Friday, September 10, 2010

Anti-colonial Canadian Past

Dinesh D'Souza has published a brilliant analysis of the President's worldview and political agenda entitled, "How Obama Thinks" (Forbes, September 27, 2010 [yes, it's how magazines date things]). His thesis is that, "the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States"

Anticolonialism is the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America. As one of Obama's acknowledged intellectual influences, Frantz Fanon, wrote in The Wretched of the Earth, "The well-being and progress of Europe have been built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians and the yellow races."

Anticolonialists hold that even when countries secure political independence they remain economically dependent on their former captors. This dependence is called neocolonialism, a term defined by the African statesman Kwame Nkrumah (1909--72) in his book Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, writes that poor countries may be nominally free, but they continue to be manipulated from abroad by powerful corporate and plutocratic elites. These forces of neocolonialism oppress not only Third World people but also citizens in their own countries. Obviously the solution is to resist and overthrow the oppressors. This was the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. and many in his generation, including many of my own relatives in India.

Obama Sr. was an economist, and in 1965 he published an important article in the East Africa Journal called "Problems Facing Our Socialism." Obama Sr. wasn't a doctrinaire socialist; rather, he saw state appropriation of wealth as a necessary means to achieve the anticolonial objective of taking resources away from the foreign looters and restoring them to the people of Africa. For Obama Sr. this was an issue of national autonomy. "Is it the African who owns this country? If he does, then why should he not control the economic means of growth in this country?"
What came immediately to mind for me upon reading this was...Pierre Trudeau and the Canadian politics of the 1970s. Canada was said to be a "branchplant economy." This anti-colonial view of the world was the governing view in the Liberal Party as well as in the universities, or certainly at the University of Toronto where I attended. Hence, Trudeau gave us our national oil company, PetroCan. "It's ours!," the commercial told us.
Things have changed since then. They had to. The state became far too top heavy to be economically sustainable, and so governments began slashing budgets. (Did it begin under Jean Chretien, of all people, with Paul Martin as finance minister?). It has certainly proceeded apace under Stephen Harper's leadership.

D'Souza (the new president of The King's College, by the way) points out the absurdity of the President of the United States taking this approach to the world, especially in the world as it is developing today.

Colonialism today is a dead issue. No one cares about it except the man in the White House. He is the last anticolonial. Emerging market economies such as China, India, Chile and Indonesia have solved the problem of backwardness; they are exploiting their labor advantage and growing much faster than the U.S. If America is going to remain on top, we have to compete in an increasingly tough environment.

But instead of readying us for the challenge, our President is trapped in his father's time machine. Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation's agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son. The son makes it happen, but he candidly admits he is only living out his father's dream. The invisible father provides the inspiration, and the son dutifully gets the job done. America today is governed by a ghost.

At the same time that it published "How Obama Thinks," also published its list of "The Best Countries for Business." Canada is ranked fourth in the world. The United States has slipped to ninth. Canada is not only prospering, but doing so at the expense of its elephantine American neighbor to the south. It is doing this not by protective state control of the economy, but by the same free enterprise that (among many other factors historical and geographical) gave America its competitive edge. The North American Free Trade Agreement helped. It also helps that there is now an anti-colonialist in the White House hamstringing Canada's competition.

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