The following quotations are taken from:
Ngugi wa Thiong’O, Moving the Center: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms. Heineman 1993. Pp 47-57, 76-81, 96-101.
From “The Cultural Factor in the Neo-colonial Era”
“It is of course true that imperialism, in whatever form and guise, aims at the complete ownership, management and control of the entire system of production, exchange and distribution of the wealth in its home base and those of other nations and territories. This was perfectly clear in the old colonial system. The bourgeoisie of the oppressor nations of Europe hardly disguised the fact thtat they were on a mission of economic plunder. Today, US finance capital and the USA-based transnationals are equally on a mission of economic robbery and theft of the resources, the labour, and the produce of the entire ‘Third’ World. The nations of Asia, Africa and South America are bleeding under the weight of unpayable debts. A traveller in any one of the tricontinental countries will find the same familiar names: IMF; World Bank; General Motors, Firestone, Del Monte, Coca-Cola, MacDonalds etc; Esso, Caltex, Mobil oil, etc; Hilton, Sheraton, etc; and of course other similarly familiar signs form Japan and Western Europe. In short the same tiny group of financial, industrial and commercial interests form the USA and the West generally still control the economies of the various ‘third’ World countries.
The economic goes hand in hand with political control. Under colonialism political control was often direct through the settler representatives or through a white-controlled native administration; and of course through the colonial army and police forces. Under the neo-colonial form, control is exercised through a comprador bourgeoisie. Under the USA’s leading role in the management of the neo-colonial system, this takes the particular form of erecting and supporting the most reactionary and the most repressive civil or military dictatorships in the world—Pinochet’s Chile, Somoza’s Nicaragua, Marcos’ Philippines, South Korea, Kenya, El Salvador, etc are just a few examples—for as long as they guarantee the continued dominance of USA interests.
The entire economic and political control is effectively facilitated by the cultural factor. In any case, economic and political control inevitably leads to cultural dominance and this in turn deepens that control. The maintenance, management, manipulation, and mobilization of the entire system of education, language and language use, literature, religion, the media, have always ensured for the oppressor nation power over the transmission of a certain ideology, set of values, outlook, attitudes, feelings etc., and hence power over the whole area of consciousness. This in turn leads to the control of the individual and collective self-image of the dominated nation and classes as well as their image of the dominating nations and class.
By thus controlling the cultural and psychological domain, the oppressor nation and classes try to ensure the situation of a slave who takes it that to be a slave is the normal human condition. If the exploited and the oppressed of the earth can view themselves and their place in the universe as they are viewed by the imperialist bourgeoisie, then they can become their own policemen, no longer able to see any significant contradiction between their own condition and that of the oppressor nations and classes.
In the era of classical colonialism, this mental control was effected through the confined walls of the colonial school. But generally there was as systematic assault on peoples’ languages, literature, dances, names, history, skin colour, religions, indeed their every tool of self definition. In their place were imposed the languages, literatures, religions, names histories of the colonizing nations and classes. Fortunately the colonial school and the churches could not take in the whole population. So only a tiny elite was educated into the culture, values, outlook, and consciousness of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Some even revolted and joined the masses, utilizing their very knowledge of the culture of the oppressor to map out strategies and tactics for national survival.
This thoroughly colonized petty bourgeoisie was the class that inherited the management of the colonial state under new flags raised aloft at independence. It received almost completely intact the colonial army, the police, the administrative structures and personnel, the judiciary, and of course the entire prison system as developed and refined by colonialism. Their mission became that of overseeing the continuity of the colonial state in a new guise, the neo-colonial guise. They are able to carry out their mission with absolute conviction because they have inherited the same world outlook, even vis-á-vis themselves, formerly held by the imperialist bourgeoisie. This is seen for instance in Africa where in a neocolonial regime the same old disregard of African lives continue. In fact under neo-colonialism, the cultural and the psychological aspects of imperialism become even more important as instruments of mental and spiritual coercion.
Today the USA and the West in general control nearly all the news to and from Third World countries. By that fact alone, they determine how those countries will see themselves in the media. The whole area of news-gathering, the selection of the facts and the angle of viewing them is so important to the USA that when UNESCO persisted in insisting on a new international information order, the USA withdrew its financial dues and summoned Britain to follow suit. The same pattern of control extends to the cinema, television, the video, and the radio. Most of the images on the cinema and television screens of the third World are actually manufactured in the USA. This dominance is likely to continue with the vast US investment in information technology. With the satellite TV, Cable TV, and the USA-based video productions, these images ‘made in the USA’ will be received directly by many Third World families. We have already seen the devastating use of this technology in religious propaganda by the USA-based millionaire foundations who now promote idiotic illusions about the pleasures of the heaven to come on a mass hypnotic scale. Even such publicly discredited characters as Swaggert and Oral Roberts will occupy regular spots running into hours of prime television time in a number of African and Third World countries. Jesus-is-my-personal-saviour religions will spread on a mass scale through cassettes, glossy leaflets, and videos.
