Political and Economic Effects of Colonialism in Africa

Colonization had a profound effect on all aspects of life in Africa. The changes made by colonizers not only affected politics, culture, and lifestyle, but also had a deep effect on the economy both at the time of colonization and today. This has led to a large issue with food insecurity, as the crops that colonizers forced in Africa are not sustainable or nutritious enough for the African people to thrive.

Prior to colonization, African countries had economic relations with many other regions, both transcontinental and within Africa. This led to the eruption of a few very wealthy areas as well as individuals. One individual greatly led to the development of strong economic systems in Africa, the ruler of the Mali Empire in the 1300s, Mansa Musa. The trade of gold and salt, both natural and abundant resources in West Africa, allowed for a large amount of exports across Africa, growing the empire’s economy exponentially. Upon his expedition to Mecca, Mansa Musa’s ideas and expertise were spread to many other regions in West and North Africa, allowing them to grow their economies as well. More specific information about Mansa Musa can be found here “This 14th-Century African Emperor Remains the Richest Person in History”.

Colonization from Western states began as a direct result of the increased economies in certain regions of Africa. Europe colonized areas that they never had any relations with because they suddenly realized that the areas contained resources that they wanted to utilize, such as the gold and salt that Mansa Musa exported. This began the rapid expansion of colonialism throughout all of Africa by a few European states, primarily England and France, commonly known as the Scramble for Africa. Many regions of Africa were colonized simply so that another state could not move in. This is entirely an economic and political strategy and shows the complete disregard for the African states other than for the resources they provide. Because of the international trading routes that many regions already had in place, it was easy for the European states to colonize and take full advantage of the African states.

Picture9Colonizing regions saw the sophisticated trading networks and exploited the African nations rather than simply taking a part in the trade. These colonizers took advantage of not only the structured economic systems put in place, but also the people: their culture, political systems, and used them as a resource. According to the article, “The Impact of Colonialism on African Economic Development”, the colonizers began to set up a “commodity-based trading system, a cash crop agriculture system, and [built] a trade network linking the total economic output of a region to the demands of the colonizing state.” Often these commodities and cash crops were not items that the Africans could use, but rather just items that the Europeans wanted to export and sell.

This commodity trading system involving cash crops was a huge cause of food insecurity in Africa. The colonizers forced the Africans to grow crops that could be exported and sold for the maximum profit. As a result, items that would be nutritious and provide overall sustenance while being sustainable were not being grown any longer or were much less abundant.

Picture10Perhaps the largest effect of colonization on the economic systems in Africa are a result of the slave trade. While the slave trade occurred prior to colonization, many of the South African people are descendants of former slaves. Because of the socioeconomic disparity as a direct result of the slave trade, it allowed for the colonizers to exploit them. The slave trade was not only a constant source of income for several hundred years, but also introduced the concept of credit and debt, which led to the idea of interest. This was all done in order to benefit the economies of the European states, while severely weakening the African economies. Europe was able to do this by forcing Africans to import items from Europe that they could have easily made locally, subjecting them to paying a large cost.

While today, the African countries are free of colonization and the slave trade has ended, their legacies created a long-term impact on the political economy and therefore food security. Still today, many of the crops in Africa that are being widely and prominently grown, and therefore are available to those with lower incomes, are not providing balanced nutrition, leading to malnutrition.

There has been research into different ways to enhance the agricultural system in Africa and therefore help grow more nutritional and diverse foods. The article, “Local fertilizers to achieve food self-sufficiency in Africa”, examines the fertilizers currently used in Africa on crops both sold and consumed. This is important because the increase in correct fertilizer use could aid in the number of crops produced, as well as the types. As a result, it will lead to a decrease in food insecurity by increasing sustainability. An issue is the accessibility and cost of the fertilizers, but research has been done and there are options for locally sourced and reasonably priced fertilizers. These must be available and widely used in order to help achieve food security by 2030.

