Any unequal relation has a capacity to generate oppression. As a result, it is possible to say that oppression is a concept that has a cross-cutting meaning in human relationships that arise between/among various social groups, such as people with disabilities, sex, race, class, etc. Since human oppression is a vast topic, this article for the sake brevity will focus on specific oppression connected with a new phenomenon, known as “land grab” presently being carried out in the Sub-Saharan African countries. In the first section of the essay, I will analysis the broad concept of oppression in its historical and contemporary context. I will also reflect upon and theorise aspect of my personal experience and how my understanding of human oppression may shape or might shape my personal, professional relationship and practices. The primary motivation of this essay is to construct a general theory of oppression and to demonstrate how indigenous natives community are unjustly harmed in a way that are similar to unfair treatment of other groups who are generally recognised as oppressed. Similarly, any attempts to theorise and talk about human oppression which oppression in the colonialism and neo-colonialism context, therefore, by association ‘race’, and for those other aspects of human oppression and difference, are fraught with difficulties. This is not only because of the elusive and contested nature of the concepts involved, but, most critically, the subjectivity of those doing the theorising inevitably becomes part of the discussion (cited in Singh and Cowden 2010).
At the outset, however, it is imperative to define the recurring concepts throughout this writing, such as the concepts of “land grab”, “oppression” and “neo-colonisation”. As far as the concept of “oppression” is concerned, all definitions so far produced by many literatures are limited in scope and hardly cover all human oppression (Anderson 2009: 24 and Cudd 2006: vii). According to Cudd, for example, many ordinary people would have a tendency of relating the concept of oppression with the tyrannical regimes (Cudd 2006: vii ). Definition of oppression also reflects the political, social and philosophical understanding of the concept of oppression (ibi). For example, Cudd argues that although feminists have long recognised the oppression of women but they had a hard time convincing others about the reality of oppressed women (Cudd 2006: ix). Harvey (2000) also posits that “in Western industrialized societies the most common forms of oppression are all civilized oppression, where neither physical force nor the use of law is the main mechanism’ ( cited in Anderson: 2009: 14). As eloquently observed by Cudd, the concept of oppression was overlooked by the western literatures because the latter had predominately engaged with the issues of justice rather than injustice (Cudd 2006: vii). In absence of these severe forms of oppressions in the western countries, it would be hard for one confidently to claim the non-existence of oppression in these countries. On the other hand, Freire defined oppression as an “act that prevents one from being a human being, and that leads to exploitation, what he termed as “dehumanisation” (Freire 1996: 39). Then I argue that the latter definition has more or less wider meaning and scope to cover all oppressions. It is also possible to say that it more succinct.
Secondly the concept of “land grab” is a new phenomenon and it has not yet been considered by many literatures. The lack of interest in concept of injustice as academic topic could also be blamed as mention above. An independent police think thank based in the United States of American known as the Oakland Institutes has produced a comprehensive research on the concept and I will use its definition. According to Oakland Institute, “land grab” is a neo-colonialism concept that has arisen in the midst of a severe food and economic crisis in the world in 2008 (Daniel and Mittal 2009: 1 and Smith 2009: 1). It is also an international phenomenon occurring in many part of the world, in particular developing countries (Daniel and Mittal 2009: 1). As per a research commissioned by this organization, the phrase “land grab” is defined as “purchase of vast tracts of land by wealthier food-insecure nations and private investors from mostly poor, developing countries in order to produce crop for export” (ibid). “Land grab” currently ongoing in the African continent is not confined to the traditional Western countries that colonised many African nations in the last century. Rather many countries in Asia, Latin America and Middle East, such as Brazil, china, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates have joined the lease and purchase of massive tract of land in African continent. However, most of these countries had experienced oppression during the colonial time (Smith 2009: 1). As a result, foreign investors sought and secured between 37 million and 49 million acres of fertile farmland in the developing countries only between 2006 and 2009 (Daniel and Mittal 2009: 1).
Secondly, the term of neo-colonialism is defined as a system that has been invented in place of colonialism, as a main instrument of oppression (Nkrumah 1965: ix). According to Nkrumah, the essence of neo-colonialism is that the state which is subjected to it, at least in theory, is an independent and has all outward features of international sovereignty (Nkrumah 1965: ix). However, in reality both its economic system and political policy are directed from outside (ibid).
