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How Colonialism Underdeveloped Africa History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The proposed topic of summer project is Scramble of Africa. Firstly lets discuss what colonialism is and how did it take place in Africa. Colonialism means exploitation by stronger country over a weaker one, in order to use its resources and be benefitted from other aspects as well. European colonialism began around 1400 A.D. it was during this time the powerful European leader sent their trader’s to find new lands for economic and trade purposes . As a result it was a period of “rapid and drastic change” as described by anthropologist Elizabeth Colson.

The colonization of Africa has a long history, the most famous phase being the European Scramble of Africa during the late 19th and early 20th century. North Africa experienced colonization from Europe and Western Asia in the early historical period, particularly Greeks and Phoenicians [1] . Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) founded Alexandria during his conquest of Egypt. This became one of the major cities of Hellenistic and Roman times.

Phoenicians founded a number of colonies along the North African coast. Some of these were founded relatively early. By the late 1880, European countries succeeded in getting a hold of many African continents. The Europeans possessed attitudes of superiority and a sense of mission. The effects of colonialism were also expectant like to exploit natives and to generate economic wealth for their mother country i.e. Europe. Consequently the land which was considered sacred for the natives was ruined for monoculture activities of Europeans. A large number of uneducated people were forced in disguised slavery and even the concepts of indentured labour were introduced.

Africa was transformed under internal and external pressures. Famine and disease, as well as territorial conflicts such as the Mfecane [2] cause distinct changes in African society. The abolition of the slave trade, forcibly imposed on European interests in Africa by Britain, as well as the European Scramble for Africa leaves traditional cultures fractured and bleeding.

Other important issues at a glare are: distribution of western values among the natives, resources exploitation, democracy, independent judiciary, free press and escape from religious tyranny – in short, suppressing the culture of natives . The English also emphasized on the requirement of power and corruption.

There are two forms of colonialism chiefly based upon the number of people from the colonizing country who settle in a colony: Settler colonialism involved a large number of colonists, typically seeking fertile land to farm. Exploitation colonialism involved fewer colonists, typically interested in extracting resources to export to the metro pole. This category includes trading posts, but it applies more to the much larger colonies where the colonists would provide much of the administration and own much of the land and other capital, but rely on indigenous people for labour.

There was a significant change in religious belief and practice as a result of colonialism. At the beginning of the colonial era, less than five per cent of the people in Africa identified themselves as Christian. Today, nearly fifty per cent of the people in Africa identify themselves as Christians. Colonial rule provided an environment in which Christianity, in many forms, spread in many parts of Africa. While Islam was widespread in Africa prior to the coming of colonialism, it also benefited from colonialism. British and French colonial officials actively discouraged Christian mission work in Moslem [3] areas. Peace and order established by colonial rule provided an environment in which Islam could consolidate its hold in certain African colonies.

The role of the missionaries in the colonization of the region was also considerable in terms of cultural and political domination of the people. Although the missionaries’ task was to make people accept the Bible and its teachings, Christianity was turned into an ideology which could be used to convince people not to resist white domination. Religion was used to legitimate, sustain and even promote political tyranny and oppression, as well as in other instances for reasons of political liberation of the people.

Chapter 1- Africa as portrayed in Literature

Africa in literature can be seen from two perspectives, from the perspective of a native writer and from the perspective of a European writer. The literature which is written by a native of Africa is free from any bias and explains us clearly about contemporary Africa. Whereas the African text written by a European contains his own subjective views about Africa which may or may not be true to its core. As George Joseph says, while European views of literature often stressed a separation of art and content, African awareness is inclusive:

“Literature” can also imply an artistic use of words for the sake of art alone. … Traditionally, Africans do not radically separate art from teaching. Rather than write or sing for beauty in itself, African writers, taking their cue from oral literature, use beauty to help communicate important truths and information to society. Indeed, an object is considered beautiful because of the truths it reveals and the communities it helps to build.

African literature in the late colonial period (between the end of World War I and independence) increasingly showed themes of liberation, independence and negritude [4] . With liberation and increased literacy since most African nations gained their independence in the 1950s and 1960s, African literature has grown dramatically in quantity and in recognition, with numerous African works appearing in Western academic curricula and on “best of” lists compiled at the end of the 20th century. African writers in this period wrote both in Western languages (notably English, French, and Portuguese) and in traditional African languages.

Heart of Darkness is considered one of the greatest novellas in the English language. On the surface it is a dreamlike tale of mystery and adventure set in central Africa; however, it is also the story of a man’s symbolic journey into his own inner being. The critical postcolonial approach to Heart of Darkness as a racist text was first pointed out by the Nigerian Writer, Chinua Achebe in a lecture at the University of Massachusetts in 1975. According to Achebe, “…Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as ‘the other world’, the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization”

As shown madness is closely linked to imperialism in this book. Africa is responsible for mental disintegration as well as for physical illness. This novella is, above all, an exploration of hypocrisy, ambiguity, and moral confusion.

