Wales has the attitude of a beggar – we must decolonise our minds

Sawel ap Harri

30 years ago the great pan-African revolutionary Thomas Sankara was assassinated after a successful coup by Blaise Compaoré, who went on to be President of Burkina Faso until 2014.

Although Sankara’s tenure was a short one, spanning four years, his revolutionary struggle and more importantly, his ideas, can help create a path for Wales to follow.

Sankara, a staunch anti-imperialist, had the overarching aim to end French colonial rule. He ultimately changed the name of his homeland from the colonial “Upper Volta” to “Burkina Faso” (“Land of the Upright People” in Burkinabé).

He vaccinated 2.5 million children against malaria, yellow fever and measles; led a campaign that planted over 10 million trees to stop African deforestation; and created food self-sufficiency within Burkina Faso.

Although the difficulties and challenges that face Wales are completely different to those of Burkina Faso, Sankara’s insights can help us create a better Wales.

He famously eschewed all loans from foreign governments, the IMF and the World Bank, stating: “Our country produces enough to feed us all. Alas, for lack of organisation, we are forced to beg for food aid. It’s this aid that instils in our spirits the attitude of beggars.”

This attitude of beggars is clearly seen in Wales.

Perhaps the most pernicious and stubborn effect of Wales’ semi-colonial history is the residue it has left on our psyche.

Wales was not a colony in the textbook sense and in fact, it did very well out of the British Empire.

However, to quote Frantz Fanon “imperialism leaves behind the germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.”

We are yet to excavate the depths of the Welsh psyche and free ourselves from the fact that “the oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves” (Fanon).


Whether we like it or not, the majority of people in Wales do believe that we are too small, too poor and too uneducated to be independent.

We believe the worst about ourselves and have internalised in some form that England is our saviour and that we feed off her wealth.

This beggar attitude is constantly reinforced by the way devolution works. It has been created in a way where we are given money from the core, namely Westminster.

We must beg the central government for funds, the right to increase our meagre sums of power before gratuitously accepting our lot in a servile, sycophantic way.

Of course, the reality is that Wales does pay to the central coffers before receiving funds back but cannot be possibly expected to pay for everything when it does not possess the means of production, which are either held centrally or have been sold off.

But our mentality, coupled with the way in which devolution is formulated, creates a perception of us scrounging money from the core.


Devolution creates a process whereby sovereignty is presumed to rest with the Welsh Assembly Government in some areas but with locks emanating from Parliament confining which statutes it may pass.

It consistently reproduces a feeling of dependency, of having to “work with” the UK Government on what should be internal Welsh issues, having to constantly slash budgets even if the people of Wales are ideologically opposed, of not being able to build tidal lagoons and wind farms.

In essence, we are limited in how we use our very land for the benefit of the people and which could bring us our bread and our dignity.

Paulo Freire stated that “the oppressed, having internalised the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom”.

This is the real struggle with which we have to contend ourselves; put simply, we must decolonise our minds.

The concept that we will find our salvation from outside has permeated through Welsh economic and political life.

Foreign Direct Investment will apparently save us, as will Corbyn and post-Brexit Britain.


Economic and political liberation are always endogenous, as our economic policies should be. We must invest in education, R&D, infrastructure and improve human capital.

Foreign Direct Investment which leads to one hundred or so low paid, low skilled jobs with footloose companies will not save us.

We must have faith in ourselves and understand that we will never be free in our current circumstances.

We will never be free without an economic model that puts endogeneity at its core, in other words, an economic model that puts the people of Wales at its core.

In the words of the great James Connolly “The [Welsh] will only be free, when they own everything from the plough to the stars.”

I will end as I began, with a quote by the revolutionary Thomas Sankara:

“We must dare to invent the future”.

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  1. it’s not just aid we beg for, it’s also for additional crumbs of devolution. It’s as if our politicians are scared of taking on too much responsibility, leaving big decisions for someone else to make. There is a BIG difference between managment and leadership – I think our government manages its daily job pretty well, within the pre-defined boundaries (it is easy enough to complain when you are on the outside looking in). But there is a definite shortage of leadership – grasping the nettle, so to speak.

