Unit Two: Studying Africa through the Social Studies
Module Nine: African Economies
Colonialism and Africa's Integration into the Global Economy: Explain
Module Six Africa and Its Geography and Module Seven B: African History introduced the topic of colonialism in Africa. You learned that at the end of the 19th century, European powers colonized all of Africa with the exception of Liberia and Ethiopia.
As emphasized in Modules Six and Seven B, European states colonized Africa for a number of reasons. In Module Ten: African Politics, political reasons for colonization will be addressed. In this lesson, the economic reasons for and the economic consequences of colonialism will be discussed.
Economic Reasons for Colonialism.
Economic historians of Africa point to a number of economic related reasons why European countries colonized Africa.
for Raw Materials. As you know from your study of Europe, in the
19th century, Europe experienced the industrial revolution. Industrial
production, like all modes of production, requires human resources,
capital resources, and natural resources. There was no shortage of
labor in Europe. Two centuries of trade with Asia, the Americas, and
Africa (including the Atlantic Slave Trade) had brought great profits
to European traders. These profits provided the capital necessary to
finance the industrial revolution. However, most of Europe was resource
poor. Consequently, European industries were dependent on raw materials
from Asia, the Americas, and Africa. For example, one of the earliest
industries in Europe was the cotton textile industry, which helped
stimulate the industrial revolution. This industry was completely dependent
on imported cotton.
As industrialization grew and spread throughout Europe, competition for raw materials increased. Consequently, some European industrialists encouraged their governments to colonize African countries as a method of guaranteeing sources of raw materials.
- Need for
Markets. By the late 19th century, the industries in Europe were
producing more industrial goods than Europeans could consume. Consequently,
industrialists sought markets for their goods around the world. As
competition between industries for markets grew, industrialists encouraged
their governments to undertake colonization of Africa in order to protect
markets for their industrial goods.
- Commerce, Christianity, Civilization. Some historians argue that one of the most important economic reasons for colonization was the belief by some Europeans, particularly missionaries, that the development of trade and commerce in Africa was an essential component to the restitution of "civilization" in Africa. Today, historians reject this ethnocentric conception of civilization, but many Europeans of the period felt that Africa was not "civilized". They believed that trade and commerce, along with introduction of Christianity, were key to development in Africa. Christian mission societies and other advocates of this position pushed European governments to colonize Africa and thereby provide a supportive environment for the expansion of commerce.
ECONOMIC CONNECTION BETWEEN EUROPE AND AFRICA
The Scramble for Africa took place between 1886 and 1914. During this time, European countries colonized all of Africa, with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia. As is shown the following map, Britain, France, and Portugal were the main colonial powers in Africa, but Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Spain also had colonies.
Establishing political control, or sovereignty, over their colonies was the primary objective of the colonial powers in the early years of colonialism. The colonial powers used a combination of warfare, threat of force, and treaty making with African rulers in their efforts to gain political control of African colonies. Once political control was realized and institutions of governance were in place, economics became the main concern of the colonial governments.
Europe experienced an economic depression at the end of the 19th century; consequently, the colonial powers felt that they had no money to spend on political administration, social programs, or economic development in their colonies. They were adamant that the colonies should pay for themselves. The colonial administration in each colony was charged with raising the revenue necessary to pay for all expenses, including the colonial army and police force.
Given the great geographic diversity of Africa in terms of natural resources, climate, vegetation, topography, and precipitation, there was no uniform model that the colonial powers used to raise revenue throughout Africa. Just as economic activity in the early 20th century varied throughout Europe and in the United States, so too, economic activity in Africa was diverse. Within this diversity, economic historians of Africa have identified five modes of economic activity and revenue generation in colonial Africa
is a continent rich in mineral resources. In colonies where there were
large deposits of minerals, colonial governments encouraged the exploitation
of the minerals. Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and the Belgian Congo (Congo)
are examples of colonies whose economies were dominated by copper production.
In these colonies, colonial governments initiated policies that forced
some African farmers to leave their homes to become mine workers.
scale agricultural production. In
colonies in East and Southern Africa that had climates attractive to
European settlers, the primary colonial economic activity and revenue
generation was large scale farms owned by Europeans. Examples include
Angola (coffee), Kenya (coffee, tea), and Southern Rhodesia/Zimbabwe
(tobacco, beef). In this system, European settler farmers needed land
and labor. To meet these needs, the colonial governments instituted
unpopular policies that removed good farm land from the local population
and forced some men to work as laborers on European controlled farms.
scale agricultural production. Most
African colonies had neither large deposits of minerals, nor the environment
to encourage European settlement. In these colonies, the colonial governments
actively encouraged farmers to grow special cash crops that
would be exported to raise revenues. Cash crops included food crops
such as groundnuts/peanuts (Senegal, Nigeria), coffee (Tanganyika,
Rwanda, Uganda), cocoa (Ghana, Togo, Cote D'Ivoire) and non-food crops,
such as cotton (Mali, Niger, Sudan) and tobacco (Malawi).
of Labor. Parts of some African colonies were poor in natural resources.
In these situations, the colonial regimes instituted policies that
strongly encouraged able bodied men to leave their homes and
migrate either to distant areas within the same colony or to neighboring
colonies where they worked in mines or on large farms. Mine owners
and commercial farmers paid a recruitment fee to the colonial government
of the worker's home country. For example, in Southern Africa the colonies
of Bechuanaland (Botswana), Basotholand (Lesotho) , Swaziland, and
parts of Mozambique and Malawi became labor reservoirs for the mines
and large farms of Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, and South
Economies. Most colonial economies in Africa are called mono-economies by
economists. This indicates that the colonial economies were dependent
on mining, settler agriculture, or the small scale production of a
single cash crop. There were a few exceptions to this trend. By the
end of colonialism in South Africa (1994), the country had a very vibrant
and diversified economy boasting mineral, agricultural, and manufacturing
industries, and an advanced commerce sector. Another example of a mixed
economy is Nigeria. In the 1950s, the last decade before independence,
the discovery of large reserve of petroleum helped diversify an agriculturally
Primary Revenue Generating Products During Colonial Era
Go to Activity Five or
- Activity One: Engage (Wants and Needs)
- Activity Two: Explore (Food Production)
- Activity Three: Explore2 (Yoruba Case Study)
- Activity Four: Explain (Economics of Colonialism)
- Activity Five: Explain2 (Transportation)
- Activity Six: Expand (Case Study: Zambia/Northern Rhodesia)
- Activity Seven: Expand2 (Case Study: Mali/Soudan)
- Activity Eight: Expand3 (Post-Colonial Economies)
- Activity Nine: Expand4 (Globalization and Africa Economies)
- Activity Ten: Summary