The colonization of Africa, which lasted four centuries and included the abduction of 10 million Africans sent to America, can be perceived as a full-scale annexation of territories, never truly recognized by all participants in colonization. Belgium, France, Portugal, Germany, Great Britain divided the great continent into regions that were utterly subject to European control (Gilbert & Reynolds, 2007). The entire European infrastructure of social, economic, and political governance was transferred to the newly occupied territories. This paper aims to discuss the economic, political, and social structures of colonialism and analyze their impact on African societies.
Colonialism lasted in Africa from the 1880s to the 1970s, and led to the confrontation between Africans and Europeans when African people defended their independence. Although many scientists who studied the colonization of the African continent in the mid-to-late 20th century prefer to view Africans as indifferent to the fate of their people and states, this is a big mistake. Boahen (1987), in his book African Perspectives on European Colonialism, details a very distinct picture of the colonization process and, most importantly, the reaction of Africans to the seizure of their lands.
In particular, the author notes that contrary to the perspective from which European scholars cover colonialism, representatives of all professions, and social strata resisted colonization using various forms of protest. The Europeans conquered the African continent to get access to fossil resources and land. They began to grow cotton, coffee, and cocoa, using the labor of Africans, and sell it overseas (Boahen, 1987). Mineral mines were built where local labor was used and safety standards were critically violated. Railways, roads, and ports were built to service the business made on mines and plantations. Schools were organized for the local population, where education was conducted in European languages.
The local peoples were involved in work in administrative positions and as plantation and mine workers. In the newly formed colonies, a justice system was created to protect Europeans and deal with business-related issues, first banks appeared that gave loans exclusively to white entrepreneurs. European countries strongly encouraged entrepreneurs to start a business in Africa, and the vast majority of Europeans who lived on the continent worked on the private companies (Boahen, 1987). However, these companies did not pay taxes for the development of the colonies. All the money from export went to the owners of the companies and the state budgets of the colonialists. The import of goods was also encouraged, and although the colonies had many opportunities for growing crops, food was imported from Europe and the United States.
Resistance to colonization arose at several levels at once – among peasants, workers, and elites. Peasants suffered from forced or critically low-paid work on plantations, and protests against taxes and abuse were gaining strength. In many countries, peasant uprisings began in the early 20th century, from 1898 to 1916, and were brutally suppressed by the colonialists (Boahen, 1987). France and Belgium were the most violent colonists, and many peasants migrated to territories under British leadership to avoid abuse and violence. Tens of thousands of people crossed borders to escape and thus were displaced to neighboring states.
From 1919 to 1935, residents organized into resistance groups and moved to remote regions, where they created new communities free from oppressors. Revolutionary representatives of these communities sometimes attacked what they considered forms of colonialism, such as shops with imported goods or buildings for plantation workers (Boahen, 1987). These groups received local support in the form of food and sometimes weapons. Africans who worked in mines and plantations and were not ready for open confrontation sabotaged the work in various ways.
Elites organized societies that discussed the vision of the future of their countries and opportunities for higher education and cultural support. From 1919 to 1935, many local newspapers appeared in national languages, which debated the issues of reform (Boahen, 1987). Europeans tackled the appointment of Africans to critical positions in government, and the African people later used this opportunity to set the stage for the revolutions that took place in the 1970s (Boahen, 1987). The old elites were suppressed, deported, or destroyed, and the Europeans replaced them with a new ruling class from workers who were loyal to the colonialists. However, these representatives were still more committed to their people than to the Europeans, and eventually, the colonialists lost control of the continent.
It would be a mistake to think that the victory over colonialism and independence came easy to the African people. Tens of thousands of people died in confrontations with Europeans or mercenary armies from the local population. Even after the official end of the era of colonization, local governments and security forces were manipulated on the continent to preserve resources for businesses that would continue to generate income bypassing the state economies.
The colonization of the African continent lasted for almost a century, which dramatically affected not only Africans’ life, but also their psyche, and self-consciousness. Representatives of the African elite were educated in the United States and Europe and created many scholarly, literary, and poetry works. Guggisberg’s essay “The Education of the African,” is an example of how African elites saw the continent development through reforms and possibly subsequent self-government (Guggisberg, 1924). The essay details the possibilities of creating higher education institutions for Africans in their native languages.
The poetic and literary works describe the impossibly complicated and unstable position of African old elites concerning the Europeans, who acted as invaders and still refuse to recognize their role fully. In the essay “Prayer for Peace,” Leopold Sedar Senghor presents an African intellectual’s vision of the consequences of colonization. This essay could be intended for a European reader as it explores the implications of European tyranny for the African people. Leopold Sedar Senghor masterfully illuminates how difficult it is for Africans to forgive and forget decades of French invasion.
In his poem “Limbo,” Leon Damas describes the longing for the lost heritage and the peaceful and free way of life, which the Africans had to refuse for work on the plantations and mines of the colonialists (Damas, 1962). Then, in the essay “Parable of the Eagle,” James Aggrey metaphorically represents the African as an eagle that has been caught by a farmer and tamed by being raised with chickens (Aggrey, 1929). The naturalist argues with the farmer and wins the argument by proving that the eagle can still fly and remains a free and proud bird that owns the sky.
Thus, the economic, political, and social structures of colonialism were discussed, and their impact on African societies was analyzed. The consequences of colonialism have dramatic implications for African societies, which could eventually free themselves from invaders. However, until now, the role of Africans still looks ambiguous. This presentation of the situation is beneficial only for those who support seizure and military action policies. Therefore the dissemination of knowledge related to the life of Africans during and after the era of colonialism should be widely studied in educational institutions in Europe, Africa, and globally.
Aggrey, J. (1929). “Parable of the Eagle,” In Edward W. Smith, Aggrey of Africa. London, SCM Press.
Boahen, A. A. (1987). African Perspectives on Colonialism. Johns Hopkins University Press.
Damas, L.G. (1962). “Limbo,” In Pigments. Paris: Presence Africaine.
Gilbert, E. & Reynolds, J. T. (2007). Africa in world history: From prehistory to the present. Pearson Prentice Hall.
Guggisberg, F. G. (1924). “The education of the African,” In The keystone. London.
Senghor, L.S. (1991). “Prayer for Peace,” In Melvin Dixon, ed. and trans., The Collected Poetry of Leopold Sedar Senghor. University of Virginia Press.