Conrad portrays British imperialism in the perhaps naive character of Marlow, who is glad to see the “vast amount of red” on the Company’s map; signifying the British territory. He is glad that “real work is done there”; meaning salvation, religion, culture and commerce. The reality of the colonialism is portrayed by Conrad in the form of the District Manager; a real imperialist, taking full advantage of his position and that of the colony. Marlow sees the Manager’s only positive quality as the fact that he was never ill. From what Marlow knows of Kurtz, it is apparent that Marlow sets Kurtz on a mental pedestal; as the man who is bringing civilization, through Imperialism, to the savages, and yet still managed to reap more reward, in the shape of ivory. By exhibiting the deeds of the Europeans, their portrayal becomes so negative that they become the savages.  Conrad clearly is sympathetic to

the plight of the Africans.

Achebe moves beyond the text of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in advancing his argument. Achebe quotes a passage from Conrad, as Conrad recalls his first encounter with an African in his own life: A certain enormous buck nigger encountered in Haiti fixed my conception of blind, furious, unreasoning rage, as manifested in the human animal to the end of my days. Of the nigger I used to dream for years afterwards. The Nigerian author concludes that “…Conrad had a problem with niggers. His inordinate love of that word itself should be of interest to psychoanalysts. Sometimes his fixation on blackness is equally interesting…”

Chapter 2 – Tradition v/s Change

Tradition and culture have always been the guiding force of every group and age in a society. The African tradition and culture was in its embryo until the western people or free thinkers came in the pretext of enlightenment and instead underdeveloped the natives.

This is what we see in Chinua Achebe ‘TRILOGY’ – Things fall Apart, No longer At Ease and Arrow of God all being in sequel. Things Fall Apart deals with how the prospect of variety and change affect different characters. Villagers are caught between resisting and embracing change. Few are excited where as others are depressed because they would have to let go their ancestral culture and traditions People are caught in the fast changing world. Okonkwo the protagonist of Things fall Apart, commits suicide because of his inflexibility As a story about a culture on the verge of change, Things Fall Apart deals with how the prospect and reality of change affect various characters. The tension about whether change should be privileged over tradition often involves questions of personal status. Okonkwo, for example, resists the new political and religious orders because he feels that they are not manly and that he himself will not be manly if he consents to join or even tolerate them. To some extent, Okonkwo’s resistance of cultural change is also due to his fear of losing societal status. His sense of self-worth is dependent upon the traditional standards by which society judges him. This system of evaluating the self inspires many of the clan’s outcasts to embrace Christianity.

And obi okonkwo the hero of No Longer at Ease, is also caught in the mesh of corruption introduced by English people. While Obi is in England he misses his home, longs for his family, and writes nostalgic poetry about Lagos and the sun and the trees of his homeland. He even begins to feel a certain degree of guilt, at times, for studying English and not being in Nigeria with other Ibo people. Nevertheless, this “English” has become a part of him, one that he cannot erase when he arrives back in Nigeria.

In The Arrow of God also Achebe portrays the disrupting affect of an externally imposed power system on an internally imposed power system. Ezeulu the tragic hero of Arrow of God is imperiled by his community. Change being the only constant law of nature is portrayed in these books as most important cause of everything. The Europeans penetrated Africa through Bible in which British imperial exploits were disguised.

Chapter 3 – Tribulation of tribes

The proposed chapter will provide a comprehensive study about Tribulation i.e. trial of tribes is in action from the very beginning of colonialism till today. The tribes until they were interfered by English people had a completely free democratic order. They had their own weak of peace, celebration of ancestral parties, own gods and sacred lands and caves. But all this when intervened by the modernizers led to utter chaos. Okonkwo is set to test the flexibility and limits of his society. Things Fall Apart, is the story of Okonkwo, an elder, in the Igbo tribe. He is a fairly successful man who earned the respect of the tribal elders. Okonkwo’s father was laughed at by the villagers, and was considered a failure. However, this was not true of Okonkwo who lived in a modest home. Unfortunately, the clash of the cultures that occurs when the white man’s missionaries come to Africa in an attempt to convert the tribal members causes Okonkwo to lash out at the white man and results in his banishment from the tribe. He broke down as society was falling apart and giving way to Christianity and white man’s culture. Okonkwo is the loyal son of mother earth and so is not able to bear the loss is sacrificed to the soil. It is Okwonko’s inability to recognize change that in the end forces him to commit suicide. It is the white missions inability to recognize that the Africans did not wish to change which adds to his demise. The missions represent the ruthlessness of the white man in Africa. They were told to accept the white’s ways, for their own benefit or suffer the consequences. In this light the missions can only be seen as brutal and anything but true Christians, but rather religious zealots who like Okwonko wish to force their world view upon others. He broke down as society was falling apart and giving way to Christianity and white man’s culture. Okonkwo is the loyal son of mother earth and so is not able to bear the loss is sacrificed to the soil.

