Why are people still blaming colonialism for African poverty?8 min read
Because the legacy of colonialism is still responsible for it. The colonies were designed to extract money from Africa, not to give them a sound modern economy that would be self-sustaining. Then when the countries there got their freedom, it was just handed over quickly without building the infrastructure or economic systems necessary for a modern nation-state. If you take a bunch of tribal people who speak different languages and often have mutual hostilities, who have all been governed by a foreign power, and say, “Here — you’re a country now. Goodbye,” the results won’t be very good.
I know it sounds paternalistic, but it would have been better if the colonial nations had handed over responsibility a little at a time, and built the kind of structures necessary for the African nations to stand on their own two feet better before they left. But most of the colonizing nations had been ruined by World War II and and their own problems at home. So they just washed their hands of their colonies.
There is so much wrapped up in this simple question.
- What is poverty?
- What does colonialism entail?
- What is the current state of affairs of “Africa?”
- This won’t be a long answer, but one to which I hope others will add.
First, poverty. In the developed world, we often measure poverty in terms of money. We extend that to health – primarily nutrition and lifespan. The lack of means necessary to meet the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. However, traditional (pre-colonial) societies in most of Africa were not based on money. At best, they were barter economies. My personal experience in a village in West Africa was that most people had no money – zero, couldn’t even use “numbers” – but I didn’t consider them to be in poverty. They had food, clothing and shelter. I might not like the food, clothing and shelter they had, but they were able to live happy lives. There was a different concept of life, and death, while not welcomed, was accepted. Their life expectancy at birth was far less than in the developed world, but I never met anyone who said they wished they lived another 20 years. They would certainly have welcomed better health care to reduce pain and suffering while alive. There are places in Africa which suffer from drought and epidemics, but is that the same as living in poverty?
Colonialism was not simply an economic system (mercantilism). Rather, it was a complete disruption of societal structures as well as economic exploitation. Depending upon the colonial power, the society was ignored, destroyed, or replaced. The French replaced local culture with French culture. The British attempted a complete separation between local and colonial culture. In all cases, government structures were completely replaced (in most cases, “government” means local authority structures). The colonial power instilled a sense of enslavement: the African community existed for the colonizing power in all aspects. Structures which survived for thousands of years were destroyed. In some cases, this might have been a good thing: tribal wars were stopped. However, in some cases, wars which were ongoing feuds which resulted in few if any deaths were replaced by infrequent but catastrophic conflicts (due to the presence of new weapons and other “advances”). Economically, again, societal structures were destroyed: male/females roles were upended. Crops which sustained communities were replaced by products useful to the colonial power. The colonial power took the position of the parent (or slaveowner), taking care of the people as long as they could exploit them.
So now, fast forward to the expulsion of these colonial powers. Government and authority structures were destroyed. Agriculture didn’t meet the needs of the people. Infrastructure that was left behind could not be maintained. Most people were not accustomed to using money. Colonial powers left in different ways. The British and Dutch basically said goodbye and F-U. The French took a different approach, never really leaving. Rather, the French said, “you are now sort of French, so we will maintain our relationships.” They created trade agreements (ridiculous ones) that continue till today. (Like, any chocolate sold in Cameroun must go to France for processing). How long did it take the US to get its act together after removing the British? (I think we’re still working on it).
Africa. It’s not one country. When someone references ”America” do they include Canada, the US, and Mexico all together? The difference between the Ivory Coast and South Africa is huge. Sudan vs Sierra Leone? Nigeria vs Lesotho? The problems of each country are NOT transferable. Poverty in the urban areas is not the same as “poverty” in the rural areas. However, many of the problems in every colonized area can be traced back to the effects of colonialism. The need for better governmental structures, land reform, education, food production….all result from the destruction of traditional practices. We may judge the traditional practices as lacking compared with our own systems, but they were able to maintain order and civilization for thousands of years. They were destroyed.
Let met begin from the history of man, animal from time has been a competitive creature competing against each other for resources and survival. The strong and mightily build empires and the weak were defeated into captivity and slavery. Since resources are scarce humans have gone to war for water, arable land and resources and this have been happening since time.
