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.


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