Throughout history, the Europeans have constantly oppressed the African people, from slave trade to colonization. In the late 1800s, major European powers began to go through a second imperialistic phase, ending with the colonization of the African continent. The English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and other European nations formed colonies in Africa in order to exploit their resources and make a profit. Colonization in the late 19th century and early 20th century by major European powers has caused damaging effects on the critical political, economic, and social development of the conquered indigenous people which still affects them today.
By the early 1900s, European powers eventually conquered almost all parts of Africa, excluding only a few Northern African countries such as present-day Ethiopia and Liberia. The European imperialist push into Africa was motivated by three main factors: economic, political, and social gains. In the eyes of the Europeans, African nations were seen as a source of wealth due to their many natural resources. After the Europeans had used up the raw materials of their other overseas colonies, they turned to Africa in the 1880s. After the conquest of African states, the Europeans set up colonial state systems (Iweriebor). Upon conquering these nations, the Europeans did little to advance African society; the lack of government infrastructure, artificial borders, poor trade economy, and infringement on the development of cultural identity caused by colonization, all hindered the natural growth of Africa into their current state today.
Many Sub-Suharan African countries today have weak and corrupt governments with inadequate infrastructure, in part due to the effects of colonialism. Almost all state institutions in Africa are less developed and politically stable than the those in Europe and North America. Sandra Marker explains the effects of a release from foreign rule, writing “newly independent governments often lacked governmental institutions, good governance skills, and the governing experience needed to rule their newly sovereign nations...the transition from colonial province to independent state was a violent and arduous journey”. Colonialism has provided a surplus of impediments on the development of these countries, and leaders have opted to use corrupt practices in order to gain power and control. According to Transparency International, today, Africa is considered one of the world's most corrupt places. Out of the top ten most corrupt places in the world, six are in Sub-Saharan Africa (Hanson). While other countries had been developing in their natural way for a long period of time, many African countries including Niger, Madagascar, and Chad only gained their independence in 1960. Many of Africa's governmental problems including the rampant issue of corruption can now be understood due to a strong link to colonialism. Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, explained, “weak government structure and lack of accountability is fueling corruption in Africa” (Jumoke). The weak governments caused by colonialism has caused corruption to increase in present day African countries.
The economies of African countries have been negatively impacted by colonialism as well. These impacts have even affected African economies today as illustrated by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson: “The immense economic inequality we observe in the world today is the path-dependent outcome of a multitude of historical processes, one of the most important of which has been European colonialism”. Much of Europe was developing rapidly in the 1880s due to the concurrent Industrial Revolution, and thus, the “Scramble for Africa” began as Europeans needed the raw materials that Africa could offer (Settles). Upon forming colonies, the Europeans tailored the African nations to exclusively export the materials they needed back to them. John Settles explains,
“Colonial powers instituted trade controls that limited colonial imports to those from the
colonizing power and restricted exports to that same market. This reduced the freedom of
choice in marketing goods that was previously available to commodities producers.
Taking this power away under the guise of colonial development made traditional rulers
weaker because their power base was destroyed. Since Africans were not allowed to
improve their methods or to market their goods freely, they were forced into the colonial
The trade markets created were solely for the purpose in letting European countries gain more wealth, and the African economy was able to be improved under colonial rule. After gaining independence, many large colonies were broken into smaller countries. The smaller countries did not produce as much agricultural products as they had before due to the lower demand which weakened their economies. For example, in colonies that were once all cohesively ruled by France, “The interior states of Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali did not have access to the lucrative cocoa market that tided Cote D\'Ivoire through the first precarious days of independence” (Settles). The breakup of larger groups made it harder to distribute and gain necessary resources for the market as international relations between countries were weak.
The natural social development of Africa has also been hindered in many ways. The colonial states kept their power by creating policies that often violated the basic human rights of the indigenous people. This has had a strong effect on modern African countries; for example, Marker writes,
Today, many post-colonial and post-Soviet governments have adopted unjust colonial
practices and policies as a means to preserve their dominant status. Human-rights
violations, including horrific events of mass murder and genocide, can be found in
postcolonial and post-Soviet states such as Cambodia, Rwanda, Kosovo, El Salvador, and
This illustrates the negative effect colonialism has had on the development of the social policies of the leaders of these African countries. If these countries had not been introduced to colonial practices, perhaps there would be less issues with human rights. In addition, Gerald Alfred of the University of Victoria also argues that “there is a direct relationship between government laws and policies applied to indigenous peoples and the myriad mental and physical health problems and economic deprivations.” In colonized states, the lack of a strong cultural identity and historical traumas due to total psychological and financial state dependency have obstructed healthy mental and physical developments..
The weak government institutions and healthy social relations between religious groups has been clearly illustrated in Chad which was previously under French colonial rule. An article states, “Two years after becoming a republic, Chad achieved independence on August 11, 1960. The prime minister at the time, François Tombalbaye, thus became the first president of a country that deteriorated rapidly into civil war between the Muslim north and the Christian-majority south” (“1960: The year of independence”). Because of the social divisions caused in part by colonialism, Chad immediately fell into a civil war. In addition, Nigeria, which was colonized by England, also experienced many problems after gaining independence. As soon as they were liberated in late 1954, the harsh ethnic and religious divisions caused by colonialism immediately caused intense political instability (“1960: The year of independence”). The weak government infrastructure and lack of democracy has clearly hindered the growth of Nigeria.
While the majority of the impacts due to colonialism were negative, there were some positive effects. As illustrated before, colonialism introduced organized government into African society which caused more people to learn about democracy; however, the Africans have done little to support democracy. This has developed into a major problem in Africa today because there is a lack of strong democratic governance. In addition European involvement among Sub-Saharan African countries also allowed cultural diffusion including a spread of education, art, literature, and more. Africans become \"educated\" in the European sense. Although some see this as good, others argue that Europeans merely forced their culture upon the Africans, not allowing the unique African culture to flourish under their dominance. “During the colonial era, many European colonizers took a paternalistic view of the native culture. They saw themselves as acting in the best interests of these people. This attitude destroyed traditional beliefs and social values, however, and had a negative effect on colonized populations” (Mueller). The Europeans at the time advocated Social Darwinism and used racial ideology to support their unethical actions.
The colonization of Sub-Saharan Africa by European countries such as England, France, and Spain, has caused major negative effects, and present day African countries, upon gaining independence, are still dealing with the consequences. When these colonies gained independence, many countries struggled to succeed after being under direct leadership for decades. Due to a prior total state dependency on European powers, the African countries had weak and unstable governments and struggled with problems like corruption. Colonization has weakened the economy and has also caused many social problems in African countries including racial discrimination and genocide caused by prejudiced colonial practices and mindsets.
If colonialism had not affected African countries, these nations would most likely have progressed in their natural ways to create more stable economies and developed better governments. With weak governments, some African people have used corrupt practices to gain power to fill the power vacuum left behind after gaining independence. Today, there are many problems in Africa ranging from war to famine and hunger. On May 30th, 2017, the U.S. military decided to send in special military forces to countries in Africa due to the lack of stable governments, including Somalia and Libya, where there are extremist groups threatening to take control (Vandiver). This clearly illustrates that the current issues in Africa pose a major global problem, and these problems have yet to be solved. Some of the cases centering around the unstable governments can be linked to historical colonialism, and understanding the roots of these problems is a step in the right direction to solving these now global issues.
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