This is the third and last (for now) of this little series of students’ papers from my course Diversifying Philosophy, the 2nd edition. This time you can read the work of Jasmine Campbell, who took the original (and relevant) approach to read the work of Fanon from an eco-philosophical perspective. Postcolonial critique and ecological philosophy are understood more and more in connection with each other, and this paper is a way in which this is practiced. I hope you will find this a fascinating piece. Here it is:
Postcolonial Sustainable Development. An Ecocritical Reading of The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
The way in which countries are categorised or ranked is very often in terms of their level of development. Development is seen as the most important factor determining how well a country is doing, this often being with a very economic focus. We speak of developing and developed countries, or the third world and the first world, although these are often coined outdated and offensive.
Sometimes too the phrases less developed and more developed countries, or LEDCs (less economically developed countries) and MEDCs (more economically developed countries), are used. This distinction very much divides the world into what people perceive as better and worse countries. Better in this sense is almost synonymous to richer and worse to poorer. This division was once made by colonisers between the colonial powers and the colonies, and this division is still very much one that the West imposes on the rest of the world. Of course development is important, but why should all countries have to live up to this very economically focussed definition of development?
Further, what has in more recent times become of more and more importance is sustainable development. With global climate change a development that can be sustained for generations to come and that is more environmentally friendly is deemed to be of utmost importance. We can see this in the change from the UN’s Millennium Development Goals to their Sustainable Development Goals1 and the introduction and many signatories of the Paris Climate Agreement in 20162. However, many ask whether all countries should have to develop as sustainably as possible. For one, it is argued that only few countries, such as China, the United States who are the biggest polluters and together generate 44% of worldwide emissions3, so arguably contributing most to global climate change. It is also argued that the West got the opportunity to develop it’s industries unsustainable without caring for how much they were polluting to get to the point at which they are now and, therefore, developing countries should have this same opportunity. So, this view suggests that only the biggest polluters should be more sustainable as they are the cause of the problems and that developing countries should have the right to emit carbon without restriction to ‘catch up’. But this again reinforces that developing countries should ‘catch up’ with the West and that they would want to use the ‘western method’ in the process.
In this paper I would, thus, like to explore sustainable development and environmentalism in postcolonial thought. I have chosen to look at Frantz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ and take an ecocritical reading of his work. I will be looking at how this ecocritical reading of Fanon fits into the broader field of ecocritical postcolonial thought. Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) was a psychiatrist and philosopher from Martinique. He wrote particularly influential works in the field of postcolonial studies, such as ‘Black Skin White Masks’ (1952) and ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ (1963)4. Fanon’s work was more human centred than environmental and focused on the way in which history can be seen in terms of oppression of colonisers and struggle of colonies5.
Fanon on Development and the Environment
In the conclusion of ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ Fanon seems to express his views on development and how decolonised countries should approach developing. The central idea of the conclusion is to avoid ‘the European way’, in all senses, to avoid their violent manner, genocide, slavery and exploitation. Fanon writes that they must “Leave this Europe”6 and “Shake off their heavy darkness”7. More importantly, he writes to abandon the ‘European method’, writing “We today can do everything so long as we do not imitate Europe, so long as we are not obsessed by the desire to catch up with Europe.”8. He advocates the creation of a new method of growth and development. This development can also be said of Europe’s treatment of the land. Fanon does not explicitly write this but it does in a sense point towards this. The ‘western mentality’ or “European spirit”9, as Fanon puts it, being focussed on rapid growth no matter the consequences has led to exploitation of people but also very much of land in the process. Therefore, when Fanon says to abandon the European way, this can also be said of the treatment of land and the environment when developing, as well as of people.
Fanon, further describes how Europe, in their need for continuous growth, power and wealth, are “running headlong into the abyss”10. This can be seen by the damages and pollution the West’s economic growth has caused. In their growth they have caused for global warming, mass extinction, rising sea levels, and many more disastrous effects11. If they keep going at this rate this will quite literally lead to a fall “into the abyss”, as scientists have warned us about the negative effects and the American Association for Advanced Science also has said that climate change is “is a growing threat to society”12. Fanon then writes that it is the task of the ‘third world’ to do better, to solve the problems Europe has created by not following this same mentality and extreme focus on economic growth. He writes “to resolve the problem to which Europe has not been able to find the answers […] what matters is to stop talking about output, and intensification, and the rhythm of work.”13. This can be said of the way the West is keen on mass production, over consumption, the living of very materialistic lifestyles, and in general the capitalist system, that in only being focussed on money exploits people and land.
Fanon, in the chapter ‘On Violence’ in his The Wretched of the Earth, also describes a trait of the Europeans, or the West, that in decolonisation is discovered to not apply to the previous colonies. He describes a trend in the change of mentality from very individualistic to community oriented. He writes about how the ‘colonised intellectual’ follows the ‘coloniser bourgeois’ in their individualism, but then “witnesses the destruction of all his idols: egoism, arrogant, recrimination, and the idiotic, childish need to have the last word”14. He will see the strength of community, of village assemblies and caring for one another. Fanon describes how he will move away from the ‘every man for himself’ thinking and the economic growth oriented thinking. Fanon writes about a movement from “personal interests [becoming] the collective interest”15. This difference in mentality can also be regarded in terms of a relation with the environment. The ‘western individualism’ Fanon describes, or the ‘every man for himself’ concept, focuses on personal growth regardless of others and regardless of the land. This individualism can also be said to be a cause for capitalism. The ‘Westerner’ is much more prone to exploiting the land in his quest for wealth, which has led to the global climate change we see today. This focus on personal growth also does not consider the future generations and is not sustainable.
The importance the ‘third world’ places on community that Fanon describes shows a respect for others and for the land. It respects the homes of others and the environment. This community oriented thinking may also be much more prone to considering future communities or generations and their lives, and is this way much more sustainable. Coming back to the conclusion of Fanon’s work, this difference in mentality also would very much affect how these decolonised nations may go about their development and points at a much more sustainable development.
Postcolonial Ecocriticism and Sustainable Development
Coming back to more current thought on development and environmentalism, as was mentioned in the introduction, there seems to be a discussion going on on how non-western countries should ‘catch up’ in terms of development with the west. In 1986 the UN introduced the Right to Development to its Universal Declaration of Human Rights16. The UN describes how this right applies to people, it should be human centred but state led17. They do recognise that historically development has very much been considered a “primarily economic process measured by growth in gross national product”, and that this understanding still very much persists among many18. The UN considers the Right to Development to be closely linked to the fundamental right to self-determination and the right to sovereignty over natural wealth and resources19. The Right to Development, the UN writes, is also included in the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention [No. 169], in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indegiounous Peoples and in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights20. It can thus be seen this right, and, therefore, also the importance of development in general, is widely recognised, not only by the west. But, of course, not necessarily in its focus on economies but the human centred notion of development, which is also described by Fanon in his ‘The Wretched of the Earth’. The UN does note that development should be sustainable and highlights the importance of sustainability in their Sustainable Development Goals, in particular when it comes to development in goal 11: ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’21. However, the question still goes to what extent sustainable development is required from, or in other words a duty of, developing countries.
Some would rather say that in order to ‘catch up’ with Europe, as Fanon strongly rejects the need for, European methods would have to be adopted and so developing countries should be exempt from reducing carbon emissions as western countries are being obliged to to respond to the threats that climate change brings for our future. Professor Zewei Yang adopts this view, writes about how reducing carbon emissions may inhibited China’s ability to further develop and describes “the right to carbon emission as a new right to development”22. Another such thinker, that Professor Yang also quotes in his paper, is Professor Albert Mumma of Nairobi University in Kenya, who states “the emission entitlements, in effect, are a proxy for the right to develop and meet the needs of one’s nation and the well-being of its people.”23. Yang goes on to describe how this right to carbon emissions represents the right to use the Earth’s resources in order to develop and that this should particularly be the case for developing countries24. Further, Yang describes how in the second article of the Copenhagen Accord also states that “. bearing in mind that social and economic development are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries”25.
This view seems to require carbon emissions for the development of a country. It would seem that this is then also following the ‘European method’ of development, and opposes Fanon’s view.
This obsession ‘to catch up with Europe’26 Fanon writes of, is somewhat present in the idea that developing countries ought to have the right to carbon emissions to reach the same level of development as Europe and before they should consider environmentally friendly or sustainable development. Fanon, on the other hand, insists that it is the aim of developing countries to come up with new solutions to European problems, these problems here being pollution levels from carbon emissions, and can be said to thus recommend sustainable development in developing countries. This would also avoid the ‘running headlong into the abyss’27 that Fanon describes Europe’s method of development.
