Colonial Impact & Legacy

  • Acemoglu and Robinson, in their widely read Why Nations Fail (2014), have an excellent example of the immediate and long-term legacy impacts of colonialism, which is worth quoting at length (p. 249-250):

The extractive institutions created by the Dutch in the Spice Islands had the desired effects, though, in Banda this was at the cost of fifteen thousand innocent lives and the establishment of a set of economic and political institutions that would condemn the islands to underdevelopment. By the end of the seventeenth century, the Dutch had reduced the world supply of these spices by about 60 percent and the price of nutmeg doubled.

The Dutch spread the strategy they perfected in the Moluccas to the entire region, with profound implications for the economic and political institutions of the rest of Southeast Asia. The long commercial expansion of several states in the area that had started in the fourteenth century went into reverse. Even the polities which were not directly colonized and crushed by the Dutch East India Company turned inward and abandoned trade. The nascent economic and political change in Southeast Asia was halted in its tracks.

To avoid the threat of the Dutch East India Company, several states abandoned producing crops for export and ceased commercial activity . Autarky was safer than facing the Dutch. In 1620 the state of Banten, on the island of Java, cut down its pepper trees in the hope that this would induce the Dutch to leave it in peace. When a Dutch merchant visited Maguindanao, in the southern Philippines, in 1686, he was told, "Nutmeg and cloves can be grown here, just as in Malaku. They are not there now because the old Raja had all of them ruined before his death. He was afraid the Dutch Company would come to fight with them about it." What a trader heard about the rule of Maguindanao in 1699 was similar: "He had forbidden the continued planting of pepper so that he could not thereby get involved in war whether with the [Dutch] company or with other potentates." There was de-urbanization and even population decline. In 1635 the Burmese moved their capital from Pegu, on the coast, to Ava, far inland up the Irrawaddy River.

…as in the Moluccas, Dutch colonialism fundamentally changed their economic and political development. The people in Southeast Asia stopped trading, turned inward, and became more absolutist. In the next two centuries, they would be in no position to take advantage of the innovations that would spring up in the Industrial Revolution. And ultimately their retreat from trade would not save them from Europeans; by the end of the eighteenth century, nearly all were part of European colonial empires.

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Foreign Intervention in Africa – The Colonial Legacy

Elizabeth Schmidt is a professor of history at Loyola University. The following thought provoking quotes are taken from her 2013 book "Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror."

The context:

  • "For many outsiders, the word Africa conjures up images of a continent in crisis, riddled with war and corruption, imploding from disease and starvation. Africans are regularly blamed for their plight. They are frequently viewed as being intolerant of ethnic and religious differences but accepting of corruption and dictatorship. They are often presumed to be unwilling or unable to govern themselves. This book challenges such popular myths. By examining the historical roots of contemporary problems, the book demonstrates that many of the predicaments that plague the continent today are not solely the result of African decisions but also the consequences of foreign intrusion into African affairs." (1)

On Economics:

  • "Although this book focuses upon foreign political and military intervention in Africa, the problems that plague Africa today cannot be properly understood if the impact of foreign intrusion into African economies is ignored. Unequal exchange between African commodity producers and industrialized countries is a legacy of the colonial era that has contributed to the deep impoverishment of African populations. The inequality inherent in these economic relationships persisted after political independence in a system that has been characterized as neocolonialism. In the words of Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, neocolonial states had "all the outward trappings of international sovereignty," while their economies and political programs were "directed from outside." (9)

On the colonial legacy:

  • "Strategically placed Belgian administrators would remain in the Congo after independence, along with 1,000 Belgian officers commanding the 25,000-man Congolese army. Although the new political officeholders would be Congolese, power would remain in Belgian hands. The interests of the United States, the dominant Cold War power, were largely compatible with these objectives. The Eisenhower administration supported the installation of a government friendly to its NATO ally and one that would guarantee the continued exploitation of Katanga minerals for Western benefit." (58-59)
  • "Britain and France responded as old-style imperial powers. Threatened by Nasser's approach to decolonization, they were determined to overthrow him. Britain worried about the vulnerability of its royal protégés and its enormous investments in the oil-rich countries of the Middle East, whereas France was concerned about Nasser's support for nationalists who were fighting an independence war in Algeria and his growing influence in other parts of Francophone Africa. Britain and France thus initiated plans for a military attack. For this attack they enlisted the support of Israel, which was motivated by its own regional concerns. The United States, in contrast, saw the conflict as one rooted in the Cold War. In Washington's view, the refusal of Western powers to embark on programs of decolonization played into Soviet hands. Moreover, any threat to Egypt would strain relations with Arab countries and jeopardize American access to oil." (40)
  • "In Madagascar, French troops, eventually numbering 30,000, waged a brutal counteroffensive. Employing scorched-earth tactics, they bombed villages, burned fields, and killed livestock. Untold numbers of civilians were tortured, mutilated, and slaughtered. By the time the insurrection ended in November 1948, some 90,000 Malagasies – approximately 2 percent of the population – had died as a result of violence, hunger, and disease." (170)
  • "Between 1890 and 1941, Eritrea was an Italian colony. Following Italy's defeat by Britain and its allies in the 1940-41 East Africa Campaign, Eritrea became a British protectorate. When World War II ended, the UN was charged with disposing of Italy's African colonies. It determined that Libya and Somaliland would be granted independence, while Eritrea would be joined in a federation with Ethiopia, despite significant popular sentient in Eritrea for independence. Although the Soviet Union, a number of Arab states, and other UN members also favored Eritrean independence, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles argued that American strategic interests took precedence over Eritrean popular opinion. In consequence, no referendum was held." (157)

Assassination and Coup d'état:

  • "To implement the final assassination plan, high-level Belgian officers ordered Lumumba's transfer to Katanga, where he would be turned over to his enemies. Brussels was concerns that the incoming Kennedy administration might be more sympathetic to Lumumba than the Eisenhower administration, which has instigated plans for his assassination. Hence, Belgian military and intelligence advisors, with CIA connivance, pressed Mobutu to surrender Lumumba to Moise Tshombe's secessionist forces, who had vowed to kill him. On January 17, 1961, three days before Kennedy's inauguration, Lumumba was brutally tortured and executed at the hands of Tshombe's men – in the presence of Belgian officers who commanded the secessionist army and where under the authority of the Belgian Defense Ministry." (64-65)
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