In the late 19th century, Europeans attempted to justify their colonial conquests in Africa by defining their objectives as Christianity, commerce, and civilization (the "three C formula"). In practice, the coming of colonial administrations typically meant the end of slavery and the slave trade (with the exception of the horrible genocidal system of King Leopold II’s Congo Free State), a decline in the influence of tribal elites, and in some places, the building of some basic modern infrastructure, such as roads, telegraph lines, and railroads. In a few places that were deemed appropriate for European colonization, such as parts of East Africa (e.g., contemporary Kenya), white farmers established settlements using cheap local African labor.
With the exception of a few colonies, such as the Gold Coast (Ghana) and South Africa, the colonial rulers made little effort to industrialize the African societies that they were colonizing. On the contrary, they usually sought to develop the colonies as suppliers of raw materials and to encourage the colonial population to buy products from European industries.
In some places, the colonists replaced a diversified agricultural system with an export-oriented monoculture. Western Christian missionaries established churches and missions promoting the Christianization of colonial societies. Some rudiments of modern education and health services emerged here and there; these were accessible mostly to the upper classes of the colonial population.
The colonizers often exploited and abused the local populations brutally. This exploitation and abuse combined with the effects of modernization to undermine traditional ways of life and compromise the framework of social ties. This, in turn, led to growing anxieties and cultural displacement, which sometimes resulted in epidemics of witch hunting. At the same time, conscious resistance grew, including outright armed rebellions against colonial authorities.
The colonizers embraced the corrupt local elites as tools of their policy. The colonial rulers typically claimed racial and cultural superiority and strived (sometimes successfully) to indoctrinate the local African elites with these ideas. At the same time, a new generation of African intellectuals, such as Leopold Sedar Senghor in Senegal, embraced the ideas of human rights and nationalism, which they used to conceptualize their struggle for independence from colonial powers.