Having defined the major concepts that would be repeatedly analysed in this essay let me now consider theoretical frameworks that underpin oppression. In Marx’s analysis of capitalist system, it is possible to argue that human oppression is mainly caused due to ownership of means of production by capitalist/bourgeoisie while the mass workers, i.e. the proletariats provide their labour in form of commodity (Dillon 2010: 39-59). Oppression reduced into the class antagonism in capitalist society (Marx and Engels 1948:1). According to Marx’s analysis, the concept of ‘alienation’ resonates well with the reality in the sub-Saharan African countries where significant numbers of indigenous people are evicted from their ancestral land without their consent (Dillon 2010: 56). One might wonder if contemporary society has in slightest way shown some kind of improvement from the oppressive practices prevalent in the past.
Both classical and contemporary theoretical frameworks clearly prove to the contrary. In this regard it is important to state here how Marx and Engels had analysed the nexus between oppressed and oppression. They argued that “modern bourgeois society that has sprout from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonism. Rather it has established new classes, new conditions of oppression, and new of struggle in place of the old ones. By the same token I could argue that the neo-colonialism might have done away with the oppression that stemmed from the relationships that existed in colonialism between colonisers and colonised, but it created a new forms of oppression, a new forms of struggle in place of the old one.
In the contemporary era, no one has paralleled the Brazilian great thinker, Paulo Freire, in terms of analysing the concept of oppression. In his major work on the concept of oppression, the “pedagogy of the Oppressed” he observed that in oppressive relationship, there is always power inequality between the oppressors and the oppressed, which has profound impact on both parties (1996: 26). As per Freire, the oppressors exercise the power to oppress, exploit, and rape (ibid). However, the oppressor has no capacity to liberate themselves and the oppressed (ibid). Rather it is only power that spring from the weakness of the oppressed that have capability of liberating both parties (ibid). He also expounded that the “concern for humanisation leads to the acknowledgment of dehumanisation, not only as an ontological possibility but as an historical reality” (Freire 1996:25).
Due to the “extent of dehumanisation (in which he meant oppression)” in the contemporary world, he ponders “if there is any possibility to achieve humanisation” (world without oppression) (ibid). He further argued that “within history, in concrete, objective contexts, both humanisation and dehumanisation are possible realities” (ibid) but only the former is the people’s vocation (ibid). Furthermore, he posited that “humanisation is frustrated” by widespread “injustice, exploitation, oppression and the violence of the oppressor” (ibid). Beyond that Freire observed that the existence of contradiction between oppressors and oppressed people in the historical and contemporary context (ibid: 26). In the process of humanisation agenda there is always the possibility of previously oppressed people become oppressors themselves instead of liberating both parties from dehumanisation (ibid). The great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed people is not only to liberate themselves but also their oppressors, too (ibid).
Oppression does not disappear by its own accord; rather it requires someone’s active engagement and critical consideration of the issues surrounding human relationship. As suggested by Freire Liberation is not a straightforward undertaking; by analogy it is just like a child birth, with its all emotional, psychological and physical pain (Freire 1996: 31). The off-springs of liberation are new persons who have done away with the inherent contradictions that existed as a result of oppressors and oppressed relationship (Freire 1996: 31). Freire clearly suggested that liberation could not be achieved in idealistic terms (ibid). Rather, the oppressed is required to have a well ground perception of the reality of the oppression (Dominelli 2002: 4).
According to Oxfam international, a major non-governmental development organisation working in developing countries for many years, “Land grab” is not prima facie the big issue when wealthy companies invest in agricultural land in poor nations for commercial use (Oxfam international 2011). But it would be a big concern when indigenous poor families dependent on small piece of land are kicked off their land, and as a result less crop are grown and they are unable to feed themselves and their households (ibid). Before I arrival to the United Kingdom, I had thought that Europe was a continent that upheld the rule of law and democratic principles. As a result, I had the impression that oppression is something that happens in tyrannical regimes somewhere in another corner of the world, not in the backyards of the Western contemporary society. But, within my short stay in the United Kingdom, I have come realise that various oppressions are deep rooted in the system. The oppression the British capitalist system generates is not limited within the national border but pervade throughout the world. Historically British Empire directly and indirectly colonised many nations in the world. Contemporarily, successive British governments have propped up dictatorial regimes in many African countries. For example, the United Kingdom provides massive amount of foreign aid to Ethiopian government through bilateral and multilateral agreement despite widespread human right violations (Daniel and Mittal 2009: 1). The capitalist system based on the maximum profit making principles ignores the individual freedoms and rights it usually enshrines in the domestic legal frameworks.
According to JPD 41, recent theorists of oppression, such as Paulo Freire and Foucault Michael, urge us to widen our thinking and sometimes to be aware of the dimension of oppression might include “the disadvantage and injustice some people suffer not because a tyrannical power coerces them, but because of the everyday practices of a well intentioned liberal society” (cited in Anderson 2009: 14). In contemporary western world practices, Young emphasizes the pervasiveness of structural oppression (ibid). He further stated that “the vast and deep injustices some groups suffer as a consequence of often unconscious assumptions and reactions of well-meaning people in ordinary interactions, media and cultural stereotypes, and structural features of bureaucratic hierarchies and market mechanisms, are the normal processes of everyday life” (ibid).
