By plundering Africa’s resources and carving it up into artificial states, European colonial powers created vicious circles of violence, poverty and authoritarianism that continue to this day. But overcoming this legacy will take more than toppling statues in Bristol.
PROVIDENCE / LONDON – Last year, as the Black Lives Matter movement intensified in the United States after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, Europe faced its own battles for racial justice . And, as in the United States, public symbols and monuments were the center of the fray.
In Bristol, protesters demolished (and dumped in the harbor) a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century parliamentarian whose company transported more than 80,000 slaves from West Africa to the Americas. At Oxford, students demanded (not for the first time) that a statue of Cecil Rhodes – the personification of European imperialism’s brutal extraction of African wealth – be removed from the facade of Oriel College.
Meanwhile, in Belgium, protesters forced the removal of the statues of King Leopold II, who ruthlessly ruled the Congo as his private stronghold until images of his atrocities sparked an uproar and forced him to cede the rule. control of the territory, which became a Belgian colony. And in France, activists attacked the statue of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the author of the Black Code which institutionalizes slavery and forced labor in the French colonies.
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