The new colonialists and local agriculture to shape our own local economy

This sums up both Bill Gates’ sudden surge of agricultural land purchases and the fossil fuel industry’s sudden surge of fracked methane pipelines: “on a global scale, that the global problem, from the perspective of European colonialists and European entrepreneurs, is really how to transform the countryside.” In both cases, we here in the southeast are just peasants or backwards natives from the perspectives of the the new colonialists as they try to transform our countryside. So what if such transformation results in dust storms or leaks, explosions, or higher domestic natural gas prices? The new colonialists would profit!

Jonathan Shaw wrote for Harvard Magazine November-December 2014, The New Histories: Scholars pursue sweeping new interpretations of the human past.

Global history is “the kind of idea that, once you have it, is impossible to go back from,” Beckert continues. “You can’t. It’s going to be with you forever because it’s just a different way of seeing history.” While it opens new questions, it “also opens up totally new understandings of particular historical problems such as the problem of slavery. You understand, on a global scale, that the global problem, from the perspective of European colonialists and European entrepreneurs, is really how to transform the countryside. The resulting transformation takes different forms in different parts of the world, but sometimes it’s also quite similar. After the Civil War, for example, sharecropping becomes dominant in the United States, but it’s also important in Egypt, Mexico, Brazil, and other parts of the world. People in these places learn from one another. They observe one another.”

Capitalism can make strange bedfellows. Beckert relates how in 1898, the German ambassador to the United States approached Booker T. Washington, asking him to send students and professors—the sons and grandsons of slaves—from Tuskegee to Germany and then on to the West African colony of Togo to transform cotton agriculture there: “an amazing story of African Americans advising deeply racist German colonialists in Togo about how to make local peasants produce cotton for world markets.”


In January 1901, four African American men from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama arrived in the German Colony of Togo in West Africa.1 Their expedition was financed by a German business organization that worked closely with the government on agriculture in the German overseas em- pire, the Kolonialwirtschaftliches Komitee. The agricultural attaché at the German embassy in Washington DC had approached Booker T. Washington the previous summer to organize this expedition, which was to transform cotton growing in Togo so that it would supply the world market with raw materials for European industry rather than supply local spinners and weavers.

Hm, sounds like Bill Gates wanting to use south Georgia and north Florida land to feed the world (or profit his investment firm), or Spectra Energy and FPL wanting to build that Sabal Trail pipeline through here that goes to already-authorized LNG export operations in Florida to meet foreign natural gas needs (or profit their executives and investors).

Andrew Zimmerman also wrote a book about that for Princeton Press in 2012, Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South. Maybe we should all read it, since it seems to be the script for our new colonialists. The book’s introduction reads in part:

The cross-fertilization of histories and practices led to the emergence of a global South, reproduced social inequities on both sides of the Atlantic, and pushed the American South and the German Empire to the forefront of modern colonialism.

Zimmerman shows how the people of Togo, rather than serving as a blank slate for American and German ideologies, helped shape their region’s place in the global South.

Maybe we should all help shape our own place, here in the old South. Maybe we should organize our own local agriculture and economy.

It’s either that or welcome our new colonial overlords.