The effect that colonization had on Africa spans many different areas, but perhaps one of the largest and most detrimental effects is the economy: both at the time of colonization and today. This has led to a large issue with food insecurity as the colonizers put all of the agricultural focus on profitable crops, not ones sustainable or nutritious enough for the African people to be considered nourished.


The Hunger of War: Food scarcity and Competition in Africa


When looking at what most affects food security, it seems obvious that the first point of call would be conflict itself. But why is this the case? In focusing on the recent conflicts on the continent, 3 assumptions can come from this: first, conflict takes away a state’s priorities for sustainable food production, second: conflict directs the majority of food supplies to those fighting, and therefore often away from areas which are most in need and finally, there is a general reduction in crop supply owing to damages made to the land and reduced laborers to harvest crops. As shown by the international food policy research institution, because conflict disrupts markets and agricultural production it will ultimately reduce food availability.

Food security in Africa has 2 elements. When it comes to conflict people’s access to food is reduced two-fold because they lack the economic means to purchase food owing to the fact that there will be reduced state subsidies decreasing the price of food, and secondly because of the notion of supply and demand. With a reduced supply owing to the factors that will be discussed, demand increases making accessing such food harder. This is particularly true in Africa where there are high levels of subsistence farming (producing food for one’s self).

Under the General definition of conflict it entails multitudesof destruction as the aim is to reduce one’s opponent to a point where they can no longer fight as shown by Messer and Cohen. Thus, the reduction of crop production becomes an intrinsic part of conflict therefore reducing food security both short term and long term because crops will be destroyed therefore decreasing the amount available to feed the population. It will also reduce the ability to produce more crops in the future. This is the case for three reasons: economic, environmental and social:

Through the destruction of property there is clearly a need for repair and therefore to pay for such repairs. Secondly, the destruction of property is likely to affect the soil so the land will become less productive for a number of years and third, conflict will entail a loss of life which will decrease the number of labourers who can harvest and farm the land

The aforementioned points link to the rising incidence of famines to conflict. This is exemplified in Somalia where in 1991-1992drought caused severe famine. What can be taken from this is that it is a lack of decent management of the land and resources the leads to such severe effects on food production, something which is feared to reoccur now in Somalia.

Furthermore, a state’s priorities will shift from the production of food to militarising certain areas during times of war. This is certainly the case for inter-state conflict and even more so when we look at civil war. In this state priorities are damaged and disrupted even further because the state apparatus will be weakened as part of an intra-state conflict. Therefore, in areas of active conflict there will be increases in the level of food insecurity because there is less priority placed on the production of food for consumption and more on cash crops and feeding military forces. Evidently from recent data collected by the World Food Program on the violence in DRC  in 2015, 1 in 10 people living in rural areas are in a situation of food security. This as the World Food Program shows has been caused by reduced availability and access owing to the inability of the state to provide access to quality food during the escalating violence.

Finally, conflicts direct food away from areas that are most in need. This is particularly true in areas that have experienced conflict in the past or where large number of refugees have settled. Evidently, prioritization takes place under policies during times of conflict in which those considered both internationally and internally displaced persons are pushed to the bottom of the hierarchy. This is what leads to such a high incidence of food insecurity in correlation with conflicts because these populations are the most vulnerable. This is particularly the case in Guinea. From data collected by the international food policy research institute from there were 2,300,000 total food insecure people in Guinea. What is alarming about this is that these are refugees from neighbouring conflicts, people who will already be in highly vulnerable situations where their food security is likely to have been even lower.

Food security itself can also cause conflict. As shown by the 2004 study, the factors which lead to conflict in developing countries include intergroup competition over resources such as land, water and developmental aid

Much of the conflict analysis that took place on the continent between 1980-1990s shows a link with identity politics which was heighted by the perceived scarcity of primary resources – ‘Grievance’. This was the case Rwanda where competition over land between the two groups and therefore access to agricultural improvement programs directly preceded the 1994 genocide. So it is a fear over a lack of resourcesand the want to gain sufficient amounts of food, that enabled the escalation of ethnic tensions that already existed in Rwanda following the Belgium preference of the Tutsi’s as shown by Englebert and Dunne. In both post conflict and pre-conflict situations there can be a connection made between this perceived ‘grievance’ (possible lack of food) and conflict because of the want to possess food over others.

