Neocolonialism in Africa

The term ‘neocolonialism’ has been both embraced and rejected, and continues to be a highly debated, somewhat touchy subject. It is generally used by post-colonial critics of the involvement that developed countries have in the workings of those countries that are still in the developing process.

The original period of colonialism was characterised, in Africa, by the acquisition and domination of European powers (such as Portugal, England and France) over Africa and its countries. While this system introduced various policies, infrastructural developments and industries to Africa, the African people that once owned and lived off of the land certainly experienced much oppression and persecution. Therefore, when they could, these countries fought for and gained their independence. This was not easy and had huge implications regarding how they functioned and their quality of life.

However, some argue that the developed countries granted only a measure of independence to these African countries and that the economic arrangements that exist between the developing and developed lands are in place to maintain control of these African lands. This is referred to as neocolonialism; a sort of modern control. This, in turn, maintains a certain level of dependency on the part of the formerly-colonised on the ‘superior’ powers. However, there are still some countries that are actually administered by foreign territories, despite the fact that this flies in the face of the ideals and resolutions held by the United Nations Organisation. In both of these cases, the term neocolonialism is used to describe the situation.

Image of Diogo Cam Portuguese colonial  monument in the capital of Angola, Luanda
Diogo Cam Portuguese colonial monument in the capital of Angola, Luanda

The major problem with neocolonialism, according to critics, is that the colonisers, or dominant states, are exploiting the colonised and taking advantage of their resources for their own gain. These developing lands are, by this theory, not benefitting at all from what is really theirs. If this is true, then these countries really are no better off than when they were colonised in the formal, political sense of the word.

When neocolonialism is made manifest, it is usually through the financial or economic state of the country under such control. One of the ways in which this is particularly clear is the fact that these neocolonial places are so often the target markets for importation from the neo-colonisers.

Neocolonialism also puts the subordinate state or country in a position to be “passed on” to another imperial body, such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom or a significant financial organisation. This is viewed as another form of perpetual control by these bodies, preventing developing land from rising to their own level of independence and financial and political ‘success’.

In particular, Nkrumah makes the following points about neocolonialism in 1965:

It continues to actively control the affairs of the newly independent state
In most cases neocolonialism is manifested through economic and monetary measures. For example the neocolonial territories become the target markets for imports from the imperial centre(s)
While neocolonialism may be a form of continuing control by a state’s previous formal colonial master, these states may also become subjected to imperial power by new actors. These new actors include the United States or may be international financial and monetary organizations
Because of the nuclear parity between the superpowers, the conflict between the two take place in the form of “limited wars.” Neocolonial territories are often the places where these “limited wars” are waged.
As the ruling elites pay constant deference to the neocolonial masters, the needs of the population are often ignored, leaving issues of living conditions like education, development, and poverty unresolved.

African Women And Colonialism

Women play an integral role in societies, both modern and ancient. They are responsible for the upkeep of the household, agriculture, reproduction and the rearing and discipline of the children. Therefore, women have consistently shaped the cultures and societies in which they live for hundreds, and even thousands, of years. To examine the effects of various cultural, religious and political movements on the women of the society provides a unique insight into the overall effectiveness or damage caused by such trends.

African women in the past (and even, to a significant extent, the present) were and are responsible for finding water, sowing seeds, tilling, harvesting, caring for the animals, keeping the home in order, feeding the family, caring for the children and so on.

When colonialists moved into the area from Europe, they claimed the land that had been cared for and cultivated by these women. The women were suddenly alienated from what had, for so long, defined them and their role in society. This had huge impacts on their economic situation as well as their access to food. However, more than this, it also made these women more dependent on the men in their society, which led to a sense of male supremacy and dominance (social, physical and emotional), and a loss of the female identity, to some extent.

The colonial control of the land meant a limited access to available terrain, which implied that women had less diversity in terms of the types of soils available and the crops that could be cultivated. The amount of land made available to them was drastically less than before, limiting their agricultural yield significantly.

