Problems and legacies of Colonialism


Problems and legacies of Colonialism

There is no doubt that colonialism produced in Africa consequences far beyond the period when alien rule was terminated. Those impacts are so deep, and the consequences so eroding on the social fabric of the African society that it is now convenient to label such as colonial legacy or heritage. Colonialism may not have completely transformed African society and people but it did not exactly leave Africa the manner it met it.


Background to the Problems and Legacies

It is only logical that before we can reasonably discuss the problems and legacies of colonialism that we settle or agree on a point of departure. It seems convenient that we commence from the period of independence, using 1960, African year of independence, as a base year. What we now call colonial legacy took the colonial powers more than a century to plant and nurture; it was only when the forces of nationalism made colonial business a more risky enterprise that colonial powers took steps to firmly root the crumbing pillars of alien rule in the consciousness of the African people. What most people now refer to as the history of colonialism is the drama of the Europeans who were eager to come to

Africa but were reluctant to leave. But the real history of colonialism did not stop or terminate in 1960, or any other year, but its unbroken chain continued after wards, and have been sustained in many forms as the colonial heritage. Close to half a century after “Africa year”, there is no denying the fact that the influence of colonialism  on Africa remains crippling. In the post-colonial era African leaders could not sustain the euphoria of anti-colonial colonialism , and failed to convert it into a rallying platform to build a nation out of colonially created artificial boundaries.

Why this was so can be explained from the factor of colonialism which transformed Africa from a purely traditional, to a quasi-modern societies, in which traditional authority exercised by chiefs was displaced, and replaced with charismatic, or achievement oriented legitimacy, claimed by educated nationalists; who eventually took over from the Europeans. But history has shown that charismatic legitimacy tends to emerge during period of national crisis, which is comparable to the period of African struggle for independence. However, this created a major challenge for the immediate post-colonial era due to the failure of African leaders to sustain the nationalist euphoria and transform it into an adhesive or sinew to forge a new national identity.

The colonial powers were deliberately hesitant, partial and reluctant to prepare African colonies because of the need to preserve and safeguard their interest. What the skewed negotiation for independence between the Africans and the Europeans produced was a post-colonial state, with over developed bureaucracy relative to other political institutions. This distorted state structure, gave birth to new brands of coercive organs like the police and military which though served colonialism  so well, but was not suitable for Africa (Smith 2003).

Political Legacy

When the former colonies emerged as independent states, they found themselves composed of varieties of tribes, social structures and cultures that were emotionally distant from one another. By extension postcolonial states were weak political entities, invested with political independence but lacked the muscles to assert their sovereignty. These states were new to independence and power, but were anxious to prove the legitimacy of their national interests. Forging these diverse people into a single nation was not easy because it required more than geographic proximity. The citizens of these states were naturally oriented almost entirely towards their sub-national groups and were loosely identified with their new country or its government. More often than not, an African country becomes an independent state without a nation to provide a foundation. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has within its borders at least ten major ethnic groups, among which the pull of centrifugal forces led to a civil war in the 60s, and is still potent today.

This failure of groups within states in Africa to pull together is also due to the fragmenting impact of colonialism . Berman (1984) noted that the policy of “divide and rule” “obstructed the development of alignments on a national scale by encouraging identification with ethnicity and locality. He argues that this factor persisted into the post-colonial period and became a major source of “destabilizing political conflict”. Also,

African states have grafted the British parliamentary and the American inspired presidential systems into their political structures, but it has not produced comparable success. This reason for the failures is that Africa has uncritically embraced what is foreign irrespective of whether it is suitable for African political climate.

Economic Legacy

Since we have largely identified colonialism  with the economic interests of the Europeans, it is therefore not a surprise that its impact is more visible here. Colonialism created a dual economy in Africa, two economic systems co-existed within the society, but one was disarticulated, or not connected with the other: the village subsistence economy which served local needs, and the modern economy which fed the needs of international commerce.

This has resulted in contemporary African economy, according to Aluko into “an inconsistent combination of circumstances” of African states not producing what they consume and not consuming what they produce. Cash crop-based, mono-cultural economies, foreign orientation and dependence and fluctuations as well as vulnerabilities constitute the essence of national economies. The loss of control of production to foreigners, the external orientation of the economy and the manipulations of the international economic system has contributed to the destruction of Africa’s pre-colonial self-reliance.

In pursuit of its economic interest colonialism  fused political and economic relationship into one. In his comparative studies of African as the source of economic development, which was later transformed by African leaders into arena for managing and manipulating political (class) conflict. This view is close to the idea of a state as a parasite that extracts resources from society not for purposes of social reproduction, but to sustain the political elite. The mercantilist ethic inherent in colonialism  also encouraged the introduction of commercial, together with a money economy. Western trade brought with it the profit motive, which is the basic goal of the capitalist system, encouraged the idea of competition, which fostered individualism, but destroyed the classless nature of African society. Among the Ibos in Nigeria and Creoles in Sierra Leone, African merchant elite emerged and this transformation led to a new commercial practice distinct from what existed in the traditional African societies.

colonialism  also introduced a modern system of taxation. Unlike in the past when traditional rulers irregularly merely collected tributes, taxation under colonial rule was standardized, and based on known assessment criteria. Though this policy was largely successful, it was violently resisted in the famous 1929 Aba riots of Eastern Nigeria and the 1854 hut tax riots in Sierra Leone.

