The Consequences of Colonization

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The Consequences of Colonization

Dr Clionadh Raleigh Human Geography. GG1023. Name: Louise Schriek Student ID: 11759835 Extension Granted for ad misericordiam reasons (Due on the 18/04/2012, Handed 26/04/2012). Word count: 1500 (excluding bibliography).

Title : The consequences of colonization: an interpretation regarding the nature and causes of the ongoing issues around nationalism, ethnicity and stately power in sub-Saharan Africa since decolonization.

Colonial occupation and the manner in which independence was gained and free states were organized may be a possible explanation for the matters of contention revolving around ethnicity, nationalism, and states in Sub-Saharan Africa to this day. A first part will expose the reasons for multiple ethnicities being situated in the same territory, and contrast it with the mainly mono-ethnic governments. A second part will deal with the consequences of this colonial inherited and induced system, holding that the nature of most sub-Saharan African states and their relations to the nations encompassed within their territories does not necessarily lead to secession, violence or power-contestations, but may partly account for the problems faced by these countries.

Many of the territorial boundaries in Africa today have not changed since their definition by colonizers at the Berlin Conference (1884-1885); native societal systems were barely taken into account, the emphasis having been on the maximization of territory and resources (p93, Cole 2007). The individual colonial institutions and territories formed the “inescapable frame” that African nationalists had to confront and operate within to effectively challenge colonial occupation (p11, Young 2004). Mobilizations against the colonial states thus had to identify to and mobilize through the territory and populations ‘imprisoned’ by this state, and thus colonial boundaries were kept as models for the new rising civic nationstates. “The hyphenation of nation and state” embodied ideological requirements to be impersonated to legitimize a discourse of independence in the eyes of European powers (p164, Hutchinson 2004).

All groups encompassed in one delimited colonial territory thus needed to be presented as one nation claiming its rights to selfdetermination and due national territory, through a demotic form of nationalism (Preface, E. K. Francis 1968) with respect to the specific colonial power occupying it. As Robert Stock explains, “much of the weakness in African political institutions can be traced back to the colonial period”, especially to the transition of political powers with the gain of independence (p136, Stock 2004). The governments put into place were composed by an African elite highly influenced by western values and ideologies, having benefited of colonial education (p70, Potter 2008). Elections were impacted and controlled by the colonial power’s efforts to set up governments (p7, Saha 2010) “that would not seriously challenge the interests of the metropole” (p136, Stock 2004), hereby staying implicitly imperialist to keep economical advantages, to not be challenged politically, to impose their political ideologies on these rising free states, and to keep an upper hand on the exploitation and trade of resources in the globalizing economy.

The new African governments were thus closely correlated with the previous colonizing powers, and were not necessarily a reflection of the people and nations within these states, of their desires and interests, but rather of that of a designated elite monopolizing the power in its own interest. Autonomy itself came from a popular strive of Africans, and vast independence movements fighting for political and economical freedom, encompassed in the continent-wide Pan-Africa ethnic phenomenon as a unitary reaction to colonization (p106, Cole 2007). But the consequent autonomous states set up did thus not rise from  a common will of the people, but of ‘westernized’ decisions and a certain disguised continuation of the society model set up during the colonial era; The struggle for African autonomy and the creation of the independent states lacked substantial connection, as it seems that the first did not give birth to the second.

It is thus not surprising that in general Sub-Saharan African States do not identify to the nations they were attributed or feel a strong duty of promoting the entirety of their citizen’s interests, and vice versa. Moreover, it seems that the elite holding political power will have a stronger connection to their own ethnic-nation than to the whole of the population in their territory (p235, Saha 2010). The importance of the ethnic-factor in the process of nation-building is argued by such figures as Anthony Smith or Walker Connor to be of fundamental importance (p5, Young 2004). Ethnic belonging seems to be a fundament of the current African societal model. This may be traced back to the fact that the civic form of nationalism bringing all ethnic nations of one state together had by no means been pursued by colonial rulers, hereby facilitating control of populations and minimizing the amplitude of possible nationalistic protest.

Most African Governments are constituted by one political party that will promote the interests of this one ethnicity, and be supported by it. These Uni-party governments are an inherent part of the system installed by the colonizing powers. A possible interpretation is as that of a vicious circle. The first governments of the new states at independence were mainly representative of only one of the ethnicities comprised in the state. Valuing this fraction of their state’s population that they shared ethno-national belonging with induced the growing loss of identification and trust of other ethnicities and of their sense of citizenship and belonging to the state as an inherent part of its nation. Support thus declined, the state responded by growingly disregarding these often numerous nations ‘peripheral to their system’, whom in turn in this opposition may aspire to overthrow the group in power, to defend their interests and gain recognition . Complications seem to derive from the problematic mono-ethnic governmental institutions holding stately power.