  2. Jonathan Edwards

    Right on every point.
    Particularly sad has been the decline of Welsh Education. I remember when we had a University of Wales with a great sense of standards and a national mission. Also Welsh Board GCSEs (then “O-Levels”) were acknowledged to be a harder than English ones. A lot of this was based on Wales’ Grammar Schools of course. It was understood that (apart from mining, steel and farming) Wales’ only asset was its people ie education.
    Then Labour was given control over all this with their majority in the new Welsh Assembly.
    I am not going to revive the dead Grammar Schools debate. The problem does not seem to lie with the system.
    What happened to the way we look after our only real asset – people and their education.
    I don’t know if we all started holding our hands out like beggars. This doesn’t quite explain what has happened.
    But Wales does seem to have gone for a consumer society and a form of conformity. So many of us work in offices now, 9-5 and politically correct. This is somehow diminishing of us as humans. It is hard to put a finger on it but walk round Cardiff Bay and look at the workers padding quietly to and from their offices, or staring at screens in their offices, and you will see – what? – something is missing.
    I am not sure that quoting a not-very-well known African example will penetrate the Welsh psyche. What will? Try quoting people on our doorstep who speak the same language and share so much culturally – the people of Ireland.
    Wales has very nearly the same population as Ireland but attitudes here are way way different. The Irish are smart, charming and organised. They get the EU (the US and everyone else) to work for them. Yes, they have fire when they need it.
    Here’s the problem.
    The Conservatives in Wales – well, the good ones – have a view about running Wales. They know perfectly well that in fact Wales CAN pay for its own public services. It does not have to be all in grants from London, which is what is ingrained in us. All you have to do is switch the flow of money. Establish that Welsh Treasury and let it keep, say, all or part of VAT raised in Wales. And let the Welsh run their own taxation and public expenditure. OK, not Defence. But nearly everything else.
    This is would be a marked change in the administration of Wales, though not enormously earthshaking as admin shake-ups go. And it is (I think) the policy of Plaid Cymru – though they don’t DO much about this. And Lib Dem Policy? And the policy of most Welsh Tories – or only the smarter ones?
    But this would in the end be a bomb in the psychology of the Welsh, a cic dan gynffon. Attitudes would change far and fast and Wales would start to fly.
    I can understand that Labour (some of them) also favour the policy. But they won’t move on it, will they. It would upset something they call the Welfare Union. And of course upset the cosy arrangements Labour now enjoy in Cardiff Bay – their nest is feathered. So we have the biggest party in Wales quietly drugging the Welsh mind.
    What of the Welsh themselves. Do they not know how easy self-rule could be? Are they too busy booking their next 2 weeks in Ibiza, or applying for their next government grant? Just making ends meet? Or are they afraid?
    Could Conservatives be right this time?

  3. Titles first. Wales does not ‘have the attitude of a beggar’. And if it did, given that wages are lower and unemployment higher here than elsewhere in the empire of the City of London, who are you to condemn the whole Welsh people for that attitude? The money that is being asked for is, historically and overwhelmingly, ours. Made from the building of the Empire of the City of London thanks to ships powered by a century of Welsh coal. Made from the preservation of empire thanks to high military recruitment to the lower ranks. Made from the safeguarding of the British economy against the worst excesses of right-wing economic illiteracy by the pre-WW1 Lloyd George and the post-WW2 NHS and Insurance acts of Bevan and Griffiths.

    Let me repeat that. It’s our money.

    At least, when we seek it from the British state. If you’d prefer to get out of the competition for Foreign Direct Investment, then I’m with you. But the metaphor of ‘begging’ doesn’t fit here. Beggars don’t seek ‘investment’. And the metaphor, incidentally, is an offensive one when homelessness is rising and the benefit system we pay for is being scrapped for the benefit of international companies.

    Next, the big lie. “Wales was not a colony in the textbook sense, and in fact it did very well out of the British empire.”

    This is – and I’m not sorry for being direct – bollocks.

    Wales provided the coal that enabled the biggest expansionary phase of empire, and was absolutely central (both politically and scientifically) in the development of steel and of rail in the same period. Without those things there could have been no ‘British’ empire after the development of Prussia into Germany in 1871, and its fast-track industrialisation thereafter. The trickledown remnants of what was mined and created here are what Wales has been left with, whilst the vast wealth that empire left the aristocratic and capitalist classes have been invested, safeguarded and ringfenced by the British system of law. Their riches are not what they made, but what we made for them. If Wales had done ‘well’ out of empire, Merthyr Tydfil would look like uptown Manhattan and Cardiff Coal Exchange would be the epicentre of global capitalism, instead of being closed down and repurposed as flats.

