Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Betty Ann Blaine | We want our country back

Published:Friday | July 15, 2016 | 7:00 AM
Betty Ann Blaine

It's being described as a development with far-reaching implications. It's the 'We Want Our Country Back' movement, and it is seemingly gaining traction.

The Brexit referendum has pushed the globalisation-to-individualisation locomotive into gear, and it appears that other European nations are ready to hop on.

Even before the Brits voted, the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, had been calling to 'Make America Great Again'. Some of us regard that as code for 'let's move away from the Great Black Experiment' and take back America for the white, Anglo-Saxon population.

The corresponding slogan, 'We Want Our Country Back', has an ominous ring to it. In both America and Britain, the phenomenon is being driven by a strong anti-immigrant sentiment draped in the garment of fear, suspicion, and intolerance. Interestingly, none of those countries in question is taking responsibility for the destabilisation that has led to the current immigration debacle, both currently and historically.

The history of Western imperialism, with its far-reaching tentacles of expansionism and exploitation, must, to my mind, be squarely placed on the table if any meaningful analysis is to be pursued.

The rapid and extensive spread of European hegemonic power from the early 15th century onwards had a profoundly deleterious impact on indigenous populations across the planet, the ramifications of which are still evident today.

One of the most telling examples of the protracted consequences of conquest of Africa was described by the brilliant Guyanese scholar, Walter Rodney, in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

In his treatment of the topic, Rodney diligently documents the roots of colonisation that would lead to structural and systemic poverty and eventually to what I would describe as unnatural or "forced" migration practices.

According to Rodney, Europe assumed the power to make decisions within the international trading system. An excellent illustration of that is the fact that the so-called international law that governed the conduct of nations on the high seas was nothing else but European law. Africans did not participate in its making, and, in many instances, African people were simply the victims, for the law recognised them only as transportable merchandise.

The 'Scramble for Africa' not only served to destabilise the continent, it created artificial borders and boundaries. The indiscriminate carving up of conquered lands resulted in ethnic dislocations and divisions still evident today. Increased internecine wars and border disputes have led to staggering levels of violence - families against families, many having to seek refugee status outside of their own countries - groups against groups; governments against governments.

 

Unreliable

 

As far as the current immigration crisis is concerned, it seems to me that it cannot be easy or sensible for people, with their children in tow, to pile into unreliable boats for the high seas. The image of the body of the dead Syrian child lying on the beach in Turkey not only speaks to the human tragedy of the migration phenomenon, but to the degree of desperation that would cause parents to put their children in harm's way.

The destabilisation of the Middle East by the leading world powers has resulted in a migration crisis of immense proportions and complex ramifications. Ironically, it is no longer the ruling elite that is vigorously seeking to capitalise on cheap migrant labour as it was in the past, but militant extremists who recognise the opportunities embedded in the spontaneous and disorganised mass-migration movements we are witnessing. Unfortunately, it is that narrow view of the immigrant problem that is dominating the discourse and causing ordinary citizens like those in Britain to turn inward and to vote as they did to exit from the European Union.

The question to be asked is, if 'We Want Our Country Back' is the clarion cry of countries such as the United States and Britain, where exactly does that leave the rest of us?

- Betty Ann Blaine is a child-rights advocate and former lecturer in Southern Africa history at the University of South Florida and the UWI. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.