Colonialism and imperialism: development or stagnation and poverty

Colonialism and imperialism have always been forms of control of the weakest for the empowerment and enrichment of others, but the Western colonialism and imperialism from the XV to XX century has been and still is a burden for humanity, moreover a shame, which reflects the depth and dark evilness inside the humankind. During the era of Western domination, entire continents such as Africa, South America, and Asia were looted, destroyed and their people were enslaved such as the Atlantic slave trade where an incalculable number of the African population were stripped from their motherland, traditions, and culture to serve as slaves in a “new” world, others were murdered like native American by the Spanish colonizers or the genocide which King Leopold II of Belgium made in Congo and furthermore, a lot of women were raped and treated as sex objects.
There are only three simple reasons that led these atrocities: cheap labor, natural resources, and geopolitics, things that European empires were looking for to maintain their power and the control of the market facing towards the other empires. This can be categorized as an early stage of capitalism and foundations of racism and white supremacy.

It is clear that colonialism and imperialism has not contributed anything good, however many scholars like Bruce Gilley defend the advantages of colonialism and imperialism, portraying it as a “good” action that made colonised countries to develop and improve their wellbeing and economy, as it helped to “expanded education, improved public health, the abolition of slavery, widened employment opportunities, improved administration, the creation of basic infrastructure, female rights, enfranchisement of untouchable or historically excluded communities, fair taxation, access to capital, the generation of historical and cultural knowledge, and national identity formation…” (2017: 4). These statements are quite disturbing, trying to eliminate the pain and the cultural and moral slaughter that these populations have suffered for centuries. All the points that Gilley appreciates as “good” about colonization, are easily refutable.

First, using a quote by Frantz Fanon on his book The Wretched of the Earth, “the native must realize that colonialism never gives anything away for nothing”. We must understand that all these improvements had a double side. On the one hand, the fact of having established colonies in these countries caused the need of improving infrastructures for their own benefit, as part of their empire, it had to be accessible and habitable for the colonizers. On the other hand, it was a bargaining chip for the colonized country, therefore it had to feel compensated by receiving “improvements” in exchange for being looted, hence to some extent they could not complain. Finally, as a form of brainwashing through Christianity and school education to prevent the young generation from revealing against the system, creating a Western mentality in economic, social and cultural level. Moreover, the colonizers, in turn, showed themselves as saviors of these “barbarian” communities, which they had to civilize.

How do we know how these countries were going to evolve? In the case of Africa, African countries have not been able to learn how to use their own resources and trade them in international markets. So, how do we know what their economy would have been like if they had not had the opportunity to exploit their own resources for themselves? Unanswered questions that cannot ensure that colonialism made its economy prosper, they are just mere assumptions. In addition, in the case of South America, all history books, academics point that the Maya and the Inca civilizations and Aztec empire were “advanced civilizations”, all these civilizations were agricultural societies that traded with their own resources, and they had hierarchical societies as well as European society. Further, Mayans “studied the stars and developed an accurate calendar”, also Aztecs and Mayans “had a mathematical system based on the unit 20”, in the case of Incas, they constructed “roads and strong rope bridges” (Akbar, Jose, and Suzanne Hopkins, n.d.: 56-61). Overall, these civilizations had advanced constructions and communication systems, without having any previous contact with the European colonizers. So, what was the need to “improve” these, already, advanced societies?

Examining the consequences of colonialism and imperialism, we cannot only mention things that have remained in the past (physically) as the slave trade, but we can speak of latent consequences today such as the gap between rich and poor that is increasing in these countries. As I mentioned earlier, the number of slaves taken from Africa does not have official numbers, as well as the number of people abused, mutilated, murdered, enslaved or raped, as cited in the example of King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo where “the population of the Congo was reduced by half” (Kakutani, 1998). An important consequence of colonialism is the division of society into rich and poor, as Patrick Bond quotes Frantz Fanon in his book Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation (2006: 97):

“[…]Colonialism hardly ever exploits the whole of the country. It is itself with the natural resources, which it extracts, and exports to meet the needs of the mother country’s industries, thus allowing certain sectors of the colony to become relatively rich, but the rest of the colony follows its path of under-development and poverty, or at all events sinks into it more deeply.”

The gap is not only noticeable through numbers such as the increase of poor people in Africa going from “411.3 million in 2010 to 415.8 million in 2011, according to the World Bank data in 2015″ (Ami Sedghi and Mark Anderson 2015) or that “the richest 20% of the population in Latin America earn 20 times more than the poorest 20% according to the UN Agency for Human Settlements” (BBC, 2012) but also visual differences such as those seen in Sao Paulo (Brazil) or Cape Town (South Africa),
where on one side of the street you can see luxurious apartments with private pools and tennis courts, and just across the street, unstable houses built with cardboards, woods, garbage, etc.

The consequences go beyond economic issues, hence colonialism has created divisions between peoples from the same society, both ideological and racial, as in the case of Rwanda and the ethnic war between Tutsis and Hutus in 1994, leaving the Tutsi population almost obsolete. Or the case of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where the Dominican people have shown (a still showing), a racial discrimination against their neighbours, since in times of Spanish colonization, the colonizers used the labor of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, causing some suspicion due to their presence in their territory, coming to be seen as inferior intruders that had to be exterminated, therefore some Haitians were killed by Dominicans. These ethnic problems are united with those caused by colorism, for which mixed people had greater privilege than dark-skinned people, creating an awareness of the “whiter” you are, more social, economic and job opportunities you will have, as well the European beauty standard was established. So today you can find skin whitening creams, numerous women using chemicals to straighten hair or using contact lenses to change the colour of the eyes.