Nkrumah argue that Investment or, in our case land purchase under neo-colonialism, increases rather than decreases the gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world (ibid: x). As a consequence, widespread land lease to foreign investors in these countries, indigenous population have been forced to be evicted from their ancestral land they occupied for centuries (Smith 2009: 1). There is a big concern that this trend might exacerbate the already existing food shortage in the Sub- Sahara African countries (ibid). On the other hand, all governments involved in this leasing of large tract of their land argue that these investments are crucial element in achieving economic development since it will help them to boost their foreign exchange earnings and give the countries the opportunity to implement huge projects for the benefits of citizens. They also say that many of indigenous population have been leading archaic ways of lives for centuries and it is detrimental for the countries to change such lifestyle if they seriously planning to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and achieve the target of reaching the lower middle income countries level within the self-imposed development timescale.
However, international human rights organisation have documented widespread reports of harassment, intimidation, and arrest and in the worst case scenario murder and injuries caused by African governments to clear land for international multi-corporation as per the agreement concluded by the parties (Amnesty International website and human right watch websites). As the result, most of the large scale commercial land leases are marred by coercion, intimidation and forced eviction according to human right groups (ibid). In its annual report on each country, Amnesty International, a human right group, disclosed western countries “aid” is underwriting suppression and oppression in Ethiopia.
According to Nkrumah, capitalism/ imperialism simply switch tactics due to militancy it encountered from people of the ex- colonial countries in Sub-Saharan countries (1965: 239). It is not a coincidence to witness in the increase of development “aid” in countries that affected by the new rush of “land grab’ (ibid). For example, Ethiopia, where its government has leased more land to foreign investor and speculators than any other country in Africa, is major beneficiary (the Oakland institute’s website). The increase in development aid is in stark contrast to the human right violations in many Ethiopia (amnesty international and human right watch) . It is apparent that the United Kingdom’s development aid increase should be viewed with the British government’s interest to expand its neo-colonialism objective. This argument is supported by Nkrumah’s observation when he said, nowadays “naked colonialism has been replaced by more subtle form of colonisation just as to achieve objectives accomplish by the former means (1965: 239). Nkrumah further argued that “neo- colonialism is the sum total of modern attempts to perpetuate colonialism while at the same time talking about ‘freedom’”.
As a black African descent this phenomenon had significant impact on me and my professional career and it will continue to influence. What is human oppression? Human oppression is a wide topic. It transcends all aspects of human life. In these particular issues I will examine how the human oppression continually to evolve in human history from one epoch to another. Human oppression is directly connected with the ownership of property. The advent of capitalist mode of production has exacerbated the human oppression in proportion never witnessed before in human history. This is directly congruent with the notion of social construction of class and throughout human existence. Oppression exists in every society in every corner of the world. However, the industrialisation phenomenon that occurred in the mid-nineteenth century in the European world had profound effect on the human interrelationship.
Caused to the people where I myself migrated from. Immigration result from many reasons. One is the lack of democratic government in most of developing world. Second is the abject He described ‘Culture of silence’ of the dispossessed. He came to realise that their ignorance and lethargy were the direct product of the whole situation of economic, social and political domination- and of the paternalism- of which they were victims. Rather than being encouraged and equipped to know and respond to the concrete realities of their world, they were kept ‘submerged’ in a situation in which such critical awareness and response were practically impossible. And it became clear to him that the whole educational system was one of the major instruments of the maintenance of this culture (page 28).
To sum, oppression has multifaceted characteristic as it is evident from consensus among theoreticians. Capitalism, as the most oppressive system human history has witnessed, will continue to create more and more oppressive situations not only in the United Kingdom but also across the globe. In such circumstance, oppressive practice can only come to an end if the ordinary folks develop their consciousness and be aware of the objective reality (Freire 1996: 26).
This ideal is most important in case of indigenous communities in the remote part of the world, who lack both platform and voice to speak for themselves. According to Dominelli, as a prospective social worker, I am cognizant of my enormous responsibility to challenge such type of gross violation of indigenous people’s rights (2002: 4). As further state by Dominelli, the core value of social work practice requires me to actively promote social justice and human development agenda (ibid). As a social work student, there is no doubt that my enthusiastic engagement with this process has provided me a raison d’être for comprehensive understanding of human oppression (ibid). Furthermore, it significantly impacted upon my personal, professional relationship as well as my future practice. I might have regretted in my life, had I not engaged in plight of vulnerable group.
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