21st Century Globalization in the Form of Food in Africa

We hear a lot about how McDonald’s and other fast food chains can now be found in essentially every corner of the world, but the question we had was, does this form of 21st century globalization also apply to Africa?  It turns out that Africa has only fairly recently developed a taste for fast food, but now that love affair is set to take off.  According to the market research company Euromonitor, fast food chains in Africa grew 3-4 percent annually between 2009 and 2014.  Steady growth numbers such as these have made many people in the business world take a closer look at the food service sector in Africa.  This blog post will look at what a possible expansion of fast food will mean for Africans.  We will look at the types and prevalence of fast food as well as the disparities in fast food by region.  We will then take a small dive into the economic, religious, and health effects of fast food in Africa as well as what an increase in fast food will do for Africa’s relationship with the global west and how Africa perceives countries like the United States.


The number one reason for the recent growth in fast food in Africa is the fact that Africa has a growing middle class.  In many places in Africa, there are just now enough people with disposable income to support a fast food restaurant.  On top of that, in many urban areas the lifestyle has undergone a number of changes and now more than ever, more Africans are on the go and in need of a quick meal.  Dionne Searcey, the West and Central African bureau chief for the New York Times, wrote a piece in 2017 about how she has been amazed by how much fast food has grown in the past couple of years. Her major takeaway was that Africans seem to love the American diet regardless of whether or not the food came from an American chain, or a newly_opened African knockoff.


Fast food is not really anything new for some parts of Africa.  In fact, fast food has had a strong presence in South Africa for quite some time.  In a sense, the Republic of South Africa is ground zero for fast food entering the continent.  In 2013 KFC was already well established, with 771 outlets in South Africa and others that were popping up across the region of southern Africa.  Other parts of Africa, such as West Africa and East Africa, are just now starting to see fast food chains come in.  Elias Shulze, a managing partner at the Africa Group said that Nigeria and Kenya are the two best candidates for growth in the fast food sector because both countries have an emerging middle class and a strong private sector already in place.

The strongest motivating factor for the growth of fast food in the changing African economy.  According to Credit Suisse, there are now 20 million African adults who are considered to be in the middle class.  While this is only a little more than 3 percent of Africa’s total population, the African middle class has doubled in the last decade and is expected to grow at the fastest rate in the world by the Development Bank.  Read more here on the African middle class.  All of the growth that has already happened and the future growth that is projected has attracted many investors and developers, and it seems like fast food companies are poised to win big in Africa.


American-styled cuisine has been altered slightly to account for certain religious dietary habits in Africa.  Thirty-three fast food restaurant chains in Africa offer some kind of halal offerings, even American chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and KFC.  There are even some fast food chains that are owned by Muslims and serve traditional Lebanese or Indian food using the fast food model.

The rapid introduction of fast food and the American-style diet into Africa has had several negative health effects for the population.  A World Health Organization study found that the childhood obesity rate has surged in the last 25 years, and the number of obese children on the continent has almost doubled.  At a more local level, the numbers are even more startling.  For instance, in Ghana obesity rates surged 650 percent since the first KFC came in 1980, going from 2 percent of the Ghanaian population to over 13 percent.  In the United States today there is a lot of pressure on fast food chains to fall in line with healthier food practices, and many chains have responded by offering healthier option.  In African fast food restaurants, however, healthier options are rarely or never offered.  The prevalence of the American diet has not just led to an increase in obesity; it has also led to an increase in several related diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke.  This has put a strain on Africa’s health systems, which are designed to deal with communicable diseases such as malaria or HIV/AIDS and are now having trouble handling the influx of preventable diseases.  In the United States, it is now a widely-known fact that junk food is bad for you and consuming it in large quantities can have detrimental health outcomes.  In Africa, that information is not as clear.  For more information on this issue check out the following links: https://qz.com/africa/1094112/obesity-diabetes-rises-africa-thanks-to-fast-food/  https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-03-12/american-fast-food-chains-are-invading-africa https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/health/ghana-kfc-obesity.htmlPicture22.png“McDonald’s Hits the World”


