Nash Weerasekera // The Jacky Winter Group

Decolonisation has become a western movement laced with colonialist thought. Even the very critique of colonisers engages in the same Eurocentric, western discourse. By criticising the aid-givers, do-gooders with no practical experience are minimising delivery of essential resources to developing communities. This article is in no way arguing that aid and foreign intervention is perfect – debates and improvements must continue to eliminate cultural imposition and white saviourism. However, with some of the harsh criticism of the decolonisation movement, scholars almost advocate for limiting help from wealthier countries. Developing countries rely on this help. It is better to offer constructive solutions in coordination with national governments and ameliorate the living conditions of the poor effectively.

The BLM movement recently brought to light the post-colonial influence of western culture, bringing forth terms such as cultural and economic decolonisation in popular discourse. Decolonisation is defined as the “process by which colonies become independent of the colonising country”. Since the official recognition of the independence of many African and South American states, historically colonising states have maintained political and economic influence, often to the benefit of their domestic welfare and the detriment of the colonised countries. Recently, with the rise of new world ideologies, the problematics of this dependent relationship have been recognised and emphasised. However, the presentation of this discourse is ironically quite colonised – with even the term itself having Eurocentric origins. The word may thus be concealing colonialist and selfish ambitions of the West in the “breaking” of dependency ties, these being:  

  1. The lesser obligation to provide foreign economic aid 
  2. Distancing from political criticism of foreign involvement 
  3. Moral and economic distance from damage already done by colonisation, and  
  4. Escaping international commitments to help ensure fundamental human rights worldwide  

Western states have many times supposedly “charitably” donated and aided foreign countries in need. The hidden ideological and economic self-interests behind aid are often revealed much later. For example, in the Marshall Plan, the US gained an estimated 2€ for every 1€ it sent as aid, in the form of new, solid markets for American business. Similarly, the talk of breaking dependency ties to promote national self-development has a sense of promoting others’ interests. Here, decolonisation’s conclusion presents a critique of charities donating abroad. When no suitable alternative is offered, it leaves developing countries to their own devices, resourceless and defenceless. Historically, western influence has shaped international economic systems, so leaving previously colonised countries to the financial struggles and a poverty spiral is not an option. The latter is impossible to escape given the current, arguably oppressive, international economic infrastructure. In this sense, the breaking of dependency ties, including international aid, could be seen as a justification for spending less money on virtuous projects than truly benefiting developing economies.

It is always easier to critique action than non-action. Given the ease of criticising states on types of charitable giving, they may become inert in initiative-building within foreign aid. Every generous act will have controversies, often needing improvements, with biases apparent in prioritising certain countries, groups, and especially values (countries with neoliberalist ideology). These biases present major political controversies for western charities and states, and discussion and debates are necessary for improved international involvement. However, to avoid political difficulty, criticism is sometimes translated into an argument for non-intervention. As it becomes a more accessible option to be non-committal, action is limited altogether, i.e., stopping foreign aid, rather than risking criticism on the choice of foreign assistance. For example, some scholars have argued for trade versus aid. Trade results in countries only developing according to their current economic potential. Aid, however, empowers countries to grow without impossibly reciprocating their historic colonisers economically. Therefore, continued critique and nonstop action are necessary for the field of foreign aid. 

As a term thrown around in popular discourse, decolonisation implies the end of critical cultural involvement in previously colonised countries. The initiative to take away impositions of specifically western values is applaudable for cultural diversity. However, one cannot deny that many traditions and ideas, such as Christianity, came from the West, and colonialism has heavily influenced social structures. Historically, colonised social systems have politically ruined many countries, and the solution cannot be to pull away all resources. Instead, the West needs to remain culturally and economically involved to an extent, aware of their historical influence and how they can fix past mistakes. Such efforts are a more ethical option than leaving the mess of political corruption that colonisers left behind for the locals to sort. 

Addressing foreign human rights abuses takes time, research, resources, motivation, communication with the victims, and practical efforts.  It is much easier to distance oneself from the culture than address traditions such as female genital mutilation with research and cultural understanding in historically colonised countries. Much energy is required to communicate honestly and determinedly, exposing the health risks of such practices while remaining culturally sensitive, without patronising the other. It necessitates an intervention with a complete understanding of the reasons behind the practice. Some decolonisers argue that the West will never truly reach this level of knowledge, implying no foreign involvement is ever justifiable. This argument promotes inertia of action – why should we try to understand what we could never comprehend? In response, I ask: “Is there not a duty to at least attempt to understand such practices, rather than to leave victims of human rights abuses to fend for themselves?”. When decolonisation implies a detachment from the countries, i.e. a limitation of involvement, it benefits the historic colonisers more than it does the oppressed citizens of nations with human-rights-abusing structures.  

The current academic and social discourse around decolonisation is, to an extent, justifying inertia and decreased efforts in the international support of countries where colonisers have left the country in political and social difficulties. Conversely, the more moral objective to follow would be one of benevolently (taking care to limit cultural bias and imposition) sharing resources and correcting western mistakes, rather than leaving the political mess of post-colonialist western influence as it is.