Tag Archives: Sierra Leone

Approaching Responsibility in Postcolonialism

Freetown, Sierra Leone. In 2000, British forces successfully intervened in their former colony to end a bloody civil war. (c) 2011 Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

Long before decolonisation wound down in the late 1980s (the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia excepted), scholars had established ‘postcolonialism’ as an important academic field. Postcolonialism was guided by important questions in a rapidly changing global environment: should postcolonial states align themselves with their former colonisers, e.g., through formal networks as the Commonwealth of Nations and informal, commercial and social relationships. Postcolonialism’s supporters argued that it was vital to monitor newly-independent states and to identify deficiencies and abuses wrought by the colonial power. Detractors, on the other hand, stressed the limitations in colonial responsibility and multi-way cultural exchange, often citing such relatively successful post-independence relationships as the United Kingdom and India. Over fifty years since the first great decolonisation wave, the issue of responsibility and postcolonial relationships remains controversial.

In Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Pat Noxolo (University of Sheffield), Parvati Raghuram (The Open University), and Clare Madge (University of Leicester) added an important new addition to this extant debate. In ‘Unsettling Responsibility: Postcolonial Interventions’, the authors tackled the complex web of ethics, responsibility, agency, and strategy that haunt postcolonial relationships. Noxolo, Raghuram, and Madge highlighted responsibility’s limitations, particularly after so many years of independence. Most importantly, however, they sought a paradigm shift: to remove vertical, bilateral responsibility and postcolonial relationships in favour of complicated, group-by-group constructions and analyses. ‘In practice’, they noted, ‘responsibility is messy’ (p. 2).

In seeking this paradigm shift, the authors ground their work in theoretical geography. Ascription-the quality that responsibility is put into practice, and agency-the ‘locomotion’ or motivation behind behaviour, action, and reaction. Traditionally, scholars used these functions to support their postcolonial perspectives (pp. 5-7). While acknowledging the benefits of analysing ascription and agency, Noxolo, Raghuram, and Madge stressed their limitations. Instead, they stressed the need to approach each analysis uniquely, to learn and apply narratives and practices from multiple colonial and postcolonial actors so as to avoid the all-too-easy victim/victimiser syndrome. “Giving an answer can lead to vulnerability, to violation or to political manipulation” of some subjects, whereas asking others (in differing situations) may be fine. Thus, postcolonial studies is inherently risky, tainted with emotional discourse and defensiveness on both sides, and should be approached with due caution and awareness for actors outside the traditional ‘top-down’ model. Colonialism and its effects were webs of collusion, power, need, victors and victims, not merely directives from the top.

Pat Noxolo, Parvati Raghuram, and Clare Madge, ‘Unsettling Responsibility: Postcolonial Interventions‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series (October, 2011) [Early Online View].

When the lights came on

Bumbuna hydroelectric dam under constructionBy Jenny Lunn

Last week, the lights came on. I live in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where the Bumbuna hydroelectric project has just been commissioned by the country’s President, Ernest Bai Koroma. The project, started in 1975, is providing the country with an almost uninterrupted electricity supply, although it will not operate at full capacity for many years to come.

Sierra Leone’s energy problems are by no means solved by Bumbuna. The capital city’s existing transmission system is woefully inadequate to cope with the unstable surges of power. The network is yet to be expanded to many regional towns and rural areas. The logistics of billing consumers and collecting revenue will challenge the National Power Authority. The resettlement of those whose homes were demolished for the construction of the dam and its infrastructure is yet to be resolved.

Scott Jiusto, in his chapter on Energy Transformations and Geographic Research in the Blackwell Companion to Environmental Geography, writes that “energy underwrites developmental aspirations”. The people of Sierra Leone have patiently aspired for a reliable electricity supply for over 30 years. It is not surprising, then, that there were scenes of jubilation last week when the lights finally came on. Reliable power is the foundation for economic and social development; let us hope that the government of Sierra Leone now embrace the new energy to bring growth and prosperity to the country’s people.

60% worldRead the President’s speech at the Bumbuna commissioning ceremony

60% worldRead Energy Transformations and Geographic Research by Scott Jiusto