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Colonization: The Colonized and the Colonizers


In the historical works, colonization is often referred to as the political, economic and spiritual enslavement of the people of the underdeveloped countries the ruling classes of the developed states. Colonization is a complex phenomenon of a worldwide scope, which has its roots in the distant past of mankind. It arose with the advent of the state, and already existed during slave and feudal eras. The very words “colony” and “colonization” were originally derived from the Latin word “colonate,” which means the different forms of dependence of the rural population in ancient Rome. In the days of slavery, the word “colony” has gradually acquired independent significance: a settlement by immigrants from the other countries.

In the era of capitalism, colonization has become a worldwide phenomenon. The beginning of its growth comes at the end of the XV century, due to the historical changes in Europe, which are called the transition from feudal to capitalist relations. These changes lasted for decades. They were manifested by industrial production growth, the development of science, the expansion of trade, and an increased demand for labor and gold. The latter circumstance has played a particularly important role in the pursuit of Europeans to seek the new lands. However, after the discovery of such lands, colonizers would inevitably establish the relationships with the indigenous population, namely in the terms of economy. Therefore, the following work is dedicated to the study of the economic relationships between the colonizer and the colony, using the examples of the most prominent colonial states of the last centuries. The paper also gives an insight on the outcomes of the colonial policy and the impact of colonization on the later development of the colonies.

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The Dynamics of the Economics in the Colonies

Prior to the start of the economic development of the new lands, it was necessary to get these territories in the property. This goal could be achieved in the two ways: first of all, it was possible to conclude an agreement on the establishment of the protectorate status with the leaders of the most powerful native tribes or simply seize the land by force. The example of such policy can be the relationship between the British Empire and its colony, the Gold Coast (the modern Ghana). The British Gold Coast was created in 1867, when the British government discontinued the African trading company and seized the land along the coast. It has also appropriated the territories belonging to the other European countries, capturing the Danish Gold Coast in 1850 and the Dutch Golden Beach, including Fort Elmina, in 1872. The British Empire has also steadily expanded its colony by conducting local invasions, especially in the territory of the Ashanti and Fanti Confederation. The Ashanti tribes controlled a large part of the territory of Ghana prior to the arrival of the Europeans, and often conflicted with them, being the largest ethnic community in the country. As a result, there were four wars among the Ashanti and the British.

The legal basis for the seizure of the land and its subsequent economic development could have been the announcement of the colonial land ownership by the monarch or the state. As a result, a new challenge has emerged: the indigenous people were engaged in manufacturing the products for their own consumption and insignificant exchange with their neighbors. Therefore, it was necessary to get them to work on the lands and farms of the settlers by using the economic means. Moreover, these people had to work for low wages that allowed colonizers to make enormous profits from the exploitation of the colony. Such factors as the high density of the population, the lack of land for the production of the essential amount of food, and all sorts of taxes imposed by the colonizers (the poll on huts or smoke) have forced the natives to seek paid employment. As a result, the number of vacancies for them – on plantations, construction of railways inland, and in the mining industry – has grown rapidly. In particular, during the colonization of Guinea (the modern Guinea-Bissau), the Portuguese have kept the native communities there, as well as in the several other areas, where there was a dense agricultural population. The primary reason for such actions was the need to have a constant source of cheap labor. Moreover, the colonizers have used various forms of labor conscription in favor of the Portugal in order to attract the natives to the work in the mines and on the fields. The numerous resident reserves were a source of cheap labor for the mining industry and for the latifundia – the huge in size (about several thousand acres) and extensive farms. During the colonial period, these facilities were the main producers of food needed for the people engaged in the mining, construction, as well as for the residents of growing towns and cities. The colonizers have also brought the internal structure of communities, crop rotation, and the tax system of Portugal to Guinea, the influence of which can be observed even today.

