European colonial powers have been rewriting history whilst failing to recognise the contribution of slavery to the development of European institutions.
Financial institutions from banks to insurance companies, educational institutions from elite private schools to the most prestigious public universities, were directly and indirectly funded by the profits of colonialism. These prominent institutions have stamped upon themselves the bloody seal of the most horrendous crimes that humanity has ever witnessed, and their vestiges are still evident. Numerous scholars have dedicated various works to this pressing issue: Walter Rodney in “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, Frantz Fanon in “The Wretched of the Earth” and Eric Williams in “Capitalism and Slavery”, are some of the most powerful and noteworthy of voices in this debate.
Jean Paul Sartre, a European scholar, once affirmed:
“You know well enough that we are exploiters. You know too that we have laid hands on first the gold and metals, then the petroleum of the ‘new continents’, and that we have brought them back to the old countries. This was not without excellent results, as witness our palaces, our cathedrals and our great industrial cities…With us, to be a man is to be an accomplice of colonialism, since all of us without exception have profited by colonial exploitation. This fat, pale continent ends by falling into what Fanon rightly calls narcissism.”
Our aim is not the negation or erasure of history, nor is it an attempt to uncritically rewrite the past. Rather, our aim as Pan-African students is to bring to the forefront the not so distant inhuman past of European colonialism and imperialism as a means to contextualize its present ramifications. The study of colonialism and the incontestable claims of cause and effect should be encouraged, especially during these changing times.
Yes, in theory, colonialism ended a couple of decades ago, but its effects are still strongly felt in the present. The institutions, infrastructures and buildings built upon the profits of colonialism still stand strong. This could not be less irrefutable than at Queen Mary where the Octagon, one of the most iconic buildings on campus, had its foundational stone laid by none other than King Leopold II: a genocidal colonialist responsible for numerous inhuman crimes, the most heinous amongst them being the death of over 15 million people. The motion is an attempt to place into historical context the complex relationship between colonialism and our modern institutions. It is historically accurate and intellectually honest, hence we should let both historical truth and the strength of its arguments constitute in the main the judgment against the colonial legacies and neocolonial malpractices.
If we are honest and serious about human dignity, then we have to support the living as aggressively as we seek justice for the victims of heinous crimes of the past. The very fact that what common sense dictates in the humanistic practice is being questioned by a few, but vocal, voices is a measure of how colonialism and imperialism, and its continuing and enduring legacies have devalued the value of Black life and how much reparatory work is still left for our present and upcoming generations to do.
The online petition can be signed at : https://www.change.org/p/stephen-wells-remove-and-re-contextualise-the-leopold-plaques-located-in-the-octagon-queens-building?recruiter=564547646&utm_source=petitions_show_components_action_panel_wrapper&utm_medium=copylink
You can learn more about the debate by browsing previous articles by students on either side of the debate:
The views expressed in this article are the authors own. This is an opinion pieces.