Many postcolonial thinkers would, like Fanon, disagree with Yang and Mumma’s stance. In the field of postcolonial ecocriticism the central task, as described by Helen Tiffin and Graham Huggin, is to contest and provide alternatives to western conceptions or ideologies of development28. Some thus hold that development as a whole is a European construct that is imposed on the rest of the world in order to keep Europe first. Sustainable development, in this view, is just a new version of this imposing development with a ‘pretty cover’, so to speak. It is made to look more attractive and good for the earth, but is just used to keep Europe ahead and in charge. German sociologist Wolfgang Sachs also states “what development means depends on how the rich nations feel” and that development is “at best a form of strategic altruism”, it is used as a reason for countries to give other countries aid to make these self-describe developed (and in their views thus also better) countries look good and is aimed at their concerns of their own politics and economies29. Development has also been described as adapting to the “needs of those who use it” and being used to self-congratulate and condescend, being based on Western presuppositions30. Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin also describe in their ‘Postcolonial Ecocriticism’ (2006) the perhaps more extreme view held by Oswaldo De Rivero of
how “the myth of development, taking false support from ideas promiscuously linked to the Enlightenment ideology of progress and the Darwnian survival of the fittest” urging the ‘developing’ Southern countries to catch up with ‘developed’ Northern countries and so aso implementing a capitalist growth model that is damaging to the environment and unequal31. These views often extend to sustainable development. Wolfgang Sachs describes sustainable development as giving new life to development and covering up the criticism of development and its “destructive tendencies”32.
Sustainable development being said to be an effort to save the planet Sachs sees as “little more than a political alibi” to justify state intervention because the West wants to implement their methods of environmental management which very much concentrate on the survival of the industrial system33.
The rejection of the idea of catching up with Europe here by implementing its method of growth, being capitalism, can be very closely compared to what Fanon writes in his conclusion of ‘The Wretched of The Earth’ (1963). As stated before, Fanon very much rejects the need to ‘catch up’ with Europe and Europe’s methods, and would agree with this. Fanon also does not explicitly write about development, this is the term I chose for what he describes. Fanon describes “moving forward… in the company of all men” and of wanting to advance humanity34, which I would call development, not in the economic-centred sense of the term but rather a very human-centred development. However, Fanon may well have agreed with De Rivero’s notion of development as being a myth made up by the West, as it would be in line with his rejection of any inspiration from Europe. However, if we look at development as simply describing growth and increased well-being, this is very much what Fanon describes in his text. Sustainable development, in Fanon’s view may well be very important as previously described, but Sachs’ view here introduces the element of the Western notion of sustainable development versus other versions of sustainable development. It can thus be said that Fanon would rather advocate a sustainable development that does not follow or take inspiration from the western model of sustainable development.
Another postcolonial ecocriticism is also very present in criticism of neocolonialism. This can be seen all over the world where multinational companies can be said to replace colonial power by taking control of a country’s resources and industries and exploiting people for cheap labour. An example of this would be oil companies in Nigeria. Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995), was a Nigerian environmental activist and writer35, who stood up against these oil countries and wanted them to be held accountable for the destruction of his home36. The oil company was stealing their natural resources and prohibiting the inhabitants of the land from benefiting themselves from the resources and building their own industries and economies around them and was also exploiting the land. Ken Saro-Wiwa’s advocacy and writing on this subject makes him an important figure not just as an environmental activist but also very much in postcolonial ecocritical thinking. Although, he is often left out of the field as ecocriticism, according to Rob Nixon, often focuses much on American-based writers and postcolonial criticism has concentrated “on a handful of ‘representative’ writers”37.
Similar are development projects in India that are introduced inspired by the West and a need to catch up. An example would be the Narmada Valley Development Project, which was a project to build dams in the Narmada river in order to provide electricity and safe drinking water to people in India38. The project is described by Arundhati Roy (1961-present), an Indian author and political and environmental activist39, as being “India’s Greatest Planned Environmental Disaster”40. The project caused mass protests and was found to use more energy than it produced41. The project caused for hundreds of thousands of local people to be displaced with a complete change to their daily lives, culture and economic self-sufficiency42. It can be seen that this western idea of development is being implemented but it does not contribute positively to the well-being of people, it is not human-centred development and focuses only on economic growth. The costs of the project were for a large part funded by the World Bank, which has also caused for India into an “economic bondage” which overcoming seems impossible43. It further contributes towards the increasing privatisation of natural resources and of energy sources, all in an effort to catch up with the West.