The USA and the West control the production, training and even the placement of most third World intellectuals. A good number become trained and cultured into drawing pictures of the world in harmony with the needs of US imperialism. Book and magazine production and distribution is dominated by the USA and the West so that what people in the Third World read is largely determined in the major capitals of the West. In short, the USA and the West control the whole area of the production and dissemination of ideas so basic to cultural determination and the shaping of outlooks on life and social struggles.
Throughout all the above, the Third World is being trained to feel completely at home with the ruling-class values of the US imperialist bourgeoisie. After a time, any other articulated world view may sound very strange and unreal in the ears of the political believers. With the advent of transnationals the world is finally being made in the image of the West.” 50-53
“In all these struggles, the cultural and intellectual worker has always played an important role. Intellectual workers can draw pictures of the world in harmony with the needs of the forces of human destruction; or in harmony with the forces or resistance for human survival, creativity and renewal. Intellectuals can draw pictures of the universe and its workings to instill fear, despondence, and self-doubt in the oppressed while legitimizing the world of the oppressor nations and classes as the norm; or they can draw pictures that instill clarity, strength, hope, to the struggles of the exploited and the oppressed to realise their visions of a new tomorrow.” 54-55
“Culture has rightly been said to be to society what a flower is to a plant. What is important about a flower is not just its beauty. A flower is the carrier of the seeds for new plants, the bearer of the future of that species of plants. If economic and political liberation are essential for our liberation, equally the liberation of our cultures, our feelings, values, outlook, are a necessary measure of the true extent of that economic and political liberation, Or put it another way: if culture is the product of the totality and continuity of our economic and political struggles, it is also a contributor, a reflection, and a measure of the success of those struggles.
The cultural and the psychological aspects of the continuing resistance against imperialism in the 1990s are an integral part of the overall struggle. Should we ignore the cultural aspects of both imperialism and the resistance against it, we shall merely have scotched the snake not killed it. Imperialism is an integral whole and the struggle against it must also be an integral whole countering, blow for blow, all the areas of its aggression—economic, political, cultural and psychological—with a people-based economy, politics and culture, in the hope of ending up with a liberated people’s consciousness and creativity.” 57
From “Resistance to Damnation: The Role of Intellectual Workers”
“Children are the future of any society. If you want to know the future of a society look at the eyes of the children. If you want to maim the future of any society, you simply maim the children. Thus the struggle for the survival of our children is the struggle for the survival of our future. The quantity and quality of that survival is the measurement of the development of our society. Enslave the children and you enslave parents. Enslave the parents and you enslave children. Thus if you enslave children, you are enslaving the survival and development of the entire society—its present and its future. Survival and development are an integrated whole. Survival is the pre-condition of any development. And development is the basis of our continued survival.
Let me very briefly isolate the five crucial elements in that integrated whole: physical survival, economic survival, political survival, cultural survival, and psychological (or identity) survival.
Let us first take physical survival and development. That the precondition of any human development is physical survival is obvious. But it also needs saying. Even a new-born baby has mechanism of self-defence however fragile to ensure survival. Mother and father will do anything to protect the young first against any harm from nature—diseases, wild animals etc—and from human enemies. We have to be in order to be!
But physical survival is also dependent on food, clothes and shelter. We struggle with nature to procure the basic means of our survival: food, clothes and shelter. We produce the means of our life. Thus we ensure the economic survival, through production and distribution. We need the earth, we need our labour. We need tools. We produce, we create, we survive, we change, we develop.
But this condition of our physical and economic survival need regulation to ensure resolution of conflicts in a manner that would not threaten our survival. A society needs political survival—that is the retention of power in its hands—to regulate the life of that society in a manner beneficial to that society. The question of power, and of who wields this power, and on whose behalf that power is wielded is crucial as a guardian of its phy8sical, and economic survival. The power to decide between options, alternatives, tactics and strategies for survival should be wielded by the society.
