October 19, 2022 Abdul Haqq

Jungle Book: 21st Century Colonialist Strategy

“The gardeners should take care of the garden, but they will not protect the garden by building walls. A nice small garden surrounded by high walls in order to prevent the jungle coming in is not going to be a solution. Because the jungle has a strong growth capacity, and the wall will never be high enough…

The gardeners have to go to the jungle. Europeans have to be much more engaged with the rest of the world. Otherwise, the rest of the world will invade us.” [1]

These incendiary comments from EU Policy Chief Josep Borrell, during his attendance at the informal EU Summit and Meeting on 7th October 2022, appear to have gone largely unnoticed or, as the case may be, underreported. It is therefore commendable that the UAE summoned the acting head of the mission, requesting an explanation for what it considered racist remarks.[2] Despite the brazenness of such comments, Borrell remains adamant that his comments were the precise opposite and devoid of colonial import. In contrast, his intended message was to encourage the European students he was addressing to engage with the wider world.[3]

Garden of Eden Europe?

The story of Eden is one well known among the Abrahamic faiths. Suffice it to mention the cause of Adam and Eve’s downfall; namely, their misguided pursuit of immortality, and while this has been memorialised in some cultures as romantic folklore, we continue to witness disturbing, Eurocentric, hegemonic narratives – like those abovementioned – using colonial and missionary type terminology to strategise against the non-white world:

“Slavery may have ended, but the next phase in Western supremacy was colonialism, built on the same principles of racial hierarchy and exploitation… The end of slavery dissolved into the colonial era of racial exploitation, which is still very much alive and well today.” [4]

Europe’s ‘garden’ flourished primarily as a result of the huge sacrifices of many whose blood was shed in order for us to reap the fruits we now benefit from. Among those who lost their lives alongside Britons included tens of thousands from Africa, India, the West Indies and a host of other regions comprising the Commonwealth:

“These campaigns cost the lives of over 87,000 Indian servicemen, while 34,354 were wounded, and 67,340 became prisoners of war.” [5]

To ignore or marginalise these efforts is to inflict a great disservice on the legacy of such heroes. Equally important is the memory of the hundreds of thousands of slaves upon the backs of whom western societies were built. Their own legacies constitute the foundation of most European societies so far as both infrastructure and generated wealth are concerned, not forgetting the exploitation, of other (non-white) peoples at the expense of what is commonly termed the Enlightenment:

“The greatest lie underpinning the Enlightenment is embedded in its name. Knowledge did not spread out of Europe to bring light to the uncivilized parts of the world. In fact, it was the very opposite: Europe took knowledge produced around the globe and Whitewashed it, pretending it was theirs.” [6]

The return of Tarzan to the ‘jungle’

Josep Borrell’s illustrative references to a garden and jungle are allegorically powerful, providing clear demarcations between whiteness and the ‘other’; in other words, Europe and the rest of the world. With societies becoming increasingly polarised across Europe, the Americas, Indian subcontinent and elsewhere, xenophobia continues to rear its ugly head. The resultant effect is fear and the targeting of minorities:

“The Covid-19 pandemic triggered an increase in racist and xenophobic incidents against national or ethnic minorities, including verbal insults, harassment, physical attacks, and online hate speech. The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) noted reports of racist incidents linked to the pandemic in most EU member states in February-March, particularly targeting people of or perceived to be of Asian origin, but also Roma, Muslims, Jews, asylum seekers, and people with disabilities.” [7]

The evocation of fear towards minorities is nothing new and has occasionally been popularised to reflect public sentiment. Juxtaposed with such fear is the introduction of the all-encompassing hero who provides reassurance that the status quo is reversible or indeed, that hegemonic stratagems will overcome the threat of the ‘other.’ Cue Tarzan:

“…the story of Tarzan is a white supremacist Eden parable, essentially a eugenics thought experiment: Could a white baby conquer Africa, were he deprived of the guns, germs, and steel that Europe had actually employed?” [8]