    Yes, Wales should decolonise its mind. A first logical step towards that is to admit that colonisation happened. A second, more important one, would be to stop slagging off the Welsh for their situation. If you don’t know the difference between a poor man and a beggar, your dreams of freedom will always be empty.

    • Personally I tend to see the ‘Empire’ as something to be ashamed of nowadays. Should we still be expecting some sort of a dividend from its creation and exploitation?

      • Nope.

        Because … Wales was a colony. As I just said. If it wasn’t a colony, as I just said, Wales would already have had the dividend from its creation and exploitation – and would be very wealthy. Instead the ‘dividend’ ended up being paid to the City of London. As you might have gathered from what I just said.

        However, despite Wales not suffering the scale of mass murder, discrimination, technology destruction and deliberate famine creation that the empire meted out to India (and many others), some reparations are in order. Saying this is not ‘begging’, and is not complicity in the past crimes of empire either. It is precisely anti-imperialist.

        Thanks for the question. I’d be more than happy to clarify further if you wish.

        • Thanks, all very thought provoking – put like this the issue I suppose is should we, given the chance, share in the ‘blood money’ (described as reparations in this instance) still sloshing through the veins of The London Empire? Pure speculation leading to a moot point but still a fascinating area of conjecture. If so, how much and who is entitled?

          • Reparations of any sort are never a good idea. Remember that it was the reparations that Lloyd George extracted from Germany at the end of the First World War that led directly to the Depression of the 1920s, since the glut of German coal and steel (worth much more than German cash, which was worthless by then) suppressed demand for domestic production and drove the industrial areas of Wales and Northern England alike into penury. The effect they had on Germany led directly to the Second World War, needless to say.

            Even if Germany could have paid its reparations in cash, that wouldn’t have made things much better. When Spain was flooded with gold from its South American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, the result wasn’t prosperity but inflation and economic stagnation, as the surplus of cash drove up the prices of assets and discouraged long-term investment in industry and infrastructure – a bit like the effect of long-term low interest rates, for that matter.

          • Yes, of course we should.

            If we don’t – and the others to whom it is owed are also not repaid – then that ‘blood money’ (I prefer your phrase actually, given that for much of the imperial age life expectancy actually declined) will continue to be the prime seed money for global arms dealing, chronically short-termist financial speculation, offshoring, corruption, informal lobbying and the development of repressive technologies, organisations, philosophy and media. So, absolutely.

            How much? As you probably realised, that’s an essentially tough question. Since I started to develop this view, I’ve been trying to work out what questions you’d have to ask to begin to put any figure on it. There are a multitude of possible methods, but none I’ve thought of so far strike me as particularly persuasive or logically tight. Comparative GDP invites the question of who it’s being compared with – given that the working-classes of Manchester, the runaway slaves of Liverpool and the evicted Scots of the clearances are clearly owed in the same manner despite appearing to gain in figures for ‘Britain’. And it’s pretty awkward to talk about just when you’re measuring. The Rhuddlan declaration is the clear start point – though that’s would give a marginal underestimate. But to when?

            Equal legal status for Noncomformists? Disestablishment? Independence itself? I don’t know.

            There’s also the difficulty of what exactly is being measured. It’s a commonplace to say that you can’t put a value on a life – although in a world of money, everybody does. But it’s more difficult again to estimate figures for might-have-beens over nearly a thousand years.

            Who is ‘entitled’? This is somewhat simpler. No individual is. However, given that the point is to equalise the development and economic gain that was lost, ‘payment’ should be rendered in the form of investments into democratic community-led organisation. And, whilst it will be profoundly difficult, there’d be an onus on recipient groups to aim to develop ongoing partnerships across borders – so that cash reparations wouldn’t simply mean inflation.

            It’s also necessary to ask precisely who (or what) is liable? I believe the difficulties attending this point is actually what prevents Shashi Tharoor from seeking anything more than a symbolic recognition of the principle of reparations due to India (Oxford Union speech, 2015?). On this basis he’s suggesting a pound, annually.

            Personally, I’d prefer an excessive settlement that would destroy the power of the City of London Empire. Unlike, say, Germans who had fought a bloody war in 1918, the 24, 000 or so corporate voters of the City can afford it. Unlike the gold that caused rampant inflation in the Spanish empire, this is money that is already causing hyperinflation – in property and land in an overcrowded and expensive corner of England. And, most decisively, this is not an Empire that – deprived of money – has territory, belief or organisation behind it.

