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Can the coloniser ever be forgiven?

How the years of systemic injustices, agonies, extraction of resources colonisers have inflicted upon the colonies be repaired? Do the countries preaching of  “peace” and generously “aiding” the developing countries acknowledge the years of mistreatment and wrenching? No matter what the developed countries say or do, they cannot whitewash their stained sleeves? His discourse is never-ending, and debate resurfaces from time to time, as one or the other “developed” countries acknowledge their role in affairs of internal matters in the past. 

Of course, history cannot be changed and the ravages inflicted cannot be healed, the economic setback cannot be recovered, however,  the least and best we can get is an apology or reparation. This should be a reminder to the developed countries and the colonisers, and it must continue in the textbooks of their children, future leaders so that they would be reminded of How Not to Rule Any Nation? Even if you are vested with enormous powers and technology. 

So earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron said he recognised his country’s role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which about 8,00,000 people mostly ethnic Tutsis, were killed. He asked for forgiveness at a memorial in Kigali, seeking to reset relations after years of Rwandan accusations that France was complicit in the 1994 atrocities.

Speaking at the Gisozi genocide memorial, where more than 250,000 victims are buried. Rows of skulls lie there in a mass tomb and the names of the victims are inscribed on a black wall, Mr. Macron said “Only those who went through that night can perhaps forgive, and in doing so give the gift of forgiveness.” “I hereby humbly and with respect stand by your side today, I come to recognise the extent of our responsibilities.” 

Macron said France had a duty to admit the “suffering it inflicted on the Rwandan people by too long valuing silence over the examination of the truth”.

France, which enjoyed close ties with Rwanda’s Hutu-led government of President Juvénal Habyarimana, has long been criticised for its role in the killings of the Tutsi minorities in the months of April to June 1994.

What happened in March? 

In March, a French expert commission found that France under the late President François Mitterrand had borne “heavy and overwhelming” responsibility for the genocide but had not been complicit. The report said France had been “blind” to genocide preparations.

In May 2019, President Macron, promising a new beginning with Rwanda, set up a 15-member expert committee to investigate his country’s role in the genocide.

“I hereby humbly and with respect stand by your side today, I come to recognise the extent of our responsibilities,”  Macron said at the memorial.

In 2015, then-President François Hollande announced that the Rwanda archives would be declassified but two years later, after a researcher sought permission to study them, France’s Constitutional Council ruled that they should remain secret.

The report blamed Mitterrand for a “failure” of policy towards Rwanda in 1994. Rwanda had commissioned a separate inquiry, which concluded in a report submitted to the Cabinet in April that France “enabled” the genocide.

President Macron launched the new inquiry, allowing experts to study French official files from the time.

The History of exploitation by Developed countries

Likewise, Germany has apologized to Namibia for a colonial-era slaughter of up to 80,000 people when its troops put down a tribal rebellion. It offered $1.3 billion to aid in reconstruction and development. Germany slaughtered tens of thousands of people in the African nation of Namibia. The killings came during the colonial era when German troops stamped out an uprising in Namibia by almost wiping out two tribes.

Recently, 14 Caribbean nations are in the process of suing Britain for slavery reparations. They point out that when Britain abolished slavery in 1834 it compensated not the slaves but rather the owners of slaves, to the tune of £20m, the equivalent of £200bn today.

Likewise, who is answerable for the 29 million Indians who died of famine during the last few decades of the 19th century in what historian Mike Davis calls the “late Victorian holocaust”. When the British took control of India, they completely reconstructed the agricultural system, destroying traditional subsistence practices to make way for cash crops for export to Europe. Laid head to foot, their carcasses would stretch the length of England 85 times over. And this happened while India was exporting an unprecedented amount of food, up to 10m tonnes per year. Can the scores be set by paying reparations? It will never, but the reparation which Indian MP Shashi Tharoor demanded in this popular speech could at least remind them every year of the hole that is left in the country by the colonisers. £1 - a token acknowledgement of the historical fact, that might not do much to relieve the continued affliction of those whose countries have been devastated by the colonial encounter. But at least it would set the story straight and put us on a path towards rebalancing the global economy.

To set out India into a captive market for British goods, British colonisers had destroyed India’s impressive indigenous industries. Before the British arrived, India held 27% of the world economy, according to economist Angus Maddison. By the time they left, India’s share had been cut to just 3%. 

The same thing happened to China. After the Opium Wars, when Britain invaded China and forced open its borders to British goods on unequal terms, China’s share of the world economy dwindled from 35% to an all-time low of 7%.

Meanwhile, Europeans increased their share of global GDP from 20% to 60% during the colonial period. Europe didn’t develop the colonies. The colonies developed Europe.

Likewise in its lust for Ivory and rubber, Belgium killed some 10 million Congolese - roughly half the country’s population. The wealth gathered from that massacre was sent back to Belgium to finance beautiful stately architecture and impressive public works, including arches and parks and railway stations - the development that adorn Brussels today, the adorned headquarters of the European Union, as mentioned in historian Adam Hochschild King Leopold’s Ghost.  It will not be wrong to say that the beautiful artefacts bestowed in the state of Belgium are standing on the corpses of the Congolese. 

Are these countries developed because of their extraordinary policies or the years of looting and killing the indigenous civilization by labelling them savages?  Here, we are not even indulging in the inhumane treatment of these developed countries to the local people. The acknowledgement of these historical injustices should be forgotten with just one apology or compensation. The countries should simultaneously work for the development of these countries along with acknowledging the gruesome past instead of slowly erasing it. 

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