As a person of Arab origin and identity, I always found it fascinating how every arabic-speaking country has its own dialect, and even more so, the fact that some of these dialects sound like completely different languages to me. One of these is the North African Arabic dialect, specifically Tunisian, Moroccan, and Algerian dialects which sound very French to me. There is a significant amount of French influence in these dialects of Arabic, mainly due to French colonialism in the region.
In the 19th century and before the “Scramble for Africa”, many European countries sought to obtain a bigger slice of the pie by colonising African countries and implementing policies that benefited themselves. European states pursued policies of exploitation in many realms, including economy, labor, and agriculture(citation). Seeing as the French had been present in North Africa for over a century, I begin to wonder in what other ways, besides language, have they affected life in the region. Thus, my research question is: in what ways has French colonialism affected the development of North African Arab countries? My thesis will support the argument that French colonisation has significantly slowed the economic capabilities of these countries, fostered a lack of identity, consequently leading to political instability.
It is in the nature of colonialism to not allow the native people much say in how their economy, or anything for that matter, is conducted. While under French colonisation, the French set up the native class structure in a way that benefited them, but disadvantaged the native people (Kamara 110). A middle class in the French colonies, which is essential to many successful economies today, was almost non-existent. There was an enormous gap between the small group of elites (white colonists) who controlled all resources and working class which comprised of illiterate natives (Kamara 110). It is hard to believe that the French were innocent in forging this reality; as a colonising power, they never made any attempt change this norm, and in fact supported its maintenance for its own benefit. We can confirm France’s willingness to sacrifice the interests of the native population for its own personal welfare when we look at its economic policies. For example, French colonies were often forced to trade with France alone (Agbor 5). This shielded the colony from exposure to an international market and created a lack of experience in the world economy, which way explain why economies like that of Algeria and Morocco are weak today. Under French colonisation, the indigenous population was intentionally kept weak and uneducated which fostered its economic downfall even after achieving independence.
Another major effect on the colonies of the French is in regards to national and ethnic identity. We have already mentioned how the French language has slowly penetrated itself into the local Arabic language. However, we have not spoken about how the French attempted to “civilize” North African arabs through Christianity, much like other European colonial powers tried to do with other parts of Africa (Bensaid 4). Surely, this alienation had noteworthy effects on the identity of Algerians, Moroccans, and Tunisians. This attempt to convert North Africans to Christianity represents the slow decline of local culture in general while under colonisation. Identity is an integral part of how coherently a nation is able to sustain itself, both economically and politically.
French colonisation has had an overall negative effect on its colonies’ economic development and sense of personal identity, which has overall aided in the forging of political instability in the region. Many may argue that those parts of Africa were already underdeveloped and lacking economically. While this is true, there were many other parts of the world that was living backward at the time, such as parts of South America and Asia, but those areas were able to persevere and improve their economic and political situations nonetheless.
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