The failure of tax policy in Africa, even in the post-colonial era, is due to the inability of many citizens to identify with state, and the definition of their relationship with government in terms of what they receive from, rather than what they contribute to it. Peter Ekeh (1975) explained that colonialism  has created two separate public in political life in Africa:

(a) Amoral civil public from which one expects benefits but which is not important in the definition of duties.

(b) Amoral primordial public, defined in terms of one’s ethnic groups, to which relationships are phrased in terms of duty.

What has worsened economic woes in Africa today is that most citizens extract resources from the state to serve the needs of their primordial groups; a carryover of colonial ethos.

Another legacy of foreign rule is that it deliberately pursued a policy of uneven development in the colonies. Though the policy was deemed consistent to the dictates of colonialism , its enduring impacts are still common place in Africa today. In Nigeria and Ghana, the South developed at a pace faster than the North.

In Sierra Leone the Aborigines were distinct from the returnees; while in Rhodesia, Africans lived in fears of perpetual white minority rule. This uneven and separate development and treatment engendered permanent mutual suspicions among the groups, encouraged the adoption of ethnic quota or balancing devise, and has complicated nation building efforts.

Socio-Cultural Legacy

A complete true historical account of colonialism  is that the European wars of conquest dislocated and disintegrated African political institutions economic structures and social systems, and super-imposed their own. Britain not only welded different ethnic groups to make Nigeria a “geographic expression” but also coined, and gave the country a name. This is a common heritage for most African states except for a few like Ghana (formerly Gold Coast), Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), Congo, which once changed to Zaire, before it reverted; Rhodesia, which split into Zambia and Zimbabwe, with the latter’s capital, changing from Salisbury to Harare, among others. But these obviously harmless, but symbolic changes have not in any significant ways altered European cultural penetration of Africa. One, Europeans imposed their different languages on the colonies, which eventually became the official language or lingua franca of these countries after independence. Consequently rather than use Yoruba, Swahili or Fanti to communicate, English, French or Portuguese are now being employed today as language of wider reach in Africa, even among inhabitants of the same country.

Two, colonial rule also selectively introduced educational opportunities, and unevenly promoted the adoption of Western culture within the same state. The effect is that at micro and macro levels, Africa remains divided. In the coaster areas where Western influence is understandably dominant, what we have are strong imitations or mimicry of western way of lives, but in the hinterlands where alien penetrations are restricted Western influence is limited, because it is being resisted. Colonial education itself was limited, and not oriented to serve the developmental aspirations, but to produce clerks and interpreters, who served the needs of colonial administration. According to Smith (2003:35) seventy five years of British rule in West Africa left one hospital for 30 million Nigerians, a ratio of doctors to inhabitants of 1:60, 000, and only half the children of one province surviving beyond their fifth year. Nigeria and Gold coast could only boast of one university each, university college of Ibadan, and university of Legon.

Colonialism has now completely disappeared from the continent Portugal was the first European country to have contact with Africa and the last to leave. Angola’s independence from Portugal, Namibia from South Africa’s “illegal” occupation, and the attainment of majority rule by Pretoria marked the end of colonialism , and racist’s minority rule in Africa. To chronologists who are interested in terminal dates, the end of colonialism represents the dusk of an old era, and the dawn of a new one. But to a political scientist who is interested more with reality than appearance, the year 1960 represented a new beginning for Africa to confront the trappings of colonialism in their different guises. Indeed, it was not until after independence that radical Kwame Nkrumah realized that the eagerly awaited good life for Africans would not necessarily follow political independence.


Colonialism as an Imperial Ideology

Colonialism is one of the most important events in international relations. It has not only defined relationships; it represents a policy to some people, a force to others and an experience to all. A number of reasons; political, economic, cultural and psychological have been identified to have been responsible for colonialism. What is however relevant here is that European powers employed colonialism to have a foothold in Africa and Asian countries.

The partition of Africa at the Berlin conference, held in Germany between Nov. 1884 and February 1885 formalized the intrusion of the European power into Africa, which began through the activities of their trading companies, the signing of treaties with Africa rulers, and their conquest and subjugation of their domains. As a result, Britain established control over 4 million square miles of territory, France ruled over 3 ½ million and Belgium with about 1 million (Adeniran, 1983:194). A major policy of colonial rule was the policy of divide and rule. This was to ensure complete domination and to prevent organized resistance against their rule from hitherto homogeneous ethnic group Balkanized into separate states: Due to this artificial partition, the Yoruba and Hausa were divided between France in Benin Republic, and Britain in Nigeria.

This division was further strengthened when Britain adopted the policy of Association to rule her colonies while France preferred the policy of assimilation to administer her territories. Worse still, French and English languages, the official language of colonial masters became the lingua franca in the respective colonies, which further compounded efforts at integration after interdependence. Just like it began colonial rule was sustained by force, but the colonialists particularly, the British were diplomatic enough to know when to apply the break. France, however, suffered the bitter consequences of defeat in the Algerian War of Independence. Portugal was also late in accepting the reality that independence must be granted to her colonies because they were seen as extension of the territories of the imperial powers. African political institutions

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