The colonisation of Africa was a fairly rapid movement and affected the continent on almost all levels – political, religious, economical, social, cultural, and so on. Colonisation occurred as a result of Europe’s extending its existing trading connections with Africa. Europe had held such ties with the ‘dark continent’ for over four centuries, trading in a range of products from textiles and metals to jewellery, spices and even human slaves. Then, they decided to move into Africa and administer trade and development from within.
Before colonisation, the Africans bartered and had no official monetary system. The people farmed and lived off the land. They built homes, made clothes and created art from the natural materials around them. It was decided in the 1800’s that Africa had to be colonised for various reasons, including:
1. Europe was in the throes of the Industrial Revolution and needed a large amount of goods quickly and cheaply. This could best be accomplished by using African trade.
2. Europe also required a new market for the industrial goods being produced, and Africa would prove to be just this.
3. Colonising Africa was a strategic move for the different European players, who wanted to gain as much global control as possible. Success was determined on political, economic and military grounds.
4. Individual adventurers arrived in Africa with big dreams of becoming acclaimed businessmen.
The areas that were colonised, and by whom they were done so, were determined largely by the availability of land and its proximity to other settlements and developments.
Colonial Africa had three basic economy structures. These were:
The Peasant-Statist Regimes
Especially prominent in parts of East Africa and the whole of West Africa, these regimes were characterised by being exporters of primary goods. A very basic infrastructure was made available to these communities by the colonisers and taxes were imposed so that the areas could eventually support themselves. However, the local communities had no control over what was grown and exported. They also had no say regarding the prices or profits of the goods that they had grown.
The Settler Economies
This economic structure focussed on plantation agriculture, which required massive numbers of labourers to accomplish. European colonisers confiscated large tracts of land in eastern and southern Africa, and subjected the local people to inferior positions and living conditions. The colonialists would live on the plantations with their labourers.
The Chartered Economy
This type of economy, found in the Congo especially, was centred on mining. All the roads and facilities in the area were built for that purpose only, while farming and any other development was put on the ‘back burner’, so to speak. These economies saw very little interest in developing the skills and improving the education of locals.
The result of the colonial economy as a whole was multi-faceted. Generally, it did not benefit the local African people at all. Some of the negative impacts that it had on these ones included:
• The local economy was practically non-existent and depended almost entirely on the Europeans.
• African people were not encouraged or able to start their own businesses.
• There were huge social and financial differences between the classes. The differences between the classes became extremely pronounced, causing conflict and very fragile relationships.