Colonialism in Africa refers to the historical period when European powers dominated and exploited the continent for economic, political, and territorial gains. This era left a lasting impact on Africa, shaping its societies, economies, and political landscapes. This article aims to analyze the positive and negative effects of colonialism on the African continent. Oftentimes, people criticize colonialism, highlighting only the negative effects it had on Africa. There are areas where it really contributed positively and Africa is still enjoying some of those positive effects till today. One of those areas is exposure to western education. Today, Africans value and enjoy the benefits of the introduction of Western education. We can now communicate with people from other continents, join international organizations and even enter into contracts with countries in other continent just because of western education.
That notwithstanding, it does not override the fact that colonialism had negative impacts too. In this article, we are going to cover both the positive and negative effects of colonialism in Africa. I recommend that you read this work carefully because alot will be said about colonial rule in general. After highlighting the positive and negative impacts of colonialism, I will give a final conclusion on whether colonialism was totally disastrous to Africa or not.
Positive effects of colonialism in Africa
1. Introduction of the modern idea of government: One of the major impact of colonialism was the introduction of new government ideas and this contributed positively in many African countries. The influence of colonialism made Africans exhibit that structured kind of government which colonial masters practiced during the time of colonialism.
Take for instance, the idea of separation of powers, which helps to avoid conflict between the arms of the government was learned from the colonial masters. Also, the idea of a written constitution was brought as a result of colonialism. You can recall that before colonialism, most African countries had an unwritten constitution and this posed a lot of problem. The concept of a written constitution therefore helps to reduce the work of the judicial arm of government in the interpretation of the law.
2. Creation of a large political unit: Another positive effect of colonialism was the creation of large political unit. This was advantageous because it helped most African countries like Nigeria to grow faster.
Before the coming of colonial masters to africa, most African countries had divided systems of government. Take for example, in Nigeria, there was the Hausa/Fulani system of administration, there was the Yoruba system and even the Igbo political system. All these political systems were greatly different from each other even though the regions were not too far from themselves.
On arrival, the colonial master merged all the political systems to enable faster development in the regions and to make governance easy for themselves.
3. Development of political parties: Before the coming of colonialism the concept of political parties and election was abstract in Africa. It was the colonialism that necessitated the creation of political parties and elections, which became the formal way of choosing political leaders.
The idea of political parties came into place due to the struggle for independence. Indirectly, it can be seen that colonialism actually caused the establishment of political parties in Africa. In Nigeria for instance, political parties like NCNC, UPC, NNDP, AG etc, were established to stand against colonialism in the country.
4. Introduction of money currency: Trade by Barter was the only way of transacting in Africa until the introduction of colonialism. The colonial masters introduced money and educated Africans on how the money currency could solve the problems of trade by barter. In 1912, the first silver coin were introduced by the British and the West African Currency Board was setup.
Colonialism also introduced the banking system to Africa. Banks were created to keep money and Africans really enjoyed this development because it solved a lot of problems with the trade by barter system.
5. Common central bank: Colonialism in Africa also introduced a common central bank in the French colony. Though this is with the exception of Guinea. The introduction of a central bank which supplied all the French colonies the same currency helped to promote inter-state trade among the colonies.
6. Development of modern transport and communication systems: Majority of the celebrated technologies that has helped to make transportation easy in Nigeria and other parts of Africa were put in place by the colonial masters. Transportation systems like railway, seaports, airways, roads, bridges etc were used to solve the barrier to movement in the colonies.
7. Common legal system: Another advantage of colonialism in Africa is the common legal system which was introduced by the British to all her colonies. After the demise of colonialism, this helped to build good relationship amongst African countries. Take for instance, the common legal system in Africa allows for easy and safer international transactions.
More so, with the coming of colonialism, the large system of Africa got a new shape. Punishment in form of torture, banishment, sacrifices were taken away.
8. Development of the civil service: Colonialism thoroughly shaped and uniformed the civil service in Nigeria and other parts of Africa too. The colonial masters made it in such a way that the Civil service will look just like theirs and will also favor them too.
Negative effects of colonialism in Africa
1. Economic dependence and exploitation: In as much that the colonialism brought development into Africa, it was also a form of exploitation too. The idea of colonialism was introduced to make Africa forever dependent on the colonial masters. They took all the wealth and resources of Africa to their own country. During the time of colonialism, people were highly taxed by the colonial Masters so as to generate funds to make their plans of colonization successful.
Coupled with that, the colonial masters made sure that they were in charge of all the metropolitan industries, thus making Africans economically dependent on the colonizers.
2. It created the problem of disunity: Another negative effect of colonialism in Africa was the disunity which it brought. Take for instance, in Nigeria today, it is argued that colonialism is responsible for the religious and tribal disunity in the country. This was as a result of the merging of all the regions in 1912 by lord Lugard.
Accordingly, the difference countries which colonized Africa also caused disunity in some way. It divided Africa into French speaking countries and English speaking countries and that is one of the major problems of the Economic Commission of West Africa States (ECOWAS).
3. Cultural imperialism: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart has already said much on this. From that book, we could see how the colonial masters treated African culture as inferior and theirs as superior. They disregarded African culture, changed anything that wasn’t in their favor and made gullible African to see the new culture as the best. The local language of Africans, religions, names, education, dress, music, sport etc were replaced with foreign ones.
4. High level of slave trade, deportation and humiliation of Africans: With the introduction of colonialism, the idea of slave trade was introduced in Africa. In fact, it was actually practiced by the colonial Masters because they were the ones in need of slaves then. This negative effect of colonialism reduced the number of able-bodied men in Africa.
Also, colonialism reduced the prestige that was given to many African leaders. The colonial masters literally controlled the leaders through threat and humiliation. Leaders who failed to follow the rules of the colonial masters were deported and sometimes killed. Take for instance, Oba Overamwen was deported in 1896 after the Berlin Massacre and he later died in exile.
5. Alienation of people from the government: Before the inception of colonialism, Africans had a type of political system were everybody took part in the political decision making of their state. But when the colonial master introduced their own system of government, a lot of Africans were no longer allowed to participate in the political decision making of their nation. This was one of the causes of the Aba women riot of 1929.
Since the traditional rulers were made subordinate to foreign officials, the alienation from government wasn’t really a problem to the people. This was the case in Africa until some educated Nigerian nationalists started to enlighten the people and oppose the government.
6. Poor education system: Apparently, the system of government introduced by colonial masters to Africa wasn’t as good as foreign education system. It was basically to enable African learn how to Read and write the language of the colonial masters. Intentionally, the colonial masters neglected things like: technical, vocational and scientific studies so as to restrict the knowledge of Africans and to make themselves superior to Africans.
Colonialism in Africa brought both positive and negative consequences that continue to shape the continent’s development today. While certain aspects, such as infrastructure and education, have laid the groundwork for progress, the exploitation and cultural disruptions inflicted during colonial rule have left a deep scar on the African continent. Understanding this complex historical legacy is crucial for comprehending Africa’s current socio-economic challenges and informing future policy decisions. Moving forward, it is essential to promote equitable partnerships and sustainable development practices that empower African nations to build a prosperous and self-reliant future.