In case of any lingering doubt regarding the colonial, and therefore racist, undertones of this particular propaganda, the following should go some way towards reducing or eliminating it:

“He’s essentially a white-supremacist superhero. The implicit message is: “Put a white man in the jungle and he will rise to the top.” In Edgar Rice Burroughs’s racist-stereotype-filled fiction, Tarzan is not just king of the beasts, his superior Anglo-Saxon genes make him smarter, stronger and nobler than any native African he encounters.” [9]

Perhaps Borrell was reminiscing on Tarzan as a role model when recommending that his audience ‘go to the jungle.’ Regardless of his motive, such comments continue to be inflammatory.

Same Meat, Different Gravy

“The principal function of the UN has always been to aid the transition from the old system of imperialism to the new.” [10]

In view of the above observation, it is unlikely that similar organisations, like the EU and/or Borrell will do anything more than feign a tepid apology in an effort to maintain a veneer of diplomacy with those they have offended.  Nevertheless, an explanation and apology are required due to the severity of the comments and intimations behind them, which must surely serve as a wake up call to nation states that are over reliant on almost everything associated to these entities. Returning to the Enlightenment once again, it is important to acknowledge these particular organisations’ multifarious ambit to maintain a Western grip on former colonial powers:

“The Enlightenment was a product of the first stage of Western imperialism, with slavery and colonialism clearing the ground for its intellectual project. It then provided the intellectual bridge to the new age of empire, which maintains colonial logic but has clothed itself in the legitimacy of democracy, human rights and universal values. It is essential that we unlearn the distorted view of history that we have been conditioned into.” [11]

Gorillas in The Midst

It is also important for minorities residing in the West to realise the cyclical pattern of populism and xenophobia, together with the apparatus upon which they have been crafted, and how we continue to be ‘othered’. Institutionalised and systemically racist structures possess tentacles that extend across media, education and the arts (i.e. movies, museums to name a few). Each of these occasionally – but not always – work in tandem to evoke consistent and impactful messages (propaganda) when civil society becomes agitated towards the state. Crelinstein provides an analytical framework that:

“…views violence as a form of communication that interacts with other forms of social and political communication, whether by non- state actors or state actors. By looking at how terrorism and counter-terrorism fit into the wider context of social and political life, both at the national and the international level, the analyst can better understand how terrorism emerges from other social or political activity, how it can evolve into legal or nonviolent action, and how it can be but one tool in a political or social struggle that includes both violent and nonviolent tactics.” [12]

Kendi lucidly captures an example of how state legislated hysteria can cascade into the psyche of a population, initiating a process whereby other industries subsequently capitalise, while conversant with the government’s tacit approval: 

“On January 17, 1968… [a]fter three straight summers of urban rebellions, some of those applauding (President Johnson’s) speech, both in the Capitol and around the country, actually feared that a violent Black revolution could be on the horizon. And their fears were reflected in a new blockbuster film that broke box-office records weeks after Johnson’s address.

When White astronauts land on a planet after a 2,000-year journey, apes enslave them. One astronaut escapes, and in one of the iconic scenes in Hollywood history, at the end of the movie he comes upon a rusted Statue of Liberty. The astronaut – Charlton Heston – and the viewers realize with dismay that he is not light-years from home, but back on Earth.

Planet of the Apes took the place of Tarzan in racist popular culture, inspiring four sequels between 1970 and 1973, three more in the twenty-first century, a television series, and a host of comic books, video games, and other merchandise – you name it, the franchise produced it.

While Tarzan put on America’s screens the racist confidence of conquering the dark world that prevailed in the first half of the twentieth century, Planet of the Apes held up in full color the racist panic during the second half of the twentieth century of the conquered dark world rising up to enslave the White conqueror.” [13]

The final observation to be made in this regard is poignant:

“These films betray anxieties about White racial devolution and domination by non-Whites, a strong mistrust of forceful Black radical responses to oppression, as well as the necessity of explicit and central portrayals of White goodness and innocence.” [14]

Conclusion: Jungle Fever?

