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I am an Imperial Lord

I was 19 and I was in a market in Malawi. There were a lot of poor Malawians there – dollar a day poor. They were selling things. Things were very cheap and because I had some money (a lot of money for a Malawian) I had a great power over the sellers in the market. I could really call the shots as they needed what I had but I didn’t really need what they had. 

I thought about this power that I had. I was only 19 and I was around people much older and hardier than myself and yet I was the lord of all. I had never experienced such power before and it greatly troubled me. I thought about how I had come to attain such power with no action of my own. I had wanted to come and be among the people in Malawi, to help them, not lord over them. How did I end up in the exact situation opposite as to what my will intended?

I thought about what made me rich and them poor. I was born in Scotland, a rich country. Why was Scotland rich and not Malawi? Scotland has advanced technology and infrastructure. Why? Because in the past we stole stuff from countries like Malawi in order to build our countries up and lord it over everyone else in the world. Malawi was still catching up after being oppressed during colonialism. So it wasn’t my fault. It was the fault of my country’s former Imperial practises. Good. I was guilt free.

I went to buy a t-shirt. The guy said – 10 dollars. I said – you’re joking me, more like 10 cents. He laughed and said – ok, five dollar. I shook my head. He smiled and said – ok, ok, one dollar. I said – 30 cents. He said -70. I said – 40. He said – 50. I said – ok.

I showed my fellow Scottish international volunteers my purchase. Only 50 cents – I said. 50 cents!? – they said – You could have got it for 20!

It was then I realised that the reason that we were rich and they were poor was more than just our lamentable Imperial past. More than just lack of infrastructure. More than corruption. More than just war. More than just disease.

We were rich because they were poor. They were poor because we were rich.

I could have paid almost anything for that t-shirt and could have easily afforded the 10 dollars that the man originally demanded, even if he was chancing his arm. But I didn’t need to pay that much, so I didn’t. I wouldn’t be made a fool of by this salesman just because he thought I was an ignorant white mzungu with money coming out my nose. If I just went around paying 10 dollars for things when I could pay 20 cents, I would no longer be the rich one. I would end up poor like them.

I couldn’t afford a cigarette, a cup of coffee, a hamburger, and a car, if I ended up poor like them.

And we cannot end up like them. For we are the civilised ones. We bring Culture; we bring Capitalism; we bring Christianity. They are still developing. Infant barbarians. Noble savages. It will take time for our wealth to trickle down south. Then they can join the dinner table with the adults.

Though it is true, try and admit it. We are the masters. I am an Imperial Lord.  

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