Le Congo Illustŕe (The Congo Illustrated)– an illustrated journal that was published fortnightly in series (Dec. 1891 to Dec. 1895) in Brussels by Alphonso-Jues Wauters.
This magazine systematically made it possible for the European readership to become familiar with the Congo; – it detailed the works of Belgian explores and scientists and the journal covered a wide range of subjects – ranging from ethnography to geography.
A closer look at the magazine will reveal how the text defined Africa for the European readers; anthropological commentaries were supported by images of Africans and their communities and Africa was construed as a pre-modern society waiting for western development; at the same time – European scientists – who were the harbingers of scientific progress – were given whole chapters with their faces featuring on the title-page of the chapter.
In the propaganda-painting above: La civilisation immortalise l’oeuvre du Congo (Civilization immortalizes the Congo enterprise):
The image of the Motherland – holding a placard of the Belgian monarch, Leopold II – is set against a backdrop where steam boilers and engines are visible; – the message is quite evident: the technological prowess of western civilization will improve the lives of the semi-naked, abject Africans.
This trope – of western technology versus the under-developed 3rd worlds – is a hegemonic ideology that still determines the western episteme. Not surprisingly, development theory, that defines all philanthropy, uses the same binary and Africa is still seen as a repository of all possible diseases that need fixing. The medical expertise of the western worlds can fix the ailments of the 3rd worlds – and thereby – such medico-philanthropic ventures ensure that the 3rd world is forever-always stuck in such a static identity of being perpetually at the mercy of these wealthy beneficiaries.
The emergence of the neo-colonial in the post-modern, global present; the insidious nature of modernity and development.
Narratives of colonialism remain hidden in the present-day discourses of development and progress; – global social disparity keeps on emerging at a faster pace than the discourses of development can recognise and address and we see, unfolding before our eyes, such social anomalies of civil war based on religion and famine-like conditions in the so-called developing third-worlds. Wealthy philanthropic agencies and global health organizations of the western worlds – abetted by the global financial/banking organizations – use development models of assistance to disburse their largesse and these are symptomatic of neo-colonialism as these organizations refuse to acknowledge that development cannot necessarily be equated with improved sanitation conditions, tarred roadways, electrical connectivity and the eradication of diseases. Deconstructing such notions of modernity and development is but a repetitive gesture of what has been articulated before; in 1972, Aimē Cēsaire, wrote Discourse on Colonialism; “They talk to me about progress, about ‘achievements,’ diseases cured, improved standards of living,” and he continues with his critique of western notions of development that used to be coerced into the colonial third-worlds:
I am talking about societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined, lands confiscated, religions smashed, magnificent artistic creations destroyed, extraordinary possibilities wiped out.
They throw facts at my head, statistics, mileages of roads, canals, and railroad tracks.
I am talking about thousands of men sacrificed to the Congo-Ocean. I am´ talking about those who, as I write this, are digging the harbor of Abidjan by hand. I am talking about millions of men torn from their gods, their land, their habits, their life – from life, from the dance, from wisdom. (Monthly Review Press, 1972: pp. 21–22)
The dominant discourse on development seems to be caught up by a particular strand of thinking – whereby the agrarian citizens of the third-worlds – are caught up in being referred to as the Other. The western models of development, which seem to suit the needs of global health organization, are unable to categorise these disease-ridden citizens as being ‘normal’; – and as in need of perpetual healthcare or afflicted by diseases which defines them as ontologically pathological. Programs which obsess with global health issues- and deal with death tolls and diseases caused by polio and malaria – seem to work in collaboration with pharma companies where the desire is to come up with the ideal vaccine; as if this vaccine would create better human beings. Third-world governments – being poor and cash-strapped – are co-opted by such rhetoric.
Polio, malaria and the afflicted native.
Under the guise of being philanthropic organizations – funding institutes like the Gates Foundation – only disseminate and perpetuate certain notions of a neo-colonial imperial policy. In India, Gates fetishizes the issue of sanitation and the absence of proper bathrooms in rural India; and his obsession with the sanitation habits of the subaltern poor – has codified the identity of the Indian peasantry as being confined to his bathroom habits; and with an obsessive focus on sanitation issues – it is implied that the only issue affecting the subaltern is that they lack access to commodes and underground sewage pipelines. Being poor is bad enough; being at the mercy of the above funding agency is sheer misery. Whatever karma one has done – I am not sure if one has to be at the receiving end of such ghastly philanthropy as is displayed by the above; even hell would be better – than allowing western billionaires being involved in your moral upliftment which would only be possible if you stopped pooping in the open. The methods that are used to denigrate the subalterns of the 3rd worlds – are devious and invisible; under the guise of being a philanthropic organization– such philanthropic agencies ensure that the discursive identity of the impoverished in India – is always-forever fixed within a monolithic concept: the poverty stricken third-world holds out a begging bowl and it needs the grandiose gestures of western, capitalist billionaires.
On Migrants and Refugees.
The existing rhetoric of migration (forced and voluntary) and of refugees – that is used to refer to the concepts of the geo-social movements of people – is problematic and smacks of being a part-and-parcel of western, first-world agencies (like the UN and the World Bank) that implement and propagate the so-called development theories like a mantra. Simply said – the trope of such narratives would be: poor people from the 3rd worlds (Africa- for example) – migrate to richer countries in the West/Europe because they are poor. Thereby – development scholars would refer to those Africans as migrants who have become refugees in Europe. Undoubtedly – in this day and age – such rhetoric that is used by development theorists and sanctioned by global, powerful, agencies is mostly embarrassing, if not outright ridiculous.
The native baboo: the mimic-men.
These global finance/banking institutions, philanthropic organizations and global health organizations work in collaboration with the native intelligentsia – the modern-day-western educated native baboos who are the ideal ‘mimic-men’ and unable to interrogate the abusive systems they perpetuate in the native contexts. The question is: how does one circumvent these rich, overpowering funding institutions from the West and prevent them from co-opting all forms of critiques and thereby, create spaces that are truly emancipatory and liberatory for the third-world natives? Undoubtedly, Cēsaire’s harsh critique that has been cited above – is an act of ‘nativism’ which construes cultural identity and traditions as being the defining, discursive parameter of identity – but more importantly, it does throw light on the fact that the dominant theories of development are incredibly flawed and problematic and thereby, detrimental for the healthy growth of any society as they create monolithic, static identities of the underdeveloped third-world citizens who are perpetually needy, hunger-stricken and pathologically ailing.
This is a call to create a series of texts that will accommodate both intellectual and artistic interventions against the dominant discourses of development; -/মরীচিকা: Mō-rī-chī-kā: Mirage/ is an independent institution in Calcutta, India comprising of concerned scholars and artists.
The আন্টি-উন্নতি কালেকটিভ/ the anti-development collective/