Sarat Chandra IAS Academy

UPSC Civils Daily Mains Question 09th May-2021

African continent was known as the Dark Continent till its interior areas were explored and colonized in the 19th century by the Europeans. In this context, explain how colonization had adversely impacted Africa.

In the 19th century, publications of the expeditions made by individual explorers raised the interest among the Europeans. These publications included the accounts of the explorers who detailed the wealth of the Central Africa. They were able to chart the courses of important rivers like Congo. The navigability of rivers and knowledge of their course implied that the European companies and troops could now reach into the interiors and transport out the mineral wealth to the coasts for further export. Difficult terrains, non-navigable rivers and other such geographical features ensured that colonialism had a late entry in mainland Africa and was restricted for a long time to Coastal Africa.

Impact of Colonialism on Africa

1.White settlers became elites and exploited the Black natives

Colonialism in Africa brought along with it trading merchants, businessmen, missionaries, military and administrative officers. Many of them settled in Africa due to attractions of plentiful arable land and profits from trade. The missionaries stayed on and established Christian institutions for propagation of their religion. Thus, today we see many African countries divided into Muslim and Christian dominated regions. The European settlers were elites in Africa and they enjoyed luxuries of living, which they could not afford back home. The European settlers, like the Boers in South Africa, became wealthy and powerful in Africa. They controlled the government and denied Africans any political right. In almost every colony, the lands of Africans were taken away for cultivation and mining by settlers with Blacks working as slaves.


Slave Trade made many Africans forcefully leave their homes to never come back. It destroyed many families. The local Africans traded in the local slave markets. They formed the workforce on the European plantations in Africa. The psychological impact of slavery was an inferiority complex, that was systematically injected into the society, with even the Church supporting the notions of Master and Slave Race. The Race thesis was institutionally deployed to deprive Africans of their rights during Apartheid in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

3.Mass killings by Colonial powers

Africans resisted the colonial military with great valor and they could not fight against the technology of Guns with the Europeans. Many Africans were killed by the European military while resisting the loss of their lands, slavery, unfavorable treaties offered by the Europeans and the imposition of European culture. Whole villages were destroyed if the inhabitants refused to agree to the demands of the Colonists. Belgium Congo probably witnessed the first Genocide of the modern era. From 1876 to 1908, nearly 10 million Africans were massacred in Belgian Congo by the administration of Belgian King Leopold II.

4.Policy of Divide and Rule created problems after independence

Africa due to many factors of Geography, is comprised of multiple Tribal cultures. The scramble for Africa divided Africa into colonies with arbitrary boundaries, which did not follow the logic of geographical continuity, cultural unity or economic viability. This resulted in colonies having multiple tribes, with very different cultures. They did not see themselves as part of one nation. Further, the colonists used the policy of divide and rule. They patronized one tribe at expense of the others. The favored tribesmen were provided with arms and money and were used to coerce the other tribes into submission. This resulted in mutual hostility among tribal groups. For example, in Rwanda, Belgium followed this policy and after independence the country witnessed constant tribal violence. In 1994, this process culminated in the worst genocide in recent history as the Hutu tribesmen massacred millions of Tutsi tribe members. The lack of national unity still haunts many African nations and it has been very difficult to ensure functional democracy.

5.Extreme neglect of Education and Health

The colonists and white settlers ensured that the native blacks did not get educated. Higher education, in particular, was neglected. Wherever the policy of Apartheid was followed, Africans were given inferior education in separate schools. Statistically speaking, the gross enrolment ratio at levels of primary, secondary and higher education was very low at time the African nations became independent. For example, at the time of independence in 1960, there were just 17 graduates in Belgian Congo and no doctors, lawyers, engineers. Also, there were no Africans at officer level posts in the Army. This resulted in inefficient governance after independence, and caused the consequent collapse of democratic regimes. The elected governments failed to deliver on the huge developmental goals and became dependent on the developed world for aid, which brought Neocolonialism to the African nations. Today Africa’s population is increasing at rapid pace and much of its population is in the working age group. But it is struggling to convert this bulge in working age group into a demographic dividend due to lack of education, which if present could have ensured a skilled workforce. Health sector was also subjected to great neglect. The colonies suffered from epidemics regularly given the humid conditions due to an Equatorial climate. HIV-AIDS today is most prevalent in Africa and Africa is the biggest intervention area for World Health Organization and NGOs like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

6.Economic development hurt

Colonialism impacts the social, psychological, economic, cultural and political aspects of the colony. Lack of cohesion in the society due to tribal rivalries, presence of prejudices of being a slave race, which were internalized, and the consequent inferiority, lack of education and denial of participation in governance – were the resultant aspects of Colonization. These factors prevented economic development, and indigenous entrepreneurship, in any significant form, could not develop in Africa. The policy of Mercantile capitalism followed by the Colonists hurt the economy of Africa. Africans did not get the market price for the mineral resources, which were exported out of Africa. The Colonists ensured that no indigenous industry develops and Africa remains an exporter of raw material and importer of finished goods manufactured in European factories. During the Berlin Conference in 1880s, Germany wanted a clause of effective control of a European nation in a territory to claim it as a colony. This clause would have required Colonists to develop infrastructure and setup government machinery for things like law and order etc. Germany desired to use this clause to replace other European nations from the colonies. But Britain and France defeated this clause. Thus, in many African nations the colonists ruled and reaped the economic benefits, but without any responsibility of governance. The little infrastructure that was developed was to facilitate colonial interests. For example, the transport infrastructure was aimed at creating linkages between mineral rich interiors with the ports to facilitate easier raw material extraction. Britain was quick to develop pipelines in Sudan and Nigeria for extraction of hydrocarbons. Further, the colonial rivalry resulted in colonists establishing trade barriers between colonies and thus an integrated market could not develop across Africa.

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