Critical Junctures, And Virtuous and Vicious Cycles


CriticalJunctures, And Virtuous and Vicious Cycles


Theperiod between the late 19th century and early 20th century markedthe peak of the Europeans invasion in Africa. Africa was faced by theEuropean military invasion, diplomatic pressures, and imperialistaggression and was eventually conquered and colonized (Alemazung,2010). The European imperialist assertion to Africa was driven bysocial, political and economic factors. Europeans invasion in Africacreated several changes in the political and economic organization inAfrica. This paper examines the impact of colonization in Africanstates. The states are categorized into three, depending on thepolitical and economic organization.

KeyFacts about Colonization in Africa

Theimpact of colonization in Africa had mixed meanings, experiences andconsequences in different countries of the continent. First, theeffect of colonization on economic development was varied across thecontinent. The available data that uses 1885 as the base year revealsthat there was a general increase in per-capita GDP. This result isplausible. The positive growth in GDP is associated with thetechnology that the Europeans introduced in Africa. For example, theEuropeans constructed railways and introduced better miningtechniques. They introduced Africa to the major world trade patternand utilized the concept of comparative advantage. This developmentexpanded both agriculture and mining sectors. Also, unsupported datareveals that there were high levels of literacy attained during thecolonial period, and there was a general improvement in lifeexpectancy (Heldring &amp Robinson, 2012. p. 3).

Second,the expansion of the economy and the corresponding changes inliteracy levels did not translate to better living standards foreveryone. The impact of living standards for Africans was differentand varied from one colony to another. In South Africa and otherwhite settler colonies, for instance, there was a creation of ‘dualeconomies.`&nbspThese dual economies&nbspsaw Africans faceincreased worsening in living standards owing to European colonialism(Heldring &amp Robinson, 2012. p. 3). Available calculations revealthat the living standards fell by about 50 percent. The real wagesreduced considerably. The fall in Africans` incomes in the face ofimproving economic gains suggests that the economic inequalityagainst the Africans was a central characteristic of the colonialism.

Thereis evidence of the increase in nominal and real wages for theEuropeans, particularly the British West Africa. However, thisevidence does not provide explicit details on the impact of theliving standards of the common masses in the rural areas. However,further evidence indicates that the level of military recruitmentincreased considerably during the colonial period in Ghana and EastAfrica. Taking the military recruits as a representation of the widersociety, it`s possible to conclude that there was access to formalemployment, which is an indication of improved living standards(Heldring &amp Robinson, 2012. p. 4).

Differencesin Three Groups of Countries

Therewere three types of colonies. The first category included thosecolonies with a centralized state during the scramble. Examples ofthese nations included Ghana, Benin, Ethiopia and Botswana amongothers. The second category included those states meant for whitesettlement. Such states included Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, andNamibia. The third category included the states that did not attractwhite settlement, and they did not have any political organizationbefore the colonial period. Such states included Sierra Leone,Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, and Congo, among others (Heldring &ampRobinson, 2012. p.5). The effect of colonization was varied in thesethree sets of colonies. Critical examination of one country for eachcategory can give a clear view of the Africa`s implications ofcolonization.

Inthe view of political organization, some countries had organizedpolitical order before colonization. For instance, Botswana wasorganized in Tswana states and Ghana had the Asante (Heldring &ampRobinson, 2012. p. 5). The arrival of Europeans did not translate tobetter organization of these movements. On the contrary, some, suchas Rwanda deteriorated sharply. In the second set of colonies, therewas the assumption that their political organizations could continueduring independence. Kenya, for example, had some societies that hadorganized political systems, such as the Kikuyu and Maasaicommunities. These communities kept their political systems, evenduring the colonial period (Heldring &amp Robinson, 2012. p. 5). Inthe third category, there were no properly organized political andeconomic institutions. However, it is assumed that if the politicalinstitutions existed, they could still remain centralized and couldget more institutionalized. If economic institutions insisted, theycould probably experience a radical change owing to the then openingof the global trend in trade. For example, the abolition of the slavetrade also affected the states that were not colonized.

