The importance of studying history lies in the fact that by analyzing past events, one can gain insight on how something came to be. The fact that many countries in Africa today are underdeveloped for example, can be explained by European colonization and exploration in the past. Some historians would disagree with this view and assert that European colonialism actually served a moral purpose and was mutually beneficial to both parties.
They argue that European influence in the area led to political centralization and an overall improvement in infrastructure. Also, defenders of this view tend to underestimate the impacts of the Atlantic slave trade by mentioning that slavery was already a part Of Africa prior to European arrival. This essay will analyze the impacts of European colonialism on African economy and society in order to assert whether or not European involvement has helped or has hurt development in the area.
Furthermore, this paper will attempt to propose ideas to improve negative effects left behind due to European exploration in Africa. Before colonization, African countries consisted of several small tribes, with efferent customs and languages. It is estimated that during pre-colonial ages, Africa was composed of 10,000 different polities and that after European intervention; these polities were combined into 40 colonies (Meredith, 2006). Some historians have concluded that European colonization has helped these dispersed African tribes unify.
As colonies, these nations were obliged to the laws commanded by the mother country, which demanded products. In order to supply the mother country with goods, African citizens were forced to move into cities and work. Once the colonies became independent, the recess of arbitration had already occurred. Those who are pro- colonization believe that the arbitration caused by colonialism led to a development of local industry. What defenders of colonialism do not consider is that the arbitration process would occur naturally.
Other nations have evolved into industrial cities, states and countries without the force of colonialism. As agriculture evolved in the area, a food surplus would occur and consequently, an increase in population. This process would eventually occur in Africa regardless of European intervention. Furthermore, the fact hat African citizens (from different tribes) were forced into cities by the Europeans, led to miscegenation. Many defend that this fusion of different people helped create a larger sense of identity in these countries.
Those who favor the colonization of Africa affirm that the process allowed for different people, with different heritages, languages and ethnicities to come together and create a more diversified, cosmopolitan culture. However, this miscegenation ended up causing even more suffering in many African countries. In South Africa for example, the miscegenation process that started ring colonial times evolved into the apartheid regime. This regime lasted for more than 40 years and forced many South African citizens out of their homes and into racial segregated neighborhoods.
The apartheid generated racism, hate and violence. The mixing of Africans from different tribes also brought violence in other parts of the continent. In the German colony of Rwanda for example, the Europeans believed that the Tutsis were intellectually superior to the Huts in the area. The Germans at the time thought that because the Tutsis had lighter skin, they were more intelligent ND therefore fit for occupying administrative positions (Humidity & Parker, p. 3) After World War l, Rand’s control was passed over to Belgium by the League of Nations mandate (1919).
The Belgians however, basically continued this German form of government and once again, Tutsis were placed in higher positions while the Huts were forced into manual labor and low ranking jobs. The favoring of Tutsis during colonial times has tremendously increased the hatred between the tribes, which ultimately led to war and violence. One of these conflicts was the Rwanda genocide. The mass laughter occurred in 1994 and was carried out by Huts who killed almost 1 million Tutsis. European racism was spread to Africa during colonial times and led to massacres such as the Rwanda genocide.
Another point made by those who believe European colonialism had a positive impact is that the infrastructure in African cities improved during this time. Colonial headquarters were mostly located on the African coast. Many products however, especially minerals, were present in the center of the continent. In order to get these products to the headquarters and finally to the mother entries, Europeans had to build new transportation systems in order to penetrate into the continent. As a result, railways and roads were created in order to move the goods.
The argument that both sides benefited from these implementations is as follows: the Europeans explored minerals and other African goods but in exchange, left behind roads, railways and more advanced buildings. This argument would be plausible if it wasn’t for the fact that the labor force required to build these systems was composed of Africans to begin with. Furthermore, these African workers were forced into instruction and worked ridiculously longs shifts without any form of compensation.
Also, the Europeans only built roads and streets that were absolutely necessary to transport goods and maximize profits showing their overall disregard for the well being of those being explored (Enjoy, 2007, p. 52). Also, some may argue that slavery already existed in African society prior to European exploration in the area and since it existed regardless, it is not a factor that delayed African development. Apologists for European colonization attempt to understate the impacts of slavery in order to show there “advantages” to the colonization process.
Slavery did in fact OCCUr in pre-colonial Africa but to a much lesser degree. Only about 3,000 Africans were enslaved and sold at the peak of the trans-Sahara trade. During the Atlantic trade however, the number of enslaved Africans per year averaged 80,000. Also, many slaves that were taken never survived the trip and even those who did would be “worked to death”. Furthermore, by half of the 19th century, more than 20 million Africans had been transported across the Atlantic. Africans total population should have summed up to 200 million by 850 but due to the Atlantic slave trade, African population was cut in half. Lends, 2007). Besides the difference in number, there was also a great difference in the degree of servitude between pre-colonial and colonial enslavement. In Introduction to the History of African Civilization, the author notes that in the trans-Sahara trade, a woman slave could attain freedom by marrying a free man and that slaves were not subject to the harsh beatings present in the New World. Also, the author points out that in Sierra Leone and in many other regions, slaves could take leave in the non-farming season File, 1999, p. 124).
Slaves drastically helped European countries explore its colonies in the Caribbean and in the Americas, expanding Rupee’s economy and influence. It is important to note here that there was no intention of helping Africa develop in the first place and that European involvement in the area was strictly predatory. Also, the slave trade has separated families, abused African citizens and severely hurt African economy for years. One must dismiss the view that slavery was already common practice in Africa and that European exploration did not impact these nations.
As shown above, the bevel of servitude and abuse during the Atlantic trade was catastrophically larger than during the Trans-Sahara trade. Better roads, institutionalized governments and the formation of an “African identity’ do not match up to all the lives that were taken during the Atlantic slave trade. Also, all the new technologies that were introduced in Africa as a result of colonial rule do not justify the invasion of these sovereign nations. The improvements in African society due to European colonization are far less beneficial to the continent than if there was no interference to begin with.
Africa would most likely take anger to develop than other countries in the world due to their tribal heritage but with European colonization, this process will now take even longer. Sadly, African nations have carried the European burden and suffer the consequences to this day. In concluding this, a question may be raised: since no one can change what happened in the past, what can be done nowadays in order to rectify the situation and improve living conditions for Africans? I believe that the first implementation to better conditions in Africa is to stop other forms of exploitation that still occur in the area.
Many European investors buy diamonds from unauthorized sellers in Africa. The money raised from these diamonds are many times used to finance war-lords in the area. Believe international groups such as the United Nations can find a way to oversee these transactions and assure that companies are not financing wars in African countries. Also, believe that the United Nations could approve a resolution making European governments pay reparations for their ex-colonies. These reparations would be of low cost to the wealthier European countries but of great help to the underdeveloped African nations.
The resolution would also include items stating that embargos, tariffs and other implications are to be applied on nations that choose not to contribute. The implementation of this law however, can only occur if African governments are not corrupt. First, African countries need to find a way to put good managers in power so that the reparations paid are invested on education and industry. With the appropriate amount of money and concise allocation of resources, underdeveloped countries in Africa will soon be able to recuperate what was lost thanks to colonial exploitation and the slave trade.