Transcript: In conversation with Kojo Koram
Luke de Noronha: Hi everyone. I’m Luke de Noronha, lecturer at the Sarah Parker Remond Centre here at UCL and I’m delighted here today to be with Kojo Koram, lecturer in law at Birkbeck College, University of London, just down the road.
Kojo Koram: Thank you for having me, Luke. This is great.
Luke: It’s really good to have you and it’s nice to be in real life. I was saying we’ve done all of these podcasts on Teams thus far, so it’s nice to be here.
Kojo: Back in IRL.
Luke: Back in IRL with the door open. If it’s noisy, that’s because it’s spring and there’s some Blue Tits nesting in the wall, but I’m sure you can abide that knowing that we’re in real life.
Kojo: Definitely, the sunshine is worth it.
Luke: We’re talking today about your new book Uncommon Wealth: Britain and the Aftermath of Empire. This book has made a big impact, I think. It seems particularly relevant with the current news cycle, which by the time this podcast airs, there’ll probably be a new news cycle in which there’s stories of which the book is also relevant to. We had recently Rishi Sunak’s wife and the scandal around her non-domicile status, which you talk about in the book. We’ve had stories in response to the Russian/Ukraine war, about all of the Russian money held up in…
Kojo: ...British Overseas Territories and the City of London.
Luke: Exactly. And, of course, ongoing debates about decolonisation and the kind of culture war.
Kojo: I think sometimes I feel like maybe I’ve got a friend in Tory Party central office because every week, whether it’s them talking about their new education policy which is going to be promoting the benefits of teaching the benefits of empire to school, whether it’s the non-domicile status story, whether it’s the protection of BP through the energy crisis and the refusal to implement a windfall tax on them, which ties back to where I talk about the history of that company, an Anglo-Iranian oil company. It feels like every week they’re providing a new news story that has a bit of relevance to the book, so yes, I never thought I’d be thanking the Tory Party.
Luke: In some ways I think that’s an effect of the book being broad in its scope and explaining a lot. That’s kind of where I wanted to start actually, is asking you why you wrote this book in this way and what you see as its kind of main intervention and to whom, who are you speaking to?
Kojo: I think the book was really written in response to a distinct political moment which is the kind of resurrection of interests around questions of empire in not just the academy, but in the general public debate in the United Kingdom, particularly following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020; the pulling of the Edward Colston statue became this kind of totemic moment of this confrontation and recognition with Britain’s imperial legacy and how it continues to inform our public spaces, particularly with the statues debate around Mulligan and Colston. That’s also been extended to different institutions, like universities most commonly, but also art galleries and museums and schools, and all these other cultural institutions have been going through this process of decolonisation, as has been reported in the press. That’s mainly engaged in this perspective of decolonisation that I think is a result of the decolonial turn that was taken in the academy; we think about people like Walter Mignolo and the cultural turn within ideas of decolonisation, once the kind of failure of that mid-20th century project had come to pass, there was an investment in ideas around decolonising our perspective, the decolonisation of visuality, of ideas, of desire.
This has meant that now we’ve had this moment of decolonisation that’s been really wrestling with that kind of symbolic realm and that cultural realm, thinking about the statues and names and ways of being in the world. I wanted to have a book that was in conversation with that, but also perhaps pushing that a little bit forward to return back to the material foundations of the question of the deconstruction of empire. Empire was, at the core of it, a material project. People did not sail all the way around the world in order to exchange culture and statues with each other. It was about the extraction and the transfer of wealth and the way in which the entire debate around decolonisation over the last couple of years has been had in the public sphere I think has lent itself to allowing people, who want to suppress the entire conversation around the imperial legacy, to simply dismiss it as something that is disconnected from the very real material concerns that people are wrestling with in the United Kingdom at the moment, as if this is not something that’s connected to economic inequality or wealth and security or housing or employment status, and is just something that is of interest for the chattering class and of interest to university students.
I remember even reading Eric Kaufmann, a colleague at Birkbeck, writing on his blog that we need to push back against these strange beliefs of students like decolonisation and I was like belief? Decolonisation, it’s not Santa Claus, it’s a real thing that actually happened. It’s a world-changing process in its formal register anyway; world-changing process in the middle of the 20th century, where almost three-quarters of the world transferred from colonial subjugation to formal independence, and this is a significant part of our political, economic and financial system. This is something that isn’t a kind of cultural belief of people. This is something that’s tied to how our lives function on a day-to-day basis, and the ways in which the decolonisation project is still incomplete, I think, has real, real insight into letting us know why the current concepts of neoliberal economic order take the form that they do.
So, that’s what I tried to do, just tell a little bit of that story of that 20th century moment of decolonisation, the stories of your Nkrumahs and your Manleys and your Mossadeghs and then tie that back to a lot of the material issues that we’re wrestling with today, with wealth inequality, with sovereign debt, with austerity, with precarity of employment. That’s really what drove the book.
Luke: It seems like you hear all of the conversation or the noise about decolonising the museum, the gallery, the National Trust, about statues, about curricula, and those questions have been really important to the formation of our Centre, questions about curricular and the university. And you recognise that that all matters, but you want to move our field of vision in this book to things like tax havens, outsourcing, British Overseas Territories, financialisation, as legacies of Empire. One of the things I found really persuasive about the book - and I think it is a persuasive book, I was saying to you just before we started recording that it’s the kind of book I want to give to family members, friends who maybe aren’t already in our, whether you want to call it echo chamber, timeline, within our circles on the left - and I think it allows you to reach behind, including to those who are interpolated as the left behind, including those people who are in towns, and to say to them, wait a minute, the legacies of empire are also about your life and the struggles about decolonisation also matter to you, if decolonisation would mean a more material sense of the institutional legal structuring of the world order and nation state system and the economy.
So, do you think this ability to, and I always wonder this about you, do you think this reaching across, rather than just shouting at one another or engaging the culture on its own terms, this desire to reach across and speak to people who might be interpolated as the left behind has anything to do with you being a Scouser?
Kojo: No, I think that’s really true. I think it’s something I didn’t realise, I think, until the book kind of was finished, to be honest. I do dip into a little bit of memoir in the book in order to try and anchor it in the personal - it’s not a memoir book, my life is far too boring for anyone to bother reading about for 80,000 words - but I do introduce a little bit of just the experience of growing up between a former colony of Britain, not just a former colony but with Ghana, the first African state to gain independence from the British Empire, so seen as this kind of paradigmatic model of the development of the British colonies, supposed to be the furthest along in this kind of development trajectory. And I talk a little bit about the way in which my understandings of global inequality and the role that empire played in facilitating that was produced through this experience of growing up between the United Kingdom and this former colony of the United Kingdom, Ghana - once called the Gold Coast, that lets you know if empire was material there’s no better example than the fact this place was named the Gold Coast where materials were being extracted from.
But it wasn’t until I think I finished the book that I realised that a lot of the audience that I was trying to communicate to and was trying to reach out to was also the place where I grew up in the United Kingdom - Liverpool as a city was a place that has been, since the emergence of neoliberalism, put into officially, as we’ve seen from the declassified Thatcherite papers, managed decline. That’s the name that has been put into the gutting of its industrial base and the expansion of precarity across that city is tied to the defeat of democracy of the sovereign states in the global south, which allows for what we then call the erosion of the social safety net here in the United Kingdom and the imposition of neoliberalism.
I think writing this book, also, in the aftermath of the 2019 general election, which was the election of the left behind, the Red Wall, the idea that the economically abandoned north and the north west - we’re both north west boys now taken up refuge in London - but the idea that these places have then been attracted to the kind of nationalist, xenophobic rhetoric of the Conservative Party, I think did strike quite deeply for me. The place where my family are now in Merseyside, Southport, was the only seat in Merseyside, it was supposed to be this big bastion of labourism but it’s the only seat in Merseyside that actually went Conservative in the big Red Wall fall. So, I think part of the book was trying to draw those lines and make it clear that people who are interested in questions of empire, it isn’t simply questions of just race and identity, but it is questions of how are resources distributed around the world, and particularly trying to tell the story of, what happened to all these countries after decolonisation? What happened to Jamaica, what happened to Iran, what happened to Ghana? And why did what happened to those countries put in place the building blocks for the economic devastation that has impacted on places like Blackpool and South Shields and Hartlepool and all these other areas in the north. I do think that’s a little bit of why I tried to tell the story in the way that I did.
Luke: Yes, I loved the vignettes. I really like the bits where you bring yourself in and they’re often short sections that you describe growing up in the hospital, parents working in the NHS. There are other bits of travelling to Ghana and how that dispels some of the myths that people in school might have about what Africa is like. They were really great and they added a lot to the argument.
You were just coming on then to the point about the connection between what happens in the process after decolonisation as the kind of sovereignty is wrestled, the potential of sovereignty is wrestled from the people of particular places and particular systems, structural adjustment, etc. implemented and then how that relates to what goes on in the UK in places like Southport and South Shields and elsewhere in the north, the Red Wall towns.
Reading the book, it’s clear that you find the concept of the boomerang, there's a thread that helps carry that argument through across the different chapters that might be on the border, the state, the city, on the debt. Maybe you could talk a bit about this concept of the boomerang, where it comes from and why you found it so useful for this book.
Kojo: It’s a concept that I definitely can’t take credit for. It’s been mobilised by a number of theorists over the decades. I think the person that I draw from, because I think that their analysis of it is the most potent, is Aimé Césaire, the Martinique philosopher, poet, politician, who talked about the idea of the colonial boomerang as a way in which to bracket the relationship between the violence that was visited through European imperialism in the colonies and the violence that then comes back, that ricochets back into the European state. He particularly talks about it when looking at the rise of European fascism, looking at the systems of dehumanisation and extermination, and all the kind of population devastation that was visited through the colonial projects, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa with then laying the groundwork for what emerges in Italy and in Germany with European fascism. He’s not the only one who’s used this idea of the boomerang, we’ve seen Hannah Arendt use it, also talking about totalitarianism. We’ve seen Michel Foucault draw upon it when he thinks about the policing and security apparatus of the colonial police and how that then feeds into policing back at home in France. But I wanted to use it to talk about those systems and those architectures of financialisation and of wealth extraction and of what the political economist, Quinn Slobodian, describes as the encasing of capitalism from the sovereignty of the Third World nations.
I think we need to remember how significant a challenge to global capitalism the decolonisation moment was. We now think of the world of nations as relatively standard but prior to the mid-20th century, we lived in a world of empires and the great benefit about the world of empires if you’re a global multinational company is that you’re operating under one jurisdiction, you can extract wealth from South Africa and manufacture it in India and sell it in Lancashire and bank it in the Bahamas, and you’re still operating under one single jurisdiction. With the multiplication of sovereignty through decolonisation, you then have all these different potential chokepoints on global capitalism where different governments can demand labour regulations, can demand tax demands, can place all of these different restrictions upon your ability to extract wealth. And so, so much of what happened in the aftermath of empire was the attempt to protect global capitalism from these potential chokepoints of what was then called Third World sovereignty in very explicit terms. That has had consequences, not just for the inequality and economic deprivation that we see in the global south at the moment where we can see that most visibly, where we can see that in its most naked form, but it’s also had consequences for the ability for people in even the United Kingdom, even the former heart of empire, to feel that they can democratically leverage power against global capitalism.
We need to think about this idea of, not to kind of legitimise the rhetoric around Brexit, which obviously had a lot to do with immigration and fear of the other, but I think within that kind of cry of take back control, there is a question that we can then pose back to those of, where did control go? Why do you feel like you don’t have control? Why do you feel like you’re not able to exercise democratic demands against multinational companies? Why do you feel that you’re not able to restrict things like people being able to enrich themselves through the non-domicile rule where they can no longer have to pay for tax upon the foreign properties they own overseas? Why do you feel that you’re not able to challenge all of these material systems that entrench and protect wealth accumulation away from those democratic demands? Well, it's because so much of that was put into place in order to weaken the power and the leverage of those initial decolonised governments.
Luke: Now you’ve got onto questions of jurisdiction, one of the things I really enjoyed about the book was learning more about British Overseas Territories. Given we’re thinking about how that transition happens from formal empire to various forms of variegated sovereignty or void sovereignty, or empty sovereignties, what is the place of Britain’s overseas territories in that transition and what’s their role today?
Kojo: A crucial role. I think that they are perhaps the paradigmatic example of the incomplete process of British decolonisation. When we’re talking about British Overseas Territories, we’re talking about 14 territories that are spread across the world from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. And in terms of their role within global finance capitalism, the most significant thing we can say about them is that, according to, say, the Tax Justice Network, the top three corporate tax havens that are in the world all just happen to be British Overseas Territories: the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands. We also know that Jersey, Guernsey, all of these other places play that role. I think in tracing the history of some of these places, we can really see how Britain used some of the instruments and tentacles of imperialism in order to protect global capitalism in that moment of decolonisation. So, to be a little bit more specific, we can look at, say, the history of the Cayman Islands, which now is this kind of byword for unaccountable offshore wealth and this idea that we can’t hold accountable companies, whether it be Walmart or Google or Apple, because they’re just going to put all their money in blind trusts in the Cayman Islands and once it goes to the Cayman Islands, what can anyone do? It’s beyond the reach of all human beings.
But the Cayman Islands isn’t this distant tropical paradise, it’s a British Overseas Territory. Ultimate sovereignty over that island remains with Westminster until Jamaica - which is the colony it was ruled in conjunction with, it wasn’t even ruled as its own independent colony during the empire, it was ruled as part of Jamaica - until Jamaica gets independence in 1960, the Cayman Islands is just this forgotten unconsidered backwater with more mosquitoes than there are banks. Once Jamaica transitions into independence, and then particularly with the emergence of Michael Manley, becomes this champion for Third World sovereignty at an international stage, not just on a national stage, we can see where the story of the Cayman Islands and also places like the British Virgin Islands, the underside of that story, the use of these existing territories that haven’t moved towards independence to place themselves as these offshore options. People could look at some of the fantastic historical work of someone like Vanessa Ogle, who’s really traced this, I think, wonderfully, about when we’re talking about decolonisation, whether it’s in Kenya, whether it’s in Nigeria, we’re talking about huge amounts of wealth leaving these places as the European companies and European settlers are looking to flee from these new independent countries. Now, they’re not looking to bring that wealth back the United Kingdom because at that time social democracy is at its apex, Harold Wilson’s bringing in a mighty 5% super tax, so that’s not looking like a good option. They’re looking for a third option which becomes these offshore places like the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, and they now become the vanguard of this new architecture of offshoring of wealth which places the levers of power firmly in the hands of multinational capital, most prominently against the nation states of the Third World who have been wrestling with these questions of capital flights for ages. Since the 1980s, they’ve had to exist in this position of subservience to global capital because they always know that the wealth can simply be extracted off to somewhere where you can’t get it, but now we’re also being at least presented that one of the reasons we can’t take such drastic action against the rich in society - we saw the 2019 election - people would just flee, people would move their money, if Corbyn gets elected, everyone’s going to flee and take their money to the Cayman Islands and we’re going to lose economic sustainability.
But what we need to remember is these overseas territories, ultimate sovereignty relies on Westminster. The UK Government have proved that they are happy to intervene in these places when it suits them. The Chagos Islands, or the Turks and Caicos Islands will tell you that straight up. And so, if we wanted to intervene and create a system in which this kind of offshoring of wealth, the stuff that’s released in the Panama Papers and we see just how deep that runs through our actual elite politics, if we wanted to create a world where that wasn’t possible, a progressive UK Government could take those necessary actions on the first day of office. They choose not to do that because they are working in conjunction with the interests of finance capital, and the role that Cayman Islands plays is very useful.
Luke: Yeah. And you, of course, connect this to the City of London, this kind of system, this global system where capital moves freely, is allowed to facilitate to move freely while many people can’t. And you think about people in Jamaica - and my research has been in Jamaica - quite a few people who go and work in the Cayman Islands are in the tourist sector, no doubt because there’s slightly more money circulating through that particular two islands or island. Maybe you could talk a little bit more about where London figures in this. As a law lecturer, I wanted you to speak a little bit about the peculiarities of the English legal tradition on the system of common-law, property law, etc. and how that shapes this story that you’re telling.
Kojo: So, I think that this is something that has bubbled up into the public conversation with the sudden recognition - before Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine, the Conservative Party and the Government had no idea that we had all these Russian oligarchs taking up residence here in London and all of sudden it’s like, ‘Wow, they’re all here!’ So, there’s been this kind of, again, a little bit of a reckoning of, why have these kleptocrats of the world decided that London is their ideal base? Is it for the weather? Do they like Charles Dickens? Or simply did Abramovich buy Chelsea because he was a big fan of Dennis Wise? Probably not. It’s because of the way in which both the constitutional and private law system of the United Kingdom has been set up to facilitate and encourage private capital. We need to think about the role of imperial wealth extraction as something that not Britain does but something that produced Britain. When we talk about the history of empire, we need to remember that this precedes the foundation of Britain as a sovereign nation state. England already is in a colonial relationship with Barbados and with Jamaica and with the Virginia slave colonies before it has the act of the union, before even the English Civil War. So, when we think about constitutional developments - and this is something I always try and teach students - we need to remember that whether we’re talking about the glorious revolution, whether we’re talking about the emergence of the House of Commons, we need to remember that this is happening in an imperial context, it’s not happening in a national context.
That has influenced the way in which private law, particularly the law of property and the law of contract, is elevated within the English tradition as opposed to the European civil law traditions which is much more codified, where you have that system which determines all the rules and if it’s not on the rules, that’s not facilitated. The English common law system works in the opposite of, if it’s not explicitly prohibited through the case law and not through the written codification, we don’t even have a codified constitution, but if it’s not explicitly prohibited, then it’s permitted. So, this is the reason why something like London’s commercial court remains the centre for financial disputes between capitalists all around the world. 70% according to the latest review of the cases that take place in London’s commercial court are cases between companies that are in completely different jurisdictions, both companies that have nothing to do with the United Kingdom choose to argue it out within the English common law system. Now, that might be a great benefit to city lawyers, that might be a great benefit to luxury estate agents who are around the City of London, but to everyday people who are now unable - nurses, doctors, everyday people, even professional people - unable to have any kind of financial security in London because the way in which its role as the apex of financial transactions across the world has elevated the asset prices in the city, they’ve not really benefitted from that legacy of empire.
I think someone that’s really worthwhile reading into the relationship between the legacy of the English imperialism, the English common law system and the role of finance capital today, is Katharina Pistor, the legal scholar from Columbia, who describes the English common law system as the code of capital; that it is what allows the transition of raw materials, of raw resources into being assets. They need to be recognised within this rhetoric of English property law and English contract law.
So, I think that that is something that was globalised through the imperial project and that continues to play such a crucial role in the facilitation of global capitalism, even in 2022. The empire is over in a lot of ways, there’s no longer sovereign territorial control over India and Nigeria and Pakistan and all these huge swathes of the world, but in terms of the reach of the City of London’s financial, banking and legal sectors, we can still see that aftermath continuing to inform how capitalism is distributed around the world today.
Luke: The last couple of points I really want to end with is maybe to situate the intervention in this book, which I think you’ve explained to us so well, within perhaps some other texts and debates that have at least come to my attention in the last few years. The first of those is those people who’ve been thinking - and I think your book is a kind of historical corrective, even though the intervention is very about our current moment - who’ve been also thinking about complicating or fleshing out the history of neoliberalism and neoliberal ideas, and you already mentioned Quinn Slobodian and he was one of the people on my mind, but who challenge a version of neoliberalism where there's just a kind of unleashing of abstract market principles or even a form of deregulation, there’s actually a lot of legal process involved, a lot of regulation. So, I wonder, for those who are interested in the history of neoliberalism or the development of neoliberalism, how you see your book intervening in that set of debates?
Kojo: Well, I hope that it makes a small contribution and I think that there is a real shift away from the kind of traditional language of neoliberalism, which was very much exploited and exaggerated by the kind of Thatcherite, Reaganite, Pinochet political representatives of that movement, where neoliberalism was all about freedom, it’s all about liberation, it’s all about the unleashing of the markets, like you say, it’s all about pushing away from state control. I think an earlier kind of champion of this - which we often don’t think of him as, but I try and touch on a lot in Uncommon Wealth - was the person we have to think of as maybe Britain’s most famous racist politician, Enoch Powell, who, on the one hand, was very much in favour of borders for people, that’s the 'Rivers of of Blood', that’s all of his campaigning about the controlling of populations within the United Kingdom, but on the other hand, with his work with the Institute of Economic Affairs, his membership of the Mont Pelerin Society, all that detail in the book - just a few months after he delivers the 'Rivers of of Blood' speech, he actually goes to the Mont Pelerin Society and delivers a speech on the removal of the fiscal exchange rate and capital controls. So, right there in those few months, you see the borders for people and no borders for money. So he, I think, really inspired a lot of Thatcher’s framing of neoliberalism as freedom from the Road to Serfdom as Friedrich Hayek would say. But I think a lot of the work that’s come out recently, particularly Quinn’s book which I think is outstanding and was a big influence on this work, have talked about the way in which, in fact, there’s a huge amount of law craft, there’s a huge amount of regulation, there’s a huge amount of encasing of the interests of capital as part of the neoliberal project. It’s anything but freedom.
I think what I tried to do with the book - a lot of that story has played, I think understandably so, a huge nod of the cap to the role that America has played within that and the role that Wall Street finance has played in the encasing of global capitalism. I think Quinn does a fantastic job of tying it back to empire, but looking at particularly the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the way in which the emergence of the Mont Pelerin Society comes from that moment, that moment of panic of, oh wow, we don’t have that architecture of imperial control anymore, how can we maintain the protection of capitalism away from all these greedy and selfish demands of the populous of the masses? I think Quinn does a great job telling that kind of trajectory, but I guess what I wanted to do was then extend that to particularly the British story, not on a kind of nationalistic basis but just thinking about the fact that Britain of the 20th century was the largest empire the world has ever known, in terms of population, in terms of wealth. The decline of the British Empire and the transition of it into being this conductor of global capitalism all across the world in the City of London and the overseas territories, I think, is a crucial story in that encasement and entrenchment of neoliberalism when we start getting into the 1970s and the 1980s. And so I just wanted to tell that story but also, yes, in conversation and with reference to a lot of those other authors that you mentioned, particularly Quinn’s work.
Luke: Yeah, it comes through so clearly. Finally, perhaps, one of the themes that threads across our podcasts here is about 20th century histories of decolonisation, and there have also been a raft of books returning to questions around the 20th century decolonisation, questions around independence and national sovereignty, around international society and world-making, for example, in Adom Getachew’s work. We’ve had Nandita Sharma on this podcast who writes about the failures of post-colonial nationalisms in terms of citizenship and exclusionary migration controls, and our shared and dear friend, Musab Younis, has his much-awaited book coming out later this year. So, I wondered how your book intervenes in that very broad conversation. Of course, it’s running alongside, that’s precisely the point you make there, the ways in which decolonisation and neoliberalism are running alongside each other in the latter half of the 20th century. How do you think your book figures within that wider set of debates?