Africa was colonised because of the above reasons as they compete for resources This made the relatively advance societies in Europe to expand into other terrorises and some of it was due to finding new route of trade, and spreading their influence over the globe.
In every process there is blood shed from the Islamic conquest which was bloodier than the crusade and colonialism as well however there are also the good side of such processes which is often at times not mentions. Let me highlight some of the benefits of colonialism in Africa
1. The colonisers introduced institutions (police, Army, Railway, Postal service, Schools, Hospitals, Taxation, Central government etc.) as without it a country would not exist as these channels follow a fully established constitutions where everybody is aware of their rights and role in a given country.
2. Varieties of new crops, farming methods, Poultry, Dairy farms, especially in Jos plateau where the first Veterinary institution was built in 1920s also, Vom Christian hospital was built at that time. Crops like Irish potatoes, peas, green beans, rice, sugar cane, rice, corn etc.
3. They brought electricity and one of the first hydro dam was built in my neighbourhood in Jos plateau
4. Railways were build and Nigeria still follow the Rail route by the British though Nigeria no longer have any working train and 99% of Nigerians travel by the road that’s why road accident is a daily routing.
5. African general health level was improved through vaccines while others were eradicated and this greatly lead to population explosion in Africa.
Africa is till blaming colonialism as if Africa was a paradise before colonisation started. After independence, most countries were handled to their natives in good shape but short time afterwards, conflict between tribes surfaces because Africa is too diverse with each ethnic group claiming dominance. And years after years without any meaningful progress they were however lectured why the European left-wing socialist to shift the blame to the colonial past.
Please We are the major cause of our abject poverty for failing to raise our populace out of it. Before any race can project into the abundant, they have to control their environment for example if there is no rain fall, they have to create aqueducts to transport water from the place of plenty to where it is needed and if you lack basic water technology, your populace will however suffer hardship and famine. Africa lacks basic technology meant to control ones environment examples are writing system, basic tools and the wheel.
I understand that blaming Colonialism makes us feel good and make us postpone the problem to another generation without prospect. Doing the same dame thing thousand times over without alternative is stupid. We the young generations should stop blaming the whites rather, we should learned from them and every system that works and see how it will be implemented.
Well, because if the shoe fits…
Seriously, centuries of slavery, followed by a policy of exploiting both the peoples and natural resources of every country on the continent except Ethiopia and Liberia for almost a century does leave a legacy that makes recovery difficult. It’s like asking why a reformed alcoholic still struggles: the disease leaves its mark on the body and mind.
Do the African peoples have the same obligation as all people all over the world to do the best they can with their own lives?
Absolutely. We’ve got one life to live and adulthood is accepting that the path one takes in life is one’s own and blaming parents or others is a waste of time. That doesn’t mean if one suffered growing up it doesn’t present challenges as an adult, it just means we each have to walk our own path and determine our own destinies as best we can.
Colonialism left Africans with many challenges: road systems that don’t link to other nations, making travel and trade with neighbors challenging. A mindset of subservience, sadly encouraged in too many places by more powerful locals, corruption fostered and maintained by foreign businesses and outside nations, widespread poverty and neglect. An abandonment of traditional ways in favor of Prosperity Gospel Christianity here in Nigeria, or Wahhabist Islam in the north.
Colonialism left marks still visible on both the landscape and peoples of Africa. It’s poisonous legacy is still present. But just like an adult who survived neglect or abuse in childhood, the scars of the past, while very real, cannot be allowed to determine the future. That is up to each of us, one day at a time.
Because it’s an easy explanation, and a way to avoid looking at reality as it is.
The reality is that Subsaharan Africa was like this before colonialism :
Subsaharan Africa trails behind the rest of the World for at least 3.000 years, it has never had writing, use of metals, two storey buildings, architecture, cities, established religions, etc etc ..
Now, European colonialism is supposed to be responsible for Subsaharan African poverty and backwardness of today ?
No, if anything, colonialism brought modern civilization, writing, building, medicine, knowledge, etc etc ..
But, Africa is still poor beaches no society can go from the Neolithic (like Europe 3.000 years ago) to the 21st century in just a few decades.
Civilization normally needs centuries to be built and to work properly.
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