European Imperialism In Africa Essay

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The differential impact of French and British rule is explored, but it is argued that a bigger determinant of the differential evolution of poverty, welfare and structural change was the contrast between “settler” and “peasant” economies.

This article asks how the legacies of European rule, both generally and in particular categories of colony, have affected post-colonial economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Regarding the colonial impact, the case for the prosecution, which a generation ago was urged most strongly by dependency theorists and radical nationalists (Amin 1972; Rodney 1972), is now championed by “rational choice” growth economists. Robinson (2001; 2002) have argued that Africa’s relative poverty at the end of the 20th century was primarily the result of the form taken by European colonialism on the continent: Europeans settling for extraction rather than settling themselves in overwhelming numbers and thereby introducing the kinds of institution (private property rights and systems of government that would support them) that, according to Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson, was responsible for economic development in Europe and the colonies of European settlement in North America and Australasia.2 Colonial extraction in Africa could be seen most decisively in the appropriation of land for European settlers or plantations, a strategy used not only to provide European investors and settlers with cheap and secure control of land, but also to oblige Africans to sell their labour to European farmers, planters or mine-owners (Palmer and Parsons 1977). where the land remained overwhelmingly in African ownership, we will see that major parts of the services sector were effectively monopolised by Europeans.

Then there was coercive recruitment of labour by colonial administrations, whether to work for the State or for European private enterprise (Fall 1993; Northrup 1988).

Chapter 8 assesses the impact of different kinds of European regime on African entrepreneurship and on institutions facilitating, hindering or channelling African participation in markets.

Chapter 9 completes the substantive discussion by commenting on the long-term effects of the colonial intrusion on the capacity of the State in Africa for facilitating and promoting economic development.

Côte d’Ivoire underwent what might loosely be described as a magnified version of the standard growth trajectory.

It averaged an annual GDP growth of 9.5% from 1960 to 1978 (Berthélemy and Söderling 2001, 324-5) but then had several years of stagnation followed by civil war. Ghanaian GDP per capita was barely higher in 1983, when it began structural adjustment, than at independence in 1957.1 However, as one of the two most successful cases of structural adjustment in Africa (the other being Uganda), Ghana averaged nearly 5% annual growth during the quarter-century after 1983.

The year 1960 is conventionally used as the “stylised date” of independence, for the good reason that it saw the end of colonial rule in most of the French colonies south of the Sahara as well as in the most populous British and Belgian ones (Nigeria and Congo respectively).1 Half a century is a reasonable period over which to review the economic impact of legacies because it allows us to consider the issue in the context of different phases of post-colonial policy and performance.

The causal significance of legacies varies, in that they affect subsequent freedom of manoeuvre to different extents and in different directions.


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