“Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!”
On the morning of 31st August 1957, these enchanting words resounded through the Stadium Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur, marking Malaysia’s magical declaration of independence led by its first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman.
In the Malay language, “Merdeka” signifies independence or liberation, and in Malaysia, it specifically commemorates the nation’s freedom from British colonial rule.
Tunku Abdul Rahman spearheaded the efforts for Malaya’s (the country’s name prior to 1963) independence from British rule, and on 31st August 1957, the official proclamation of independence came to fruition. To this day, Malaysia celebrates its Independence Day, or “Hari Merdeka,” annually on this date to honor this momentous occasion.
Since then, Malaysia has flourished with remarkable progress and prosperity, witnessing substantial growth in terms of economy, industrialisation, infrastructure, social development, and tourism. It has remained free from direct occupancy, colonisation, and war.
However, amidst the absence of physical control and colonisation, the question arises: can a country truly be free from all forms of neocolonial influence?
Freedom from colonisation goes beyond the mere absence of military conflicts; it involves protecting a nation’s sovereignty on various levels.
Modern colonisation, known as neocolonialism, entails indirect control and influence by developed and powerful nations over less-developed countries. This subtle manipulation is achieved through economic policies, multinational corporations, and cultural imperialism, rather than outright physical dominance.
Economic dominance, for instance, occurs when powerful countries exert control over weaker nations through economic means. This may include resource exploitation, unfair trade agreements, and dependence on debt. For instance, the widespread use of the US dollar for international trade and financial transactions makes many countries susceptible to exchange rate volatility and US monetary policies, over which they have little influence.
The term “Banana Republic,” embodied by the eponymous clothing brand seen at malls, is an example of neocolonialism. It refers to politically unstable countries whose economies depend entirely on exporting a single product or resource, such as bananas, or minerals, and are controlled by foreign-owned companies. This exploitation often disregards fair income distribution and the welfare of the local populace, leading to environmental deterioration, societal instability, and economic inequality.
In the digital age, digital colonisation is another form of neocolonialism, where powerful countries or corporations from technologically advanced regions exert control over less-developed countries or communities through digital means. This includes technological dependency, data extraction, and unequal access to digital infrastructure and platforms.
Cultural colonisation occurs when dominant cultures impose their values, norms, and practices on other communities, eroding local cultural identities and expressions, posing significant dangers to the preservation of diverse heritage. This process can infiltrate various aspects of society, permeating through media, education, language, and the dissemination of globalized content. As the digital era advances, the threat of cultural erosion intensifies as digital platforms enable the swift and widespread transmission of foreign influences, potentially eradicating unique traditions and customs. The consequences of cultural erosion are obviously far-reaching, particularly in a country like ours, leading to the loss of distinctive cultural identities, undermining social cohesion, and compromising our very existence that thrives on its diverse and multifaceted cultures. It is therefore imperative for nations to recognize the dangers of cultural colonisation and take proactive measures to protect and celebrate their heritage, ensuring that the world remains an inclusive mosaic of cultural treasures.
Despite the potential consequences of neocolonisation, a proactive and educated approach can empower nations to protect their interests and collaborate on a global scale. Striking a balance between cautiousness and openness to constructive engagement with the international community is essential for mutual growth and development. Examples of such initiatives include, but not limited to, negotiating fair trade agreements with other countries, embracing sustainable development projects in collaboration with international organisations and developed nations, investing in technology transfer and capacity building, promoting and preserving Malaysia’s rich cultural heritage, and implementing measures to protect digital sovereignty.
As Malaysia celebrates her hard-fought independence, she must remain vigilant to safeguard its autonomy in a world where neocolonial influences continue to linger. Only through collective awareness and concerted efforts can the shadows of neocolonialism be cast away, ensuring a brighter and truly independent future for the nation.
By Ts. Dr.-Ing. Zarina Itam, Senior Lecturer and Head of Unit (External Relations) at Civil Engineering Department, College of Engineering, Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN)