Sri Lanka Is Colonized Again (Again)

The British Annexation of the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815, now being repeated by the IMF on behalf of foreign bondholders. We are again signed over by our comprador nobility

Sri Lanka is colonized again. We are administered by foreigners from the IMF just as we were by the VoC back then. We are sold out by a despised Parliament and a usurper President, just as we were by the Kandyan nobility in 1815. Our new nobility gets to continue stealing and murdering while the comprador classes of Colombo get paid off with imported goods. Just like under colonialism. Then, as now, it is the common people of Sri Lanka who suffer. They are starving.

Colonialism always worked like this. It was always divide and conquer. Colonialism always worked by taking economic control of a country while letting its petty nobility keep petty privileges. It always worked by letting local merchants take their cut of the blood-letting of the whole nation. And we always administered to it ourselves. The face and even the boot of colonialism was predominantly brown. I used to wonder how we did this to ourselves, but I don’t wonder anymore. In front of my own eyes, among my own people, I see it happening.

How is what’s happening today colonialism? Compare it to the capitulation of this country to the British in 1815. The Kandyan Convention deposed the legitimate king, vested the country in the British Empire, and preserved only the ranks of the Kandyan nobility. What have we done in our completely hijacked Aragalaya? Deposed an elected President who was replaced with one completely unelected and rejected by the people last election. Preserved the ranks and privileges of a despised and frankly criminal Parliament. And we call this democracy? Where are the local government elections, delayed for years now? At a time of such great crisis, why are the people not consulted in a General Election? This is no democracy. It’s just another wretched nobility, selling us out to the American Empire instead of the British.

We have a ‘caretaker’ government composed almost exclusively of criminals, led by someone explicitly rejected by the people, collaborating with completely unaccountable foreigners. This is not caretaker government. It’s an undertaker government.

Why do I blame the Americans instead of ourselves? Follow the money. Look at the currency our misery is denominated in. That’s the problem. We had a forex crisis in dollars, not a problem with rupees or yuan. For us, what sunk us was the dollar, as it is for much of the world. This is happening globally, to more countries than ours. As a study by Jason Hickel et al says, we in what they call the Global South (really the global majority) are being bled all over again. As they write, “Over the period 1990–2015, the drain sums to $242 trillion (constant 2010 USD). This represents a significant “windfall” for the North, similar to the windfall that was derived from colonial forms of appropriation.” And we are in debt to them? Those that owe us reparations and are reprobates still? To service their bondholders our children must go hungry and our elders without medicine? What is this but bloody colonialism all over again?

As much as they point fingers to our ancient friend China, this is a western debt trap we have been caught in. Again and again, just follow the money. And follow the global currents, which Sri Lanka is just an island in. When the warmonger Victoria Nuland decided they might need Sri Lanka as an aircraft carrier to attack China from, we coincidentally get choked off from petrodollars, which coincidentally come back when the government is changed. We say, like Margaret Thatcher, that ‘there is no alternative’ to running back into the arms of our colonizers, but there are. We just have to think independently, instead of magically (the hand-waving and provably false theories of vulgar economists). The fact is that who pays for this mess is a choice, and people that cannot or will never face an election are choosing to help themselves while the common people are helpless.

The IMF logic is that predatory western banks who decided to loan money to the corrupt Rajapakses and Ranils should, as David Graeber said “be repaid, not by the dictator, or even by his cronies, but by literally taking food from the mouths of hungry children.” As he continued, “imagine there was some law that said they were guaranteed to get their money back no matter what happens, even if that meant, I don’t know, selling my daughter into slavery or harvesting my organs or something. Well, in that case, why not? Why bother waiting for someone to walk in who has a viable plan to set up a laundromat or some such? Basically, that’s the situation the IMF created on a global level — which is how you could have all those banks willing to fork over billions of dollars to a bunch of obvious crooks in the first place.”

And thus the very crooks who got us into this mess decide who should pay for it. So guess who suffers? Poor people's electricity bills go up while the nobles don’t even pay theirs. Working people's pension funds get cut, but the rich bankers and bondholders (who are far more responsible) are protected. Foreign bondholders barely get touched at all, because, of course, they’re the ones who actually rule us. And the Rajapakses and Ranils who took out all this debt, they’re still ruling. The foxes are truly running the hen-yard. No wonder eggs are so hard to come by for ordinary people.

Thus, we get a corrupt debt restructuring from the man who brought you the bond scam the last time he was actually elected to anything. We are told that there is no alternative, that we have to crawl back into the colonial system, but of course there is. At the time that parts of the colonized world are rising up, Sri Lanka has chosen the wrong side. Right now, the BRICS grouping is bigger than the G7, and we’ve backed the losing side, historically.

The fact is that much of the world is de-dollarizing, largely involuntarily as the US sanctions (besieges) itself into a corner. An independent Asia is rising, but we have chosen — like pathetic compradors — to hitch ourselves to the corrupt empire that’s violently imploding. We have chosen servitude for some temporary drips of petrodollars rather than the hard work of independence and industrialization. The fact is that Sri Lanka could have cast off our dollar servitude, gotten natural gas from Russia and relief from China (those deals were on the table), but due to scheming among our corrupt nobles, we sold out our country to the same old colonial powers again, this time with their capital in Washington DC.

