African History

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What was the impact of colonialism on various aspects of Africa?

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The influence and impact of colonialism on Africa includes the exploitation of the continent for natural resources and labor, the spread of Christianity and European languages, the implementation of European political and educational systems, the establishment of new national boundaries by European powers, and a legacy of poverty and civil war.

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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 products made in the European factories. Africa also became a source for slaves who were then sent to other regions of the world.

Unfortunately, colonization often brought conflict. The European countries often fought with one other over control of African land. The Europeans would then implement their political system in Africa once they gained control over these lands. Additionally, when the Europeans developed political boundaries, the Europeans were not interested in how those boundaries impacted the African people. Sometimes, groups of people that did not get along were placed within the same political boundaries. The Europeans drew these boundaries based on what helped the Europeans and not on what was good for the Africans.

Colonization of Africa had very few positive benefits for the majority of the people in Africa.

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The colonization of Africa by European powers had a dramatic negative impact on the continent.  The Europeans had a dramatic effect on the cultural traditions of Africans through assimilation.  Africans were acculturated in almost every area of their culture.  Colonial rulers had every expectation that the countries they ruled should model the cultural traditions of Europeans. They viewed Africans as culturally inferior.  As a result, cultural characteristics like language and religion changed for Africa.  

Many Africans learned the European languages so they would have the opportunity for economic mobility.  Christian missionaries flooded the continent to convert Africans to Christianity. Christianity has been the fastest growing religion in Africa since the 19th Century while the amount of people practicing traditional religions has declined significantly.

Africans did not traditionally have formal educations systems.  Europeans introduced formal systems to train Africans to partake in the colonial process. In other words, the schooling of Africans was not done for their benefit, but to indoctrinate a segment of the population that could be mobilized to assist in the political, social, and economic exploitation of Africa.  

In most colonies in Africa, the Europeans utilized existing government systems and leadership.  The natives that worked in the government did not have any real autonomy or sovereignty.  The village leaders would govern for the European power.  This collaboration had economic and political benefits for Africans in these positions.  This indirect system of rule caused a lot of resentment between African groups, which ultimately led to civil wars.  

After Europe was through exploiting the continent of Africa, it simply left. No measures were taken to help Africans transition to self governance. Consequently, Africa was not prepared for a modern economy that would benefit from industrialization and was plunged into a primarily subsistence farming economy.  Also, because of the lack of authentic political experiences, African leaders were not equipped to govern.  This plunged Africa into poverty and civil war.    

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