Merits and Demerits of Colonialism

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Colonialism | Pros and Cons of British and French Colonial Administrations In West Africa


As emphasised in our previous article, three different colonial powers had territories in West Africa are British, French and Portuguese, but their objectives were similar.

The primary aim of colonialism was the exploitation of the natural resources of the colonial territories to satisfy metropolitan interests. In order to achicve this objective, each colonial power adopted the policy that was most suited to its needs.

Thus, while the British employed the Indirect rule policy, the French and the Portuguese adopted a direct approach, which in the case of the French was called assimilation or direct rule.

What are the Merits and Demerits of Colonialism?

Advantages of Colonial Rule

  • Agriculture was greatly developed during colonial rule, especially in the production of cash crops like cocoa, cotton, oil palm and rubber to provide raw materials for British and French industries. Mechanized agriculture was introduced in government farms, and local farmers were encouraged to produce more.
  • The British and French colonial administrators established modern transportation and communication systems in different parts of West Africa. For instance, they provide roads, waterways, railways, bridges, and postal and telecommunication facilities.
  • Colonial brought western education to the people of West Africa. The British and French administrators built schools and colleges which brought up a crop of educated West Africans who could communicate easily and hold their own among the people from other parts of the world.
  • The Christian missionaries accompanied colonial governments and spread Christianity to the African people. Christianity contributed a lot towards the elimination of human sacrifice and similar vices in the colonies administered by Britain and France. The missionaries also provided educational and health facilities.
  • Colonialism resulted in the establishment of larger political units encompassing the old traditional kingdoms. For example, in Nigeria, the Yoruba kingdoms, the Hausa Fulani empire, the Igbo communities and the Jukun kingdom, among others were brought together as a country.
  • Big cities like Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna, Dakar, Accra and Abidjan developed during British and French West Africa colonial administration.
  • Colonialism facilitated interstate trade among the countries under the same colonial master.
  • The activities of the western missionaries facilitated the level of social development in both colonies. For instance, they established health and educational facilities.
  • The introduction of legal systems provided improvements to, and modifications of, the African additional laws.

Disadvantages of Colonial Rule

  • Britain and France presented their cultures as superior to those of the African peoples and so made the people of west Africa accept alien cultures to the neglect of their own.
  • Colonial education retarded social economic and political development of these countries. The form of education introduced was meant to teach Africans how to read and write English and french-languages, and not really to train them for the social economic development of their own countries.
  • Britain and France exploited the economy of West African countries. They derived raw materials from these countries to feed their industries and brought back finished products to them at higher prices.
  • Both Britain and France introduced the capitalist ideology into their colonies. The system of vests economic wealth and control in the hands of a few individuals.
  • The policy of assimilation made french-speaking countries completely dependent on France. This dependence provided France an opportunity to interfere in their domestic, economic, military and political policies, even after independence.
  • Colonial administration created long-standing division and mutual distrust between the traditional rulers and the educated Africans who were opposed to European involvement in the domestic policies of west African territories.
  • Colonial rule resulted in the balkanisation and separation of peoples. Some peoples with dissimilar religious, languages and customs were brought together in one country with ethnic groups were separated into two or more countries. These created problems of national unity, mutual understanding and cooperation.
  • The two systems exploited West Africans in the two world wars. The colonized people were recruited as soldiers to fight and die in wars which did not concern them.
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