This is an extract from dissertation on decolonization:
During the last half millennium, the major European powers decided that it would be beneficial to their interests if they obtained colonies overseas to help with their economic expansion, among other things. They also wanted to develop capitalism and create a world market with an international division of labour. There were two main phases of colonial expansion (Chandra, 1992). The first of these was from 1450-1800, and the colonies were seen as places to trade with, but they didn’t produce raw materials and weren’t seen as markets. Colonialism meant conquest, plunder and small amounts of settlement. The second phase occurred after the industrial revolution when there was a great need for raw materials to be used in domestic factories. This period was from 1800-1945, and it was a phase of exploitation rather than a phase of expansion. The colonial leaders also saw the colonies as markets for the products that they produced at home, and they were often used against the interests of other competing colonial powers.
The implications of colonial rule on the colonies are considerable, and there was a large impact on local economics, culture and political systems. The manner in which decolonization took place also led to problems. Many geographers see a colonial past as probably the most important initial condition for underdevelopment. Although there is an obvious negative association between colonial rule and industrialisation, colonialism did give some benefits to the colonies.
The most obvious legacy of colonial rule was the deprivation of resources on a massive scale over a long period of time. In the later stages of colonial rule, the resources that could be exploited were the main reason for establishing a colony. For example, between 1600-1810, the Spanish rulers exported 185 tons of gold and 22,000 tons of silver from their colonies in the Americas back to Spain, and in 1585, one quarter of all Spanish revenue came from the colonies in the new world. This kind of exploitation was common to all rulers of colonies, and the British extracted over £100,000,000 from India in about 50 years of colonial power. After the industrial revolution, the need for more and more raw materials came about, so there was even more exploitation of the colonies.
Leading on from the above point, there was a policy to actively discourage industrialisation in the colonies for a number of reasons. It firstly meant competition for the industries at home, but it also diverted labour from the production of raw materials, and it reduced the market for manufacturing goods. This was why there was no state intervention to help the domestic colonial industries to grow, and they were further hampered by the free trade policy that was imposed on them. African imports were banned by the metropolitan powers of Europe, but they had no qualms about flooding the colonial market with cheap European goods to destroy the local industries. For example, India lost 7% of its workforce in the manufacturing sector in the period 1800-1881 due to British colonial policy. Other examples of this course of action include the illegalisation of slitting and rolling mills, blast furnaces and forges after 1750 in America, and the shutting down of a twine factory in Tanganyika in 1936, because British industrialists decided to complain about it. The whole colonial policy is shown perfectly in that there was only 47 industrial establishments employing more than ten people in Ibadan in 1963, and only 9 of these employed more than 100. The surplus generated by industry was directed back to the colonial powers rather than back into the industry.
Industrialisation only really began in earnest after independence, and in many cases there was a great deal of state intervention, leading to a mushrooming of state ownership. This coupled with the economic conditions it produced led to dominant class formations which were to have profound effects on political power in the future.
Slavery is probably the worst legacy of colonialism, and this was the trade of labour, mainly from Africa, to the new world to work for European settlers. It is estimated that between 1601 and 1870, 15,200,000 left Africa. This not only decimated the local population but it led to mixing in previously homogenous races, which caused severe racial tension, an example being in the deep south of the USA.The system of indentured labour is also a colonial legacy.
Many former colonial countries are now suffering serious demographic problems, which are partly due to their colonial history. The population numbers began to grow when the death rate started to decline but there was no fall in the birth rate to match it. The drop in the death rate was due to Western health standards, the introduction of insecticides (e.g. DDT), and also due to modern medical facilities. This caused serious problems in the later years of colonial rule, and coupled with slow economic growth and persistently low levels of production, the resulting population explosion led to widespread pauperisation and marginalisation.
As all government decisions were taken by the colonial rulers, when the colonies actually got independence, very few people actually knew how to look after the country, and almost none of them knew about the workings of a democratic government. In the past the decisions had been made to benefit the European powers, so the newly independent powers were not sure what was the best thing to do to benefit their country. Their was little or no input by the natives of the colonies during the colonial era, and they rarely held positions of any importance. In Portuguese Angola, everything was ran by Portugal. This is why after independence many African countries and colonies in other parts of the world had anti-democratic policies.
The whole idea of colonialism was underpinned by the issue of racism, that Europeans were in some way better than the inhabitants of the countries that were to be colonised. The natives of the country were made to feel inferior, and they were constantly reminded of this fact, while the Europeans felt confident. The best example of this legacy was the policy of apartheid in South Africa, where the whites and the blacks were separated for years after the break down of colonial rule and subsequent independence. Racism was the justification for giving the blacks lower wages and fewer rights than those of the white people.
The use of force in colonial times had an effect on the colonies which is still felt today. Firstly, the indigenous tribes such as the Maoris and the aborigines were forced of their land and they are now found in tiny areas which are not too far removed from ghettos. Many present governments of former colonies still use force as a political tool, an example being the expulsion or imprisonment of an influential political opponent. The force shown by the colonial rulers is being continued in some countries at present.
One final negative legacy of colonialism is that countries after independence have been left vulnerable to new forms of external economic forces, such as changes in international commodity prices, and this has had an adverse effect on planned economic development.
Colonialism has not been totally destructive for the former colony and they have gained certain things from being formally under colonial rule. When countries were taken over by the European countries, trade routes were opened up with places that were formally unreachable. They now had the ability to obtain things that they could not produce themselves, and they were also able to dispose of surplus as well as specialise in products that had a comparative advantage.
When countries got independence, various colonial institutions and infrastructures were left behind that benefited the country in the long term. The most obvious of all these would be the physical infrastructure of railways, roads and ports that are now a vital part of the economy but were originally set up to transport raw materials around more efficiently, and to move imported goods around. In 1920, India ( a former colony) had 59,000kms of railway compared to China, which had only 10,800kms. Educational and legal systems that were set up, along with law and order formed the basis for subsequent development after independence.
During colonial times, there was less fighting between neighbouring tribes, and colonialism tended to have a calming influence in this respect. Another colonial idea was the creation of modern states to prevent problems and to allow people of a similar background to live together peacefully. Although this was a success at the time, it is now leading to problems in the present.
All in all, colonialism had a negative effect on the colonies rather than a positive one, but it can be argued either way as to whether it was beneficial or not. For example, Ethiopia, which only had a few years of Italian rule has benefitted from the physical infrastructure set up during its time as a colony, especially the railways. Taiwan, which was a former Japanese colony, now has one of the fastest growing economies in the world due to the industrial base that was set up during its time as a colony. But for every country that has benefited from a colonial history, there are at least two that have sufferd as a result of it, especially the poor countries of Africa and Latin America.
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