This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Ghana’s first post-independence president, Kwame Nkrumah, was overthrown in a US-backed military coup in 1966 [AP]

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From neocolonialism in Africa to when humanitarianism became imperialism, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

What can Ghana teach South Africa about neocolonialism?

Brian Kamanzi
Al Jazeera

In 2011, the South African government announced a plan to create a 9.6-gigawatt nuclear energy programme. The project, they argued, would allow South Africa to diversify its energy sector, move away from coal-based energy production and boost economic growth. But soon questions were raised about who this large-scale industrial project would ultimately benefit. Allegations have been made that public participation was being sidelined and that interested parties were colluding with the Russian government.

The controversial nuclear programme is just one example of the many economic policies that have shaped South Africa’s development along a clearly neocolonial path. Twenty-three years after the collapse of the apartheid regime, the country is clearly still in need of a wider decolonisation project to counter colonial economic legacy. In the wake of this massive nuclear deal, along with others of its kind, South Africa is in a moment that demands us to look beyond its borders and learn hard lessons from other nations on the African continent. [continue reading]

How the Congo crisis reshaped international relations

Alanna O’Malley
Africa is a Country

In July 1960, within a week of achieving independence from Belgium, the Congo (later renamed Zaire and now known as the DRC) was plunged into a civil conflict that soon turned into a political and constitutional crisis that besieged the country for almost five years. The Congo crisis challenged how the superpowers and the United Nations managed the process of decolonization and fundamentally impacted the relationship between the West and the post-colonial world.

The introduction of a UN peace-keeping force to safeguard the sovereignty of the Congo following the intervention of Belgian troops to protect European lives and interests, immediately had the effect of internationalizing the crisis. Never before had the UN intervened to protect the sovereignty of a country, and certainly not from incursion by a Western power. This action set the stage for a contentious debate about the relationship of Belgium, Britain and the United States with the newly-independent Congo and raised questions about the role of the UN in managing the process of decolonization. [continue reading]

America’s Dangerous Amnesia About World Order

Francis J. Gavin

In an unsettled time, with an unsettling president, many Americans are unsure of their conception of the world and their country’s role in it. What should the United States be doing – if anything – to shape the global order? To answer this question, we need to better understand ourselves and our history.

Americans regularly make three curious – and contestable – claims about peace, world order and their country’s role in achieving both. First, they often assume that they are a peace-loving people, and that our republic has been a force to promote amity and stability in the world. Second, they assume that peace is an unalloyed good, both a tool and product of progress, providing incontrovertible benefits; war and conflict, meanwhile, have brought nothing but misery and disaster. Third, they see peace and order as the natural state of the world, and view any actor or force that disturbs this harmony as both anomalous and deviant, to be identified, isolated and eliminated. [continue reading]

Will London Fall?

Sarah Lyall
New York Times

London may be the capital of the world. You can argue for New York, but London has a case. Modern London is the metropolis that globalization created. Walk the streets of Holborn, ride an escalator down to the Tube and listen to the languages in the air. Italian mingles with Hindi, or Mandarin, or Spanish, or Portuguese. Walk through the City, the financial district, and listen to the plumbing system of international capitalism. London is banker to the planet.

London is ancient yet new. It is as much city-state as city, with a culture and economy that circulate the world. London manages to be Los Angeles, Washington and New York wrapped into one. Imagine if one American city were home to Hollywood, the White House, Madison Avenue, Wall Street and Broadway. London is sort of that. [continue reading]

When Humanitarianism Became Imperialism

Gregory Afinogenov

In 1980s Afghanistan, two world powers converged on each other, obliterating the national borders that stood in their way. The first was the Soviet state, bent on defending the precarious gains of a 1978 Communist coup d’état that it had actively tried to prevent. The second, caught in an even more painful paradox, was an uneasy alliance of foreign-funded jihadists, Western intelligence, and NGOs like Doctors Without Borders.

The way we remember the Afghan War today is as a kind of prologue. We care that the United States (along with, far more importantly, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) helped fund jihadists because those insurgents would later turn against the United States, serving as the ultimate indictment of Reaganite Cold War politics. We care that the Soviet Union failed in Afghanistan because that failure foreshadowed the Afghan quagmire of today. We care about the Afghan War because it spawned Osama bin Laden. [continue reading]

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