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Colonialism and the Political and Economic Problems in Africa Essay

The impact of Africa’s colonial heritage has long been debated by experts. Some say that colonialism was not completely disadvantageous to Africans because it opened the continent to the rest of the world. Others maintain that colonialism did nothing to significantly improve the lives of Africans. While it is true that Africa’s colonial heritage has some positive effects, the negative effects are still harder to ignore. Seveal independent African states emerged after colonial rule in Africa. Countless clans, kingdoms, city-states and mempires were replaced with forty-eight new states, many of them with clear boundaries.

Negative effects of this division outweigh the positive ones, however. The process of the establishment of each state’s boundaries was arbitrarily done by European chancellors, so what resulted were artificial nation states (Boahen 96). Their borders divide pre-existing ethnic groups, kingdoms, and states. For example, the Bakongo are virtually “chopped” by the boundaries of Gabon, congon, Zaire, and Angola. Each Africation nation today is composed of a variety of peoples with different cultures, language, and traditions.

Nation-building has therefore been a problem for these nations because of the arbitrary boundaries which could be traced back to colonial years (Boahen, et al. 329). Problems related to arbitrary borders don’t stop at nation-building, however. Today, natural resources are unequally distributed among African states because of their different sizes. Huge countries such as Algeria, Nigeria, and Sudan have vast territories while others such Lesotho, Burundi, Togo, and The Gambia are too small, limiting their economic capacities.

The positioning of African countries is also awkward and almost helter-skelter. Uganda, Malawi, Niger, and Chad are landlocked while others have long stretches of sea coast useful for fishing. Zambia, Zaire, and and Nigeria are rich in natural resources, while Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger have less to get by. National security is also a problem since some countries, like The Gambia, has a single border to protect, while others such as Zaire has as many as ten borders to patrol (Boahen, et al. 329).

During the colonial era, Africans were made to produce cash crops to export to their colonizers and they were compelled to ignore growing food for their own consumption. Africans therefore had to buy imported food at high prices (Boahen, et al. 330). The imprint of colonialism on the mentality of Africans also affects their economic ways. Years after their independence, there are still people in sub-Saharan Africa who believe that they are incapable of producing manufactured or processed goods. They are under the impression that they can only produce and export raw materials.

The truth is that there are no natural barriers preventing Africans to process the raw materials that they produce (Mshomba 118). Commercialization of land also brought about widespread poverty in Africa. People fought over ownership of land, resulting in a flood of litigations, causing poverty among land-owning families and ruling houses. Inter-African trade also ended with the rise of colonialism, stopping the spread of indigenous African languages like Swahili and Hausa in different parts of the continent.

Ancient caravan routes were blocked and trading between members of the same ethnic group from either side of new borders turned into smuggling (Boahen 102). Colonialism also left political instability behind. After their independence, many African nations succumbed to dictatorships, which discouraged investment in sub-Saharan countries and destroyed resources (Mshomba 118). Finally, Africa’s colonial heritage is also responsible to the growing number of expatriate banking, shipping and trading companies which later consolidated into oligopolies.

These compnies controlled the import and export of commodities produced by Africans, which meant the lion’s share of profits go to them and not to the real producers (Boahen, et al. 332). African nations clearly have to address these challenges head on to improve their economic standing. Works Cited Boahuen, A. Adu. African perspectives on colonialism. Baltimore: JHU Press, 1989. Boahen, A. Adu et al. The general history of Africa: Africa under colonial domination 1880- 1935. Oxford: James Currey Publishers, 1993. Mshomba, Richard E. Africa in the global economy. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000.

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