In conclusion, many links can be found between Fanon’s work and postcolonial ecocriticism. Taking an ecocritical reading of Fanon shows many similarities with ecocritical postcolonial thinkers and brings an interesting addition to discussions on environmentalism and sustainable development and critiquing western ideologies of sustainable development and development in general. We can clearly see Fanon’s disregard of the European method and the need to catch up with Europe are very present in postcolonial ecocritical writing such as that of Sachs, De Rivero, Saro-Wiwa and Roy. The aim of developing countries that Fanon describes as being finding new and better solutions for the problems Europe has created is very much in line with the project of postcolonial ecocriticism, being to contest and provide alternatives to the western ideologies of development. These problems Fanon describes can be seen as being, at least partly, to do with the environmental consequences of western development and so alternatives to this would be the solutions Fanon calls for developing countries to find. Fanon’s thinking would, thus, still also be very applicable in response to and as critique of neocolonialism as when it comes to multinational companies taking on the role of colonial powers this is very closely tied to a western notion of development and the imposing of this development on other countries.
1 Background of the Sustainable Development Goals. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/background/
3 Which countries are the world’s biggest carbon polluters? (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.climatetrade.com/which-countries-are-the-worlds-biggest-carbon-polluters/
4 Drabinski, J. (2020). Frantz Fanon. Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/frantz- fanon/
6 Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of The Earth (p. 311). New York: Grove Press.
8 Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of The Earth (p.312). New York: Grove Press.
9 Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of The Earth (p. 313). New York: Grove Press.
10 Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of The Earth (p. 312). New York: Grove Press.
11 Global Warming Effects. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/global-warming-effects/
12 AAAS Reaffirms Statements on Climate Change and Integrity. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.aaas.org/news/aaas-reaffirms-statements-climate-change-and-integrity
13 Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of The Earth (p. 314). New York: Grove Press.
14 Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of The Earth (p. 11). New York: Grove Press.
15 Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of The Earth (pp. 11,12). New York: Grove Press.
16Fact Sheet No. 37: Frequently Asked Questions on the Right to Development. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FSheet37_RtD_EN.pdf
21 Sustainable Development Goals. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html
22 Yang, Z. (2012). The Right to Carbon Emission: A New Right to Development. American Journal Of Climate Change, 01(02), 108-116. doi: 10.4236/ajcc.2012.12009
26 Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of The Earth. New York: Grove Press.
28Huggan, G., & Tiffin, H. (2010). Postcolonial Ecocriticism (pp. 27-46). New York: Routledge.
32 Huggan, G., & Tiffin, H. (2010). Postcolonial Ecocriticism (pp. 27-46). New York: Routledge.
34 Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of The Earth (p. 315). New York: Grove Press.
36 Huggan, G., & Tiffin, H. (2010). Postcolonial Ecocriticism (pp. 27-46). New York: Routledge.
39 Arundhati Roy. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Arundhati-Roy
40 Huggan, G., & Tiffin, H. (2010). Postcolonial Ecocriticism (pp. 27-46). New York: Routledge. 41Huggan, G., & Tiffin, H. (2010). Postcolonial Ecocriticism (pp. 27-46). New York: Routledge. 42 ibid
AAAS Reaffirms Statements on Climate Change and Integrity. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.aaas.org/news/aaas-reaffirms-statements-climate-change-and- integrity
Arundhati Roy. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Arundhati-Roy
Background of the Sustainable Development Goals. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/background/
Drabinski, J. (2020). Frantz Fanon. Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/frantz-fanon/
Fact Sheet No. 37: Frequently Asked Questions on the Right to Development. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FSheet37_RtD_EN.pdf
Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of The Earth. New York: Grove Press.
Huggan, G., & Tiffin, H. (2010). Postcolonial Ecocriticism (pp. 27-46). New York: Routledge.
Ken Saro-Wiwa. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ken-Saro-Wiwa
Sustainable Development Goals. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html
The Paris Agreement. (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://unfccc.int/process-and- meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
Which countries are the world’s biggest carbon polluters? (2020). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://www.climatetrade.com/which-countries-are-the-worlds-biggest-carbon- polluters/
Yang, Z. (2012). The Right to Carbon Emission: A New Right to Development. American Journal Of Climate Change, 01(02), 108-116. doi: 10.4236/ajcc.2012.12009