There is a common myth that makes its rounds through the minds of those who believe that colonialism greatly benefitted the colonised, that Europeans discovered areas, and through colonisation, civilised and developed these areas, making way for the cities we know today. This is not true. It must be noted that much of the history we are exposed to has been written by the colonists themselves, giving us a truly distorted view of the true consequences of colonialism.
Colonialism was not good, and let me tell you why.
India was a large colony of the British Empire, and is often viewed, mostly by apologists for the British Empire, as an example of successful colonialism. Many attribute India’s powerhouse status to the British colonial rule, but as it was numerously pointed out by many scholars, this is definitely not true. Most notable are the views of Shashi Tharoor, an Indian politician, whose facts efficiently rebut the claim that colonialism benefitted the colonies. In his speech at the Oxford Union, Shashi Tharoor focused on the economic toll that colonialism took on India.
“India’s share of the world economy when Britain arrived on its shores was 23 percent. By the time the British left it was down to below four percent. Why? Simply because India had been governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India.”
He further went on to state that Britain’s industrial revolution was actually premised upon the de-industrialisation of India.
In another televised statement, in reply to a question from the audience, Tharoor touched on the fact that British did not truly want to invest in Indians. He stated that the entire education budget for India during the British rule was less than half the budget for the state of New York during that time. All Indian tertiary institutions that we know of now were created after India’s independence.
The railways that the apologists always praise were created solely for the purpose of extracting resources from the heartland and transporting them to the ports, where they would be shipped off to England, or on occasion, the railways were used to dispense troops to keep the peace. According to Tharoor, the railways were actually built at India’s expense. It was paid for entirely by India, and the profits were reaped by the British. And when Indian passengers were allowed on board those trains, they were charged extremely high passenger rates and they were subjected to dismal travel conditions.
India’s resources had been effectively siphoned out by the British Empire. Before being colonised, India was a trade giant, and once Britain left India, India was reduced to almost nothing. The country did rebuild itself from nothing, and truly, without colonialism, India would be bounds ahead of where they are right now.
Large portions of Africa were not far behind Europe in terms of development and civilisations. In fact, Africa had many great kingdoms with complex and advanced civilisations, such as Mali, the Empire of Ghana, Zimbabwe etc.
In the 14th century, Timbuktu, the capital of the Mali Kingdom, was five times the size of London, and it was the richest city in the world. The cities of Mali were important trading centres for West Africa. The cities of Mali were actually viewed as famous hubs of wealth, culture and learning. Huge libraries and Universities were built in these cities, and these places were frequented by poets, artists and scholars of Africa.
The scholars of Timbuktu are greatly revered for their records of knowledge and research, more commonly known as the Manuscripts of Timbuktu. These manuscripts contain knowledge on medicine, art, science and philosophy.
This is just one example of a pre-colonial African city, and there are many more that were just as developed and advanced. Some examples are the Kingdom of Kongo, the Asante Kingdom, the Kingdom of Zimbabwe and the Ghana Empire. The capital of the Asante Kingdom was Kumasi, which was noted for its exquisite architecture and modern living.
Africa was not primitive prior to colonialism, as some people so firmly believe. Africa was a continent of trade and knowledge. However, these developed cities and civilisations were destroyed by the invading Europeans, whose sole aim was to conquer the people of Africa in order to extract the rich resources for themselves.
These rich cultures were lost, and the histories of Africa were rewritten by those who oppressed its people. The story of an advanced Europe bringing about civilisation, industrialisation and trade was accepted as history. But Africa was not the primitive land the colonists made it out to be. Had Africa not been colonised, the resources would have been used to advance and develop the land, and Africa would truly have been on par with Europe.
All colonialism did was reduce the people of Africa to play the role of the conquered. This is without getting into issues such as South Africa’s terrible era of apartheid, or the slavery that ran rampant. Colonialism destroyed all of Africa’s existing forms of civilisation and development, and it siphoned out all of the continent’s rich resources, destroying its people in the process. Without colonialism, Africa would have developed similarly to Europe, and through the sharing of knowledge and trade, there would have been some steps towards the Industrial Revolution. Africa’s riches would have been used to enrich Africa.
Clearly, colonialism quelled the true potential of so many countries. We still see such negative after effects of colonialism today, in the forms of racism, slavery (which is shockingly still a part of certain areas of our society) and genocide. So, how could something, which still sparks such ugliness, have been a good thing? Colonialism was a humanitarian disaster, and it will take a large amount of denial and ignorance for someone to dispute this fact.