Colonialism seen from Asia

To produce a new theory of colonization, Lachlan McNamee turns to Indonesia and China. If this theory sheds useful light on colonial dynamics far from European metropolises, it risks leaving indigenous claims in the countries of the North in the shadows.

Settling for Less opens with the Bandung conference. Convened in 1955 by the Indonesian president, the conference brought together leaders from African and Asian countries newly liberated from European supervision. Illustrious anti-colonial activists such as the Indian Jawaharlal Nehru and the Egyptian Gamal Abdel Nasser took part. Declaring their opposition the subjugation of peoples and foreign domination, participants proclaim the right of all peoples to self-determination. This is the image we retained from this conference.

What has been forgotten, McNamee shows, is that Indonesia organized it to support its own claims over the western half of the island of New Guinea, West Papua. In 1955, West Papua remained under the control of the Netherlands, but Indonesia openly claimed sovereignty. By calling on all peoples of Africa and Asia to free West Papua from Dutch domination, the President of Indonesia is attempting to strengthen the legitimacy of his tutelage over Papuan lands and lives. In 1963, West Papua officially became a province of Indonesia. Jakarta's policies have since resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of indigenous people and the establishment of 300,000 farmers in its power plants on their land. The Papuans are now a minority in much of their ancestral lands.

By this reference to the Bandung conference, McNamee shows that Europe's renunciation of its territorial claims in the four corners of the world did not lead to indigenous self-determination on the spot. Rather, independence has reconstituted a new set of repressive neocolonial relations, which has left the distribution of global wealth almost intact. This proposal gives new impetus to studies on colonization by occupationone of the now accepted translations from English settler colonial studies. Less known in French-speaking political science than in the countries from which they originate, especially Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Canada, these studies focus on the colonization of indigenous lands and lives by colonial states.

The determinants of colonization

The work seeks to identify the conditions under which metropolises adopt occupation colonization as a preferred mode of relationship with indigenous peoples throughout the world. For McNamee, occupation colonization dispossesses Indigenous people from their land and installs settlers from a majority ethnic group in the colonizing metropolis on the same land. It constitutes an alternative solution to the genocidal policy, which is too costly for states on an economic and human level. McNamee emphasizes that it achieves the same objectives: that of monopolizing lands and resources under indigenous control.

According to the author, there are two determinants of colonization through occupation. The first is the availability and willingness of settlers to settle on indigenous lands claimed by colonial metropolises. In McNamee's view, occupation colonization only succeeds when the colonial state and settlers combine to occupy indigenous lands, often on the outskirts of colonial empires. An original proposition in the book consists of arguing that this condition will be increasingly difficult to fulfill. As the world's populations become richer and, at the same time, urbanized, the desire of settlers to settle on land far from economic centers to adopt a lifestyle based on diminished subsistence. Colonization by settlement would therefore end, for lack of settlers – hence the title of the book (Settling for less) which suggests that states will now have to make do with smaller spaces due to the economic context. Until then, only the least industrialized and urbanized states have the means to realize their project of occupation by settlers.

The second determinant of colonization by occupation is what the author calls territorial security. Although it is not explicitly defined, this concept refers to the aspiration of governments not to encounter any resistance in their territorial claims. To illustrate this concept, note that Chinese territorial claims are strongly contested by the Ugurs and the Tibetans, which ranks China among the countries in a situation of weak territorial security. According to his typology, McNamee predicts that states in a situation of strong territorial security (for example contemporary Canada vis-à-vis the indigenous people who live on the territory it claims) adopt indigenous assimilation as a policy. Those who live with territorial security average instead adopt colonization through the establishment of settlers. A serious attack on territorial security can finally provoke the perpetration of a genocide, as in the case of Indonesia in West Papua. This typology, however, raises more questions than lucidity. What is the basis of contested territorial claims from the point of view of colonizing government authorities?? Are they legitimate when considering competing, often indigenous, territorial claims?? The proposition seems prisoner of the terms which frame it.

Would the South hide the North??

The most important limitation of the study nevertheless lies elsewhere. Specifying the theoretical ambition of the book, the author asserts that his two-factor theory explains occupation colonization, regardless of the geographic, ethnic or temporal framework in which it materializes. McNamee goes beyond classic case studies like Australia and the United States to look at the Indonesian colonization of West Papua and the Chinese colonization of Tibet and Xinjiang (literally, new frontier), thus satisfying the great theoretical aspirations of the book. Chapter 7 also compiles case studies from several continents to verify, by means of statistical regressions, some of the structuring hypotheses of the work. For example, there is data on the colonization of the Rohingya by Burma, the Somalis in Ethiopia and the Turks in Greece.

From its definition of occupation colonization as proceeding by the installation of settlers near defended borders, the work defines the indigenous as colonized ethnic groups which are either (i) minority groups lacking loyalty to the colonial metropolis, (ii) minorities otherwise linked to a group which dominates a foreign state or (iii) minorities inhabiting regions rich in natural resources coveted by the metropolis. This definition, which refers directly to the factors explaining colonization, presents a certain circularity, but it also obscures the historical or original territorial relationship that indigenous people generally claim in their way of defining themselves. This problem of definition also highlights the absence of indigenous voices in all chapters of the work. What do the Papuans think of the factors explaining Indonesian colonization, the Ugurs of Chinese colonization?? Despite its powerful growth, indigenous studies appear nowhere in the work.

Finally, McNamee's attention to colonization by the countries of the South on the countries of the South, as enlightening as it may be, obscures the colonization of the countries of the North which is part of the very long term. The work contains very few references to the continued dispossession of indigenous peoples still locked within the colonial borders of Canada, the United States and Australia. In an even more disturbing proposition, McNamee asserts that colonization has ceased in the countries of the North since, in particular, the United States withdrew its territorial claims on the Philippines. Did they also remove them from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam and, more broadly, from all the continental indigenous lands on which the American colonial state is built?? Decolonization, argue Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, in a seminal article, will only be accomplished once all indigenous lands have been returned. Combined with a questionable definition of colonization and indigenous people, McNamee's proposal ultimately risks exonerating the countries of the North of the genocidal policies they adopted in recent centuries.