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.

Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.