Effectof Colonization and Decentralization

Colonizationand decentralization are formed the critical juncture in the positivedevelopment of the three sets of colonies. Fist, before 1885, Africahad the poorest production technology in the word. The technology wasbackward. Save Ethiopia, no state in Africa used wheel and plow. Somecommunities such as Rwanda did not have money. Also, some Africancommunities did not have institutions that could support economicdevelopment (Alemazung, 2010. p.65). Even during and aftercolonialism, some African communities continued to use colloquialmethods of production, usually for subsistence, away from the formaleconomy. Other evidence can be drawn from the slave trade facts thatthe endemic slave trade period in the 19th century, West Africacontributed between one third and half of the slave population. Thesefacts reflect the economic institutions before the colonial period.In addition, many states restricted the growth of privateenterprises. For instance, land allotment in Ghana was put under thechiefs, which implies that for someone to get an adequate allocationhe must have had a political connection. Those who had their nativeland lived with the fear of losing it to the chiefs and to thepolitical class (Heldring &amp Robinson, 2012. p. 20).

Apartfrom the economic institution, this period was also critical topolitical institutions. Improvements in education, health, andinfrastructure require deliberate measures by the state throughinvestment in public welfare. Before the colonial period, someAfrican states offered pubic utilities. For instance, the Buganda,Dahomey, Asante and Ethiopia had all constructed roads and offered alegal mechanism for conflict resolution. However, politicalcentralization in Africa was way behind compared to other parts ofthe world. For instance, the Mendeland of Sierra Leone in the late19th century was comprised of nine states, which were always at waragainst each other (Heldring &amp Robinson, 2012. p. 8). Thesestates are categorized into &quotterritorial states&quot and&quothegemonies.&quot Territorial states had clearly definedterritories, which were not identified with individuals. Theterritorial states were characterized by bureaucracy, and they couldorganize for common and compulsory labor. Also, they had organizedarmies. However, the territorial states never collected taxes fromthe state inhabitants. Many transformations were experienced duringthe colonial period. The states embraced centralization that openedthem to better provision of public goods, use of money and writtenrecord keeping.

Originof the Difference between the Three Groups

Variousreasons accounted for the level of development across the three typesof colony groups. The white settlement colonies, for example, had themost important factor that was at the central of colonialism.Southern Africa and East Africa had good land, which made theEuropeans nations to rush and grab land in those regions. Landgrabbing and colonial rule were a frequent manifestation at thebeginning of the colonial era in Africa. The patterns of economicdevelopment played an important role in both political and economictransformations. For example, the Shona and Ndebele rule in Zimbabwepaved way for the country`s annexation by the British South Africa(Heldring &amp Robinson, 2012. p.6). Rural people in southern Africawere receptive to economic incentives for investment and adoption ofnew technology. In the wake of universal diffusion dissemination oftechnology coupled with the decline of slavery contributed to theimprovement of living standards for Africans. The level of receptionand adoption determine the level and the magnitude of benefitacquired from the African states.

Severalreasons are proposed to explain the arrangement of economic andpolitical institutions in pre-colonial Africa. Some states had a moreorganized and stable political system. The first category of thecolonies highlighted above was characterized by strong kingdoms, withpowerful kings who took charge of the entire state. On the contrary,the third category made by the colonies was defined by instabilityand division in their political institutions. Uganda, for instance,had several divided kingdoms which were always in conflict. TheBunyoro, Ankore, and Baganda, particularly were strong rivals. Insuch a system, it was difficult to realize a unified politicalmovement (Heldring &amp Robinson, 2012. p.7).

Thepolitical and economic organization of African states before andduring the colonial period was influenced by three major factors.These factors include the extent of agricultural production, thedevelopment of metal technology and the expansion of trade. Thesefactors helped to shape the economic systems during the colonialperiod.


Colonizationmarked a critical period of transformation is entirely all Africanstates. The states recorded higher growth in real GDP as well as theimprovement in infrastructure. Health was improved, and literacylevels rose. The colonial period opened new trade opportunities. Thedifferent categories of the colony experienced different impactduring the colonial period. However, there was a great shift in boththe political and economic organization of the Africans.


Alemazung,J. A. (2010). Post-Colonial Colonialism: An Analysis of InternationalFactors and Actors Marring African Socio-Economic and PoliticalDevelopment. TheJournal of Pan African Studies, 3(10): 62-79.

Heldring,L., &amp Robinson, J. A. (2012). Colonialismand Economic Development in Africa.Cambridge, Mass: National Bureau of Economic Research. pp. 1-23.