Extraction and Environmental Injustices: (De)colonial Practices in Imbolo Mbue’s How Beautiful We Were
Keywords:oil extraction, epistemology, environmental injustice, Tropical Africa, decolonial, neocolonial, slow violence, Imbolo Mbue
Environmental degradation, climate crises, and ecological catastrophes effect the countries of the tropics distinctly from those of the Global North, reflecting the ramifications of colonial capitalist epistemes and practices that sanction extraction, commodification, and control of tropical lands and peoples. Imbolo Mbue’s How Beautiful We Were (2021), set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, bears witness to the history and presence of ecological disaster in the African tropics through issues related to extractivism, environmental injustices, and structural racism that are ongoing under the mask of capitalist progress and development. Mbue, a Cameroonian-American novelist, recounts Kosawa’s decades-long struggle against the American oil company Pexton. This article focuses on the critical aspect that Mbue’s discourse reveals—that there is a need to map environmental injustices with other forms of structural injustices and the prevalence of neocolonialism and its manifestations through racial, economic, and epistemic practices. The article further explicates how the ordinary people of Kosawa become subjected to “slow violence” and “testimonial injustice” and foregrounds the necessity of “epistemic disobedience” demonstrated in the novel through the madman’s intervention and Thula’s sustained resistance to the exploitative agendas.
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