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Origins of Imperialism: difference between British and French imperialism


This refers to a situation when a more superior nation in terms of political, economic and cultural standards dominates and takes over weaker one in similar standards. This was a common practice by Japan and the European nations in the 19tn and 20th Century. Generally, a country would have undergone industrialization to some extent before engaging in imperialism. Industrialization was characterized by increased demand for labor in the industries as well as raw materials to produce manufactured goods. Further, the countries experiencing industrialization would also seek to expand their markets so as to sustain their production. Ideally, cotton and iron industries were among the most well established industries.

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Conducive Environment

In the 1870s, European nations were experiencing a period of political stability which resulted into conducive environment for imperialism endeavors. Colonialism became a priority for Britain while France developed interest in the same owing to increased foreign competition. Europe colonial domination over other nation resulted to the concept of white mans burden. This spread the ideology that the white man the right to spread his institutions and idea forcefully. This provided a moral justification by a number of European governments to exercise their imperial policies. Further, some of the resources were not available within the territories of the European nation in adequate quantities. In their view, they were justified to seek rubber, cotton and fuel among other resources in other nations.

Nationalism was also gaining prominence in European nations. This is mainly associated with the development and existence of the Napoleons Empire. There were national limitations to make nationalism are reality for their nations. As such, they had to go across boundaries to reinforce their armies. Specifically, colonies provided troops to their army, bases for European armys operations as well as refueling points for their ships. By 1800 for instance, most nations across Europe had already acquired colonial territories such as Algeria by France. Britain had already expanded to such nation as South Africa, Kenya and Egypt. Further, Britain and French were also expanding their colonies to Asia.

In addition, desire to control more territories was increasing among the European nations. This arose from the sense of competitiveness by these countries and the concept of the balance of power. Indeed, the sought to ensure that superiority remains within the boundaries of Europe as eminent from the Crimean War. In this war, France and Britain joined hands to ensure that Russia does not expand as well as gain control over the eastern Mediterranean and Turkish Straits. This meant that the European balance of power would remain uncompromised.

Whereas motivation for imperialism and colonialism was mainly instigated by economic interest by the European nations, approaches and impact on their colonies were different. Indeed, this is clear between Britain and France. These differences are mainly pegged on the respective countrys resource-wise competitiveness derived from industrialization. This is discussed below:

Assimilation Policy by France

Mainly France imperial approach was associated with integration the colonial natives into the Frances cultural and administrative practices. To reflect the France tradition, French colonial introduced a centralized system of governance in every state. The single social system in their colony disregarded the natives ethnic and religious diversity. Further, language was the strongest tool used by French in their assimilation process. As such, their imperialism appeared to copy a centralized Frances governance model of centralized bureaucracy. In this regard, the government in Paris possessed all the powers in the enactment of legislations while the ordinances were left in the hands of the colonial governor.

In their colonies, traditional institutions were replaced by the colonial state. For instance in Africa, traditional chiefs were expected to be subservient to directives by the French. Some approaches used to assimilate the colonial subjects were land tenure laws, mandatory labor and taxation. Further, they developed the transport industry targeting both public transports of people as well as transportation of goods. Their goal was that, the natives would once live the same way as the French people.

Indirect Rule by British

For the case of British, the interest was not to control every aspect of the colonial nations. Rather, they exercised military and tax control and left other aspect of life under the control of local aristocracies who operated before the foreign imperialism. However, they were keen to ensure that the local leaders sided with them. Although the local leaders had considerable autonomy, they had to advance the colonial powers interests. Where local leaders possessed excessive powers, such powers were weakened. Particularly in Africa, British were not interested to reach individuals directly. This allowed cultural development of the natives. The approach was also cheaper, but also draws critic in the sense that it never modernized colonial administration.

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France and Raw Materials from Colonies

Colonial possessions by France were in different forms and dates back to the 17th Century to mid and late 1960s. Indeed, Frances colonial empire, globally, was second largest after the British Empire in the 19th Century. Their system of governance in their colonies was costly and was exercised in approximately 80% of the countrys colonies. In essence, their operation in their colonies was synonymous to what transpired back in France, and hence colonies were perceived as overseas provinces. As such, their interest was not to generate revenue and obtain resources for France, but to advance economic development in their colonies as extensions of France. For instance, France invested heavily in Senegals railway development. Further, French advanced the health and the housing industries, legislative systems, education sector and Senegals economy. As such, the revenue obtained from resource trading in their process of assimilation was used to develop the colonies. Thus, it was only the surplus revenues generated that were taken back to France to help finance their assimilations as well as spur industrial activities in the country. As such, the natives were assimilated to the colonial community through trade, education, marriage, employment and concubinage.

Britain and Raw materials from the Colonies

Whereas France interest was to develop colonies as overseas provinces of France, British were mainly interested in pursuing the British interest and not the locals. They developed infrastructures, but mainly to facilitate their interests. For instance, they developed railways that were primarily aimed at facilitating transportation of resources from farms and mines to the port. As such, the railway roads and other infrastructural development were made with sources of resources in mind. Taking Gold Cost as an example, there did not exist a suitable natural harbor to facilitate the use of large vessels. The rich availability of cocoa and other resources prompted British to develop large ports to help large ships to dock in the area. This replaced the use of hardwood vessels with the capacity of forty men into big vessels. The new ports were established at Takoradi and Tema. Here the target was mainly the merchants and their ships. The railways to these two ports mainly passed through towns such as Takoradi, Sekondi, Kumasi and Koforidua, where trade resources were available in high quantity. As such, locals did not stand to benefit in any way. Indeed, improvement in health structures in Accra was mainly for the welfare of the British and not the locals. This is because accessibility was only limited to the British. Despite improvement in educational system, accessibility was limited to expatriates children as well, who were mainly British. Approximately 80% of the raw materials obtained from the British colonies in the 18th and the 19th Century were retained in Britain. Only approximately 20% that were exported to international markets

Labor from the Colonies

Owing to industrialization, Britain had more resources to use in their colonies. Although France also had the resources, their assimilation process was expensive and thus limited their resources. However the nations pursued all means to maximize their benefits. But the gains to French were lower compared to that of British. Development of new plantation economies led the ideology of the slave trade. This was as a result of increased demand for labor in the plantations. Slave trade statistics from 17th and 18th Century indicates that Britain imported an average of approximately 38,000 slaves annually. On the other hand, France imported an average of 20,000; approximately a half of the numbers by British. The difference in these figures is a reflection of disparities in their respective ruling styles.

Assimilation by French focused on development and education which were developed across their colonies. Indeed, to date, majority of the French colonies still maintain the French education system. Their objective was to develop their colonies and hence the need to retain labor in their colonies to drive development. As such, they discouraged labor transportation overseas. This resulted into higher numbers of slaves from British colonies compared to those from French colonies where assimilation was still ongoing. Britain had many colonies compared to other European nations. Their indirect rule made their effort cheaper and hence could access labor easily. As such, their imperialistic practices were exploitative compared to that of French.


Motivations for imperialism were universal across the European countries. However, their approaches as observed between Britain and France were different. France pursued an assimilation approach to their colonial empire, which differed a great deal with the British indirect rule practiced in most of their colonies.

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