Continuing Effects of Colonialism

Family stuff this evening, but I made it!

So for one of our first essays in my International Relations class, we had to describe the continuing effects of colonialism.  It’s a touchy subject, but here was my attempt.  My score was 100%, for what it’s worth.  Creative Commons license, etc.


Colonialism follows Imperialism, the conquering of a territory for an empire, and usually involves the immigration of and settling by peoples from the conquering country. It began in earnest by the European nations in the Fifteenth Century and lasted approximately 400 years.

The effects of this colonialism can especially be seen in three areas to this day: political, economic, and social.

Economic Effects

The economic effects of colonialism began with the fact that colonies were subject to the drain of their financial resources. One way this happened was with plantations, where cash crops only were grown. While a positive effect was that the colonies were integrated into the international economy, very little of the money was then reinvested in the local area.  Another area that was exploited was that of natural resources, such as timber or precious metals. Finally, infrastructure was built that mainly allowed goods to be taken to ports and shipped to other countries, with the profits going back to the colonizers. Often, the colonies would be made to buy finished goods from the mother country, and this destroyed the independent producers locally.  To this day, many countries are unable to compete with “dumping” of goods that could be produced locally, resulting in poverty.  Many of these nations are therefore dependent on one cash crop – which can be endangered through disease or through commodity price fluctuations.  They also are often highly dependent on natural resources, leading to the resource trap, in which conflict over the resource is more likely, and wherein other industries are devalued due to the large influx of money for the resource.

Political Effects

Politically, places that had been to this point decentralized were subjected to central planning by the colonizers.  Local systems of rule were replaced, and this led to the loss of cultures which were based on these systems.  Boundaries between territories were established that had no basis in existing cultures or tribes.  There were differences in how countries ran their colonies.  The British tended to allow free trade whereas the French allowed importation of goods only from France and restricted trade only to the French and specified that only French ships could be used to ship goods.  The French also centralized control of the colonies in Paris whereas the English tended to rule through local parties.  The effects of the different styles of rule by British and French, not to mention the Belgians and Germans, is debated, but it is clear that the arbitrary imposition of boundaries and the destruction of traditional institutions has resulted in conflict throughout Africa and even some parts of Asia.  The fact that some of these territories were created with no outlet to the sea has inhibited trade and made them even poorer.

Social Effects

Socially, the most pernicious effect of colonization was the institution of slavery.  Although slavery had existed in Africa prior to colonization, it reached new heights as the colonizers experienced a need for labor for the plantations and mines.  Socially, many cultures had been based on the extended family system.  This was destroyed and today most of the former colonies have adapted the Western individualistic way of life.  The formerly rural society migrated to cities, and this has had adverse effects in many countries as millions of poor have crowded into slums.

While colonialism ended over 50 years ago, the effects can still be seen to this day.  These effects have their roots in the policies pursued by the colonizing countries, and are evident in political, economic, and social changes.  The imposition of cash-crop farming and natural resource exploitation have led to stunted economies.  The arbitrary division of the colonies into territories without regard to existing cultures and tribes has led to internecine warfare.  The social effects can best be seen in the breakdown of traditional extended family networks and the migration from subsistence farming to slums.  While there were positive effects – the integration of the colonies into the international trade economy and the introduction of hygiene and medical knowledge – these have been far outweighed by the war and dislocation and loss of culture that colonization brought.



(1) Karen A. Mingst & Ivan M. Arreguin-Toft, Essentials of International Relations, Sixth

Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013

(2)  Ziltener, Patrick and Künzler, Daniel, “Impacts of Colonialism – A Research Survey”

Journal of World-Systems Research, Volume 19, Number 2, Pages 290-311 (2013), ISSN


(3)  Hrituleac, Alexandra, “The Effects of Colonialism on African Economic Development: A

comparative analysis between Ethiopia, Senegal and Uganda (2011). Aarhus University,

Business and Social Sciences Masters Thesis

(4)  Settles, Joshua Dwayne, “The Impact of Colonialism on African Economic Development”

(1996). University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects.

(5)  Ertan, Arhan, Putterman, Louis, and Fiszbein, Martin, “Determinants and Economic

Consequences of Colonization: A Global Analysis” (2012) Brown University.

(6)  Arowolo, Dare, “The Effects of Western Civilisation and Culture on Africa”

Afro Asian Journal of Social Sciences Vol 1, No. 1 (2010) : ISSN 2229 – 5313.

(7)  Collier, Paul, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be

Done About It. USA: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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