The fact is that Sri Lanka could have gotten support to do the hard work of actually industrializing our country and educating our workforce and doing massive public works (how you actually get out of depressions), but we simply don’t have the imagination. All we have is the imaginary theories of economists, who pretend like an invisible hand will do everything, and the voting people of the country are just too dumb to understand. So they bury us under more debt, keep the lights on for a bit, and pretend like they actually did something. They have just sold the pearl of great price for a pittance, and called it helping.

And what do we get for our selling-out? What is the pay off from the IMF? Why to re-enter the sovereign bond markets. The same debt trap that caught us. We’re like an addict getting a loan not to eat or get back to work, but to buy more drugs. And that’s what the compradors class is consuming. Rich people in Colombo are back to driving their jeeps around, sending their children to school abroad, buying imported goods, throwing lavish birthday parties. I know because this is me (minus the latter) and these are my people. But we have to ask at what cost? And then look around at the masses of people around? How can you not see their suffering?

The masses of Sri Lanka have fallen into utter poverty. People are not eating. People are unable to send their children to school. Medical services are collapsing or unavailable. The ambulances have to be run by charity. Food is available but unaffordable. The comprador classes say that this is the bitter medicine we must follow to ‘discipline’ ourselves, but even economically, this is folly. This is the working class of the country — the people that do the work, even the export workers—and if they do not have energy forget the petrol. We cannot produce. We are not just starving our children, which is a human sin. We are destroying our productive capacity, which is economic folly.

People don’t ask what the IMF does to change our economic fundamentals — what got us into this mess — they just want to fill up their tanks and drive past the increasing number beggars. The IMF does not provide capital (productive capacity) and it certainly doesn’t care about workers (producers) and generally neglects agriculture. It just reintegrates us in the butt-end of capitalism, as a source of natural resources and cheap, completely exploitable (and exportable) labor. We have to look at the crisis we were in very simply. Sri Lanka simply did not produce enough foreign exchange for our foreign appetites.

We could solve this in two ways. We could industrialize to produce more exports, which would involve taking control of our natural resources and labor and getting capital (infrastructure) into our country. We would then need to protect these industries until they were competitive (as every ‘developed’ country did in their history, though not as they preach). We could also reduce our foreign appetites, primarily among the rich. That would mean producing more of what we need at home (import substitution), growing more of what we need to eat (food security), and living more efficiently (taking public transport instead of importing vehicles, improving public education instead of exporting students and their money). Of course none of this is of any benefit to colonizers new or old. They tell us to develop how they tell us, not how they actually did it. As Economist Ha-Joon Chang writes in his book Kicking Away the Ladder:

The nineteenth-century German economist Friedrich List (1789–1846) is commonly known as the father of the infant industry argument, namely, the view that in the presence of more developed countries, backward countries cannot develop new industries without state intervention, especially tariff protection. His masterpiece, The National System of Political Economy, was originally published in 1841.

Particularly striking to the contemporary reader are List’s analyses of Britain and the USA — the supposed homes of liberal economic policy. List argues that Britain was actually the first country to perfect the art of infant industry promotion, which in his view is the principle behind most countries’ journey to prosperity. He goes as far as saying that we should ‘let [whoever is not convinced of the infant industry argument] first study the history of English industry.’

This, of course, can be shown by looking at the past or even present economies of the colonial countries, which severely limit the movement of global labor (the only thing most people have to trade), subsidize their own industries, and openly sanction competitors. ‘Free trade’ just means free reign for them, but our comprador elites swallow this devoid dogma down like fools, and regurgitate it like it’s something to eat.

This is the tragedy of Sri Lanka. We declared political independence in 1948 but we have never declared economic independence. We briefly left the British domination (Dominion) in 1972, but then our unelected President’s uncle broke the backs of the trade unions and national industries in the 1980s, and then triggered multiple rebellions that killed off the best of our youth. And now we’re left with his wretched nephew, bringing the country to its knees. And the comprador class of Colombo, who calls our prostration ‘stability’.

I weep for my country. I can barely bring myself to write this, it is so humiliating and so sad. I can see so much sadness in my peoples eyes. I know so many children go to bed hungry and then I see my class indulging as before. As if nothing has happened. Something has happened. Sri Lanka has been colonized again. Last time our people rebelled, just as people in Europe rebelled, in 1848 and in 1857 the Indians rebelled as well. Those were all put down and in truth, even our independence was illusory.

Sri Lanka is not an independent country. We are ruled by a foreign currency with as much brutality as a foreign army. This latest incarnation of White Empire takes food out of children's mouths, imagination out of our adults’ brains, and it condemns our beloved country to ruin. We have to rise up not just for an election but for a rejection of this (already rejected) ruling class and these colonial institutions that bind us in the false flag of ‘democracy’ and ‘free trade’. They lied to us before and they lie to us now, just with different words. And now just as then, these words come out of brown mouths, our own compradors. We have been colonized for 400 years and it never stopped. We declared independence but it was never won. Just look at our beloved country. We don’t have one. Sri Lanka is colonized again, and to your and my humiliation, it’s on our watch.