Nelson Maldonado-Torres affirms that we “breath coloniality all the time and every day”. The following events, historical figures and scientific examples challenge common “knowledge” and decolonize it.
1.Today, the most famous and widely used world map is the Mercator map (cylindrical map projection) created by cartographer and geographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. This world map was used until the 2010s by Google Maps, now Google and most online mapping apps use the Web Mercator projection. We do not need to present it because you probably know it by heart. Most common maps, including the Mercator map, show the Northern Hemisphere at the top and the Southern Hemisphere at the bottom. They also show Europe in the center. They grossly exaggerate the polar regions, which tends to enlarge the area of countries in the Northern Hemisphere and reduce the area of regions near the equator, such as Africa and Central and South America.
|The map below gives you a very different perspective of the world. It is based on the Natural Earth projection introduced by Tom Patterson in 2011. What might surprise you the most is that the Southern Hemisphere is at the top. Where is Europe? For once, it does not appear in the center. Instead, we clearly see Australia and lots of water! The Earth is really the blue planet. Last but not least, this map projection is a compromise between conformal (local preservation of angles, like the Mercator projection) and equal area projections (preservation of area measurements). The poles are not as grossly exaggerated, but Africa and South America are still bigger than they appear on this map.
Cartography, as all scientific disciplines, makes choices about what is valid and important to display and how to displayed it. Maps are a representation of the world and are defined by the worldview of their authors. It is possible to reveal the underlying assumptions. In the case of the Mercator map, the assumptions go back to the colonial times, when this map was made. It conveys eurocentrism, the superiority of the North over the South, and the minimization of the global South, mainly South America and Africa. Maps were used as a form of political control and domination. There are many ways to describe and relate to the world, and the choices of the decolonized map are as valid as the Mercator map projection.
 Cartography and all scientific disciplines have blind spots. For example, ancient European maps did not show the new continent even though it existed and it was inhabited.
 In any case, a 2D map of the Earth will have inaccuracies as it attempts to display a 3D irregular ellipsoid shaped planet like the Earth. That is, something will be inevitably distorted.
2. Now that we have questioned the world map, why not review a historical fact, the discovery of America by Christopher Colombus on October 12,1492.
|This date marks a milestone in “universal history”, but not for the newly discovered “America”. How could the continent have been discovered if people had already been living there for thousands of years? The notion of “discovery” invisibilizes the local cultures, knowledge and history. But this is not the only surprising detail. Astoundingly, the continent is still named after Amerigo Vespucci, who arrived after Christopher Columbus and realized that it was a new continent from the European point of view.. The whole continent still bears the name of a colonizer with no connection to its actual inhabitants.
This date is a milestone for many Indigenous peoples, not as the “discovery” of “America” but as the beginning of the globalization of racism and capitalist economic relations. Supporting their view, the IPCC’s sixth report (AR6) this year asserts for the first time that colonialism is a historical and ongoing driver of the climate crisis. In this sense, October 12, 1492 is a landmark event in “universal history”.
3. Let us consider two renowned and beloved figures of what we call “universal history”.
|Victor Hugo (1802-1885) was a French writer and politician. He contributed enormously to literature with timeless themes such as love, compassion and the dignity of the human person. Some of his most famous novels are Notre-Dame de Paris and Les Misérables. Victor Hugo was a renowned politician and humanist whose call for social justice in France cost him exile.||Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is considered one of the greatest and most influential physicists of all time. A genius. His most famous contribution is his theory of general relativity, and his equation E=mc2 is one of the most well-known equations. He was born in Germany and was Jewish. While visiting the United States, Hitler came to power and Einstein eventually settled in the United States.|
|On closer inspection, Victor Hugo’s humanism had its limits. At the end of his life, during a banquet in honor of the abolition of slavery (which he supported), he declared:
This was not his only statement about Europe’s superiority over Africa.
 May 18, 1879. More information: https://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/afrique/culture-africaine/quand-victor-hugo-defendait-la-colonisation-de-l-afrique_3402337.html
|Albert Einstein was also a humanist. Despite the extensive historical coverage of his life, little is known about his outspoken opposition to racism and about his relationship with figures in the African American civil rights movement. He defended and campaigned, both inside and outside of court, for the wrongly accused (he even offered himself as a witness at trials). At a rare and exceptional speech at one of the first black colleges, he said:
While the media did not cover his plea, the FBI followed it closely: Einstein’s communications and home were tapped and 1,500 pages compiled about his anti-racist support.
Their engagement, each in their own century and period of time, for or against colonialism and racism has been historically invisibilized. This is called historical ignorance and it is not an accident.
4. Every now and then, but particularly at Christmas, we hear again how privileged we are and that we have a responsibility to help a child in the global South, especially in Africa. Some governmental and non-governmental organizations and the medias call to feed Africa because people are starving.
|There is terrible hunger in certain parts of Africa, which has worsened with Covid-19 and is worsening with the climate crisis.. There is also hunger in parts of Latin America and Asia. But for now, let us move beyond the monolithic and simple understanding of hunger in Africa. What is left unacknowledged?
Unacknowledged are the voices, the capacities, the knowledge of all the peoples of a huge, diverse and rich continent. First, Africa alone possesses 65% of all the remaining arable land in the world. Africa Development Bank President, Akinwumi Adesina, acknowledges that, given the percentage of the world’s arable land in Africa, “what Africa does with agriculture will determine the future of food in the world”. Second, indigenous grains, such as millet, fonio and sorghum, are more nutritious (iron, zinc, phosporus) than imported foreign grains. They are also resistant to semi-arid or even arid climates. Third, imported wheat and maize are not indigenous to Africa; they have become the dominant grains in some African countries due to the influence of competitive tariffs (subsidies from exporting countries in the global North) and colonial notions that indigenous grains are the “poor man’s food”.
Unacknowledged is the neocolonial influence of the global North on many former colonies and beyond. To cite just one example, consider French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to several African countries in July of this year to reassert European influence. In Guinea-Bissau, Macron promoted the eco, the new currency that will replace the current currency (CFA franc) in several African countries. It will not be that different from the previous currency… since it willl remain pegged to the euro. It will be operated on a fixed exchange rate, which will still prevent African countries from having an independent monetary policy. France will keep the role of guarantor, which will allow it to wield power over the reserves. Macron also spoke of maintaining French military presence, among other “cooperations”. The day before, in Benin (a former French colony until 1960), Macron decried Russia “as one of the last imperial colonial powers”, while his own tour agenda was full of (neo)colonial practices.
To consider the peoples of Africa, and the global South, solely as victims in need of help is to assign them a position of inferiority. This perspective invisibilizes the knowledge, history, voices and capacities of those on the frontlines. Coloniality is an impasse that does not allow for the action of the global South and does not allow for the historical responsibility of the global North. Only by breaking this impasse can we find coherent and holistic solutions to the climate crisis, and other overlapping crises.