The sequel to it, No longer at Ease portrays the same that how the education and scholarship are helpful to a native to allow him go abroad and study, Learn white man’s language. Though obi misses his village and so writes poems but more than that he to is caught in trial of white man. He goes against the rules and regulations of his society and gets engaged with an OSU girl – the out cast. Obi’s generation uses its education as a tool, paradoxically, against colonialism. Sam Okoli, the Minister of State and also an educated man, verbalizes the position of the populace by saying that, yes, the white man has brought many things to Africa, but it is time for the white man to go. In other words, a man like Obi can use his education to take his country back into his own hands, even if his education is something that the colonizer gave him. The strong moralistic obi also gives into bribe and corruption suffers with a tragic end.

All these innocent natives are robbed off their nativity and instead they were filled by western culture and tradition. The motive of Europeans as quoted by Achebe in Things Fall Apart was “pacification of primitive tribes of lower Niger”. Society as a result fell apart and it’s a matter of fact that society doesn’t fall off by itself but surely by some external pressure. The cracks in society were also due to negligence of minority and these minorities are first one to go against society and join hands with Christianity.

Chapter 4 – Impact of Colonization

The proposed chapter will discuss the impact of colonization in Africa and their culture.

Colonization lasted till 1960(s) until most of the countries became independent and this brought forceful change. Even the present political instability, social disorder and economic crisis in Africa no doubt have their roots in colonialism. A lot of Africans were taken advantage off, colonization destroyed their way of lif. They snatched away their culture and diluted their traditions

The Europeans viewed the natives as ‘primitive people’ and so the whites aimed at ‘civilizing them’ out of their darkness. As a result new cities and town came up. The old sacred lands, rocks, caves etc were all converted into churches. Animistic religion were lost, their native language was completely vanished. Students in schools were taught English, soon English became their national language. Europeans cuisine were introduced , and slavery once again came up but this time it was masked moreover Instead of farming new economic ideas such as mining, administrative rail road services were introduced. Western education, through means of loans and scholarship were also circulated. Hence the innocence of the town, their small life in nutshell was abducted. As few blacks abrogated the cultural norms and institutions of whites many brothers were seen against brothers. Divide and rule tactics were introduced by colonizers.

There was political instability, coldness in attitude of people, social anarchy, lack of funds and population growth was adversely hampered. All these changes can be seen in a poem by Gabriel Okara: Once Upon A Time where he tells us the difference among the people before colonialism and after. In this poem the speaker explains how people once were caring and sincere were full of values but now they have become corrupted. The poem makes a contrast between ‘hearts and face’, ‘appearance and reality’.

Another of Gabriel Okara poem: Piano and Drums, depicts the difficult situation of young natives, the tediousness faced by generation. Africans metaphorically represented by Drums and that of Europeans by Piano. This poem describes the confusion of people to relate with one culture or another. It is all about the presence of dual cultures – traditional and modern cultures. Imagery of poem is very powerful to depict the bewildered people


Achebe was a cultural nationalist and he had just one mission to throw away the conceived complexes of society and help them once again to regain their ‘self ‘. He was a son of a teacher in missionary school and so he saw both the worlds of natives and of white’s imperialist. He wrote Things Fall Apart in 1958 depicting the patriarchal collecting political system. His main themes throughout his works have been change, loneliness, fear and abandonment. He depicts the invasion of colonialism in Africa, how the advent took place, what were their motives, how did it spread, what effects did it have.

Whereas Gabriel okara brings forth the after math of colonialism, its result, changes suffered by people in all fields. Both the writers play a very crucial role in portraying realistic picture of Africa, as if it is lying in front of our eyes.

The decolonization of Africa was followed by World War II, apartheid was brought to an end and blacks were granted freedom – long sort for. The Africans were increasingly unhappy, living under oppressive and exploitative rule. With the decolonization, masses became free and indigenous elite were replaced by colonial elite. Some issues still were not sorted out such as financial dependence upon west. People now started recognizing their strengths and revitalizing their sense of nationality.

Suggested Bibliography

A History of the Colonization of Africa by Harry Hamilton Johnston.

Africa and the West: From colonialism to independence, 1875 to the present

Africa’s “agitators”: militant anti-colonialism in Africa and the west, 1918 . 

by jonathan derick

Challenge to Colonialism The Struggle of Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee

Colonialism and change: essays presented to Lucy Mair edited by Maxwell Owusu, Lucy Mair

Colonialism in Africa, 1870-1960: A Bibliographic Guide Colonialism in Sub-Saharan Africa Peter Duignan (Editor), L. H. Gann (Editor)

Impact of colonialism and migration on an Algerian peasant community

a study in socioeconomic change

by Mafhoud Bennoune. Published 1976 .

Piano and Drums, Once upon a time by Gabriel Okara

The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865 by P. J. Staudenraus

The African Trilogy: “Things Fall Apart”, “No Longer at Ease”, “Arrow of God”

The Facts on File companion to world poetry: 1900 to the present

  By R. Victoria Arana

The European Colonial Empires: 1815-1919 by H.L. Wesseling

Things fall Apart, No longer at Ease , Arrow of god By Chinua Achebe (Pan Books in association with Heinemann, 1988)

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