The controversy has been raging for the past three weeks now. Up to 15 members of the 34 or so member Editorial Board of the academic journal that published it have resigned in disgust with what many are seeing as a manifesto for 21st century colonialism. Thousands are still signing on to petitions denouncing such a mindset, with some asking that Princeton University, the topflight American university where the author obtained his PhD should disrobe him of it. Above all, the author, Bruce Gilley, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Portland State University in the United States has apologised even though the last sentence of his apology was an annulment of it. On top of all these, he has retained the very article which has provoked the controversy on his site.
At least, up to two hours ago, it could easily be downloaded. What that means is that those who can no longer read it in Third World Quarterly which has now withdrawn it can simply download it and read. The retention of the article in addition to his insistence “on a more civil and caring discussion of this important issue” are taken in many quarters as a devil may care attitude to recolonisation and as signs that he stands by his position.
As such moves are rarely innocent, the main question people are asking is what or who might be driving him. While majority of commentators and agitators so far think it is an act of academic irresponsibility to deny the structural and physical atrocities of colonialism, others think the professor is not doing anything extraordinary but confirming what, in truth, is the practice. Such voices are comparing IMF and World Bank controls to recolonisation. But some others are saying it is creative appreciation of History, a way of blaming African leaders. But in a swift and apparent response to such analysis, Prof Babatunde Fagbayibo in particular argues that any such ‘creative appreciation’ have been more than adequately done by African scholars such as Claude Ake, Thandeka Mkandawire, JF Ade-Ajayi, Ali Mazrui, Mahmood Mandani etc., on what he calls the betrayal of the spirit of independence. In a September 26th, 2017 piece in Daily Maverick, the South African online, Fagbayibo insisted on distinguishing such criticism from “a warped support for (re)colonisation”.
Might the uproar just be an expression of the mood of the world today? After all, Robert Cooper, a Tony Blair adviser wrote books and papers that were, in the last instance, about recolonisation but about which the world didn’t notice or pretended not to. It was also around the time that texts such as Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map or Kaplan’s The Coming Anarchy and many more came out in succession. Perhaps, Bruce Gilley might be right in calling recolonisation an important issue. Otherwise, why does it keep re-occurring in the language of some of the most well informed scholars and practitioners of power who are more than aware of how sensitive it is to Africans and to millions everywhere in the world today whose education and conscience cannot take it? Is this an innocent, mere scholarly curiosity or the gradual reframing of a primitive instinct towards a ‘final solution’?
Tragically, the Africans are hardly at the heart of the war against what is going on. Instead, much of the people are being mobilised to fight one ethnic war or another while the African elite think that development or social transformation is a pleasure ride that will come somehow, someday. It is only in this circumstance that anyone can get up anywhere and publish a manifesto for recolonisation in the name of scholarship and academic freedom. Can anybody even dream of such scholarship about China or Brazil today? No and it is simply that they have made it. A thousand pity!