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White men didn't free African women
Posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2001

THE EDITOR: "In Ghana, women have made some progress mostly because of the legacy of the former colonial rulers." So writes Kevin Baldeosingh in his flippant report on a brief and secluded visit to Accra, Ghana More > (Express 26/7/01).

For someone who is often at pains to appear learned, I find Kevin to be intellectually lazy when addressing histories of the non-European world.

You don't have to be an Afrocentrist to argue that his observation on the relationship between the progress of women in Africa and the legacy of colonialism, smacks of the most banal Eurocentrism.

There is a vast body of scholarship published from within the Euro-American academy that writers like Kevin revere, which has effectively challenged the idea that colonialism liberated and advanced the womenfolk of Africa.

This would have been a remarkable achievement for colonial rulers, especially since the European males who administered colonies in Africa brought with them a system of patriarchal domination that was common in Europe.

Indeed, researchers have shown that colonialism tended to strengthen the power of men (white and black) over women in Africa, in relation to issues ranging from household tasks to the allocation of land and property.

The notion that European intervention represented "progress" for the peoples of Africa began with the ideologues of the slave trade and colonial expansion and remains deeply embedded in the schools of thought with which Kevin seems to enjoy a close and uncritical relationship. He should broaden his intellectual interests.

In the course of doing so, he might discover that African leaders, culpable as they are for the continent's woes, did not act alone; there was no shortage of foreign benefactors.

When, for example, the peoples of the Congo demanded access to education, technology, democracy and the human rights mentioned in the article, various US administrations stood solidly behind Mobutu, the brutal dictator that ruled against the possibility of such.

No one seriously concerned about the plight of Africans will call upon them to forget the past and uncritically adopt the plans of their former colonial rulers and the US, as Kevin advises.

He should stick to his satire and commentaries on our local racial essentialists and spare us the trite analyses of contemporary Africa, of which there is an adequate supply in the local media.

Associate Professor of African History
City University of New York

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