It is important to highlight the different methods of colonization used by the European empires in order to understand also the decolonizations and the cultural system left by the colonizers. The first is the system of association and the second the system of assimilation. The first of these was carried out by the British who consisted of dominating the territory to make a strategic use of it, exploiting its resources as if they were their own, but does not pretend to assimilate the native inhabitants, they
are not forced to change their beliefs or traditions. On the other hand, the method of assimilation carried out by the Spanish and French empires, they tried to eliminate little by little the differences between the colonizers and the colonized, for that reason it is tried that these disappear through Christianity, seeing this as superior and being a necessity of the “barbarian” peoples for being “superior” too. All this has caused, in part, a loss of culture and at the same time has isolated those who have not yet been “westernized” in remote areas. The loss of traditional names and surnames is also a consequence of colonialism, being replaced by more European names.

Last but not least, the imposition of a European language as an official language, in many countries, despite the fact that more than 2000 different languages can be counted in Africa, English, French, and Portuguese are the dominant languages in most countries. In the case of Latin America, there are only 420 native languages left, of which 26% are about to disappear. During the Spanish colonization, through the Christianization of South America, they were commissioned through the “assimilation” of establishing Spanish as an official language. Given all the consequences shown, it is insulting that academics defend the advantages of colonization, because it is simply reduced to an infrastructure issue. Even remarking that the colonization itself ended with slavery when it was one of the greatest consequences and the main instrument to begin to enrich their own empires, even expand them. On the other hand, Gilley defends that women won rights, but should we forget how they were used as merchandise, raped, used as sexual objects and seen as animals to bring children into the world?

The most ironic thing is that all the countries that suffered European colonization, or at least the majority, are now categorized as “developing” countries. What is a developing country? A term coined by the West to demonstrate its supremacy and continue to have those countries that were once theirs at their mercy. Where is the limit to decide when a country is developed and when it is not? It has been demonstrated that colonialism and imperialism have not brought benefits other than the colonizing countries, which today have transformed it into a capitalist system exploited by large
corporations such as Apple or Samsung, exploiting workers in Asia, as well as numerous brands of clothes. Or exploit children in the Democratic Republic of Congo to obtain coltan to build our valued mobile phones. Colonialism and imperialism only gave way to the “hypercapitalism” in which we live today, the same European powers and the United States have no interest in leaving Africa, Asia, and South America free, as it needs all raw materials and labor work by them. Showing that these can be an economic threat if they could use their own resources and trade with them internationally.

In no way have colonialism and imperialism benefited the colonized countries, but have caused pain, loss of identity and submerging them in poverty, where the only help comes from NGOs and international aid. Will these countries be free sometime? When will they stop being “poor”? Questions that have no future answer and the level at which society advances, increasingly consumerist and less human and more discriminatory, it does not seem visible that there can be any change, but a rebellion occurs as it is happening in the United States with the black community. But for some to stay rich, others must be poor, that is the story of our world and it is not going to change anytime soon. Therefore, as long as Europe and the United States continue to deny their evident role in the liberalization of these continents, everything will continue as it has been until now, with increasing inequality, losing more identities and enslaving people. Possibly, a solution may be the empowerment of all those “poor” communities and countries, in a united struggle against the rules and laws of the western countries, to decolonize institutions and education, so that more and more people will be aware of the reality that is happening in the world and ask for the same rights that we as human beings all have.

To summarize, this struggle is not only of developing countries, but of all, we must take into account the privileges we have to be able to help correctly, as long as we are not aware of our privilege as Europeans, and targets in many cases, the world it will remain stagnant.


BBC, (2012, 22 August) UN study says wealth gap in Latin America increases. BBC On line:

Bond, P (2006): Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation. Online at,+which+it+extracts,+and+exports+to+meet+the+needs+of+the+mother+country%27s+industries,+thereby+allowing+certain+sectors+of+the+colony+to+become+relatively+rich.+But+the+rest+of+the+colony+follows+its+path+of+underdevelopment+ and+poverty,+or+at+all+events+sinks+into+it+more+deeply.%E2%80%9D&sour ce=bl&ots=zFLYWKB-hG&sig=l_bYwJsMOj6vTes1PXd4enynAc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjDg6_Wqr7XAhXKXBoKHTnNAsIQ6AEIMjAC#v=onepage&q&f=false

Bruce, G (2017): The case for colonialism, Third World Quarterly, DOI:

Fanon, F. The wretched of the earth. Online at must-realize-that-colonialism-never-gives-anything-away

Akbar P, Maldonado J and Hopkins S, (n.d.) In what ways were the Maya, the Aztecs, and the Inca advanced for their time? Online at:

Kakutani, M (1 September 1998) ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’: Genocide With Spin Control. The New York Times. Online at:

Sedghi, A and Anderson, M (Friday 31 July 2015) Africa wealth report 2015: rich get richer even as poverty and inequality deepen. The Guardian. Online at

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