Another major effect of colonialism on women was caused by the introduction of wage labour. This meant that the women (and children) of a village or community were forced to leave their daily duties in order to work for European farmers, particularly during the peak seasons. In addition to robbing these women of their established identity within their society, this forced labour was also often accompanied by physical and sexual abuse. Such abuse was inflicted, in part, by the Europeans, but also, in many cases, by their own husbands, who saw their renewed roles as an indication of their worthlessness, and resented them for neglecting their homely duties.

Although women were working hard for the colonisers, the men did not take over their domestic duties, which led to a massive decrease in their personal productivity. As they were no longer cultivating their own fields and caring for their own homes, their economic situation became critical, forcing them to become more and more dependent on the European colonialists for their very survival. The African males began to leave their homelands, going to the cities and towns in search of more formal employment. Migrant labour had its own added set of implications, many of which left wives, children and families in the unpleasant position of being left alone, worried about the men of their society. As men lived in cities and towns alone, they engaged in sexual relationships with other women. This weakened the genetic code of the children that resulted (as their fathers were unknown to them) and also introduced foreign diseases to the wives of the men, who awaited their return home.

Another major trend introduced by the colonialists was their rather closed-minded view of women and their position in everyday life. Victorian women were required to perform duties, but not to have much of a personality or presence. The African women soon felt their position and influence in society being snatched away from under them, despite their crucial role in establishing the homes and raising the children of their men.

There is no doubt that colonialism presented African women with a variety of challenges and negative effects. However, as a display of their resilience, these women responded, in many cases, by learning to protest and stand up for their rights. They adapted as they needed to, and were determined to preserve their identities. An example of taking such initiative to regain their ‘voice’ is the British West African Ladies Club, established in 1929 in Nigeria. This organisation was designed to encourage women to express themselves and to give them a platform upon which to do so. Such responses to colonialism demonstrate the resilience and determination that continues to identify African women.

Decolonisation Of Africa

Although the colonised countries of Africa no doubt longed for independence, it was only really in the 20th century that they began to see any sort of reward for their efforts. By that time, practically the entire continent had been colonised by the Europeans.

Then, in the Second World War, political alliances saw English-colonised African countries stand in opposition to German-affiliated African countries. In addition, the war hampered trade and development between the African countries and their international allies. This forced Africa to boost its local industries from within if its people were to survive. This, in turn, led to increased urbanisation as well as improved literacy and infrastructure.

In 1941, the Atlantic Charter was implemented as a result of discussions between Franklin D. Roosevelt(the President of the United States of America) and Winston Churchill (the British Prime Minister). This document covered many aspects of the post-war world, but one of these was the independence of imperial colonies. Churchill intentionally mistranslated the Atlantic Charter to Parliament so that “the colonies” became “recently captured countries by Germany”. This allowed for the Charter to be passed and for the imperial colonies to gain autonomy. However, democratic government was only introduced at local levels as Africa was still considered to be too politically immature to govern itself completely.

Image of Ajman "world peace" series stamp.
Ajman “world peace” series stamp.

There were some African political leaders that had been educated in Western universities by the colonial powers in the decade before the Atlantic Charter. These ones became instrumental in rising to the challenge in terms of fighting for independence. They represented countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal. Unfortunately, independence was usually only achieved after a period of war, during which time much of the landscape and population was ravaged. The entire decolonisation movement spanned from 1922 to 1975.

One of the major results of decolonisation was the migration of officials and natives to their original homelands. Migrants also moved to areas in West Africa, which were more financially lucrative, as well as to the European countries that had once colonised them.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, many immigrants left Cape Verde, Angola and Mozambique and moved to Portugal, where they needed labourers to replace the Portuguese workers that had relocated to other parts of Europe. The 1960’s also saw a large proportion of the Asian people in East Africa moving to the United Kingdom, which has resulted in a huge population of English Asians even today. In fact, there were approximately 29 000 of these immigrants during the 1960’s alone.

Decolonisation was, therefore, responsible for introducing significant proportions of non-whites into Europe, contributing to its modern cultural diversity. At first, these ones faced serious opposition and racial inequality in some of their new homelands. But, the 1980’s were a time of enforcing equality for all, promoting the ideals of granting equal education, medical care and infrastructure to all.

Economy Of Colonial Africa


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:

Image of Canons at the the Cape Coast Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana.
Canons at the the Cape Coast Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana.

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.

Colonialism – Who Settled Where?

When referring to the colonialism of Africa, we often simply refer to the colonisers as being from European descent. However, the different countries that are included under the umbrella of Europe actually colonised different areas of the vast African continent (as well as other countries throughout the world).

Portugal was a significant figure in the colonialisation of Africa, settling in both Angola and Mozambique. In addition, they also colonised the South American country of Brazil.

Portugal was the first global empire that ever existed and, extending from 1415 to 1999, also the longest-lasting of the modern European colonialists. During the course of these six centuries, the Portuguese Empire spread throughout various places in the world and today, there are 48 Sovereign States as a result.

Image of Statue of Bartolomeu Dias in Cape Town,  South Africa, a Portuguese explorer who  sailed around the southern tip of Africa in  1488, the first European known to have  done so. He originally named the Cape of  Good Hope the Cape of Storms.
Statue of Bartolomeu Dias in Cape Town,
South Africa, a Portuguese explorer who
sailed around the southern tip of Africa in
1488, the first European known to have
done so. He originally named the Cape of
Good Hope the Cape of Storms.

Bartolomeu Dias was a Portuguese explorer who sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, in 1488 the first European known to have done so. He originally named the Cape of Good Hope the Cape of Storms. Thereafter, explorers continued to investigate the area, establishing outposts along the way. Of course, South Africa was not the only country being explored and used in this way by Portugal, and the global network that was established translated to enormous financial wealth for this European country. This put Portugal under significant threat as it became the target of rival countries and its empire began a gradual decline as it was too small to defend itself against huge global entities.

The Netherlands
The Dutch had one of the most significant influences on South Africa and much of its culture continues to reflect this. In addition to South Africa, the Netherlands also colonised Indonesia and Netherlands Antilles. The Dutch explorers followed the original Portuguese ones (such as Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama). However, their strategy was to use their military force and conquer existing Portuguese and, by that time, Spanish colonies, rather than trying to start from scratch, so to speak. The Dutch were instrumental in establishing indirect state capitalist corporate colonialism, which was accomplished via the Dutch East and West India Companies. The expeditions undertaken by this empire uncovered new and exciting territories all over the world.

By the late 1500’s, the Dutch controlled the global commercial playing field. By the mid- to late 17th Century, their rule was dubbed the Dutch Golden Age. Although it underwent times of political and economic turmoil, the Dutch empire only really collapsed when European imperialism crumbled following the Second World War.

Today, South African cities and towns still bear the Dutch names of years ago, including Johannesburg, Vereeniging and Vanderbijlpark.

Algeria and Côte d’Ivoire are two of the African countries colonised by the French during the time between the 17th and 20th centuries. Other French colonies included Quebec, Haiti and Louisiana. By the 1800’s and 1900’s, the French empire was one of the largest and most powerful in the world. During the early 20th century, France occupied almost 9% of the entire surface of the earth.

France competed against England for supremacy, which initiated several wars between these two European entities. This lasted until the 19th century, when France established its new empire in Africa (as well as in South East Asia). During the Second World War, Germany occupied France, and the majority of the French colonies dissipated. However, some remained until the 1960’s, by which time most had gained independence.

In the late 1800’s, Germany formed a colonial empire. Although not as widespread and successful as many of the other colonisers, Germany did manage to colonise Namibia, which retains a strong German identity in its place names and high density of German inhabitants.

Great Britain
The British Empire was, undoubtedly, one of the world’s most significant, prevalent and powerful. It occupied areas in the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia), Kenya and South Africa. In fact, almost 25% of the surface of the earth belonged to the British Empire at one time.

This lasted until the latter part of the 1900’s, when countries and continents were vying for independence from British rule. Today, there remain some countries that are still under the British rule, but most of these have been granted a measure of independence and self-governance