Sweden’s Colonial Past

In a very interesting piece for Africa Is A Country Blog (the one “that’s not about famine, Bono, or Barack Obama”), Swedish journalist Johan Palme points out that there seems to be a strong recent interest in the Colonial past of Sweden. Because despite what our history classes told us, of course there was.

He talks to historian David Nilsson who says:

“It is true that Swedish interests in Africa were only marginal at the time, and Sweden remained a minor player. But qualitatively I see no distinct line between Sweden and other countries,” he says. “Sweden went to Berlin as a peer among nations, accepted and condoned the proceedings. It was a political justification of a social process that had already begun as Swedish officers and missionaries were already taking part in the colonization of Africa.”

I remember my first visit  to the Ghanaian tourism site, the Cape Coast castle, where slaves were kept in waiting for transport overseas and being horrified when told that Swedes first established a trade point here. “First the Swedes, then the Danes, Portuguese and Brits…”, the guide went on with a monotone voice. I was confused, but my mouth was already talking:

– But the Swedes were never involved in slave trade, right?

The guide glanced over at me and did not have to respond. I got it. The feeling was chilling.

Palme debates why this colonial discussion is now appearing on several fronts  and concludes interestingly that the apparent newfound guilt is maybe merely a fashion and nothing deeper like wanting to understand our history fully:

“Rather than radically re-engineering its [Sweden’s] relationships internationally, perhaps it [looking into the colonial past] is a mere cosmetic paint to appear good again, good by today’s standards.”

A good, and chilling, read!

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