  4. Benjiman L. Angwin

    Labour’s economic ideology has been dominant here for 100 years, and has made Wales servile.

    Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems should work together for the benefit of both parties.

    Plaid Cymru needs ideas which completely break from Labour ideologies, the Lib Dems need a road back.

    Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems can acquire these two things by working together across Wales until Labour hegemony is over.

  5. I see through the smoke glassed windows from which Wales remains. A nearly Nation. Washed dry by English history to a now sterile mind to the adventure and belief once flowed. Johnathan lifts the lid on our purity to the Union. Unbleached. A hinge that hardly moves but stuck and screwed. The temperature to see beyond the fallacy of interdependence to a more organic Wales is that which drives change. We have no heat or force. It’s tangled and mute. Until we grab the notion that we contribute to the economy of Wales and that life will be more free, to decide on its direction, fortune, will we languish still.

    We are lazy to see differently. We are comfortable with handouts. It will only get more negative as change will force even greater interdependence. Events are colliding to a perfect storm. We are not in control. It’s the worst state to be trapped in. We must collectively make more demands on self enterprise and greater industry of thought.

    It can be achieved. Change is in our hands. The industrial strategy pointed out in previous comments is the bellwether that can stimulate growth and enterprise. We need greater control of our laws and finance.
    If we convince those who feel that Welfare will suffer if we become independent, that pensions will be paid, it will be secure and others benefits too, then our cause to invest in our strengths will be better served.

  6. An independent Sales would have a devalued exchange rate. This would be excellent. It would make Welsh goods and exportable services very exportable.There would also be import substitution of foreign services, say banking. It would solve the problem of public sector pay rates designed for London. The economy would rebalance to the private sector. Leanne Wood doesn’t see this. Plaid Cymru is a very unsatisfactory nationalist party.

  7. Yes, I totally agree with you Nation.Cymru. We have to change our attitude. We must come out of the EU, because they are bleeding us dry, and we must become independent of England.

  8. “Wales was not a colony in the textbook sense and in fact, it did very well out of the British Empire.”

    Completely disagree………..In the dictionary definition sense..Wales was and still is a colony as its partially or fully run by a distant power/country.

    Only a few in Wales did really well in the empire…..this trickle down effect was minor in many valleys.

    If we did so well under empire, why is the language and culture in deep trouble, and why was trillions of pounds in labour in Wales invested elsewhere

    • Who exactly did well out of the empire? Why are places like Merthyr, Tredegar and Ebbw Vale not as wealthy as say Abergavenny, Crickhowell and Brecon? Very convenient to have the peasants toiling away out of sight on one side of the beacons, while the gentry set-up home on the other – the descendants of the Crawshays and Baileys are still there in large estates, so not only were the assets taken, but the wealth was used to buy up large swathes of the country and neighbouring Gloucestershire, in the form of the massive Glan-Usk estate and several others.

      Something seems wrong when their descendants still live on their inherited wealth, providing nannies to Princes William and Harry, frequently entertaining Prince Charles and his ilk, while we need to get funds from elsewhere to help to regenerate the areas they abandoned. If that hasn’t got parallels with colonialism, then what has. There should have been a higher price paid for the wealth generated, to ensure that there were funds and plans to deal with the inevitable aftermath.

      • CambroUiDunlainge

        Not so much the wealth is inherited, its the manner in which they gained the wealth in question is the issue.

        • I do have issues with vast inheritances, but I don’t have an adequate solution – I have no desire to be punitive towards the rich and privileged, but I would like the extreme differences in society to be reduced. In my mind there are many aspects to this. Firstly we have to deal with fairness on all sides. Most parents will always desire to set their offspring up in life and do their very best for them and maybe go to extreme lengths to do that, ensuring that they have the best of opportunities and advantages that they can pass on to them. I wouldn’t want to have a system that fights that basic instinct, but it needs a political solution that doesn’t allow long term inequalities and wealth condensation to grow out of control and lead to perpetual and seemingly permanent inequality. The fictitious American dream, where everyone has the opportunity to succeed, would be lovely if it could ever be achievable.

