Colonialism in Africa affected many different spheres of the African culture and way of life. There have been several theories regarding the actual nature of life for the African people of the time, but these tend to vary from one extreme to the other; usually seeing only the viewpoint of either the colonisers or the colonised.
Generally, the term colonialism refers to the domination of a superior power over a weaker, or inferior, one. This is obviously for the benefit of the colonising country, but almost always carries assurances of benefitting those being colonised. In the case of Africa, the promised and provided benefits included:
1. Improved education and the building of schools and universities
2. The introduction of Christian religions
3. Access to a formalised monetary exchange (as opposed to bartering)
4. Construction of infrastructure (including hospitals)
5. The development of formal industries (such as mining, agriculture, and so on)
However, the negative impacts on the local people were, unfortunately, blatantly evident.
1. Exploitation of Land and Natural Resources Africa was a land rich in minerals, crops and healthy soil. However, when the colonial Europeans arrived, they took over vast tracts of land. The great natural abundance was limited to cash crops, which led to a decrease in the quality and variety of soils available. This, in turn, meant that the land could no longer yield such abundance in the future, even if those with the power to do so had decided to revert back to the old farming methods and products, because the soil had lost such nutritive wealth.
2. Loss of Land Colonisers took over the land that had belonged to locals, depriving these African people of the farms and property they once owned. The local population was forced to live and work where the colonisers allowed. They had no say over what was farmed and what was charged for the produce.
3. Use and Abuse of Women and Children The colonisers hired women and children to work as labourers for them. The conditions under which the vast majority of them were forced to work were often less than humane. They were frequently abused physically and sexually. An added problem is that women were then less respected by the men in their own society, now seen as worthless labourers. Thus, the abuse began to take place within the home as well.
4. Migration of Men While women became farm labourers and servants to the colonisers, men began to move away from their rural homes in search of their own jobs. This resulted in their being without their families for months on end, which led to sexual promiscuity as well as a lack of the natural family structure that is so important to the stability of a society. These men had sex with women that were not their wives, causing these ones to fall pregnant. This negated the purity of the gene pool as illegitimate children increased in number, unaware of their fathers’ identities and their own heritage. This also led to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.
5. Some Loss of the African Identity When the Europeans arrived, they brought with them many of their own traditions, customs and beliefs. The Christian religions were one of the major elements of the colonial movement, and these ones were committed to educating the African people about an Almighty God and creator, and heaven and hell as repercussions for earthly behaviour; as opposed to forefathers and other traditional beliefs. Some of the African people converted to Christianity willingly, but some were forced into it by their masters. While a true sense of religion can only be a personal decision, this movement to Christianity, as well as the adoption of several other European customs, diluted many of the African beliefs and traditions. These were no longer considered to be relevant or acceptable to the white folk, and were thus abandoned by the rural people of the day.