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Colonialism and African Development

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A key debating point scored by colonizers against Africa is their claim that they made Africa see the light. The contention is that African states, prior to colonization lacked any formal system, hierarchy or structure. This allusion is of a haphazard state, order without order and in a state of anarchy. However, history gives a different story, providing proof that though African system was not written down on paper or in constitutions, there was order. Communal order was by implication and/or expression through the social units such as clans, age groups, family, culture and language among others. This paper is a fast forwarding of that situation, and seeks to find out whether colonialism made a path for the African nation’s development, or made African states lose bearing of their course.

Post colonialism or Modern colonialism

It is imperative to note that colonialism is not a period, but a concept. The colonialist entered Africa, but they have never left as Bobbi Syke comments.  Many African states appear to have two tiers of decision-making units: their duly elected government and another one called the colonial father or international standards. The steering of African development is constantly to a direction not contemplated by its people but one that meets a certain criterion. Colonialists never intended to leave Africa, and they remain the biggest beneficiaries of Africa frail economies and under-development. These colonialists still influence African politics and leadership. One of the strategies has been trade agreements based on colonial relationship. This trade agreements fall in favor of the colonial ruler. Colonialists also hijack international organizations mainly the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and influence the implementation of policies that end up sinking Africa into despair.  This is due to stake of the colonials and partly due to the selfish nature of African leaders. African has, therefore stagnated around the same point subject to this situation (Onwutalobi, 2009).

Colonial Contact and Africa’s Development

A prime consideration, when discussing Africa’s development, is a question of whose agenda it is and what ideology drives it. Colonial rules took away Africa’s values and replaced it with theirs. Africa’s contact with colonial masters was asymmetrical consisting of a strong and a weaker party. Assimilation was the next step, the French term mean absorbing Africans into the colonialist’s agenda and ideals. This marks the start of Africa’s problem since it espouses foreign agendas.

In furthering their assimilation agenda, colonialists took away Africa’s pride, dignity and values. Anarchy was the result of tramping on Africa’s affluent heritage, followed by Africa’s deprivation of a chance to develop their nations on the platform of their own values. Clearly, the central point of Africa’s development problem is not solely on lack of resources, but their utilization. This may seem to result from Africa’s inability to use its resources well. However, scrutiny indicates that colonialists gain from Africa’s resources. The case of gold in DRC and the foreign funding on the ethnic war is a perfect example.

It is erroneous to associate Africa’s development challenges to the colonial period’s exploitation and presence per se. It has to do with a phenomena or concept from the colonial period that persists to the modern day. Recall that, a prominent problem that bedevils Africa’s development agenda is the lack of an ideology. This would see Africa follow its endeavors to a unified conclusion, determination and consistency. A society that is in value dilemma and is almost valueless is devoid of an ideology; it lacks a common spirit that drives its conquest. This is the result of colonial bullish and obtrusive approach to Africans. Africa, as a result, lags behind because its people are at increasing pains in finding concurrence on a development agenda. As a result, most African states endeavors are in fragments; the colonialist planted their ideals and forced Africans to disown their interest for the master’s interest. The contention is that maybe African is better off in finding its way into modernity rather than blindfolding it under threat and compulsion (Williams, 2012).

Legacy of the Colonial Period

This is the summation of carried forward colonial approaches, policies and styles of governance that were a bequest to the African leaders after independence. The basis of colonial governance is not choice or will, but the masters, forcefully introduced new institutions, requirements, value, techniques and principles. This style of leadership was non-consultative. Modern African leaders have excelled in upholding this legacy, in the form of the late Muamar Gadaffi of Libya and Mobutu Seseseko of DRC among other leaders (Alemazung, 2010),  This has been a veritable hindrance to development under dictatorial regimes. Another legacy of the colonialist’s that continues to sink Africa’s development dream into the mud is ethnic divisions. A major source of under-development in Africa is low capital formation and lack of attractiveness to foreign investment. The cause is because of high instability in many African states (Onwutalobi 2009).

Colonial legacies may take another form of determining a path that the colonial state takes after independence. The implication is that colonial or pre-independent choices are a conditioning of future choices. Choices such as the cash crops introduced by colonial rulers remain difficult to abandon. The cost of changing from these paths is expensive. The indication is simply that colonial choices impact strongly on postcolonial choices in the case of African states (Austin, 2010).

Western Patronage and Imbalance

After independence, colonial rulers continued to patronize African states using brainwashing techniques. It is critical to note that many postcolonial leaders were beneficiaries of foreign education, and quite a number progress their master’s agenda. The increase in dependence on foreign aid is an indicator of this client-patron relationship. These clients of the patronizing masters place their countries interest second to the colonialists. Evidence of this abound under foreign investments agreements, whereby, western nations continue to exploit Africa’s labor in EPZs. African governments cannot enforce labor laws against western companies to avoid hurting their masters (Chiriyankandath, 2007).


Western and African contact started with the slave trade, which saw transportation of Africans oversees to work as cheap labor and property. After the struggle and partition of Africa, colonial rulers looted and exploited all valuable resources to enrich their nations. Africans provided cheap labor. In their presence, the colonial ruler imposed regulations on Africans to abandon some indigenous food and grow cash crops such as coffee, pyrethrum, tea among others. Recall, that one economic explanation of Africa’s frail economy is it's immense dependence on agriculture.

Another field of apparent exploitation includes bio-colonialism, in which colonial powers use native environmental wealth, to further their economic gains. Such encroachments affect the natural habitats and have lead to extinction of some species (Marker 2003).

Conditions on Foreign Aid and Vested Economic Interest

After independence, the western nations had to reorganize and draft proposals that would assure them of continued control of Africa. There was fear of encroachment from the Eastern block of China, Japan among others. This is evident from the European Union agreement to invite African states in their trading block to secure Africa’s resources. Later on, the colonial rulers started banks such as the European Development Bank to lend money to African states. However, this aid is a lure to the poor nation, to grant the colonial nations access to resources and offer a cheap market. On the other hand, the aid has some conditions requiring the change of policies. Such aids include the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) (Dengakecdenng 2007).

In conclusion, Africa’s relationship with the west nations started on the wrong footing of the slave trade, however, over three decades, Africa is still the poorest and under-developed continent. While this is not an entire blame on colonial presence until today, it has served a critical role. It is fair to acknowledge that the shortcomings of African leadership, corruption allegations and lack of foresight play a leading role in Africa’s under-development state. However, a summation of all effects of colonialism has complimented these internal factors to ensure that Africa remains the most under-developed in the 21st century.

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