Colonialism in Africa: A Revisionist Perspective.

Author:Gueye, Mansour


The history of the African continent is closely related to world history. Many events occurred and influenced its equilibrium. The same is true for imperialism and colonialism:

'Imperialism' means the practice, the theory, and attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory; 'colonialism', which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements in a distant territory. (Said) Said insists on the process of indoctrination in theorizing colonialism. On the contrary, other critics mainly focus on other categories like invasion, imposition of power, naked exploitation and related impacts to define it. In fact, the outcomes of colonialism in Africa have caused a lot of ink to flow. Its impacts on the continent are generally seen from different perspectives based on value-judgment rather than objectivity that should help dissect any discrepancy. Besides, nothing has become more controversial today than the issue of colonialism in Africa in relation to Eurocentrism and African perspective. Traditionally, Eurocentrist viewpoints play down African values and categories for Western hegemony, which treads on universalism and diversity.

[If] Eurocentrism was just the expression of European ideas, values, literature, and so forth, there would be no problem. However, the imposition of Eurocentrism as the only way to view reality amounts to ideological slavery and therefore must be rejected. (Asante, 2004: 237) In his article, "The Case for Colonialism", the Western theorist, Bruce Gilley not only extols the virtues of colonialism in Africa, but advocates its renewal in some areas for the sake of 'international order'.

[The] most serious threat to human rights and world peace was not colonialism--as the United Nations declared in 1960, but anti-colonialism. (2017:7) While Gilley praises colonialism, Adu Boahen queries the satisfactory balance sheet drawn by Western thinkers.

Many European and Eurocentric historians--such as L. H. Gann, P. Duignan, Margery Perham, Peter Lloyd and, more recently, D. K. Fieldhouse- have contended that its impacts are both positive and negative, with the positive aspects far outweighing the negative ones. (1987:94) It is clear that there is a misconception of colonialism that shows partiality and arbitrariness totally grounded in Eurocentrism. Moreover, African scholars and intellectuals do not circumvent such heresies; they systematically counter-balanced them, instead. In this respect, the work of the Guianese historian, Walter Rodney, "The Supposed Benefits of Colonialism to Africa", deserves further scrutiny for the sake of relevance. He challenges what has been said hitherto about the positiveness of colonialism and singles out its prejudicial impacts on Africa. To Rodney, beside the positive contributions through the network of public services colonial governments have implemented, Euro-centrist historians had better ask whether the benefits outweigh the losses or not.

Faced with the evidence of European exploitation of Africa, many bourgeois writers would concede at least particularly that colonialism was a system which functioned well in the interest of the metropoles.... However, (...) they place both the credits and the debits, and quite often conclude that the good outweighed the bad. That particular conclusion can quite easily be challenged, but attention should be drawn to the fact that the process of reasoning is itself misleading. (1981: 205) The Guianese historian comes up with a perspective that is different from that of his counterparts. Interestingly enough, he overtly challenges their positive conclusion on colonialism in Africa. This is all the more true, as colonialism in Africa has undoubtedly bequeathed a legacy to the continent that is, more often than not, seen as negative. Thus it should be pointed out here that our aim, as far as this paper is concerned, is to insist on authenticity based on factual elements and that will objectively shed light on the connectivity between history and fate. This will ultimately lead to the impacts of colonialism on the continent at different historical stages, which will allow us to see how it has been shaken and transformed, particularly in the political and economic sectors. As a structure, this work hinges on three major points: an overview of pre-colonial Africa, the colonial project and resistance, the colonial project of colonialism and its contribution to the development or underdevelopment of the continent.

An Overview of Pre-Colonial Africa

As earlier said, to broach the subject, we need to delve deep into African history and colonialism. For one cannot draw any scientific conclusion on the issue of colonialism in Africa without laying emphasis on the different stages that allow us to see its moments of glory and decadence. This will ultimately help readers grasp the evolution or regression, at different levels, that followed the transition. The African continent is noted for its historical 'wealth' that indigenous people did not inherit from the colonizer. Rather, it is a wealth that resulted from an overall dynamism of societies' components that are not asynchronous with colonialism:

Through all the centuries since man first appeared, Africans have shaped an independent society which by its vitality alone bears witness to their historical genius. This history, which came into being empirically, 'a priori', was thought out and interiorized 'a posteriori' both by individuals and by social groups. (Hama and Zerbo, 1995:43) Prior to the intrusion of Europeans on the continent, the pre-existence of African history is irrefutable. As Ki-Zerbo points out, the 'historical genius' was solely empiric; but what clearly comes out from his point of view is the collective effort that helped galvanize and compel people to abide by the mores defined by society.

What is more, even though the 'historical genius' was purely empiric during that time, still it deserves recognition and merit for the cohesion it brought about and for the balance it insured the communities. In fact, the social and economic stability that those people were known for in pre-colonial times was not hazardous; it was essentially grounded in leadership beyond reproach. The legendary empires the continent was crammed with are illustrative of this. This is all the more true as a study of iconic empires in Africa shows a blend of different styles of leaderships marked by the unique goal to foster a social order for the good of the community.

That is what accounts for the various political styles that...

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