Jungle Fever is slang vernacular and means the following:

“A person’s preference for a sexual or romantic relationship that is interracial, especially the preference of a white person for a black partner.” [15]

A redefinition and magnification of this meaning into an overarching context insofar as it relates to the West’s insatiable appetite for everything foreign, especially African, might perhaps provide some explanation for its almost unyielding focus on global dominance.

That being said, it is imperative for  Africa to also endeavour changing the course of its exploitation – economic and otherwise – from former (as well as new) colonial powers and actively pursue complete independence. Colonial legacies continue to prevent sustainable development, however, it is incumbent upon African nation states to work to overcome these:

“The end of the last commodity boom from 2000-2014 and recent swings in world oil prices have once again brought to the fore one of the most important binding constraints to long-term growth and economic development in Africa – the lingering effects of colonialism… Several decades after independence, little has changed with Africa’s patterns of growth and trade.” [16]

Perhaps, the following could be the first step in reversing this longstanding challenge:

“Installing the right infrastructure to transcend the colonial legacy of extractivist models as been an intergenerational challenge. That challenge has persisted into the 21st century and must now be overcome to mitigate exposure to global volatility and expand employment opportunities… Perhaps by changing the structure of production to introduce the global demand for primary commodities and natural resources, Africa can rebalance the supply and demand equation in commodity markets and ultimately change the dynamics of world markets.” [17]






[1] Reuters: ‘UAE summons EU mission head to explain comments its says were racist,’ 18th October 2022: https://www.reuters.com/world/uae-rejects-racist-statement-by-eus-josep-borrell-state-news-agency-2022-10-17/

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Andrews, K: ‘The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World,’ https://amzn.eu/7IFwDIs

[5] Wikipedia: ‘The Indian Army during World War II’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Army_during_World_War_II accessed 19th October 2022

[6] Andrews, K: ‘The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World,’ https://amzn.eu/fdF0AZ8

[7] Human Rights Watch: ‘European Union, Events of 2020,’ HRW, 20th October 2020: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/european-union accessed 19th October 2022

[8] Bady, A: ‘The Only Good Tarzan is a Bad Tarzan,’ Pacific Standard, 14th June 2017: https://psmag.com/news/the-only-good-tarzan-is-a-bad-tarzan

[9] Rose, S: ‘From Tarzan to Avatar: the problem with the ‘white man in the jungle,’ The Guardian, 6th July 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/jul/06/why-the-white-man-in-the-jungle-film-wont-die

[10] Andrews, K: ‘The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World,’ https://amzn.eu/gdHdcgn

[11] Andrews, K: ‘The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World,’ https://amzn.eu/5XGyR6v

[12] Crelinstein, R D: ‘Analysing Terrorism and Counter-terrorism: A Communication Model’, Terrorism and Political Violence, volume 17, Spring/Summer 2005, Number 3: Online Publication Date: 22nd January 2002, p. 2

[13] Kendi, I X: ‘Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,’ https://amzn.eu/bn8J6vZ

[14] Watson, R L: “The Beast Within: Racial Representation and Reversals in the Planet of the Apes Reboot’, Taylor and Francis Online, Political Theology, Volume 22, 2021 –Issue 4: Speculative Fiction and Political Theology, p.1 Abstract, 19th May 2021: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1462317X.2021.1920220

[15] https://www.google.com/search?q=jungle+fever+meaning&client=safari&hl=en-sa&ei=ZzxPY-iGNI-5sAe8jqjIDg&oq=jungle+fever+&gs_lp=EhNtb2JpbGUtZ3dzLXdpei1zZXJwuAEB

[16] Fofack, H: ‘Overcoming the colonial development model of resource extraction for sustainable development in Africa,’ Brookings, 31stJanuary 2019: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2019/01/31/overcoming-the-colonial-development-model-of-resource-extraction-for-sustainable-development-in-africa/

[17] Ibid

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