The West “is losing many hearts and minds” in ex-colonies

9:46 19.02.2023 •

Russia is making inroads in Africa.
Photo: AFP

Last year, while Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced at length the West’s historical depredations in India, China, and other parts of Asia and Africa, and cast Russia as the leader of a global anti-colonial alliance against a “racist” and “neo-colonial” West, recognizes Pankaj Mishra, a Bloomberg opinion columnist.

Make no mistake: Moral condemnation of Western powers has not been so widespread since the mid-20th century, when the “darker nations,” as W.E.B Du Bois called them, fought for national self-determination. And, though amplified by self-serving demagogues, it is again shaping mass perceptions and straining geopolitical relations across the globe.

Western political and media classes are only just becoming aware of the problem and its magnitude: how, for instance, the majority-white nations of Europe and North America appear more and more isolated in their accelerating military and economic campaign against Russia. In a recent poll, more Indians blamed either NATO or the US than Russia for the war in Ukraine. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, one of the most admired leaders in the Global South, believes that “it’s not just Putin who is guilty. The US and the EU are also guilty.”

Popular support for Putin has been widespread in Indonesia since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Putin’s anti-colonial rhetoric also increasingly falls on receptive ears in Africa.

In these countries their memories of exploitation and disastrous interventions by Western Europeans and Americans remain too strong. Perhaps more importantly, they see that the former masters of Asia and Africa are still refusing to address their past of violence, dispossession and plunder.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hardly isolated among his peers for claiming that British colonialists should have never left Africa. A widely praised new book by a frequent contributor to the ‘Times’ of London tries to argue a “moral” case for British colonialism.

For decades, white Westerners claimed to have made the modern world with their political, intellectual and technological breakthroughs. Today, in a period of relative Western decline, many more people have come to see themselves in another equally compelling narrative — one in which white men subjugated and disparaged much of the world’s population.

Western leaders cannot hope to quell such a deep and broad consensus, which rests upon painful experiences of individual and collective humiliation, by suppressing scholarly evidence of racism and imperialism, or whining about wokeness. They would do better to orient their political and intellectual cultures to the ideal of equality, and the demographic and cultural facts of pluralism.

Today, Western nations denounce ‘Putin’s aggression’ while tolerating, if not nurturing, at home a racial and civilizational arrogance derived from their own colonialist pasts. The world’s opportunistic anti-colonialists may well win this propaganda war by default.


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