Sep
05

A Dying Colonialism - Fanon (1959)

Fanon is well known for his Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and Wretched of the Earth (1961). Another of his works, A Dying Colonialism (1957), seems less spoken about (originally titled L'An Cinq, de la Revolution Algerienne). The first chapter reminded me of Said's Orientalism, which was written much later (1978). Going back to Orientalism, none of Fanon's work is cited, although Edward Said cites a work about Fanon. Fanon certainly enabled the type of work that Said did in Orientalism, but it seems he did not attribute the connection directly (although there are many direction connections in Chapter 1). Some notes from Fanon's A Dying Colonialism (1957):

"In the colonialist program, it was the woman who was given the historic mission of shaking up the Algerian man. Converting the woman, winning her over to the foreign values, wrenching her free from her status, was at the same time achieving a real power over the man and attaining a practical, effective means of destructuring Algerian culture." (p. 39)

"Every new Algerian woman unveiled announced to the occupier an Algerian society whose systems of defense were in the process of dislocation, open and breached. Every veil that fell, every body that became liberated from the traditional embrace of the haik, every face that that offered itself to the bold and impatient glance of the occupier, was a negative expression of the fact that Algeria was beginning to deny herself and was accepting the rape of the colonizer. Algerian society with every abandoned veil seemed to express its willingness to attend to the master's school and to decide to change its habits under the occupier's direction and patronage." (p. 42-43)

"Before 1954, a radio in an Algerian house was the mark of Europeanization in progress, of vulnerability. It was the conscious opening to the influence of the dominator, to his pressure. It was the decision to give voice to the occupier. Having a radio meant accepting being besieged from within by the colonizer. It meant demonstrating that one chose cohabitation within the colonial framework. It meant, beyond any doubt, surrendering to the occupier." (p. 92-93)

"The tactic adopted by French colonialism since the beginning of the Revolution has had the result of separating the people from each other, of fragmenting them, with the sole objective of making any cohesion impossible." (p. 118)

"This stay in France turned out in the end to be very profitable. It confirmed for me what I already sensed: that I was not French, that I had never been French. Language, culture - these are not enough to make you belong to a people. Something more is needed: a common life, common experiences and memories, common aims. All this I lacked in France. My stay in France showed me that I belonged to an Algerian community, showed me that I was a stranger in France." (p. 175)

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Mar
07

Xala

From Sembene Ousmane's 1974 novel Xala, translated in 1976 to English:


  • "The colonialist is stronger, more powerful than ever before, hidden inside us, here in this very place." (p. 84)

  • "All your past wealth - for you have nothing left - was acquired by cheating. You and your colleagues build on the misfortunes of honest, ordinary people. To give yourselves clean consciences, you found charities, or you give alms at street corners to people reduced to poverty. And when we get too numerous, you call the police..." (p. 100)

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Dec
27

Kofi Annan – Interventions

Kofi Annan (1938-2018) was the Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006, a turbulent time to say the least. He penned "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace" (2012) with Nader Mousavizadeh to provide some of the high, lows, challenges and successes of his time leading the UN. The book is a recounting of events, for those versed in the time period, not a lot that is new, barring a few interesting reflections. A few include:

  • "The world abandoned Somalia, allowing it to create for the world whole new forms of civil chaos and human suffering. Somalia would from then on [after 1993] be ignored by Western countries – until years later, when international terrorists emerged there in force, and when scores of well-organized pirates took to the high seas to threaten one of the lifelines of international commerce." (p. 45-46)
  • "We were not along in our optimism. The international development community had been engaged for years in Rwanda, and right up to March 1994, reports were still being written by leading development organizations that praised Rwanda as an unusual success story. But the international community had a thin appreciation of Rwanda's society and history and the force at play there." (p. 51)
  • "The core problem at the top of the UN's power structure is the composition of the Security Council. Today we have five permanent members with veto powers – the United States, Britain, Russia, France, and China – based essentially on the geopolitical reality that existed at the end of World War II. The other ten nonpermanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms, on the basis of geographical representation. This situation is intolerable to some; unjustifiable to most. Japan and Germany pay the second- and third-largest contributions to the UN but do not have a fixed seat at its most important table. India has over a sixth of the world's population but no seat. There is no permanent member from Africa or Latin America." (p. 141-142)
  • "It is true that Africa's short and intense experience of colonialism was destructive and divisive. It is also true that many African countries are landlocked and so denied the vital economic asset of direct access to seaborne trade – which many economists emphasize as an essential part of the explanation for Africa's previous poor economic performance as a whole. However, it is inaccurate and, worst of all, irresponsible for Africans to blame colonialism alone. Similarly, if you consider some of the great failures of African development, such economic impediments are not the heart of the problem." (p. 176)
  • "The responsibility lies with Africans, their systems of rule, and their leaders. Africa has had the experience it has, most of all, because of the decisions made by individuals and the systems of rule deliberately enacted by leaders and their supporters. Africa, the poverty of Africa, the violence of Africa, is not the inexorable product of its environment but rather the consequence of choices and decisions made by its leaders." (p. 177)
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Aug
14

An Untold Story of a Medical Disaster in Colonial Africa

  • "All the villagers, women and children included, gathered, as they did every year, for their injection of Lomidine. The preventative administration of Lomidine to entire populations, then called "total Lomidinization," was a priority and a source of pride for this postwar colonial health services. The technique's efficacy was unprecedented: a single injection of Lomidine conferred protection for several months against infection by trypanosomes, the parasites that cause sleeping sickness… for the first time, eradication was within reach." (p. 1)

However, amidst the scientific certainty, and millions of injections, it was later learned that Lomidine had no preventative effects at all. What brought halts to the campaigns, however, was not a change in scientific opinion, but a series of disasters. Such as: "…A catastrophe was looming, and the diagnosis was soon obvious: the shot of Lomidine had caused a bacterial infection that progressed to gas gangrene, spreading from the buttock to the rest of the body, leading to swelling and bursting in affected tissues" (p. 2). "This may be why rumors about the campaigns were so worrying to colonial authorities, as if the irrationality and ignorance of which Africans were being accused might, in fact, be a projection of the doctors' enthusiastic and amnesic foolishness" (p. 183).

Guillaume Lachenal's "The Lomidine Files: The Untold Story of a Medical Disaster in Colonial Africa" (2017 translation by Noémi Tousignant) tells the story of Lomidine. A wonder drug scientists were fully convinced worked, only later to learn it did not work as thought. The author explains: "This book is a biography of Lomidine. It traces this medicine's trajectory from its first trials during the Second World War, when it was introduced as a miracle cure for sleeping sickness, to its abandonment in the late 1950s, when a series of incidents in Gribi and elsewhere brought Lomidinization campaigns to a grinding halt. My broader aim, however, is more ambitious: by selecting as a historical object this white powder, a power injected more than ten million times in Africa during the 1950s, I am experimenting with a novel form of inquiry into the relation between medicine and colonialism" (p. 2).

The book explores medicine for colonialists and colonized (p. 90). The testing of "native volunteers" by exposing them to tsetse flies "every two or three days" for more than a year (p. 30). Blaming medical error and scientific fallacy on the colonized (p. 157). In this regard, it provides a wealth of insight into the colonial projects. The book also provides a wealth of insight into scientific "certainty" more broadly (p. 173). However, the book could have done much better in speaking about the spread and control of sleeping sickness. While this did not need to be the focus of the work, readers are left wanting slightly more information on the bigger picture of the disease.

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