Globalization is not just a one-way street.  It is clear that American food culture has had a large influence on Africans.  However, while this is happening, African culture is making its way into American culture on the African continent.  Most chains have altered their menus to include more local flavors.  There are Pizza Huts in West Africa serving jollof rice as a topping on pizza, and many restaurants offer African food alongside American staples like a burger or chicken nuggets.  Even though most of the fast food restaurants are owned by large brands based in the United States and Europe, quite a few local restaurants are owned by Africans but serve American food.  There is even one instance of one of these African chains taking a trip in the opposite direction over the Atlantic Ocean.  Chesa Nyama, a South African BBQ chicken chain, has been very successful in Africa and recently released plans to open a new restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee.  It should be noted that the Chesa Nyama story is an outlier and not the norm.  For more information on how globalization can work the other way, check out these links: https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-03-12/american-fast-food-chains-are-invading-africa


The success of the American-styled fast food industry in Africa can be largely attributed to the existing perceptions that Africans had about the West.  In many ways, these chains had gotten decades of free advertising through movies, TV shows, and other types of media that featured food like pizza and burgers.  On top of all this free press, fast food chains were able to take full advantage of the long-held belief that Western culture and consumer goods were seen as a sign of class.  If you are eating American food, you are associated with a higher class within society.  Fast food has also benefited from the globalization of technology and the internet.  Many multinational fast food chains have become very effective of advertising via social media sites such as Facebook.  Africans, especially kids and young adults, are exposed to these kinds of restaurants and their American food.  Showing Africans that their peers in America are eating fast food makes Africans want some too.  The interesting thing is that the very thing that Africans hold up as being superior and belonging to a higher class is also causing major health risks.  Time will only tell if the fast food trend can be transformed into a continual growth for the sector in Africa.

For a look at one interesting South African chain that sells “North American” food, check out Spur Steak Ranches.  Notice how their entire idea of North American food is based off of stereotypes.

Africa Food Review: Ethiopian

I’ve recently gone to an Ethiopian restaurant – Zenebech Restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. This was my first time having Ethiopian food, though I’ve eaten food from all over the globe, from Indian to Brazilian to Korean. I was told prior to going that Ethiopian food is different from other foods I had tried. In particular, with Ethiopian cuisine, you eat with your hand, no utensils. This stunned me, as I hadn’t heard of that many cultures where you don’t use a fork and knife, except in parts of Asia where they use chopsticks. I didn’t know what to expect once I got there; I didn’t know if the food was going to be to my liking or if I would find it repulsive.

After trying a handful of different dishes, I can say for certain that Ethiopian food is delicious. The taste was similar to that of Indian food. The order that I got was a mixture of vegetarian dishes and meat dishes, including lamb (awaze tibs), beef (alicha wot), and chicken (doro wat). I found the meats themselves underwhelming, but the sauces that they were in were tasty. The sauces were made with a whole variety of spices and vegetables, which made them enjoyable to eat.

Because you don’t eat Ethiopian food with utensils, you use a special bread called injera. Injera is considered to be a sourdough bread with a spongy texture; if you look at this bread, it would look like dishwashing sponge. The bread comes from teff seed, which is from Ethiopia. I personally didn’t like the bread because of the texture felt weird and off-putting in my mouth. It had a generic taste, but the texture made my mouth unsettled, so I made sure to eat the bread with a lot of sauce. The vegetarian options that I ate were also very tasty; there was one with sunflower oil and injera mixed together which wasn’t very good (probably because I didn’t like the bread).

