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Long Reads


European Colonialism in Africa Is Alive

By plundering Africa's resources and carving it up into artificial states, Europe's colonial powers created vicious cycles of violence, poverty, and authoritarianism that are playing out to this day. But overcoming this legacy will require much more than toppling statues in Bristol.

PROVIDENCE/LONDON – Last year, as the Black Lives Matter movement was intensifying across the United States following Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd, Europe was facing its own battles over racial justice. And, as in the US, public symbols and monuments were at the center of the fray.

In Bristol, demonstrators tore down (and threw into the harbor) a statue of Edward Colston, a seventeenth-century parliamentarian whose company transported more than 80,000 slaves from West Africa to the Americas. In Oxford, students demanded (not for the first time) that a statue of Cecil Rhodes – the personification of European imperialism’s brutal extraction of African riches – be removed from Oriel College’s façade.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, protesters forced the removal of statues of King Leopold II, who ruled the Congo ruthlessly as his private fiefdom until images of his atrocities provoked an outcry and forced him to cede control of the territory, which became a Belgian colony. And in France, activists attacked the statue of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the author of the Code Noir that institutionalized slavery and forced labor across French colonies.

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