Opinionista Babatunde Fagbayibo 26 September 2017

Bruce Gilley, a prophet of the Euro-American validation cathedral

Many have questioned the reasoning behind Third World Quarterly’s publication of Bruce Gilley’s offensive article The Case for Colonialism, with some asking for its withdrawal. In my view, the former point is more important than the latter.

As someone who dabbles in the art of satire, my immediate inclination from reading the abstract and the first page of Bruce Gilley’s article was one of curiosity, not shock. The curiosity stemmed from a mistaken sense of identification with a fellow comrade in the world of political satire, one with a potent pen aimed at exposing the stupidity and arrogance of those who still infanticise one billion Africans.

Little did I realise that Bruce Gilley is just another name in the long line of prophets that peddle racist and spurious ideologies. That was when the shock set in. The entire article reeked of unsubstantiated facts, inaccurate points, exaggerated positions, and utterly disrespectful statements. It further lacks the depth expected of a scholarly and scientific contribution (one which these Euro-American journals place on articles coming from African scholars). At best, it reads like a compendium of Facebook/Twitter comments by an ill-informed racist group.

To put it in hashtag language, Gilley’s central thesis boils down to this: #BringBackColonialism. In the last sentence of the introduction, he noted, “As one young man on the streets of Kinshasha asked Van Reybrouck … ‘How long is this independence of ours going to last anyway? When are the Belgians coming back?’ ” He reinforced this point again in his reference to Guinea-Bissau: “When are the Portuguese coming back?” Here, he dangerously sidestepped the atrocities committed by the Portuguese in their Lusophone colonies.

Bruce Gilley then goes on to half-cleverly ignore the substantial body of work by African scholars, such as Claude Ake, Thandeka Mkandawire, JF Ade-Ajayi, Ali Mazrui, Mahmood Mandani etc., on the betrayal of the spirit of independence, and more important, their contextual analysis of the need to not confuse such criticism with a warped support for (re)colonisation.

So many other issues open up this unfortunate piece to scrutiny and easy refutation. In fact, every paragraph of the article contained reckless and obnoxious assertions. These range from the deodorised justification of the brutal colonial suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion (perhaps he thinks that the apology offered by the British for this crime against humanity was misplaced), the claim that many natives accepted the legitimacy of colonial administration across Africa, the “wonderful” benefits of colonialism (à la Helen Zille), and the “successful” experiments of (re)colonisation efforts by Switzerland (in Indonesia) and Australia (in the Solomon Islands). One could easily argue that for Bruce Gilley, Africa’s entire post-colonial experience has been a dark, void space which can only be rescued through a Western-inspired (re)colonisation project.

Bruce Gilley’s criticism of anti-colonial struggles, leading to an unfounded and careless jump to proposing a neo-imperial approach, is another reminder of the strong existence of the Euro-American validation cathedral. This influential validating structure continues to determine what is suitable for Africans. This plays itself out in numerous ways: political development (which model and/or leader is good for Africa), literature (who is the best African writer and/or which story or novel deserves to be published), and one that is relevant to this piece, the standard of scientific contribution (which article is acceptable and thus deserves to be published in the so-called “top ranked” academic journals).

Many have questioned the reasoning behind Third World Quarterly’s publication of Bruce Gilley’s offensive article, with some asking for its withdrawal. In my view, the former point is more important than the latter. The importance lies in Third World Quarterly’s representation of a Euro-American gate-keeping validating system that has positioned itself as the final voice on what should be regarded as a “scholarly contribution to the body of knowledge”.

That African scholars are part of the editorial boards of these journals or that articles are subjected to a blind peer review process are all but smokescreen attempts to present an objective platform. The structural reality of some of these journals is such that articles that do not conform to entrenched precepts and ideologies are weeded out, in spite of the so-called “objective processes”.

To be brutally frank: Would Third World Quarterly (or any of the Euro-American based journals that presume to be the cathedral of knowledge structures) accept an article of similar standard as Gilley’s from an African scholar? Such African scholar would have received a note from the editor stating that their work is so sub-standard, and unworthy of a peer-review process. On the other hand, the likes of Gilley get an easy pass, and have their works displayed as an emblem of the might of those that still control the validation structures.

As I stated in the foregoing, I am less concerned about the removal of Gilley’s spurious article. Rather, I am more passionate about the extent to which we are able to redirect energies away from shifty Euro-American validating structures. By this, we need to take our own validation processes more seriously. This requires that more attention be paid towards strengthening African-based journals, patronise these journals, and determine our own standards of assessing the relevance of scientific works to the African condition. DM