We are in the midst of sociopolitical shifts, such as Britain’s burgeoning departure from the institution that is the EU, and ever-growing pro-independence sentiments that not only pervade politics, but media, music, fashion and art too. People are seeking a self-determined future. Independence and freedom have become commonplace topics of discussion, but not in the context of residual colonialism in the 21st century.
Widely thought of as a thing of the past, colonialism is no longer front-of-thought. However, it still exists. As of today, there are seventeen territories noted as non-self-governing by the United Nations. Many of the territories are island nations such as Bermuda, Cayman Islands, and Falkland Islands, which are under British rule. Other non-self-governing territories (NSGTs) listed include Gibraltar, American Samoa, and French Polynesia, amongst many others.
With limited self-governance, if granted any at all, these territories are not in full control of their present or future. They are still subjected, subtly or overtly, by the very nation that colonised them during the days of empires, slaves, and trade. Now, no longer known by the bloodstained term “colony,” these “overseas territories” act as offshore financial centres, shipping ports, and natural resource repositories. For their ‘administering powers’, as the UN refers to them, the overseas territories are far too economically useful to relinquish and be made independent.
For this reason, the head of state of Bermuda— one of the top five leading financial centres in the world— is still the British monarch 333 years after the group of islands became a Crown Colony in 1684. According to the Global Financial Centre Index (GFCI), both Bermuda and fellow British overseas territory the Cayman Islands are two of the world’s top five leading financial centres. Bermuda ranks No. 8 on the World’s GDP per capita comparison list with 85 percent of its economy reliant on international business through reinsurance and other financial services. Whilst in the Cayman Islands with a population just shy of 60,000, over 93,000 companies were registered as of 2008 including 300 banks, 800 insurers, and 10,000 mutual funds. From this perspective, the transition from colonies into overseas territories is symptomatic of the Western economy’s shift from Feudalist to Capitalist— and its focus from agriculture to industries to services.
Yet the existence of these once-colonies now-overseas territories is not the only way residual colonialism exists in the 21st Century. Many freed states are still bound to systems and economical structures imposed and habituated by former imperial rulers. In this way, the mass decolonisation of the mid-to-later 20th Century which was heralded as the end of colonialism, only freed nations politically. However, the purpose of colonialism was to politically control and economically exploit states in order to fuel European capitalism.
The imperial practices of colonialism forcefully imposed a capitalist political economy over other forms of political economy, which may have been better suited to said territory’s resources. Precolonial currencies were eradicated and replaced by European currencies, lands were seized from locals for commercial use, and a banking system was established. Local and indigenous populations were forced to conform and enter the labour market to pay imposed taxes. Whilst ideas of “racial superiority” were concocted to divide, conquer, and mitigate collective uprising against the colonialists. The residual effect of this colonialism-rooted racial discourse can be seen in today’s beauty standards, especially in regards to colourism.
It was socio-economic colonial policies like these that sought to maximise profit, in spite of welfare and the country’s economic future. As agriculture was centred on cash-crop production, the need for a mix of subsistence farming was ignored. Ultimately, this is why many former colonies and overseas territories— Bermuda, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos— are heavily reliant on the importation of food from elsewhere. In effect, this dependency created by the former colonial power, makes it even harder for a territory to pragmatically achieve independence.
Consequently, when a territory is granted a referendum, like Bermuda was in 1995, independence is overwhelmingly declined. This is because dependency becomes another reason to be dependent, whilst for those in control, dependency becomes power. In this way, it can be argued that the referendum choices were actually between maintaining the status quo or economic ruin.
Whether subtly or overtly, remnants of colonialism still pervade the 21st Century. After all, colonialism and its monstrosities make the very foundation of Western economies. Yet, with growing consciousness and a building pro-independence consensus, the masses are holding those in control to account, and are determining their own future. The only question is, what are we willing to risk for our independence?
Words - Jamal George-Sharpe
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu