by Sasha Alyson
The world powers take what they want from the global South – and dump whatever they don’t want.
Examples abound. Here’s a clear one.
In the 1980s, a new term became popular in foreign policy circles: Soft power. It’s much the same as what we call karma colonialism: You stay in control, but you get everybody to feel good about it.
The photo above, from the U.S. Navy, proudly displays soft power in action: A boatswain’s mate from a guided-missile frigate (hard power is always ready if needed) hands out books to students in Lagos, Nigeria.
It may seem nice. But in fact, even if these were good books, having them passed out free by the U.S. Navy would undermine the local economy and local publishers, who could produce better books, which address Nigeria’s needs and interests.
In fact, they weren’t even good books. A closer look reveals that the boatswain’s mate is handing out leftover practice guides for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Clearly the publisher couldn’t sell them, so they were given to the U.S. Navy.
The Navy then dumped them onto Nigerian students. If any of these young people had even a flicker of interest in books, an hour with the FCAT Practice manual should kill it dead.
This is karma colonialism. Nobody really gives a damn about these kids. An American business most likely got a tax deduction. The sailors get paid, and this sure beats getting shot at. The U.S. military gets a feel-good photo op. Nigerian students and teachers think this is absurd, but they won’t say so. The guided missile frigate is still sitting offshore.
Top photo: Navy handouts by Felicito Rustique. Public domain image.