          In my mind all children should have equal opportunities to succeed and prosper, but that will never truly happen except in a very ideal world. Politically we need to ensure that there is a better form of constant, partial, but significant wealth redistribution – not necessarily through taxation – that goes towards leveling the playing field. The key thing is that no-one should have to start life several leagues below anyone else in terms of opportunity.

          • The only solution is an independent mind set that rewards effort and industry . The ability to be responsible adults and live in a caring Country and one that supports community life where all are equally valued.

            • Sounds good – rather than effort and industry though (because anyone can ineffectively apply a lot of effort, quite industriously and achieve very little or make very little contribution to society) I would prefer to think that people can mange to gain rewards for how effectively they measure up to their potential and their contribution to society.

              • You have put it better the I. You have mentioned the critical essay of potential. Often assimilated into work experience or collective consciousness ie vote for an independent Wales and be better off.
                What a great chance that the message is more targeted to home grown policies that exploit and invest in human capital. A welcomed intervention.

  9. The author has hit the nail on the head, to the extent that 99% (maybe 99.99% for all I know) of Wales’s problems lie inside the heads of the Welsh themselves. There is nothing intrinsic, in terms of natural resources or human capital, that prevents us from being among the most prosperous nations on earth: back in the 18th Century we were the best-educated country in the world (thanks to Griffith Jones Llanddowror) and were at the cutting-edge of technology for much of the Industrial Revolution. There is nothing that really stops us from emulating other small countries like Estonia (which also has an overbearing neighbour and a large disloyal minority) who have done very well for themselves more recently.

    At the risk of going off on a slight tangent, my take on the “Ring of Steel” sculpture proposed for Flint a few months ago seems to have been the exact opposite of most other people’s. The prevailing view was “we don’t want to celebrate the oppression of Wales by the Normans”; fair enough, but my view was more like “Hey, look at us! These murderous thugs who rode roughshod over most of Europe, the Mediterranean and Russia – and who crushed the Saxons in no time at all – had to go to these extraordinary lengths to subdue us! We must have been pretty tough, resourceful, determined people back then. What happened? Let’s celebrate what we were once, and strive to be like that again”.

  10. Whilst i don’t agree with all aspects of the article, thanks for the ideas. Colonialsim was especially raw and brutal in affrica, so i always listen to affricans’ experience and analysis. Nelson Mandela was a fine nationalist.

    Actuallly, as edeyrn so rightly says, English overlordship/rule/misrule over us was disastrous: the blue books – protonazi bunk; the dreadful conditions experienced by slate miners; Cymru was once the Kuwait of the coal powered world: if the money had stayed here what could it have achieved? What we got was the loss of the language and up to 90% of the population with an attitude to their cymreictod and their language that exactly follows that of our colonial masters. No roads nor railways that are fo any benefit tto us, and a water supply system that provides cheap water to England and expensive water to us/.

    Sell the water to England at the same price we have to pay for it!

  11. Jonathan Edwards

    Cymraes, you say “We must come out of the EU, because they are bleeding us dry”. Hmmm. Let’s have a look at this.
    Who is “they”, the EU? So you mean that the EU is bleeding us dry.
    As in, the EU takes money from us.
    And so much money that we are left without blood.
    Dead or nearly dead.
    The EU does this?
    Not England.
    The EU?
    In fact Wales contributes EUR 630m a year (because we’re in the UK system) and receives EUR 653m at least. So we benefit by EUR 23m a year at least, probably more.

    So, the EU is not bleeding us, it is transfusing blood into us. Whether we make the best use of it is another question. Probably we don’t.
    But lets at least base ourselves on facts.

    If Wales were not in the UK system our contribution would probably be less and our receipts would be the same. So,based on actual facts, Cymraes, and the money, Wales should leave the UK and joint the EU.

  12. Some very worthy points in this article. Agree that the begging bowl culture is everywhere, and that is ultimately demeaning. Suggest all contributors to this discussion take a look at Michael Sheen’s lecture in Merthyr the other evening:
    It’s long, but full of red meat! I found it quite inspirational…….

  13. Isabel Adonis

    The oppressed having internalised the oppressor and adopted his guidelines are fearful of freedom….Freire’s words suggest that that the oppressed in this case, the Welsh people, are not free but are recreating the English way of doing things, recreating the status quo where the Welsh language replaces the English language. In other words Wales has become the oppressor and not the liberator of its own country; what it does to free itself has the effect of dividing itself..

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