The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”
— Kwame Nkrumah
When I was penning these words, the preparations for the 72nd Independence Day celebrations were taking place at Independence Square, Colombo 7. The fact that it is not being held at Galle Face, as was the case previously, suggested that it was not going to be the type of extravaganza that we saw during the reign of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the elder sibling of the incumbent President. Cutting down expenses seems to be in line with the austerity measures that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been putting in to practice specially, when it comes to government officials and state functions. Despite that while travelling through Colombo 7 two days ago, I saw the mounted police, the armed cars, personnel carriers and other heavy military hardware that was being brought in to Colombo to be paraded on Independence Day. By the time this article is published the military would have shown off all their assets for the citizenry to know and be proud of.
That is what we are used to seeing at the Independence Day celebrations. The three armed forces showing their strength as a mark of assurance that there is no threat to our sovereignty from outside or within. It is an assurance that would have been in order centuries ago; when a threat to sovereignty came from colonialists who got aboard ships from Europe, with their guns and cannons and landed in far off lands to suppress the natives by the might of weapons. That is the kind of threat that we celebrate as having been delivered from, when we say ‘ Independence’.
A different threat
The sovereignty that is under threat now, though, is of an entirely different nature. Neo-colonialism does not necessarily use military strategies or rely on the brute power of the gun to subdue other sovereign and vulnerable states, who have been under the yoke of colonialism before the last century. Now their modus operandi is quite different and masqueraded in different styles. It comes in the form of debt traps that seriously threaten the autonomy of the governments of those lands that are supposed to be the representatives of their people, but who instead, have to tow the line of the creditors; sometimes big countries and sometimes monetary organizations funded by those countries. They hardly need their military power to be utilized for such purposes and so redundant becomes our military power, in countering such projects.
Our national heroes such as Weera Puran Appu and Gongalegoda Banda, whom we celebrate with much reverence during these celebrations, truly deserve that respect. Yet the challenge now posed to our sovereignty by forces who do not look like the bayonet wielding Portuguese or the Hat wearing Brits is way beyond the scope of action of such heroes, no matter how brave and valiant they might have been. The present danger to our freedom comes in the form of bad debt policies, market strategies that make our lands dumping grounds for industrial waste and inferior products, schemes that poison our soil and de-foliage our vegetation through chemicals introduced to us as fertilizer, projects and undertakings such as highways, ports, airports and industrial complexes which, in effect are not what the citizenry need in earnest at the moment but which the rich and wealthy nations have managed to foist on us hapless third world countries through bribes and kickbacks given to our political leaders.
Strategy of dominance
They have introduced to us lifestyles that despise and look with disdain on relying on our own resources and making livelihoods out of what forms part of our landscapes; farming, fishing, animal husbandry, industries and artisanship that rely on what is freely available to us. Instead, we are allured by those tie wearing sitting jobs behind a computer, producing nothing that could feed the mouths of our land but having to rely on what comes from the sea, which most of the time is poisonous and hazardous to our health. It is further exacerbated by a system of education that regards manual or physical labour as inferior to that of mental labour. So many blue collar jobs which are available in abundance are vacant while all jostle to have a chair warming white collar job. Multinational companies, again owned by mega business families of those wealthy nations hold our intelligentsia at ransom by detaching them from the work that is dearly needed by the mother land and benefitting those alien nations.
Racism, religious fanaticism and extremism, quite contrary to the general perception, are friends of these forces, who then appear as our saviours to give military advice, training, hardware supply etc. which entangle us further in these harmful exercises. On the one hand the jingoistic ultra national sentiment keeps the militancy of the main race against minorities, racial as well as religious raging, while lubricating the rise of leaders who cater to such propensities of the majority while on the other, they are hooked by those weapon-selling countries through their agents to highly inflated military budgets which are brazenly not correspondent with the security threats that we face. Huge and bourgeoning military expenditure that we continue to bear, despite the end of the 30-year civil war underscores as to where all the money is going. Our military is a victim of and not a saviour against such strategies.
Legitimacy of the state apparatus
The rule of law is in tatters while the public trust in the judiciary has been dented beyond repair. As for the other two arms of government, the Executive and the Legislature , they hardly seem to be legitimate extensions of the sovereignty of the people mentioned in Article 3 of the Constitution. The very democratic setup of governance is now faced with a danger of majoritarian coercion as has not been seen before. Everywhere one turns , it seems that might is right and not the other way around.
So we wonder , is there any thing for us to celebrate this time around at least? We are divided on whether to sing our National Anthem in one language or two despite the Constitution which is the law of the land, indicating that there is a Tamil Anthem. All the lessons that the civil war taught are now convincingly forgotten and if not vigilant and vary, there is every chance that we might go down that dark path again. Reconciliation and restitution which are the key words in binding two communities being at odds for decades, are forgotten and the display of military hardware, does not help in that direction at all.
Our Independence is precious to us, and is at threat. But it is not something that could be protected by guns or armoured cars.