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The colonial hegemony and the context of terrorismPublish Date: Dec 05, 2013
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By Silvester K Bukenya

In the late 18th and early 19th Century, the production of cheap raw materials was a central requirement of the new states in Europe.

Colonies were therefore kept in subjection as a prerequisite for the latter’s modernization and industrialization process. This imperial hegemony usurped the political and economic foundations of the people of the continent.

Inspite of recent positive signs of growth; Africa today is still the world’s poorest continent. AIDS and other preventable diseases ravage the population. Institutional corruption, wars and conflicts rage.

The above conditions are a fertile ground for the emergence of terrorism; not as an affirmation of any ideological stand; but as   a form of resistance to the status quo; and a coping mechanism for a people dispossessed of their roots and values.

Demands for Opportunity and Inclusion

Lack of opportunity and discrimination were a major part of the colonial experience. Some Africans could however not cope with this experience. During the earlier part of this period therefore, special interest groups were formed which strongly objected to the discriminatory colonial practices and policies; that restricted political and economic opportunities to the masses.

By the late 1940 and early 1950’s however, every colony in sub-Saharan Africa had non-elitist political parties and movements forming. These depended on mass support for survival and effectiveness. Their cause also went on to advocate for the end of colonial rule in radical terms.

Examples of such movements include the MAUMAU in Kenya, UNITA in Angola, ZANU and ZAPU in Zimbabwe, FRELIMO in Mozambique and SWAPO in Namibia. These resistance movements carried out activities such as raids on European settler farms and instilled fear in the population. These exemplified the emergence of social crime as a form of resistance.

In some nations like Zimbabwe, workers in industries saw the theft of raw materials and the sabotage of machinery; as part of a refusal to recognize the legitimacy of colonial property laws. This probably laid the foundation for the current ‘lumpen capitalism’’ of stolen resources and corruption that pervades many sub-Saharan civil and public services.

Post-colonial conflicts

The blurring of criminality, banditry and social resistance; was intensified in the post-colonial period and is continuing today in much of Sub Saharan Africa; as resistance groups struggle to oust dictatorial rulers. Within many of these groups, the distinction between political struggle and criminality is almost nonexistent. Alice Lakwena (1988) and Joseph Kony of Uganda, are such groups that fought for political power; while at the same time committing atrocities against the population.  In the absence of democratic governments, many in sub Saharan Africa have therefore sought participation in wayward criminal gangs and organizations in order to alter the status quo. This participation has formed the Sub-Saharan context of ‘terrorism’.

Capitalism and Social Exclusion.

The fastest growing section of working –class jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa are in low wage, part- time and temporary employment. These jobs are however no longer a means of escaping poverty and are vulnerable to replacement by machines as the continent’s industrial base grows.

The continued exclusion of the working class and jobless masses from political participation; due to lack of credible democratic institutions; has fueled corruption, conflict and aggression and political systems riddled with vote rigging; as the excluded masses struggle to fight for social, economic and political inclusion.

The dismantling of  the welfare state

 In order to contain the disgruntled masses, many sub-Saharan states have substituted social policy with security and risk management; and in turn become more authoritarian. State expenditure is now primarily channeled towards maintaining law and order, covert surveillance of citizens and the containment of rising prison populations.

In the absence of a viable social welfare state, responsibility for remedying poverty and social exclusion has been deflected from public policy and refocused onto the individual. The result of this shift has been the increase in uncertainty; as citizens are left to struggle for personal survival.

Whereas terrorism in the west has been fuelled by stringent political and religious ideology, ‘terrorism’ in sub-Saharan Africa emerged formally as a resistance to colonial rule, and recently; as a response to harsh social, political and economic conditions. In the absence of viable democratic institutions, joining subversive groups can always be seen by some; as the only way to access political power.

The solution to terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa does not therefore lie in reactive control measures by the security agencies. It lies amongst others; in the proactive and equitable participation of the masses in the economic and political processes of their respective nations.

The writer is a Ugandan Catholic Priest in the UK and an associate member of the Institute of Criminal Justice at Nkumba University.


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