The food came out pretty quickly from the time that we ordered, which was also fascinating. I thought it would be a typical restaurant where one would have to wait upwards of 20 to 30 minutes for their food to come, but the food came rather quickly, like in less than 15 minutes. I found the services and the food very enjoyable, and I would highly recommend that you go out and try Ethiopian food.



Foreign Aid’s Effect on Africa

Foreign aid in Africa has had significant impacts on the continent, impacts that are sometimes contradictory. Foreign aid comes from a host of different countries, but the three biggest donors are Russia, the United States, Europe, and China. When an African state receives foreign aid, the state or group that provides the aid gains a little bit of influence on that African state.

Russia, both now and when it was part of the Soviet Union, has had a big influence in Africa. Russia has given plenty of foreign aid to Africa in many different forms. During the Cold War, the USSR provided several African countries with military aid, including the training of over 200,000 soldiers by the Soviets, while an additional 53,000 people studied at a military or political university in the Soviet Union. As a consequence, the Soviet Union made Africa more militarized, which allowed the violence in Africa to only become deadlier. Furthermore, through aid to authoritarian governments in Africa, the Soviets helped create many one-party states, which helped increase and strengthen the neo-patrimonial system in some African states. This creation of the one-party state was very appealing to many leaders of African states because it would help the leader personally benefit. The one-party system might not be as strong in Africa as it once was, but it has shaped the structures of many African governments today.

China’s policy about foreign aid differs from that of Russia and the Soviet Union. China has focused more on building up infrastructure in Africa states, in the hope that the aid that China provides will come back to help the Chinese economy in the long term. Unlike the United States, China is less interested in political influence over African states; the Chinese attitude is that less state intervention is better for trade and will help boost the state sovereignty of both parties. China’s work to modernize Africa’s infrastructure has been cited by many as contributing to the recent economic growth in Africa.

The United States also provides many African countries with foreign aid, both directly and indirectly, through multilateral organizations. The United States used its influence at the World Bank to help the U.S. status in obtaining certain Africa commodities like oil, gold, diamonds, tea, and coffee. U.S. aid towards Africa has resulted mostly in benefitting the United States, similarly to China, but in the political sphere, by contrast, the United States has tried to influence many African states through aid attached to anti-communist rhetoric during the Cold War. After the end of the Cold War, U.S. foreign aid arrived alongside the rhetoric of “development,” as a way to encourage African states to position themselves under the American sphere of influence. Increasingly, in the 2000s and the U.S. “War on Terror” and beyond, there was a huge change in how U.S. foreign aid was given in Africa. The United States now primarily offers African states is military aid, which can be defined as better training for state military personnel, equipment supply, and the cooperation of many African states together, all as part of anti-terrorism efforts.

Some might argue that the aid that is given to Africa doesn’t help the problems but only makes them worse. Dambisa Moyo, an economist at Cambridge University, writes, “The aid has gone mainly to governments. This has produced corruption and made the control of the state the main path to wealth and prosperity. This, in turn, has led to an insurrection, political instability, and civil war. Political instability makes private investment in Africa out of the question, furthering the government’s addiction to foreign aid.” This quote highlights the idea that the aid given to a government only increases the dependence on the foreign aid for the state.

Since independence, between the Soviet Union, China, the United States, and many other countries in the Global North, the contribution of foreign aid has created many long-term effects that can still be seen today, effects that are not always predictable but are always complex.


“Weaning Africa off Foreign Aid.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, no. 63 (2009): 85. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40407611.

Goldsmith, Arthur A. “Foreign Aid and Statehood in Africa.” International Organization 55, no. 1 (2001): 123-48. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3078599.

Englebert, Pierre, and Kevin C. Dunn. Inside African Politics. Boulder, CO: Rienner, 2013.