European Perceptions of Africa
Living in the dawn of the 21st century, the idea of economic development permeates third world politics. Perhaps no single issue has raised so much hope, or so much scepticism, as the idea of development. Historically, attempts at economic development have resulted in varying degrees of success and failure. Nowhere has this been more apparent as in Africa. By the 20th century, Africa began to play an increasingly important role in the European economy. In the 1920's, Europe promoted Laissez-Faire policies in Africa, but gradually shifted towards protectionism and Neo-Mercantilism in the 1930's, and finally to disengagement in the 1950's. The purpose of this essay is to chronicle these changes in European perceptions of Africa's role in the global economy, and explain that although the outcome of these policy-changes eventually led to the end of colonial rule, the political, social, and economic effects of these policies made it impossible for the Africans to enjoy true independence.
The first part of the 20th century was characterized by European imperialist policies in Africa. Seen as the "White Man's Burden," Africa's wealth and raw materials were exploited as cheap exports to support metropoles in Europe. Before the mid-1920's there was a high demand for tropical goods (sugar, cotton, cash crops, etc.). Correspondingly, both France and Britain prescribed laissez-faire liberalist policies for Africa. The idea was to open up Africa's wealth to the world while keeping it a net exporter of raw materials used in the manufacture of European goods. But by the mid-1920's, Africa's role began to change. The European economy, ravaged by World War One, was forced to rebuild. Partly as a result of fluctuating trade patterns, some theorists - like Leopold Amery of Britain and Albert Sarrault of France - began to argue that in order to sustain the recovering European economy, greater public investment in Africa was needed.1 Sarrault and Amery were visionaries, far ahead of their time. They helped pattern a new ideal - one in which Europe actively took measures to improve the African situation. Although the Great Depression would cause Europe to re-evaluate its African policies, the idea of developing the peripheries (even if only to support the metropoles) would emerge as a potent force in post World War Two politics. Thanks in no little part to Emery and Sarrault, the idea of development had been born.
Just as it was recovering from World War One, the rippling effects of the Great Depression hit the shores of Europe. Already in a restructuring phase, the Depression caused global markets to once again fluctuate. Again, Europe was in a quagmire. How could it achieve self-sufficiency while its currencies was undervalued on the global market? For France and Britain, the answer was simple: Make use of their colonies. Shortly before the Depression, the 1929 Colonial Development...