The Effects of Colonization: How it Happened and How it Still Continues
Colonization is often considered as a concept or action of the far distant past that has little to do with the modern world today. However, this could not be further from the truth. Colonization, more specifically European colonization, has had and still has a great deal of impact on nations, more specifically those of the global south, even though quite a bit of time has passed since Columbus set sails. Because of the still lingering effects of colonization, nations have had to undergo domestic and international challenges to overcome the power relationships with former colonizers.
Before examining the remaining impacts of colonization in the current nation-state system, it is important to understand how colonization initially affected the nations of the global south. Europeans began colonizing these nations to obtain resources that directly boosted their own economies at the extent of the indigenous peoples. Colonialism proved to be very cruel towards the indigenous peoples, bringing about slavery, brutality, and death (Campbell, MacKinnon, & Stevens, 2010, p. 36). There is no mistaking that colonialism was unfavorable to the nations affected and severely limited any room for economic or culture growth. Campbell et al. (2010) further expands on the direct confrontations of colonialism by stating, “[T]he impacts of colonialism were similar, regardless of the specific colonizer: disease; destruction of indigenous social, political, and economic structures; repression; exploitation; land displacement; and land degradation” (p. 37). Needless to say, the atrocious effects of colonization on the colonized nations would not have been easily wiped clean even after the colonizer left or stepped out of the boundary lines of the nation. Colonialism has had lasting domestic and international consequences.
Once the nation gained independence it was then required to knit itself back together with a limited amount of string, so to speak, because of the state in which the colonizer left it. Colonialism, in addition to creating unstable “artificial states,” normally led to the nation’s entire infrastructure — roads, rail lines, and lines of communication — to be dedicated to the extraction of resources from the nation into the hands of the colonizer which then limited the formerly colonized nation’s ability to stabilize their own economy and feed their own population (Campbell, et al., 2010, p. 37). In addition to the direct physical effects of colonialism on the independent nations, there was a great deal of domestic political conflict that arose with the independence. During the stages of colonization, the native people of the nation had little to no influence on the way their own country was ran. The outcome of this was that the people of the newly independent nation had very inadequate knowledge on how to keep the nation-state going (Campbell et al, 2010, p. 37). This, of course, would be unfortunate for the struggling nations.
Even after the nation became independent, colonization still affected the nation’s correspondence and position with and within the international world. Ultimately, colonialism left the independent nation unprepared to function in the modern global nation-state system and vulnerable to outside influence and pressure. This in part can be attributed to neo-colonialism. According to Campbell et al. (2010), “Neo-colonialism refers to the involvement of more powerful states in the domestic affairs of less powerful ones” (p. 38). In the article “The Neo-Colonization of Central America” (2016), Jeff Abbott argues that neo-colonialism is in itself another form of colonization (p. 41). This concept suggests that the effects of colonization is still very present but just in a different way. To explain, as insinuated by Abbott (2016), “the force of neo-colonization is strengthened by free-trade agreements and development plans that guarantee a company’s right to investment above the rights of the citizenry. Meanwhile, the indigenous populations face renewed dispossession and eviction to make way for global capital’s conquest (p. 41). What this means is that the nation state is still abused because of outside meddling disguised as international policy.
To understand the effects of colonization on the real world, it is important to look at cases in which colonization deeply affected and still affect the development and growth of particular nations. The consequences of colonialism can be seen in the nations of now Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cuba. With both nations, colonialism has played and still plays an important contributor to how they function domestically and internationally.
Colonization of Congo by the hands of the Belgians has greatly characterized how they currently exist in the current global nation-state system. The people of Congo suffered immensely under the Belgians at the extent of the rubber trade in the late 19th century. For example, Congolese were expected to yield a certain amount of rubber a day and were severely punished or killed if the number wasn’t met, famine was an issue because the people no longer had time to grow crops or good land to do so, and death rates were high (Watson Institute for International Studies, 2005, p. 14). The atrocities that occurred in the DRC did not happen under every colonization to this extent, but it nonetheless is significant to the narrative of the Congo under colonization. In 1959, Congo was granted a hastily independence that did not prepare the nation for self-rule (Watson Institute for International Studies, 2005, p. 36). This, in turn, caused the DRC to struggle to initiate a stable domestic policy. This is proven by the Watson Institute (2005) when they state, “Because of Belgium’s refusal to allow Africans in government posts, Africans had little sense of the Congo as a unified, political entity. Most Africans thought of themselves as members of their ethnic group, not of the country of Congo” (p. 36). The chaos and disruption that ensued led to civil wars and political corruption that then brought in the engagement of the United States and the UN. The Congo, despite the attempt at a new image with the new name of the Democratic Republic of Congo, serves as example of the lasting effects of colonization on a nation.
Additionally, Cuba serves as an example of a nation living with the effects of colonization. In this case, the initial colonization by Spain and then the subsequent neo-colonization by the United States. Cuba was colonized by Spain after the initial finding by Columbus and became an important export of plantation crops. The United States came into play when they took Cuba from Spain in the late 19th century when they negotiated a so-called independence for Cuba that was tinged by the United States’ motivation and military inference (Daily Times, 2004). Neo-colonialism by the United States became prominent. The United States had control much of Cuba’s economy and political life, which led to Cuba being mostly reliant on the United States (Daily Times, 2004). Of course, American’s involvement with Cuba took a different direction after the seizing of power by Fidel Castro. However, with the recent events of the reopening of communication between the United States and Cuba, it will be interesting to examine how Cuba will handle its international policy.
In conclusion, colonialism still has a remaining impact on many nations of the world, including the DRC and Cuba. The effects of colonialism should not be brushed aside or dismissed as insignificance because it is still important to how many nations handle their domestic and international policy today. Additionally, it is part of the narratives of our nations — both those of colonizers and the colonized — and should be examined as to not cause similar consequences in the future.
Abbott, J. (2016, July 1). The neo-colonization of Central America. New Politics, 41–48. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Campbell, P. J., MacKinnon, A., & Stevens, C. R. (2010). An introduction to global studies. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell.
Daily Times (Pakistan). (2014, May 08). Cuba: from Spanish imperialism to US imperialism. Daily Times. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Watson Institute for International Studies. (2005, November). Colonialism in the Congo: Conquest, conflict, and commerce [PDF file].