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Colonialism And Africa Essay

1688 words - 7 pages


Modern African states have several problems ranging from corruption, to armed conflict, to stunted structural development. The effects of colonialism have been offered as a starting point for much of the analysis on African states, but the question of why African states are particularly dysfunctional needs to be examined, given the extent to which they have lagged behind other former European colonies in many aspects. In the first section, I will consider the problems with African states from the level of the state. That is, the nature of the states' inceptions and the underlying flaws may explain some of the issues that have been associated with African states today. Next I examine the development of, or lack of, civil society and the institutions which took place across the continent in the colonial era. In particular, I consider the lack of education and judicial authority and how this affected the formation of the structures which exist in the post-colonial era. Lastly, the economic legacy of colonialism is analysed, and whether the failure of African states to prosper can be explained by colonial practices.

State Formation

Ever since the boundaries of Africa were drawn up in 1884/5, very little has changed in terms of the continent's territorial divisions. Much has been made of the fact that the post-colonial states which constitute Africa were the products of colonial demarcations, and whose territories are not congruent to existing political and ethnic organizations. Ethnic conflict within states is an unfortunate feature of several African states, and one which undoubtedly retards development of any kind. There has been debate surrounding the nature of African ethnicities and whether they were synthetic constructs created by colonial powers(Berman 1998), or a continuation of traditional polities within the colonial landscape(Spear 2003). Whatever the exact nature of the various African ethnogenesis processes, the states gaining independence were populated by groups which had differing loyalties. This scenario would fall foul of many theories of the state, in which the absence of the coherent link between the population and the power structure of the state calls it into question. Ethnic cleavages has been a factor in many of the numerous coups d'etat and armed conflicts throughout Africa, as rival groups see the power of state apparatus as a prize worth fighting for(Warner 2001, p89).
One example of ethnic cleavage which can be traced directly to colonial foundations is that of the African/Asian(Indian) divide in Kenya and Uganda. Paul Vandenberg explains the racial privileges which the Asians enjoyed under British rule, leading to their concentration as a relatively successful ethnic group. As migrants flowed within the British empire, Asians who arrived in Kenya were given greater access to social, educational and capitalist opportunities by the colonials, as a result of higher 'racial' status(also Bennell...

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