then their economy gets flooded with cheaper products from the U.S. and China so that their own producers can’t compete.


Add on to this the fact that they became independent right when the environmental movement was gaining steam. International groups are pushing for all countries to lower their pollution rates. Meanwhile, Africa is like “Oh come on! The U.S. and Europe have had 300 years to pollute all they want during their Industrial Revolutions! We just want to build one coal plant to try to catch up!” Now, for the record, I’m totally anti-pollution, but this is just a really good example of how exasperating it must be to be a country in the southern hemisphere right now.


All of this is to say: give them time. Think about how long it took Europe to recover after the fall of Rome! And things are already looking up in Africa. They have a young population with a growing labor pool; and jobs are growing 1% faster than the workforce so there’s going to be a lot of opportunity. Urbanization and increasing consumption is making Africans a new, highly-sought-after consumer for global companies. Finally, since Africa doesn’t have a ton of established infrastructure to work around, they’re weirdly well-positioned for the new technological advancements that are coming. East Africa is the global leader in mobile banking and Smart Phone ownership is expected to rise from 2% in 2010 to 50% in just 10 years. Finally, spending on infrastructure in Africa has doubled over the last decade.


Anyway, it’s important to look at current events and see them as a continuation of history. Humans want to look at the world and think of it as the way it is, the way it has been, and the way it always will be. But history shows us that it’s the exact opposite. Things are always changing. Just 75 years ago, the idea of self-determination was laughed at by many. The thought that the world map would look so complicated, with so many different nations, all trying to assert their own sovereignty, would have seemed crazy. Remember, most of world history has been ruled by massive empires. Individual rights, individual voices, and the right to live under a government that looks like you and represents you – these are all experiments that we’re trying out. So, everyone keep your fingers crossed! Or, if you prefer to be ruled by an emperor, let me know and I’ll start my global campaign a few years earlier than planned…


To be continued.

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