Yvonne Owuor: A Dirge for Europe

yvonne owuor

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Kenyan writer and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, was recently the keynote speaker for an international digital conference titled “Colonialism as shared history: Past, Present, Future.” Owuor ‘s keynote was titled “Derelict Shards: The Roamings of Colonial Phantoms” and addressed “shared” colonial trauma.

Notable in the keynote were her eschatological inquiries into Europe’s culture of death, framed by two contemporary events that showed immense disregard for human life and suffering. The first context informing her paper was the “grotesque, public lynching of the human being, Mr. George Floyd” whereas the second instance was a commentary from the June 2017 World Bank’s Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, where the “would-be vampires” (the investor nations of the EU, the U.S. and Japan) were floating oversubscribed bonds that would capitalize from future “pandemic-caused mass deaths, primarily in Africa” in the “commodification of anticipated African suffering”.

Owuor claimed to have a “visceral disgust” for contemporary neocolonialism. She likened it to a “dirge” and an “introit for a requiem” and claimed that this was the moral decay of a “400-year-old cultural mindset” that lacked the foundational values of being human.

Aimé Césaire famously said that “no one colonizes innocently, that no one colonizes with impunity either; that a nation which colonizes, that a civilization which justifies colonization – and therefore force – is already a sick civilization.” Here, he reminds us that the very idea of shared history has to begin with the “collection and collation of memory to come to terms with the violent past.” For Owuor, the macabre story of the pandemic bonds offered a “perfect condensation of the essential character of the European imperialism and colonization project.” Owuor argued that the shared aspect in the past, present, and future of colonialism is trauma which endures through “colonialism as continuity.” Rejecting the idea of a “shared history” Owuor likened colonialism to a psychopath’s violent overtaking of a happy family’s home, the decimation of its members, and the profiteering of the family’s suffering and material resources. Such violence, she argues, breaches the “violation of the covenant of human relationality and dignity.” While such violence cannot be easily reconciled, she suggests that excavating the memories is the starting point to begin the difficult work of confrontation, reflection, and reparations for 400 years of plunder and pillage.

Watch the full keynote here: https://lisa.gerda-henkel-stiftung.de/sharedhistory_keynote_owuor