The Sunday Mail
Speaking on 16 February 2001 on the need for European Unity, then President of the European Commission, Romani Prodi exclusively told Britain’s The Guardian newspaper something that anyone interested in collective survival as a nation, race, continent must take seriously.
Expressing his fear of America’s hegemony brought about by economic globalisation, Prodi said: “The only way to express ourselves in the new world is by being together. I don’t like to be a colony. If we do not get together, we will disappear from world history.”
I was reminded of Prodi’s genuine fear of America’s growing hegemony across the globe and the need for nations to be united after reading recent news of the sacking of UK’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. Among a litany of misdemeanours, Mr Williamson was accused of telling military chiefs of plans to intervene in at least five African states that include Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt.
Most international media houses screamed with a very condescending headline; “Sacked UK’s defence chief wanted to invade Africa”. It is very condescending that one would think that this “Africa” is some small country in some far off backwaters of the civilised world. But the media’s patronising framing is just a part of the problem. Let’s focus on Mr Williamson and what his “embarrassing expose” tell us about the mentality of the majority of those of a different colour that inhabit the northern hemisphere. These are some of the people who once enslaved, subjugated and colonised us. We would have been fools to think that the end of decolonisation in Africa meant the automatic unwinding of the inherent racial prejudices of those who once colonised us including their children.
Colonialism and the motivation behind it remain to this day ingrained in most whites. It has just become unfashionable now to publicly express such disobliging or unsavoury remarks in a world that has since given us Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Barack Obama – political figures that have become poster-boys in the current global liberal discourse.
It is said that one can gauge the actual thinking or the pulse of a clan, family or a nation by listening attentively to some of its colourless, raucous or underdone characters. It is these characters and their unsophisticated rawness that give us an unedited picture of the things discussed behind the veil of private households. But let’s also not deceive ourselves. Although prone to embarrassing gaffes, Mr Williamson is far from being a wayward buffoon. He actually has an illustrious political career for a person of his age and professional background.
Born on 25 June 1976, Mr Williamson was at the time of his sacking a British Conservative MP and Secretary of State for Defense from 2017 to 2019 and has served as Member of Parliament (MP) for South Staffordshire since 2010.
His rise to political stardom began when he was appointed private secretary to the Prime Minister and is said to have been fond of attributing to himself Theresa May’s assumption of leadership after having been her chief campaign strategist. His strategic thinking that propelled May to the throne was not without recognition. He became the chief whip and later was rewarded by being appointed Defense Secretary on November 12, 2017. Why is all this history important? It is important because it puts in perspective the fact that we are not dealing with just some street urchin. When he says something we must as a nation or as a continent take it seriously.
After all, this is the man who in 2015 was sworn in as a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom giving him the honorific title of the “The Right Honourable” for life. The following year he was sworn in as Commander of the Order of the British Empire. This, the empire’s medal of honour seems to have had a permanent intoxication in Mr Williamson and without doubt gave him the gusto to tell close colleagues of his plans to invade Africa. Let us be aware that Mr Williamson was not essentially sacked for his statement on Africa but on different allegations, which made it unsustainable for him to remain in the Conservative government. Expressing one’s wish to invade Africa cannot be a punishable offence within the British establishment. In the British corridors of power, the legacy of empire still lingers.
Mr Williamson’s real crime was that he had leaked classified information to a newspaper on the government’s approach to allowing Chinese tech giant Huawei to build part of Britain’s 5G network. That is what irked Madam Theresa May not the “invasion of Africa” thing that lies nestled safely at the subconscious of most inhabitants of the “Empire”.
The apt description of Mr Williamson’s mishaps is probably best captured by China’s Defence Ministry spokesperson. After getting so excited when Britain finally launched its new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, Mr Williamson started threatening countries he didn’t like with ‘lethal force’ and promised to deploy it to the Pacific. China, which ironically is home of the so-called ‘carrier killer’ missiles, was rightly angered and cancelled a planned Brexit trade talks. China’s Defence spokesperson responded by saying: “The remarks just reinforced the deep-rooted ignorance, prejudice and anxiety among some British.”
In a rather revealing way, Mr Williamson is behaving like any ordinary middle-class British who still believes in the nobility of the Empire’s civilisation mission. Earlier quote from Prodi teaches us something critical. Colonialism didn’t end with former colonisers relinquishing political control of the colonies. Africans still need to grapple with long colonialism and former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki is probably the best African who has thus far advanced the idea of African unity beyond ethnicity and colonial borders.
Part of Mbeki’s seminal speech of 1998 titled “The Time has Come” deserves to be reproduced particularly where he says:
“My mind and my knowledge of myself are formed by victories that are the jewels in our African crown, the victories we earned from Isandhlwana to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as the Ashanti of Ghana, as the Berbers of the Desert. I am the grandchild who lays fresh flowers on the Boer graves at St. Helena and the Bahamas, who sees in the mind’s eye and suffers the suffering of a simple peasant folk: death, concentration camps, destroyed homesteads, and dreams in ruins.
“I am the grandchild of Nongqause….I come of those who were transported from India and China, whose being resided in the fact, solely, that they were able to provide physical labour, who taught me that we could be both be at home and be foreign, who taught me that human existence itself demanded that freedom was a necessary condition for that human existence. Being part of all these people, and in the knowledge that none dare contest that assertion I shall claim that I am an African.”
We need as Africans to develop a shared conception of being an African and only then can we be able to stand as a formidable entity against the psychosis of the likes of Mr Williamson.
In the case of Zimbabwe, many will remember that this is not the first time that a British national has called for the invasion of its former colony. Way back in 2013, former South African president, Thabo Mbeki sensationally claimed that the British had requested his country’s help for a military invasion.
Mbeki noted: “There is a retired chief of the British armed forces and (he) said that he had to withstand pressure from the then prime minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, who was saying to the chief of the British armed forces, ‘you must work out a military plan.”
Mbeki said this came as no surprise as the same pressure had been exerted on his country to cooperate in a regime change scheme- even to the point of using military force.
Yes, Mr Williamson could qualify to be that Pike character in a classic British Sit-com Dad’s Army who is a gawky and a rather gormless accident prone individual, but his reckless words must be kept in our consciousness. Like what Prodi said, no one wants to be a “colony”.