In some countries, where the humid and hot climate was unfavorable for the permanent residence of the colonizers, another way of management (without land expropriations) was developed. For the payment of mandatory taxes, farmers of each household were required to grow plantation crops and sell them to the purchasing organizations in the metropolis. Such measure has changed the traditional structure of the economy and created many problems that the subsequently independent governments have not been able to solve until the twentieth century. The first of them was the food problem. The introduction of plantation crops, under which set aside, as a rule, the best plots of land, has resulted in the displacement of the food crops for the population to the so-called marginal lands – the less fertile land, located on the border of humid and arid areas, In turn, such displacement has led to a decrease in yields from the food cultures. In addition, the annual planting of the same plantation crops (monoculture) drained the soil, led to erosion and land degradation. Thus, a new, not previously existed sector of the commodity economy has been developed. Its products were not consumed by the producers – the indigenous population – but were fully exported. This process was carried out through a single port in the country, as a rule, its capital, located on the coast.

The most vivid example of such economics can be considered the relationship between the Netherlands and one of its colonies, the Dutch Ceylon (the modern Sri Lanka). In particular, after taking the island from the Portuguese rule, the Dutch East India Company had inherited all the major trade monopolies (for cinnamon, pepper, and cardamom). On the island, a strict control over the trading activities of the local merchants has been set. In particular, they were obliged to sell their goods to the warehouses of the Company, which, in fact, has monopolized the purchase of export products. The main crop grown on the island was rice, but the Dutch government committed to the development of export trade, has made the attempts to introduce the new commercial crops to the colony’s agriculture. The most successful was the experience with the breeding of the coffee tree. Moreover, the Dutch administration, interested in manufacturing the production going for export, was indifferent to the conditions of production. The transformation of Sri Lanka into an important source of revenue to the treasury of the Dutch East India Company was carried out not by changing the organizational forms of economic activity, but on the basis of military and administrative measures intended to increase the non-economic methods of operation.

The mountain areas were also extremely attractive for the colonizers. In particular, a high-altitude zone provides more favorable and less hot areas. In some cases, the conditions there were quite similar to the European climate. In addition, the possibility of growing familiar to Europeans food crops (wheat and oats) and extremely profitable plantation crops (tea and coffee) has stimulated the use of fertile agricultural intermountain valleys and volcanic plateaus and the creation of so-called white land ownership. Most importantly, the mountains were rich in mineral reserves, the mining of which was also carried out by the indigenous population. In particular, during the Spanish colonization of Bolivia, which was a part of the Upper Peru at the time, the colonizers primarily captured precious metals that were mined and accumulated in previous times. However, in 1530, they have begun the systematic exploitation of the mines. In the mountainous area of Potosi, Bolivia, rich deposits of precious metals were discovered. Therefore, in the middle of the XVI century, Potosi mines yearned a half of the world production of silver. As a result, the very nature of the Spanish colonization has changed. The conquerors have abandoned the economic development of the colonized lands. Everything that was required for the Spanish settlers was brought from Europe in exchange for gold and silver of the New World. As a result, the colony has been managed by the nobles, whose primary purpose was the enrichment. The feudal nature of colonization has ordained the fact that gold and silver from Bolivia fell mainly in the hands of the nobility in the form of accumulated treasures or was spent on the support for Catholic conspiracies in Europe, and the military adventures of Spanish kings. This new direction of colonial exploitation had a decisive influence on the formation of the Spanish colonial system.

Another important economic aspect of colonization is the creation of a developed transportation and financial networks on a colonized territory. For example, by 1901, the entire Gold Coast was a British colony with the local kingdoms and tribes being considered its part. The British exported many natural resources there, including gold, metal ores, diamonds, ivory, pepper, wood, grain, and cocoa. The colonists have built the railroads, which formed the basis for modern transport infrastructure in Ghana. They have also built hospitals and Western-style schools to provide modern facilities for the British Empire citizens that moved to a colony.

However, nomadic tribes have remained the least involved in the economic life of the colonies, by being not integrated into the overall economic life of the country. As a result, the only concern of the colonial authorities in respect of the nomads was the division of grazing land between the warring tribes and combating the spread of epizootic diseases that could affect the livestock. Moreover, many ethnic conflicts that currently exist in the former colonies took their roots during the colonial period. In particular, prior to the colonization, the marginal lands were not used and were visited by nomads only in the driest years. However, during the colonial period, they were used to establish reserves for the natives. As a result, the population of these reserves had to protect the land from their competitors – the nomads. However, there were exceptions. In particular, during the colonial era, the nomadic Tuareg tribes, which inhabited the territories of the modern Algeria, Mali, and Libya, were incorporated into French West Africa. Unlike many other nations, Tuaregs have long resisted the new government, since the French colonial rule has deprived them of the ability to dominate the local sedentary farmers. For example, the colonial power in the colony of Niger could subordinate Tuareg tribes only by 1923. French colonial power managed nomads through clan leaders, trying to use the inter-clan conflicts.

