Summit Learning Outcome Addressed:
- Critically examine the relationship between dominant and marginalized cultures, subcultures or group
- Articulate and appraise problems and solutions from multiple perspectives, critically considering diverse sources of information
Fanonian Discourse and Dependency Theory of Colonialism
Throughout his works, Frantz Fanon began the revolutionary discussion surrounding dependency, inferiority and superiority complexes, and ultimately, colonial violence. In his 1952 work Black Skin, White Masks, he explores the psychology behind the seemingly complicit conformity found in colonized people, which he later connected to a dependency developed in the colonized through a continual confrontation of colonial systems. Dependency theory, as introduced by Andre Gunder Frank in The Development of Underdevelopment, states that a colonized country (or satellite) will be used as a center of production and further development for the colonizer (or metropole country), and that the the satellite will be essentially brainwashed to believe that they are in actuality dependent upon the colonizer. As is outlined in the aforementioned work as well as The Wretched of the Earth, this theory requires a virtual rewiring of the colonized brain; one that produces the type of subject mindset that would comply with the exploitation of land and labor with either 1) little resistance, or 2) an outright embrace of their virtual enslavement. Because of his radical understanding of the tenets of dependency theory, his offered solutions for emancipation, and the fact that those solutions remain crucial in the expulsion of dependency, I submit that Fanon would still be considered a prominent and persuasive dependency theorist if he were alive today.
“As soon as the native begins to pull on his moorings, and to cause anxiety to the settler, he is handed over to well-meaning souls who in cultural congresses point out to him the specificity and wealth of Western values.” (W.O.E., 42). In the modern day, whether examining instances of classical dependency theory or mirrored circumstances that occur within colonized communities of a country internally, we find a common theme that Fanon discusses often: wealth. His framework lends itself to the idea that the global elite/wealthy believe their status depends on the the global poor remaining poor. It is this desire to maintain wealth that drives the destruction of any semblance culture within a satellite. In chapter 4 of The Wretched of the Earth, he responds to this phenomenon by posing a question as a framework for revolt: how can a national culture form after independence?
Fanon posits that because colonialist structures teach the colonized to devalue their history, save for the portions that benefit the colonist’s cause, one of the strongest weapons the colonized have is reframing education. He defines a colonized intellectual, a social justice warrior of sorts who is educated by the colonizer but reframes their education by means of racializaing culture as a method of unification. Later in the book, he notes that “the basic confrontation which seemed to be colonialism versus anti-colonialism, indeed capitalism versus socialism, is already losing its importance. What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth.” (W.O.E, 98). What this quote signifies is Fanon’s establishment of rebellion; that is to say, it brings to the reader’s attention that at the forefront of his mind was an overthrow of the systems that kept the satellites in a state of infancy. By reframing education, redefining culture, and going so far as to “write combat literature”, the colonized create new structures that serve as a launchpad for their ultimate revolt and rejection of the cyclical poverty they have been forced to accept as a way of life.
In modern movements, the above framework has proven to be one that revolutionists harken back to time and time again. Unification of the oppressed, education, and vocal rejection of colonial history are all vital in the overthrow of external and internal dependency. Asking questions such as “who am I really”, as proposed in chapter five, allows modern revolutionaries to re-evaluate their mental state and their level of entrichedness within the colonial education system. Without Fanon’s outlined standard of reclaiming identity, the radical change necessary for overthrowing dependency may not have been proposed for decades to come.
Had he lived, Fanon’s theories would likely be revered as pillars of the overthrow of international dependency. His understanding of how wealth and dependency are interconnected, as well as of how colonial educational structures are a key element in their success, has proven crucial to identifying key issues. Further, his arguments regarding reframing education, as well as the power of self-awareness to work against pervasive metropolis measures paved the way for satellite revolt. If he had been afforded the opportunity to further expand and amend his theories in the modern day, I believe that he would have found ways to ensure that his works were not lost on countries dealing with internal colonial conflict (i.e., the United States and the struggle of African Americans). Further, I believe that he would have continued to link his solutions to the works of Frank to further illuminate why violence, be it physical or psychological revolt, is a key method of overthrowing dependent colonial powers.