Kojo: I think that’s a really challenging question of where I can place the book within those debates because I think that a lot of the debate was often centred around the role of nationalism within, not just looking at the decolonial moment, but thinking about the lessons we can take from it to inform future politics and a future construction of a better society. I think I recognise and in the stuff that we’ve written together, we’ve also pushed what Frantz Fanon would call ‘the pitfalls of nationalism’, which I recognise is a big misstep that a lot of those first generation of decolonial leaders did make and they did become romantically enamoured with the potential of national state craft, and did insist upon a certain uniformity of ethnic populations, did insist upon - essentially what I say in the book - of promising national liberation but delivering a lot of nationalism and not a lot of liberation. And so they say, ideological missteps were made within that 20th century decolonial project, and I think what’s really wonderful about Adom Getachew’s book is to remind us that that wasn’t the end goal in its initiative. And when we look at Kwame Nkrumah or we look at Julius Nyerere and you look at Michael Manley and that, whilst they may have ended up falling into a certain national authoritarianism, their actual ambition was a more panoramic world-making transformation of global society, conceiving of the world and conceiving of themselves as part of this much wider post-national populous, whether that be Pan-Africanist, whether that can be the West Indian Federation.
So, I think that Getachew is good for reminding us that it wasn’t all just a romantic seduction with nationalism and the internal power potentials of nationalism. I think with that side of the story being complicated by Getachew, I also wanted to complicate it by just reminding that a lot of those failures didn’t happen independently, they happened in the context of a vicious counter revolution, facilitated through the architecture of empire. I think that the story of Mohammad Mossadegh and the Anglo-Iranian oil companies is a really clear example of this; this is where the progressive Atlee Government of welfare-ism and the NHS is supporting a naked coup d'etat against a democratically elected leader trying to do the same thing in terms of nationalisation of welfare that they’re doing at home. That’s like a kind of crude example of the counter-revolution that was impacted upon the new nations of the decolonial world, and then it starts to get a little more sophisticated when we move into the structural adjustment programmes and the weaponisation of sovereign debt and the stuff that happened to Jamaica and Manley that I touch upon in the fourth chapter.
So, it was in that context that a lot of these missteps and mistakes were made. That’s not to excuse them and definitely not to recommend that we need to go back to that moment of making national liberation our horizon. That’s not what I’m advocating in the book at all, but I think what I am trying to do is tell a little bit of the story of the kind of tragedy of that decolonial moment, but mainly connect that tragedy to the tragedies that we’re facing now, with spiralling global wealth inequality, with accelerating climate crisis, with the crisis of migration and bordering, with precarity expanding across so many different sectors in our society. Tying all of these contemporary phenomenon with that 20th century tragedy of decolonisation of the death of democratic decolonisation, and try to use that conversation as an opportunity to facilitate new political allegiances and new political relationships, where, to be crude about it, what I would love is for people in the United Kingdom, the left behind, to maybe read the story of Mossadegh and Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and not think, being British I am in allegiance with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company or I benefit from the ultimate victory of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, but to recognise how the defeat of Mossadegh led to the entrenchment and protection of a company like the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company which we all know has now morphed into BP, one of the big profiters of the current energy crisis that we have at the moment, which their chief executive described as turning their company into a cash machine, whilst at the same time, the British Government refused to put a windfall tax on them and everyday people are seeing their bills sky-rocket month on month.
The reason why a company like BP is protected from the environmental devastation it’s had upon the world with things like the Deepwater Horizon crisis, with tax avoidance and all those issues, is linked to the way it was protected from the Mossadegh Government in the Anglo-Iranian oil crisis. So, what I want to do is to have people read that story and to recognise how problems that they’re facing in 2022 are linked to some of the tragedies of that decolonial moment and to feel, not a sympathy for the Iranians and not, 'ah, these poor people in the Third World and these poor people in Africa, how terrible it must be for them, I’m a good person so I’m going to sympathise with them', but be in political allegiance with them. Do what Fanon says of Europeans, stop playing that stupid game of sleeping beauty and wake up and realise that your economic and political futures are tied to the futures of the people in the ‘developing world’.
Luke: I think that’s a perfect place to close out. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Kojo.
Kojo: Thank you for having me.
Luke: Yeah, I really appreciate you making it all the way up north of the river and, yeah, more engagements with the Centre soon.
Kojo: Definitely, definitely. It’s fantastic. And great what you guys are doing there, love it.
Luke: Thanks, man.