Post-Colonial History of Africa

Subject: History
Pages: 5
Words: 1460
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College


The countries of the African continent for several reasons can be considered special actors in international political and economic relations. Due to the long relationship with the mainland, both on the part of developed countries and the Africans themselves, Africa has become a problematic integration system. It is necessary to analyze the history of the development of the colonial regime on the continent and to identify the main features of the post-colonial period.

Today, African territories, which in the past were entirely dependent on the industrially developed countries of Europe, are commonly called third-world countries. It was during this period that the countries were divided into three categories, and it was the majority of African territories fell into the group of developing countries (Maathi, 2012). The prerequisites for the emergence of a colonial regime with the participation of Europeans as monopolists appeared already at the end of the fifteenth century during the period of great geographical discoveries (Cooper, 2002). The main reasons are the search for new effective trade routes to the east. It is worth highlighting the impact of the Arabs, who exported the local population as a labor force, forming the trend of the slave trade on the continent.

Main Body

It is worth mentioning the Transatlantic people-selling, which has been carried out for almost three hundred years. Traders exported a significant part of the strong population, regardless of gender, which led to a significant weakening of society in the analyzed region. However, the increased spread of European influence in Africa and the actual division of territories began precisely in the second half of the 19th century (Cooper, 2002). On the African mainland, there were long wars between representatives of future monopolies, Europeans made their way deep into the mainland, capturing local settlements that had not met foreigners before.

At that time, the coastal territories of the mainland were already well known. The peak of the “Battle for Africa” was the Berlin Conference, where the developed states of Europe legalized the division of Africa according to their interests. The leaders of the states allowed themselves to extract natural resources, thus becoming free concerning building policies in their spheres of influence. As a result, by the beginning of World War I, Great Britain was the largest colonizer in the region, and the second place in terms of the territorial area was occupied by France (Maathi, 2012). The Italian colonies were in the north and the Portuguese were in the south. Belgium controlled the modern territories of DR Congo, and Spain had small colonial possessions in the west (Maathi, 2012). In addition, Germany, which entered the war for colonies only in the 19th century, due to the skillful policy of Bismarck, was able to seize part of the African territories, which, however, it lost after the defeat in the First World War.

As a result, the countries of Southeast Asia and the Middle East proclaim their independence, but not the African states, where the peak of decolonization comes in the second stage. From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, the second wave of decolonization took place. This stage is connected with the activities of the UN, with the adoption of decisions regarding the issue of colonialism and decolonization. By 1959, only 8 states in the north of the African continent were independent. With the impact of the active liberation of African countries, 1960 is now called the Year of Africa (Maathi, 2012). Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the period of colonialism left its mark on the post-colonial development of African countries, which are currently experiencing a systemic crisis. It is necessary to consider the features of such a development.

First, it is essential to say about the historical causes of the systemic crisis. This is, first of all, the long-isolated existence of the continent and the consequences of the Euro-American slave trade. It was the market of people that led to the outflow of the most intellectually and physically developed inhabitants of the continent, which subsequently became the cause of structural imbalances in the economies of African states (Maathi, 2012). Secondly, the mentality of the African people plays its role, which can be called reactionaries, people who hardly perceive innovations introduced from outside, that is, the civilizational component of the systemic crisis is traced. This is what prevents the spread of modern trends and world achievements on the African continent.

Thirdly, after independence, there were no national political elites that did not have time to form in the young states. During the colonial period, most of the African states were under the control of European powers, which was reflected in the internal political system (Maathi, 2012). Indeed, it is impossible to remotely control either people or land for a long time, for this reason, all the highest posts in African countries during the colonial period were occupied by Europeans or African proxies who benefited from such public service. As a rule, such vice royal policy consisted of manipulating social groups, excluding one or another part of the population from social processes. For example, in Ruanda-Urundi, the Belgians put the Tutsi people in government positions, delegating and entrusting them with several powers to control the population and production (Maathi, 2012). Yet, this is an exceptional example of the governance of African territories. In most cases, the colonialists did not allow the indigenous population to have any weight in the political sphere, to prevent any riots and rebellions against the European mother countries.

Thus, after achieving independence in the young states, there were not only experienced politicians for competent government, but a layer of specialists capable of ensuring the smooth functioning of the economic mechanism. The fourth reason for the systemic crisis is related to the lack of local specialists (Maathi, 2012). Its essence lies in the fact that the ruling elites of the newly independent African states sought to take control of the political and economic life of the country, except for agriculture. This led to the widespread nationalization of property. As a result, it became obvious that enrichment is possible only through access to the levers of state power.

Fifth, in the pre-colonial period, African society was familiar only with the authoritarian power of the rulers. During the period of colonialism, the rule of dependent territories was authoritarian. Thus, the European political culture introduced within the framework of colonial society did not in the least correspond to the ideas of power that were rooted both among the elite (Maathi, 2012). That is why we can say that in most African countries, European democratic institutions have remained only a form filled with typical African authoritarianism with a completely different set of values.

Sixth, it is necessary to say about the ongoing civil and local wars. The reason for widespread civil wars can be considered the fact of unnatural borders. The state borders of modern African countries were drawn artificially, the basis for them was the geographical location of the possessions of European countries. Back in 1963, the Organization of African Unity, to maintain stability on the continent, called on countries not to change territorial boundaries, no matter how unfair they may seem (Maathi, 2012). However, the European vision of the borders of African states, ignoring ethnocultural, religious, and historical elements, nevertheless caused widespread strife and clashes.

In addition, decolonization in Africa, as well as on other continents, did not take place peacefully. In its first stages, the Africans fought with the mother countries, and after that, they began to fight with themselves for power and land. The consequence of colonialism is the civil war and genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s, instability, and war in Somalia since 1988, wars, and the further division of Sudan. There are exceptions, for example, the first president of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, came to power peacefully (Maathi, 2012). Finally, the situation in the region is aggravated by the existence of stateless societies – African tribal groups headed by leaders. In themselves, such societies are often beyond the control of the central government, and the arbitrary establishment of state borders in the past once again destabilized the internal organization of such communes.


Thus, the reasons for the backwardness of the African continent, and its inability to fit into the emerging XXI century system of global relations are associated with the expansionist policy of Europe. It has been going on for more than half a century, which has led to a systemic and comprehensive crisis. As a result, they are associated with the living conditions of the African population formed during the colonial period, which was reflected in the African world order already in the first years of independence. Colonialism in Africa created neither a national identity nor viable administrative structures that could legitimize new states.


Cooper, F. (2002). Africa since 1940. The past of the present. Cambridge University Press.

Maathi, W. (2012). Unbowed. Pearson Education.