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What was the influence and impact of colonialism on Africa in terms of culture, religion, politics, economy, education, and theater? 

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Michael Koren eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Colonialism impacted Africa in many ways. One impact was in the area of religion. The Europeans saw a great opportunity to spread Christianity to Africa. Missionaries went to Africa to spread their religion. They believed they were helping to civilize the African people. They also offered humanitarian help in the form of medical care and education.

Another impact was the exploitation of the continent. Africa had many resources, including cotton and gold. The Europeans wanted these resources, so they could make products and enrich their treasuries. The colonies served as a marketplace for the...

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The early stages of European colonialism in Africa began around 1400 when Infante D. Henrique of Portugal funded European trading on the west coast of the continent. Colonialism reached its peak in 1870 leading to the infamous “Scramble for Africa”, in which various European powers competed for the occupation, division, and colonization of African territory. These countries included Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, and most notably, The United Kingdom. Naturally, with each rulership came corresponding cultural habits, systems, and beliefs (the evidence of which can still be seen today).

Language and religion are among the most remarkable evidence of colonialism within Africa. Though Africa is the most multilingual continent in the world, with an estimated 3,000 native languages, nearly all African countries have adopted a foreign tongue as its official language. Roughly 130 million, 115 million, and 30 million Africans speak English, French, or Portuguese, respectively, either natively or secondarily. German is spoken in Namibia (a former German protectorate), and Italian is spoken by those in former Italian colonies. European languages are typically the language of choice when in public, while native tongues are spoken in private.       

European religious practices take on a similar popularity. Prior to colonialism, traditional African beliefs consisted primarily of a reverence for nature, spirits, and the harmonization of both through the supernatural. One such religion is Vodun, which is the base for what many have come to know as Voodoo and its variants. However, Christianity is now a dominant religion in Africa along with Islam. Christianity accounts for 62.9% of Sub-Saharan Africa. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that Africa’s Christian population will hit 630 million by 2020. Currently, only Madagascar, Mauritius, and Togo maintain traditional African practices as the dominant belief system. As a result, many Africans have adopted Christian views on divination, nudity, and other activities and ideas previously natural to traditional African conduct.    

A mix of language, religion, and European ideology form the current educational sphere of Africa. Education is generally taught using one of the official European languages appointed to a country (opposed to a native African tongue). Persons who are not able to speak a European language are often considered illiterate and intellectually inferior by other natives. Non-African religions are incorporated within the education system and educated people are less likely to partake in traditional religions. Christians are more likely to receive formal education than their pagan and Muslim counterparts. African history is not taught to Africans. The educational curriculum is modeled after Africa’s most famous colonial power The United Kingdom. Many African’s eventually study abroad, often in one or more of the countries involved in 1881’s “Scramble for Africa”.

The political and economic climate of Africa is organized primarily of accomplished persons via this academic framework. Naturally, this educational process reinforces a myriad of European colonialist mentalities. Therefore, African political figures and their peers perpetuate a system that upholds colonial legacies. Prior to colonialism, Africa thrived on a rich trading history with various parts of the world. The great and complex political structures of Kongo, Benin, and other kingdoms are evidence of Africa’s former economic state. Today, the continent is plagued by poor infrastructure, limited job opportunities, poor use of abundant natural resources, and a number of other factors.

African theater developed during the post colonial era and is predominantly written in English, French, and Portuguese. African theater is very much influenced by European culture and is often a mix of both European and African artistry. Examples of this can be seen in the works of Nigerian playwright, actor, theater manager, and musician Hubert Ogunde. Even the title of his play The Garden of Eden and The Throne of God (1944) clearly reflect European religious impact on traditional African culture.

In retrospect, the influence of colonialism on African culture, religion, politics, economy, education, and theater can be summarized as a transmutation of African ideologies to European infused ones. Traditional African languages, beliefs, art, and learning systems have become mere nuances to the adopted ones of colonialism. In contrast, Africa pre-colonialism enjoyed a very abundant lifestyle and economy.