In their work, Hasen and Musa attempt to utilize the Fanonian framework presented in The Wretched of the Earth to analyze Boko Haram, the Nigerian jihadist ground that has engaged their state in continual warfare since 2009. In their analysis, they note that while Boko Haram’s tenets do not at first glance conform to the propositions of Fanon, they are an “entirely logical and unsurprising consequence of, and response to, the same post-colonial society about which Fanon warned so presciently more than half a century ago.” It is because of this that, despite their seemingly juxtaposed agendas and presentations, Fanon’s postcolonial revolution and Boko Haram’s efforts look very similar in Hasen and Musa’s eyes. In their analysis, they submit that through a deeper understanding/ broader interpretation of Fanon’s framework, readers will, too, see the parallels in their approaches. After examining their analysis, I submit that this interpretation does make sense as a modern take of Fanon; however, I do not believe he would fully endorse the actions of Boko Haram.
Fanon’s framework was intended to be used largely by colonized societies whose situations are dictated by a very clear outside colonial power; this power is pervasive, unfamiliar in culture, and typically strips away national identity when at all possible. However, Hasen and Musa note that his definitions of the bifurcated colonial city and the native sector (Fanon, 4-5) lend themselves to a broader application when dealing with subjugated communities within the same racial/ ethnic group and/or national identity. In this example, they ask that we replace the words White/ colonist with rich Black, and conclude that by doing so we should be able to read them as a blueprint for the formation of Boko Haram. With these insertions, the world is defined as “[…] a world with no space, people are piled one on top of the other, the shacks squeezed tightly together. The [rich Black’s] sector is a famished sector, hungry for bread, meat, shoes, coal, light. The [poor Black’s] sector is a sector that crouches and cowers, it’s a sector on its knees […]” (Hasen and Musa, 284). As it stands, this definition clearly correlates with the state that Nigeria found itself in postcolonialism; a state of vulnerability and subjugation for the poor, where the richest among them had mirrored the very colonial systems they had quite recently overthrown. The “Troubled Giant” (Hasen and Musa, 285) found itself warring internally, a condition which was much more easily exploitable by a power like Boko Haram.
From this point, the tactic of Boko Haram begins to more clearly align with the principles Fanon outlined. Redefinition of identity (in this case, re-establishing traditional roles), rejection of all things resemblant of the colonizer (in this case, secularism), and reframing of education (in this case, educating through the tenets of Sharia). They provided traditional/religious education for children, as well as food and water for those in need. This method allowed them to infiltrate communities and spread their message without being viewed as an entirely harmful body. Boko Haram also utilized one of the key components of colonial overthrow according to Fanon: violence. Their 2009 raid/attack of police stations and prisons is but one example of this. According to Hasen and Musa, the purpose of this attack was to free prisoners who had been held without a trial, and the liberation of their nation’s citizens. Hasen and Musa also point out that the structure of Boko Haram was murky/ unclear (286). I argue that this further connects them to Fanonian ideology, in that they completely reject previous systems and/or previously instated liberation efforts. Rather, they create a new system through which to gain power and redefine their national identity. Clearly, this method gained traction, as according to Ahmed Salkina, a man close to Boko Haram leader Muhamad Yusuf, “[at the time of his death] his followers are in their hundreds of thousands, most of them almajiris, school dropouts, renegade civil servants and parliamentary staff”. Each of the groups identified are citizens who have rejected the pseudo-colonial situation in favor of the equity that returning to tradition promised according to Boko Haram.
Despite not fitting into the traditional colonizer-colonized dynamic, Nigeria’s poor-rich dynamic lends itself to being affected by the Fanonian framework for liberation. Boko Haram utilizes a version of this framework that initially does not appear to align with Fanonian theory. However, through closer examination, Hasen and Musa demonstrate how through utilization of violence, re-education, and re-establishment of tradition, Boko Haram does work on a microcosmic level against internalized colonial structures. It is because of this that I believe that, with some reservations regarding violence against their own people, Fanon would otherwise be able to identify his framework within the structure of Boko Haram.
Hansen, W. W., & Musa, U. A. (2013). Fanon, the Wretched and Boko Haram. Journal of Asian
and African Studies
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Grove Press, 1952.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Grove Press, 1968.