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A spear is only fit for ‘pigs’. Subjects of the ‘postcolonial’ and underdeveloped environments in the global south should be criticised and called all manner of names but not so for the subjects of neocolonial whitist environments.
On one of my recent and probably last discussion on my column, “…in the ‘Postcolonial’”, that ran on the Citizen Newspapers, Tanzania, I discussed Benevoluntourism. The ‘new’ neoliberal capitalist philanthropic movement.
Briefly, Benevoluntourism is a term I use to describe the ‘new’ philanthropic movement that thrives on charitable acts, buttressed in ‘unpaid’ workforce from the global north. This genre tour global south contexts for one to three months, and then they become experts.
The article attracted different reactions from readers. One segment of reactions was of the opinion that issues discussed on the article last week “must be talked about openly”. Another segment suggested that the tone of last week’s discussion about benevoluntourism was “harsh”. The reactions, in the order they are mentioned, came from the oppressed members of the ‘postcolonial’ society in Afrika and from apologists of western domination respectively.
It got personal! Two of my closest friends here in North America confronted me and expressed their “disappointment at the tone of my writing”. One of them even went further to say that “such a tone repel readers”. In the course of our discussion about the article my friend understood that I have chosen a critical approach in my writing. As well, we had to go into the article I was responding to.
This article titled “Good Citizenship: Whose Job is it?” published on the Citizen Newpapers in Tanzania April 8, 2016 and from the Column “Love Letters to Tanzania”. On this issue, the writer while sending her love to Tanzania: opened a scathing attack on Tanzanian. The writer, Sabine Barbara called the Tanzanian youth idle, not initiative takers and not given to volunteering.
In my response, I was simply calling the attention of the writer and the readership that Afrikan youth have filled many potholes than meets the eye. And as per the bidding of the writer who suggested that the idling Tanzanian youth “should show initiative […] fill potholes instead”.
The writer apparently do not understand how, in the process filling of potholes resulting from poor road infrastructures, the Tanzanian youth had to go back and ‘unfill’ the same potholes, and perhaps create literal potholes on the roads to at least get something to do. The Afrikan youth is tired of not getting opportunities given to fellow youth from the global south who can afford to volunteer, tour the global south and show benevolent acts at will.
For a writer from the ‘postcolonial’ environment to write the above is absolute offence. Egos of the writers and society members from the global north are fragile. Such fragility deserves a gentle treatment, be it in writing or speaking. Any critical voice from the ‘postcolonial’ is oppressive to the seeming oppressor. Indeed, imperialistic attitudes are to be considered a thing of the past even though they are ‘subtly’ included right within the benevolent acts by benevoluntourists in the majority.
As I read, heard and analysed the comments, especially from the seeming apologists for whitist discourses, I was reminded of Rigoberta Menchú, a Guatemalan political activist from the Maya Quiché community, and the 1992 Nobel Prize Laureate. Her story should be read far and wide, in such environments in the global south where local communities are not supposed to criticise the neocolonial systems.
In her story, she describes development actors including the state apparatus as a coopted group acting as instruments of the neoliberal capitalist market-led economic structures. She depicts uneducated peasants’ role as that of clearing forest lands only to be taken by the landed-bourgeoisies who later claim to come “to help”, Menchú (1984).
Misappropriation of land and or opportunities in such contexts as Menchú’s and ours in the ‘postcolonial’ Afrika is not to be challenged. Local community members in the ‘postcolonial’ environments are to keep mum even in the event of their traditions, cultural values, right to speak and right to live free of sociopolitical and economic impostors, are trampled underfoot by the landed-‘experts’.
The landed-‘experts’ do not stop there. They go a little further. At the time when their ulterior motives are known, the time their ignorance and arrogance shines as the brightest moon against the dark skies of thievery, criminal activities and ‘whitist’ lies, at the time the oppressed decide to speak, the landed-‘experts’ decries the spoken truth.
The landed-‘experts’ would then adopt isolation strategies and seek allegiance from one part of the community against those who speak against invasive and destructive nature of benevoluntourism and landed-‘expert-‘ism’’ – aka ‘helpers’. Local community members are not supposed to speak against ‘helpers’, be it in the ‘postcolonial’ Afrika or anywhere else in the global south.
This gets worse in communities where women have traditionally been looked at as ‘only good for production and reproduction’. Most of ‘postcolonial’ Afrika is a classic example, but so is Menchú’s community. Even though both women and men are not vocal on neocolonial injustices, ‘uneducated’ women in rural and suburban communities where most of ‘help’-ing activities occur are doubly disadvantaged. They are not allowed to speak, period.
Gayatri Spivak (1988) in her laborious work Can the Subaltern Speak?” presents a rather complex yet needed analysis on representation theory. In her view, subjects of the ‘postcolonial’ environments harbours no other aim but that of overthrowing existing oppressive social, political and economic system, Spivak (1988).
And Spivak’s theoretical ‘nemesis’ Louis Althusser (1971) agrees with Nicos Poulantzas (1980) that “the production of labour power requires […] a reproduction of its skills”. However, Althusser (1971) goes further to assert that, and if I may add my voice to this, ‘the production of whitist expert labour encapsulated in benevoluntourism and other goodwill acts requires “a reproduction of its submission to the ruling ideology […] and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression”.
With words which brings guilty consciences among vocal subjects of the ‘postcolonial’ environments, the landed-‘experts’ and the would-be landed-‘experts’ will squirm: “your article upset me. It made me feel included in the genre you described as “benevoluntourists””.
In the light of the above, “subalterns” ‘cannot’ speak. Reasons: i. guilt-ridden defense from the whitists – victimising the victim, ii. ‘lack’ of original idea of what true benevolence and partnership in development means, iii. out of fear of being isolated and or branded ‘bad people’ but also because of the fear of losing small tokens trickling down the reigns of entitlement and a façade of goodness.
To bring this home, I received an email correspondence from the Citizen Newspapers editorial team that read:
“Greetings from us at The Citizen. I am writing to let you know that we will not be running the latest piece for your column. Attention has been drawn to me about the unfortunate trend and debate that some of your writings and view point has caused. This more so following last week’s articles in which you appeared to ‘attack’ another of our columnists. I remember I had discouraged against such attack and did not realise it until the piece was published. I had to go through this latest one and note too that the same is evident. We would like to continue with your column if you will be interested in taking a different course from the current North/South division series. I hope you will be able to understand this”.
And NO the letter as quoted above can only be understand in the inanimate world.
According to Menchú (1984), any form of oppression and intimidation of community members in the ‘postcolonial’ environments should kindle and rekindle resilience. The voices of the marginalised members of communities must be amplified.
The world is awash with discourses of transnationalism. This, in my view, denotes the end of discrimination on who is allowed to say what, when and in which medium. If Writers from the global north are given the latitude, in local media in the ‘postcolonial’ environments, to rain assault on the characters of the youth in the global south whose circumstances the majority of Westerners cannot live in for a day, so should writers in the global south.
If we remember, at the beginning of May 2016, Rosemary Odinga erroneously remarked that Olduvai Gorge, a famous archaeological site, is in Kenya while making a presentation at the 2015 program for International Young Leaders Assembly (IYLA). What followed were publications demanding her apology to Tanzanians. So should this writer from Australia.