This, amongst other factors, may be a cause for corruption and violence in SubSaharan Countries. It seems that The ‘peripheral’ ethnicities subjugate themselves to the state, not by motive of civic nationalism and positive support, but by lack of means of contestation and politicization, by bribery as they are payed off or compensated (the least possible) for their passivity, through repression by violence, or elimination by mass murder.

Various ethnic nations being encompassed in the same state thus usually seems to not lead to the secession of African states. Instead it leads to the fight over the monopoly of state-power between the various ethnic groups concerned (p240 Saha 2010). The state, due to its mono-party and mono-ethnic constitution, only represents a fraction of the citizens that the officially “homogenizing” civic nation-state, indeed exhibiting national symbols, hymns, history etc (p443, Dirlik 2002) is supposed to take into account. Substantial civic-nationalism and equal treatment of the whole population on its territory, through the distribution of power and wealth, is not reflected. In fact, “very few ethno-nationalist socio-political movements in Sub-Saharan Africa have made intractable demands to form their own ethnic states” (p5, Saha 2010).

Many movements, such as the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement or the Oromo Liberation Front in Ethiopia do not consider secessions “as the solution to their ethnic issues” (p5, Saha 2010). These movements are rather looking for better recognition from the political elite, and for a better politico-economic position. It seems thus that ignored ethnicities, or the peoples nations on the “social margins” (p6, Young 2004), aspire more to a civic type of nationalism in the states that encomprise them, rather than to the creation of their own ethno-nationalist state, the latter, due to past and present situations, appearing to not be the key to development and stability.

Ethnicity is thus an issue in state-politics. Ethnic divisions are very much observable in economic and political hierarchies, and this poses a problem for democratization and civic-nationalism which should be the prominent form of nationalism manifestations in most African countries south of the Sahara due to their multi-ethnic nature.

Monopoly of the state by one ethnicity also holds as consequence the latter’s ample control of natural resources, which are of major importance in the developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, whose economies depend largely on the exploitation of primary resources. Contemporary nationalism advocates “the fragmentation … of  the state’s resources monopoly” amongst its citizens (p22, Guiberneau 1999), which is rarely the case in Sub-Saharan Africa.

It may be suggested that internal contestations of power and overthrowal- attempts of one ethnic group by another happen to gain access to the resources and wealth that the large national territories that each state rules over comprise. Added to this is the large amount of development aid that governments gain access to, but that seems to mostly disappear amongst the elite and be used to secure its power-monopoly through bribery, financing violent repressions, and corruption of the populations that are not of the system supporting the party in power(p62, Orijako 2001). The access to this wealth may thus also be an incentive for intra-state tensions.

Ethnic differences within nations do not seem to be the reason for intra-state conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa. But they still make the situation of these states problematic. One possible interpretation is thus that it is the mono-ethnic nature of most subSaharan African governments causes intra-state tensions. The cause of this may be traced back to the political, economic, social and territorial structuring imposed by colonial powers during colonial occupation, and generated by the way independence was gained, that is, through the colonial system, and influenced by colonial interests.


. Montserrat Guibernau and John Hutchinson (2001), Understanding Nationalism, Polity Press, Great Britain. (Library 320.54 ). . Robert B. Potter, Tony Binns, Jennifer A. Elliot, David Smith (2008- Third Edition), Geographies of Development- An Introduction to Development Studies, Pearson Education Limited, UK.

. M. Crawford Young (12/07/2004), Revisiting Nationalism and Ethnicity in Africa, James S. Coleman African Studies Center, UCLA, (Academic article, ). . Arif Dirlik (2002), Rethinking Colonialism- Globalizatio, Postcolonialism, and the Nation, University of Oregon,The International of Postcolonial Studies, RoutledgeTaylor and Francis Group, USA. (Academic Article) . Robert Stock (2004), Africa South of the Sahara- A Geographical Interpretation (Second Edition), The Guilford Press, USA. . Santosh C. Saha (Mar 01, 2010), Sub-Saharan Ethnic Attachment And Civil Conflict: A Methodological Approach To State-Building And Ethnicity. Journal of Third World Studies; Vol. 27, No. 1, p. 235-251
(Academic Article). tcd library- EBSCO. . Roy Cole and H.J. De Blij (2007), Survey of Subsaharan Africa- a Regional Geography, Oxford University Press, USA. . E. K. Francis (1968), The Ethnic Factor in Nation-Building, University of North Carolina Press, USA. (Oxford Journals, Academic Article, content/46/3/338.short ). . Humphrey Orijako (2001), Killing Sub-Saharan Africa with Aid, Nova Science Publishers, USA.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 4 October 2016

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