In order to explain this I will highlight what may not be obvious to some: ‘inherent evil’ is not a complicated idea. In fact, for something to be inherently evil it must be born or designed with the sole, or at least, major purpose of carrying out evil.
(I will not dictate to you what you should consider evil, I will only say for the purposes of this article, ‘evil’ will mean the tendency to take part in cruelty for cruelty’s sake.)
This, colonization, is not. Now you may ask what it is exactly, your mouth foaming with rage. Well, colonization is simply an economic tool most often employed by powerful nations in moments of economic desperation or often, greed.
Colonization, being the colossal undertaking it is, is rarely if ever carried out with the sole purpose of wreaking human suffering. That human suffering often follows colonization is an entirely different matter altogether and dare I say, takes nothing from the argument under question. (I hope I don’t have to explicitly state that I am against human suffering, like any sensible person, and I am not in need of a history lesson on the gross injustices and genocides perform during colonization)
So why does this matter?
Because viewing colonialism as the domain of evil men with evil intentions is missing out on the chance to view human nature at its most calculating. It is refusing to see history of colonization as an opportunity to realize the great extents to which poverty and greed can push human societies.
What must be realized is that it is not a burning desire to cause human pain that drives colonizing tribes to risk the lives of their people to take over the resources of tribes of interest. And it is certainly not a pool of hatred for humanity that a tribe must bathe in before it decides to risk its own resources to undertake the very serious task of colonizing another.
It is the simple, universal human—nay, animalistic drive to survive that pushes any tribe to colonize another. Whether we like the methods that history has shown tribes to behave towards others is largely inconsequential. It may not be a very popular sentiment to express, but the reality is, how we feel about things does not change the nature of human civilization.
And this is especially important as the pattern of economic greed/desperation of one tribe leading to suffering of another can only become more prevalent as the population rises to unmanageable heights.
So what is the point?
We cannot learn from history, in any meaningful way, if we choose to view it from the good guy/bad guy narrative of popular American comic book writers. We must examine the motivation and consequences of certain economic systems objectively and open our eyes to real-life applications today.
Africa is entering a crucial era. For the first time in centuries, we have a say in who we enter colonialist relationships with. And to continue to believe that it is the inherent evil of colonizing tribes that leads colonial relationships to result in the suffering of colonized peoples, is to enter into our current era with a dooming naivete.
We must remove from our mind-sets the idea that in order for things to go sour, the colonizing tribe sitting across from us, must be represented by a seedy-looking man rubbing his handle-bar mustache and laughing menacingly while salivating over a map of our nations. We must begin to look away from our own economic situations and realize that it is not only the strength of the colonizing tribe that matters but its own economic desperation.
What is most imperative is that we study the tendency-to-greed of powerful nations and make cautious decisions from there.
We must realize that the colonial relationship operates by placing the colonized party in a position of disadvantage and that is not a function of how evil the powerful party is, simply one of economic hunger.
To say that colonization is inherently evil is to deny the reality that those that fall victim to it are just as capable of doing it. All that separates the colonizer from the colonized is military strength and economic desperation—not moral integrity or ethical superiority. All civilised societies are capable of wreaking the same amount of suffering onto others if they have a strong enough economic need and an even stronger means.
Ultimately, it would do us great good to remove from our minds that colonial powers are the forte of the rotten-hearted and recognise that the measure of “good will” a colonizing party is completely inconsequential. It is their economic desperation that is most important.
And considering this will decide whether we remain perpetual victims or not.