The impact of European action and influence had on post-colonial Africa was comprehensive and extreme, destroying many aspects of African life from economic and political structures, to religious and culture. The long-term result including an overriding white supremacy in business, and culture, became pervasive and systemic. Journalist Howard French, in his book “A Continent for the Taking,” exposes how the carving up of Africa and subsequent violence and human atrocities committed during the colonial era changed not only the economies, but also rendered the people “desperate and confused,” and the youth, “lost” (French, pp. 131-132). The people live in fear and fight just to survive, making theft the modus operandi. Even while Africans looked to their leaders for stability and solutions, the leaders have made off with the national wealth. Mobuto, for example, “did what colonial leaders had taught them to do…completely rip-off their country” (French, p. 132).
Europeans, embarking upon “effective occupation” to enact their great plans for the advertised tropical paradise, rich in natural resources and abundant labor, to extract the most profit out of the region by way of raw commodity production for export, took great advantages over the land and people (Elkins, History). This cost Africa not only the destruction of its internal markets and its very means of livelihood with subsistence farming, but also took from the people their very spirit, religion, and notions of what it meant to be things like a man, women, or group elder. Even things like circumcisions, or naked dancing, became a punishable crime. Furthermore, European regime leaders made great effort to purposely strip the men of their dignity, along with their freedom. By forcing the men into camps and brutalizing and raping them and their women and daughters left at home, they stripped away their manhood, along with the valued role as provider and protector. Therefore, this occupation entailed not only changing Africa’s natural landscape with railways crisscrossing the continent, and other destruction of the environment and natural ecosystems, but also tragically destroyed the heart and souls of the African people.
Additionally, due to the lack of interest and understanding by the rest of the world, modern conflicts, including the Rwandan genocide where 800,000+ were slaughtered in 90 days, have gone unchallenged, and furthermore, have largely been misrepresented as faction wars, instead of having been the result of previous European social engineering used to control and manipulate African masses. This glossing over of African history has only recently been brought to light with more scholarly approaches like that of Harvard’s Caroline Elkins, where in her book, “Imperial Reckoning,” she sheds light on the atrocities committed by British imperialists in Kenya and how they were falsely portrayed as helping the Kenyans build economy, to the rest of the world (Elkins, Imperial).
Ultimately, post-colonial Africa has been slow to recover from the devastation of their economic and natural ecosystems, and moreover, has been slow to heal emotionally, as a people. The hope for Africa’s full recovery is often questioned, as Desmond Tutu explained, in his book, “No Future Without Forgiveness,” as it stands to face “the impossible task of unscrambling the demographic omelet…” (Tutu, p. 15), and further, having been left with a “broken people” (Tutu, p. 139). For many, the continued pain is sharp and vividly portrayed, as survivors tell of their burned villages where their own babies were murdered or died from neglect and starvation, and in torture cells where women were so brutally raped that they have yet to return to those cells to gather their own souls (Tutu 141). Outside of the TRC in South Africa, much of the European transgressions and extreme human rights violations have gone unacknowledged and unpunished, adding insult to injury…that not only did the brutality fail to matter then, but that as genocides like Rwanda can happen unchallenged, to the rest of the world, it may not matter now.
Professor Note: Teri –
This is a great reflection on the question of how colonialism changed African lives, cultures, and physical environments, and the enduring effects of the colonial legacy in Africa today. I also like how you brought the works of Professor Elkins and Desmond Tutu into the conversation. Nice work!
Elkins, C. (2005). Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya (2006 ed.). New York, USA: Owl Books-Henry Holt and Company LLC. Retrieved 2017
Elkins, C. (2017, Jan-May). History of Africa Class E1915. Harvard University Extension School . Cambridge.
French, H. W. (2004). A Continent for the Taking. New York: Vintage Books. Retrieved 2017
Tutu, D. M. (n.d.). No Future Without Forgiveness. New York: Doubleday. Retrieved 2017