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”.