Why Europe conquered the world

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In the wake of the refugee crisis engulfing Europe, Mmegi Correspondent, JAN WAREUS* gives his take on the highly debated issue

In the discussions about the underdevelopment of Africa, liberal intellectuals are highlighting colonialism. So are socialists but adding capitalism. In my view, this is mostly quite correct but only for a limited period from 1850 up to this date and for the Anglo-American and European (AAE) imperialism and dominance. As I see it, we have to widen the historical perspective and cover the last half millennium, more or less. And thus, we are into the heading of this essay.

Today political scribes are frequently, in matters of importance to Africa, using conceptions like Capitalism, Communism, Neo-liberalism, Marxism, Imperialism and Colonialism when discussing the state of the world and Africa. As if magical words are needed to save us and guarantee necessary changes.

This is a very restricted perspective on a historical process, about half a millennium long. And the missing piece is the increasing overpopulation of Europe, starting in the late 1500. That’s when seafarers and adventurers were forced to discover new continents on improved ships. They returned with ships laden with gold and silver (and potatoes) and all of a sudden there was a solution to overpopulation. Go west and south. That’s how Europeisation of the world started! Technically superior ships and stolen gold!

However, it is necessary to understand the terrible conditions in Europe of this time, especially of the poor and landless as well as the many off line religious congregations (and Jews in Diaspora) to understand the longing for new pastures and the need to lessen the population pressure. There was no “trickling down” then as well as today to suffering people.

Already in the mid 1960-ies Georg Borgstöm, professor in geography and ecology and well-known lecturer/writer pointed out the need for a genuine historical perspective when discussing modern and future problems of the world. I am, in the following, carefully following his views on the real origins to the European conquering of the world.

Today, Europe has a great influx of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers from Asia and Africa. The number is approaching 500,000 a year at the moment and all are from conflict and famine struck colonial areas – just as were the emigrants once upon a time from Europe. Consequently, the now asylum seekers are only just about 0.1 percent of the population of EU today. Then, it is interesting to know that Europeans and their descendants on other continents have multiplied eight times in numbers between 1650 and 1950 (in numbers about 500 million), while the rest of the world increased 4 ½ times. There were better pastures, indeed! And this despite European population losses during the two world wars. 

Borgström concludes in 1975 that if the 500 million European descendents were forced back, Europe would be more populous than China – the mass emigration was necessary to develop Europe to what it is today! Europe had to conquer the world to make it possible, population-wise, to secure its social and industrial development as well as secure natural resources. Europeans in the Diaspora is a problem for the rest of the world, quite obviously and the “trickledown” from former colonies not enough.

The so-called European Golden Age is between 1850 -1950. Europe grew 2.6 times in population, quite moderately as her poorhouses and prisons were emptied to colonies and “vacant land” as well as religious dissidents left (mostly in the period before1850). The greatest eugenic project of the world, so far, and Africa and North America were the main receivers. Most able workers were taken from Africa, as you know, but this is something of a generalisation.

A paradox followed in the mid 1800 – it became necessary to declare other peoples and cultures “sub-standard” as well as their land became res nullius (vacant, underdeveloped and thus rightfully annexed). European academics willingly came to assist in this endeavour resulting in the “well known racial fact” that whites are superior. Racism became a necessary basis for colonialism.

This mass European based migration period and the “Golden Age” 1850-1950 is significant for the world outside “the Old World”. The growing population in Europe exploded during the early industrialism (England doubled its population from 1700 to 1800 and it became four folded before 1900). Despite agricultural improvements there was not enough food for all in Europe. Under the “hungry 40-ies”, more than one million people starved to death.

This resulted in a mass emigration especially to the US and it was popularly said in Sweden that “we emptied the poor houses on the American prairies”. For Britain and a few other European states there were other “prairies” – in Africa, India and Australia!

In Europe of the late 1800, work, purchasing power and population never caught up despite growing industrialisation. Other continents became absolutely essential to solve the population problem and secure production (and technological improvements) to handle still remaining and “refined” population.

Not until the 1950-ies did agriculture catch up with population growth, seemingly – the world economical order had been set and the colonies “economically integrated” and the problem was solved (also seemingly). People in Europe and big brother US have not quite understood how their wealth and lifestyles were based on the European mass emigration and a massive exploitation of the world’s resources (plus subsequent accumulation of capital). As well as diminishing resources in the AAE countries – the securing of these is the song of the day! And they are still in a kind of a population explosion as well as the rest of the world – the eternal lack of balance between population and natural resources is always sharpening the struggle for existence and survival, historically seen.

And in Africa there is seemingly a sale out to the highest bidder of land and natural resources – and the wealth accumulating in very few hands.

 A kind of internal colonialism is present and must be discussed and resolved – as far as we can understand. Gadaffi realised this and tried to unify Africa to accept an economical policy of its own. Consequently, he was eliminated as have a number of other leaders and potential leaders here on this continent.

In the chaos that followed, the game of catch-as-catch came. Meanwhile population growth and conflicts plus famine increased – people move and try and reach Europe but it’s full, already, they say. However, educated and affluent professional Africans have all the time been welcome to bridge the western educational gap – here is a catch 22 that must be analysed! Are we witnessing another eugenic project – remember, eugenics didn’t disappear with Hitler and Nazism.  In fact a “proper” European science was surviving until the mid 1950-ies in Sweden (but it continues called “voluntary abortion”).

In other words – are the poor and unemployed, the limping and the crippled, the “unwanted” minority, the odd fellows and eccentrics, outsiders and dissidents of no value in a future world? We have seen many empires “cleaning out” unwanted subjects, hence, the question is not that ridiculous. It has always helped dictators with simplified ideologies, surrounded by yes-people.

Bearing this overpopulation in mind when discussing the future, there are a few things to keep attention to – there are no more continents to explore and self-ruling states have firm borders and migration policies. It’s a recipe for unrest. Europe and big brother US have more or less closed borders for poor migrants (and have visa rules that make visits troublesome).

Millions are knocking on closed doors and dying in attempts to “jump fences”. The UN is pushing for more liberal EU policies but mostly in vain. We must hope and act so that Asia and Africa will find a way of caring for their unfortunate without the help of Gadaffi and even UN.

An African Union is seemingly not implementable at this time of the world clock. Is there a chance that the few regional entities like SADC can pave a way for a solution? Or, is the “realpolitik” with polite considerations to West, North and East most important? If so, are we following them over the cliff?

When Mao once realised that the Marx recipe was for the industrial, urban proletariat, he revised the old man’s book and found a way for the future of the Chinese rural proletariat – for the time being at least. Maybe, this is the way to go – revising old paradigms and finding new ways?

Again - overpopulation triggered the European expansionism and resulted in forceful annexing of new land, destroying cultures and murdering millions of native peoples in Africa, Asia and America where cultures “stayed home”, addressed social ills and tended to solve problems without turning to expansionism.

In conclusion – we understand that asylum quests have become toxic issues for countries that once became affluent and prosperous due to practical policies. For instance, let me quote a clever writer from Pambazuka.org – issue 740 of 2015/09/02 by Yohannes Woldemariam, in turn quoting Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch: “Yes, 310,000 or 320,000 new people in Europe are a lot of people. But Europe’s population as a whole is about 500 million. So what are we talking about – the number of people who have come this year is less than 0.1 percent of Europe’s population!”

So, is this a real crisis or a fabricated one because the asylum seekers are of a darker complexion? I leave that to my readers to ponder.


*Jan Wareus is a local architect/town planner/writer who can be reached at [email protected]

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