Thomas Sowell on Black Africans Blaming Imperialism for Post-Independence Failure

Thomas Sowell is a Black American conservative intellectual, and fierce critic of affirmative action, which he argues is actively harmful to Black improvement and uplift. I’ve been reading his Conquests and Cultures: An International History (New York: Basic Books), his examination of the effects of imperialism on both the conquerors and conquered peoples, concentrating on four groups of peoples: the British, Black Africans, the Slavs and western hemisphere Indians. In his chapter on Africans, he states very clearly that the western imperial powers committed atrocities, including the imposition of forced labour. This was widely resented and also caused innumerable deaths. The mortality for rate for porters on one route in colonial Tanzania, for example, was 20-25 per cent. However, he also describes the political, social and economic chaos that swept many African nations after they gained independence with coups, ethnic violence and economic collapse. Africans compensated for the disappointment of their political hopes by blaming the former imperial masters and the US. He writes

‘African governments by the dozens were toppled by military coups in the post-independence era. The swift disappearance of newly attained democracy, as brutal dictatorships took over, led to the cynical phrase: “one man, one vote – one time.” The elaborately fragmented peoples of Africa turned upon one another, sometimes with massive bloodbaths. Approximately 30,000 Ibos were slaughtered by Moslem mobs in Nigeria, 200,000 Hutus were slaughtered by the Tutsis in Burundi, and Idi Amin’s regime slaughtered 300,000 people in Uganda. A continent once virtually self-sufficient in food, Africa became a massive importer of food as its own production faltered and in some places declined absolutely, in the face of rising population. It was not uncommon for national output as a whole to decline absolutely for years in various African nations. In Equatorial Guinea, for example, the growth rate was negative for the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, averaging nearly minus 4 per cent per annum for the 1980s and minus 9 per cent for the 1970s. In Burundi the annual “growth” rate of national output was minus 6 per cent in 1994 and minus 18 per cent in 1995, while in Rwanda it ranged from minus 3.2. per cent in 1992 to minus 50 per cent in 1994.

After the soaring rhetoric and optimistic expectations at the beginning of independence were followed by bitter disappointment and painful retrogressions that reached into virtually every aspect of African life, the immediate political response was not so much a re-evaluation of the assumptions and policies which had led to such disastrous results, but instead a widespread blaming of the departed imperialism, or racial minorities such as the Indians, or even the United States, which has had relatively little role in African history, for good or ill.’ (p. 120).

The British Conservative historian Jeremy Black says much the same in his The British Empire: A History and a Debate (Farnham: Ashgate 2015), where he discusses the way contemporary commonwealth politicians have used the history of British colonialism to divert domestic attention away from the failures of their own regimes.

The same attitude is held by some elements of the recent anti-racist movements. Post-Colonial Theorists, for example, will not criticise indigenous colonised societies, but will only attack western nations for the horrors of imperialism. At a Zoom event a few years ago held as part of the Arise festival of left-wing ideas, ‘Why Socialists Should Oppose Imperialism’, Barbara Barnaby, the head of Black Lives Matter UK, demanded that Britain allow in immigrants from the former colonies ‘because you oppressed us under colonialism’. But colonialism was at least fifty years ago in the cases of many of these countries. Western meddling and international capitalism has contributed greatly to many of these nations’ misery, but it cannot be considered the sole cause. These countries had the opportunity of creating better societies and economies for themselves during independence. By and large, they didn’t, at least, not in the immediate post-independence period. Since then it has been African oppressing and exploiting other Africans. The argument that Britain should take in more African immigrants because of imperial oppression is invalid, and is a piece of deliberate anti-White racism by Barnaby and those like her.

There are other, better arguments for allowing entry to Black asylum seekers – common humanity, the moral imperative of giving sanctuary to those genuinely persecuted or oppressed, and common historical ties through the empire and commonwealth.

But not a vengeful attitude of entitlement by Black militants unable to come to terms with the oppression of Blacks by their fellow Blacks.


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5 Responses to “Thomas Sowell on Black Africans Blaming Imperialism for Post-Independence Failure”

  1. Mark Pattie Says:

    Most of the sub-Saharan countries that used to be our colonies are now poor due to their leaders hoarding vast amounts of money and not distributing it fairly to their population, hence why countries like Rwanda are so poor (and utterly unsuitable for Patel to deport illegal immigrants to). Of course there are a number of African countries that have done very well since independence, such as Ghana and possibly Tanzania. Note to Simon Webb, I don’t think black dictators are “biologically” more inclined to be more corrupt than White or Asian ones such as Vl*dimir P*tin, Lukaszenko (Belarus) or Xi Jinping.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Oh, they’re all kleptocrats, regardless of colour. And I’m afraid the West is heading down that corrupt road as well, with Johnson giving PPE contracts to his mates. One American journalist wrote a book about the massive corruption in Trump’s regime because it was so like what she’d seen in Karzai’s Afghanistan.

  2. Que? Says:

    While the ultimate blame goes to African dictators for the state of African countries, it would be foolish to discount ‘The West’s’ meddling in African countries.

    Thomas Sowell is good at economics and American history. However, when it comes to Global politics and other histories, he’s way off the mark.
    His assertion that the United States has had relatively little role in African history is a half truth. The US has routinely meddled (and still does) in African affairs (post-colonial). The CIA in Angola (backing Jonas Savimbi) is but one of their meddling events.

    And let’s not get started with France and their meddling in their former African colonies.

    As I stated previously, African dictators (and regular leaders) are ultimately to blame for the problems in African countries.

    • beastrabban Says:

      You’re right, Que – there’s a long list of countries in which the US has meddled in one of the late William Blum’s books, quite apart from the nations in which they’ve organised coups. And I can remember Paxman at an event at the Cheltenham literary festi9val on the British stating that the French have never decolonised.

  3. Nerina Scott Says:

    It’s amazing how every single sub-Saharan state experienced many of the same struggles after colonialism, yet colonial rule wasn’t causal to the instability that followed. It was merely incidental lol! Tribal nations which were distinct and separate were all bound together into new states by European powers – just like that, they were supposed to forge a common identity and trust one another. The United Kingdom came about in a peace loving Kumbuya btwn 1066-1702? It never amazes me how stupid the defence absolving colonial powers of Africas difficulties are. Which western nation emerged as a multi ethnic nation state in 70 years – the length of most colonial rule in Africa. Africa’s failure to develop is political. Europeans who created those states simply didn’t know what they were doing and neither did they care. They merely wanted territories and populations for trade and extraction of raw materials.

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