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The Colonial Ruling Of Africa History Essay

Although the colonial rule of Africa spanned a very short time when compared to the continents rich and colorful history, colonialism had an intensive impact on Africans in every area of the continent. The impact that colonialism had could vary from state to state or even village to village depending on many European as well as African factors. The differences in the impact of colonialism from area to are could be contributed to the different colonial policies and practices that were put in place by the different ruling European nations. Many of these policies were put in place, not to either help or hurt the Africans in most cases, but to further the interests of the European invaders as well as the Europeans at home. The end result of some of these policies and practices can still be seen today in many places in modern Africa.

              One of the European practices that affected Africans was the implementation and collection of taxes. The idea of taxing a states inhabitants to sustain the government has been around for a very long time and it was only natural that the Europeans would eventually implement it in their colonies. According to Falola, “Taxation was a demonstration of colonial power and domination, the extension of power to all the nooks and crannies of the country”. (Falola 2009, 79) In the country of Nigeria, the British not only wanted to demonstrate its power but they also wanted to make Nigeria a country that did not need to depend entirely on Britain for its money to run the country. In 1906 the British introduced taxation to northern Nigeria with the Native Revenue Proclamation, which established a direct tax on the people of that region. The way the tax was calculated by the British caused everyone in the village to pay the same tax. This put a strain on poor farmers who then had to produce more crops and sell them all so they would have enough money to pay the taxes. (Falola 2009, 81)

              The British eventually introduced taxes to the whole country and were faced with much opposition and protest. The transition in the north went more smoothly because they had taxes before colonialism but this was a new concept in the south. This caused many violent protest and revolts in many portions of the country.

              Even though taxation was unpopular all over the country, the ruling British government had enough power and force to ensure that the taxes were collected. Not all of the results of taxation were bad; one positive outcome was the British government began to listen to the people of their colony. This was because of the violent protest and the anti-tax reactions of most of the people.(Falola 2009, 104)

            The leadership policies that the Europeans enacted also greatly affected the state they were in charge of. Like in the state of Nigeria once again the European powers split the state into divisions that were run by a European but the villages were “run” by an African chief. Most of the time this chief was appointed to this position by the ruling European powers but in a select few cases the ruling chief of a village was able to retain their power. Before colonialism a village chief was essentially a democratic leader, gaining their power from the village and was the voice of the people. But now with the European appointed chiefs they were more of autocratic leaders because their power was granted to them by the European powers. Semakula Kiwanuka had this to say about the chiefs, “Whether a chief was hereditary or appointed, whether he was under British or a French regime, he owed his position to the approval of the colonial power, and he retained that position only as long as the colonial regime believe he was playing the role that was assigned to him.” (Kiwanuka 1970, 301) This meant that many of the chiefs that failed to further the European interest in the village they were quickly disposed and replaced with an African that would cooperate. Often times caused the villages to distrust these chiefs because they saw them as instruments of the evil European rulers.

            Many times these chiefs were also in charge of making sure taxes were collected throughout the village and were given the title of warrant chief for this position. This position just added to the village’s distrust of their rulers and occasionally ended in violence. In Buganda in the 1945 and 1949 there were several riots. These riots were aimed more towards the village chiefs instead of the ruling British powers and many times ended with the chiefs home and property being destroyed. (Kiwanuka 1970, 301) This distrust of village chiefs and elders moved the Africans away from their traditional way of local government.

The land policies of the European powers in Africa had a major affect on all inhabitants of the African states under colonial rule. In areas like South Africa or Kenya the Europeans took control of much of the fertile farming lands of those states. In South Africa the Union Parliament passed a piece of legislation called the Natives Land Act of 1913. This essentially set aside a small amount of land for the Africans to live and farm on. The Europeans comprised about 13% of the total population of Africa but they were given about 89% of the land of South Africa. (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa 2006, 10) The Africans would then have to try to farm this small amount of land that was, in most cases, not suitable for farming. This was a major problem because many African villages were agrarian societies so they earned their living farming and selling crops. Once the fertile land was given to the Europeans they were not able to produce as many crops so they lost money that they required for paying taxes as well as basic living expenses. This limited the economic growth in South Africa and Kenya as well as all the other states where the fertile lands were reserved for the Europeans. The limited economic growth that the Africans experienced caused the development of a large economic gap between the peasant African farmers and the European farmers.

Along with creating a large economic gap between the 2 groups of farmers, these land policies also forced a lot of young people, mostly young men, to move to the cities. The cities offered more job opportunities to these young men, as well as an escape from rural taxation and forced labor in many areas. This migration to the cities greatly increased urbanization of many African cities. Not only did these cities grow in population and size, urbanization also created a new working class of day laborers, petty traders, and prostitutes in many cities. The role that women played also changed with the increase in urbanization in these African cities. In the rural areas where the focus was on producing cash crops women were often times excluded from the process. This lowered their status and income in these rural areas. With the growth of cities women were offered economic possibilities and more liberties outside the control of male elders, as well as opportunities to work and make a living by themselves. (Cooper 2002, 22)

On the other end of the spectrum you have states like Ghana or Uganda where many of the peasant farmers were able to keep their land. This created a somewhat even economic plane between the different peasant African farmers. This allowed for more economic growth because many of these farmers were able to make a profit from their crops. (Bowden 2008, 1051)

Another policy that many European controlled states enforced was that of forced labor. Forced labor was used for anything from farming to building infrastructure for the state. In the British controlled state of Nigeria, the British enacted a policy called the Collective Punishment Ordinance of 1909. This gave the colonial officers to punish a group, village, and even a entire town for the disobedience of even a single member.(Falola 2009, 26) With this policy it made it easier for the colonial officers to enforce the forced labor of Nigerians. Many of the roads and railroads that were built using forced labor were used to move trade goods which increased economic production. The roads and railroads also made it easier to transport the army and police.(Falola 2009, 28) This increased the colonial officers ability to be able to squash any rebellions that may arise throughout the state. It also made it easier to enforce the forced labor of Nigerians across the state. Many groups of Africans in Nigeria responded against forced labor with violence. But these groups were easily squashed because of inferior technology compared to the British. The Nigerians were using spears, machetes, bow and arrows, and in some cases even machine guns to fight these wars of resistance. These weapons were no match against a trained British army that employed the use of Gatling and Maxim guns. (Falola 2009, 33)

Had colonialism in Africa not occurred then the Africa that is here today would not exist. One cannot say whether modern day Africa would be better or worse had colonialism not occurred, but one can confidently say that it would be different. But the fact remains that colonialism did occur and it greatly affected every aspect of Africa as well as the African peoples lives. The colonialism of Africa had good and bad effects for the people, with the bad side outweighing the good side. Boahen's “charge against colonialism is not that it did not do anything for Africa, but it did so little and that little so accidentally and indirectly;...” (Boahen 1987, 109) Though the period of colonialism was short lived, its impact was of substantial importance and its affect is seen in current events and will be seen in in the future.


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