Saturday 13 April 2013

Britain's disastrous legacy to her colonies

Britain's most disastrous legacy to her colonies was socialism.

Fabianism begat Nehru, Nyerere and the rest. On the other hand, the former American and French colonies are not doing so well as India, now that India has rid herself of the socialism of Nehru and the appalling Mrs. Gandhi. On the whole, the British legacy was in most cases very positive, but our schools and universities do not teach this.

I almost never listen to the radio, but I enjoyed a discussion on the BBC World Service, which I caught by chance, about the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence. The presenter sounded shocked when a leading Congolese historian told him that 'everything' in the Congo was better under the Belgians. (The Belgians, of course, were notoriously the worst colonial masters, save perhaps for the Germans). All the good things in the Congo, the historian insisted, were introduced by the Belgians. The BBC man said:

But surely you accept that the Belgians were not motivated by concern about the welfare of the Congolese?

The historian said he didn't care whether they were or not. They had greatly benefited the Congo.
Tintin in the Congo, a book of which Herge was later ashamed

The former governor of Jamaica, Sir Howard Cooke, who took part in the pro-independence movement, has a similarly positive view of Britain's role in Jamaican history. The slave trade, he said, saved slaves from 'Africa's black night'. The interview I've linked with Sir Howard is very well worth reading. Again, even though he is from the Spectator rather than the BBC, the British interlocutor sounds taken aback.


  1. it isn't socialism that was disastrous, it was tribalism and corruption. If the world was run by experts who were made accountable for how they did their jobs, including, of course, political leaders, almost any type of system could be made to work according to its own purposes. India's problems are related to religious hatreds, caste and class hatred and corruption. Those factors are far bigger than any political or economic programme or ideology and outweigh them completely. Capitalist Globalisation has created a monster of economic divide and frustration in India. In Tanzania Nyerere built up a policy of self-relianced egalitarian development and it certainly failed but Nyerere was a good man in a world of very few good men at the top and his system was defeated by corruption and a lack of capital investment. Tanzanian social inequities are actually worse now that it's growing faster under capitalism than it was in Nyerere's day. Corruption, greed, cronyism, amateurism and inequalities are the cancers at the root of all the political and economic systems at work. If this were not true, Britain would not be facing a double-dip recession, a soverign debt of £1.3 trillion or 89% of GDP, and a downgrading of Moody's to Aa1. Thatcherism and Reaganism were the root cause of the deregulation and unleashing of undirected and unregulated market forces that created this monser hump and turned Britain into a hobbling hunchback. If socialism is to be pilloried as a failure, fine, but let the pot not call the kettle black. The root social causes of the failures of all systems are the same tools that undermine them in each and every case. Arjun Sen

  2. Arjun Sen, you're the first person I hear say what I've long believed to be true. "The root social causes of the failures of all systems are the same tools that undermine them in each and every case." Thank you.

  3. You should read the book "King Leopold's Ghost." The Eelgians built roads and canals in the Congo, but also murdered, beheaded, robbed and enslaved the inhabitants. When they left abruptly and under extreme duress they had admitted fewer than 20 Congolese to university. A mixed legacy at best...not that the inheritors of the Congo have done a great job running it by any means.

  4. This is an interesting discussion. Worth contemplating. Personally may I say thanks to the commenters.