And then there is the question of cultural survival: education, languages, art, literature, music, dances. These are evolved in society. What holds that society together is the culture it develops in the course of its struggles for economic and political survival. Thus culture is not an extra growth, like say an extra finger. It is an integral part of our growth. It is a product of our growth. It is what a flower is to a tree. The important thing about a flower, as I have. Said in another context, is not just its beauty. A flower contains the seeds of the tree’s future growth, its survival.
Culture carries the values, ethical, moral and aesthetic by which people conceptualise or see themselves and their place in history and the universe.
These values are the basis of a society’s consciousness and outlook, the whole area of a society’s make-up, its identity. A sense of belonging, a sense of identity is part of our psychological survival. Colonialism through racism tried to turn us into societies without heads. Racism, whose highest institutionalized form is apartheid, is not an accident. It is an ideology of control through divide and rule, obscurantism, a weakening of resistance through a weakening of a sense of who we are. Thus psychological survival is necessary. We need values that do not distort our identity, our conception of our rightful place in history, in the universe of the natural and human order.
A sense of who we are in turn reacts on our values, on our cultural, political, economic, and physical being. Psychological survival –identity survival—thus reacts on all the other levels of survival. Development is thus an integrated whole. When we talk of survival and development say of a child, we are talking about the development of the whole.
The five levels are true for the child as they are for the adult. Only the child is more vulnerable, at all those levels. A people are truly free when they control all the tools, all the instruments, all the means of their psychical, economic, political, cultural and psychological survival and development.
But in the Africa of the twentieth century, or for that matter the Africa of the last 400 years, that free integrated self-development had not been possible, has in fact been brutally prevented.” 76-78
“Western interests are behind apartheid which in turn attempts a racist hegemony over Southern Africa. In the process these interests have threatened our physical survival (through killings), our economic survival through land confiscation and the plunder of natural and human resources, or through destablisation, our political survival through direct brutal occupation or through collaborating elements like MNR/UNITA and our cultural survival through the control of the media, the arts and television. In short through control of the instruments of collective self-definition. Image control: this is the phrase. We have even been stripped of our names, and languages, the two immediate symbols of the means of self-definition.
I have so far concentrated on the forces threatening our survival, and forces of our exploitation and control. But what of the forces ensuring our survival? They go by the name of resistance. What has ensured our survival is because for the last 400 years African people have waged resistance. And this resistance necessarily had to be at all the levels we have been talking about. We have created resistance armies to fight for our physical survival. We have fought back and organized to seize back the means of our political survival. And we have fought back to seize back the means of our self-definition. This resistance today is being carried to even higher levels by the ANC and all the other progressive liberation forces in South Africa.
The degree, intensity, quality and success of this resistance has always been dependent on how all the five levels have been seen as an integrated whole.
But the success of the resistance is also dependent on an internal factor and an external facto. Put it this way. The main antagonism today is between imperialist enemy classes and the internal resistance classes. But just as imperialism, the external factor is helped by traitorous internal elements, so the resistance forces need an alliance with external friends of human liberation. Thus imperialism and its internal allies and the national liberation forces and their external allies are the two contending forces in Africa.
Children in Africa best exemplify the struggle between the two contending forces in Africa today:: the forces of our demise on the one hand, and the forces of our survival on the other.
The children have been the most vulnerable victim of the forces of our demise. That is very clear. But the children are also part of the resistance. Soweto children have become a metaphor of the best and the most heroic in our resistance history. Mozambican children, in their flight and refusal to succumb show we can look to the future with hope. We shall overcome!
Indeed this resistance will eventually succeed. And it will be finally successful when people are in total control of all the means of their physical, economical, political, cultural, psychological and spiritual survival. So we have to strengthen our capacity, and that of our children, to resist the evil.
When and where do the arts and artists come into this? From the above analysis it is clear that artists are part of the image-making processes. They draw the pictures of the world. The arts and artists and intellectual workers can draw pictures of the world in harmony with the needs of the forces of resistance and survival. And here there are no neutral images. IF you find an MNR bandit cutting the limbs off a child, what neutral song can you sing about it? What neutral image can you draw? What about the picture of the forces supporting MNR or those supporting the child? What neutral song can you sing? What neutral image can you draw; what neutral philosophy can you articulate? Yes, what neutral prayer can you give?
Art and artists can draw pictures of the universe of our struggle that instill strength, clarity, hope, to our struggle to realise visions of anew tomorrow as embodied in the struggle and survival of our children; or pictures that instill fear and despondence or give rational, artistic legitimacy to the world of the oppressor-nations and classes.” 79-81