Friday, September 15, 2017
First Thoughts on the Bruce Gilley Controversy
I will probably write something more substantial on my blog about Bruce Gilley's recent article, "The Case for Colonialism" published in Third World Quarterly. But, just a few preliminary thoughts. First, it appears that the editors published it despite the fact that three peer review reports recommended against publication. Second, while a case could be made for reevaluating colonialism he doesn't make it. His examples of places he claims were better under European rule are just about the worst ones possible. He uses Guinea-Bissau which he claims was worse after independence than under the Portuguese and blames it on Amilcar Cabral the leader of the independence movement. Except, Cabral was murdered before Guinea-Bissau achieved independence. So it is hard to see how any failures of the independent state are his fault. Another example he uses is Belgian Congo. Now, most of Congo's time as a modern independent state was under the horrible misrule of Mobutu installed in 1965 with the help of the former colonial rulers and US. But, as bad as he was it is hard to consider it worse than Belgian rule over the Congo where excess premature deaths due to forced labor and other forms of colonial oppression ran into the millions. Another example he uses is Kenya where he explicitly praised the British crushing of the Mau Mau (not Mau as he states in the article) uprising in the 1950s. The suppression of this revolt involved the mass incarceration of hundreds of thousands of not just rebels but Kikuyu civilians in concentration camps. Another million plus were confined to enclosed villages. Arbitrary killings and torture of detainees was routine and qualitatively didn't differ from some of the worst abuses in Nazi and Stalinist camps. Again, independent Kenya hasn't had a perfect human rights record. But, it never put hundreds of thousands of people in concentration camps like the British did not long after they had helped hang former German officials for the exact same crimes against Europeans following the defeat of the Nazis. Finally, this isn't a left vs. right debate. It is hard to classify the Mau Mau for instance as any type of leftist movement. Rather, any evaluation of colonialism including the brutal Soviet version in places like Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia needs to come to terms with the actual history of colonial rule.