Therefore, during the colonial period, there was a radical transformation of the economic and territorial structure of the dependent country. The new economic structures were generated and the internal market was developed. However, the methods of colonization were far from being just or humane. As a result, the tension in the relationships between the colonized and colonizers has always been high. The shortage of land, most of which was controlled by the colonizers has led to increased competition for the other scarce resources of the regions. All these factors have lead led to the wars of independence and the mass immigration of white population beck to Europe. Nowadays, most of the colonies have proclaimed themselves to be independent countries and are acknowledged as such by the global community.

The Post-Colonial Period

After acquiring independence, the governments of the former colonies have started carrying out reforms in order to achieve economic independence. The reforms have led to a change in the territorial organization of the economy and the structure of the economy. In particular, there were two options for reforms – radical and flexible. Radical reform involved the nationalization of the foreign property – latifundia, mineral deposits, and industrial enterprises. At the site of large estates and plantations were established large-scale state farms or the land was distributed to the direct producers. White settlers, business owners, and foreign experts were sent out of the country.

As a rule, such reforms were followed by an economic blockade on the part of the former metropolis. All these factors led to a decrease in the efficiency and volume of production in all sectors of the economy. Virtual elimination of foreign large-scale agricultural production has led to the deterioration of the situation at the national food market, the appearance of the food shortage and hunger, as well as an increase in the volume of foreign food aid. The concentration of political and economic power in the hands of a tribe living in the metropolitan area has led to resentment from the other tribes, the emergence of ethnic conflicts, military coups and civil wars.

Inefficiently managed plantations and the lands of Europeans who have left the country were bought by the government, divided into lots and sold on credit to the peasants, who have previously lived in densely populated reserves, for the organization of commodity production. Therefore, a high-value sector in agriculture has been preserved, together with the development of a smallholder one both due to the partition of large estates, and the privatization of communal lands. At present, the small commodity sector in the former colonies, such as Ghana, is a major producer of market products.

On the other hand, flexible reforms were more successful for the economic development. With flexible options for reform, highly profitable sectors of the economy, such as plantations and mining companies either remained in the hands of the previous owners (in the case they acquired citizenship of the country) or a controlling stake bathed by the national government. Thus, it was possible to create enterprises with mixed capital, i.e. joint ventures. For a developing economy, the advantages of this form of ownership are obvious: on the one hand, there is a highly efficient production system with the current technological relationships and markets. On the other hand, the state, which owns a controlling stake, could affect the strategy of production and have a direct share in the profits. The examples of such reforms can be the ones conducted in Bolivia and Mexico, which are the former Spanish colonies.

Finally, in the countries like Algeria and Libya (the former French colonies) nomadic tribes still live in isolation from the overall economic life of the country. In some countries, the governments try to undertake measures to transfer nomads to sedentary life. In particularly, it is believed that it would improve the system of education and health, and will lead to an increase in commodity production. However, the tradition of nomadism and subsistence farming (large herds of low-productive cattle are the main symbol of prestige and wealth of nomadic communities) are quite tenacious and, therefore, have experienced little to no transformation to the present day.


Colonization and its consequences still remain one of the most controversial issues in world history. Of course, in many of its manifestations, it has proven to be a disgrace for the Europeans. During colonial wars, masses of indigenous people were killed. Gold and precious gems, rare woods and minerals were exported in large volumes from the colonies to Europe. On the other hand, it was the colonizers who established the branches of industry and agriculture, which often remain the most important to the economies of the third world countries. The development of mining industry in Latin America and the cultivation of tea in Ceylon – all this would have been impossible without the intervention of the Europeans. On the eve of the First World War the economic leader of the world was the United States, which was the former British, French and Spanish colony, and Argentina, also a former Spanish colony, ranked seventh in the list of major economies. Therefore, the economic effect of colonization has both positive and negative sides, and thus cannot be assessed by using the single point of view.

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