The illusion of civilization called colonialism

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Colonialism: an illusion of civilization

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug people take to feel high and charged, and to temporarily forget their pains. Because of its addictive powers, addicted people are eager to sell or do unbelievable things just to get it. Gangsters, traffickers and pimps continuously drug their victims in order to get them addicted and easily controllable. For he who controls the supply of a person’s object of addiction automatically controls the addicted person. Likewise, increasing African people’s desire and dependence on foreign consumption through colonialism, instead of increasing their capacity for industrial production is a major illusion of civilization.

Some revered intellectuals and analysts try to whitewash the damaging effect of colonialism in Africa by insisting that it was a civilizing effort. They maintain that Africa would have been better if the colonialists stayed longer. And that Africa would have been worse off if colonialists had not invade. With the steadiness of these claims, some Africans start believing or wishing for a return to colonialism. Evaluating this claim of a colonial intention for civilizing the places they invaded requires comparing the elements and effects of civilization in a place.


What is civilization?

Civilization, as a reforming process, means “to educate and improve a person or a society, to make somebody’s behaviour or manners better.”[1] Improved or civilized people find happiness as their main goal by discovering and actualizing their potentials for the good of the society.[2] Productivity and social responsibility are the two wings upon which civilization flies, and none can succeed in civilization without the other. Using an instance of human anatomy, the society’s bone is productivity, while its flesh is social responsibility. So, the scale for measuring people’s fitness for a society or their level of civilization is their productivity and social responsibility.[3] And to civilize anybody means to enable the person attain his highest potentials in productivity and social responsibility.


Products of civilization as different from civilization

From their productivity, people create houses, schools, hospitals, gadgets, vehicles, roads and other things to satisfy needs and solve problems. A child is a product of fertility, but the child is not fertility in itself, since fertility is the capacity to conceive and bear babies. Likewise, modern tools, gadgets, goods and structures are products of civilization, but they are not civilization in themselves, since civilization is the increased capacity for productivity and social responsibility. Someone can have products of civilization without being civilized, just like a thief or beggar can have wealth without having capacity to create wealth. Hence, someone who increases your hunger for products of civilization without increasing your capacity for productivity has not civilized you. Instead, he has entrapped you in an addictive cycle of dependence to be controlled by products of civilization.

Colonialism: method and purpose

Colonialism is “the practice by which a powerful country controls another country or countries.”[4] To start controlling another country, a powerful country invades another country to kill or surround its defenders. After killing those that would oppose the invasion, the remaining people either surrender to the foreign authority or flee or die. From then, the invaders dictate how the people conduct their business and use their lands to benefit the invaders’ country. The main purpose of colonialism is getting foreign lands as hunting grounds for human and natural resources, and markets for surplus products.


Colonialism in Africa

“When you surround an army, leave an outlet free.

Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” – Sun Tzu


By leaving an outlet free after surrounding an army, the army will be distracted from having a common purpose. So, while some people prepare to charge against the invader, others struggle to escape the agonizing enclosure through the small outlet. This strategy is refined and employed by corporate and political administrators who create tiny reward-systems for gaining supporters among the defeated. It is a divide-and-rule strategy for creating enmity between groups of defeated people by favouring a few. The few people you favour will easily follow your orders, even of spying or exploiting the other victims. Thus, there may not be any organized effort to fight off the invader, who is now supported by the few favoured victims. With such divisions within themselves, other victims lose courage to resist the invader, or they start compromising to his tactics.


After the industrial revolution, European industrialists moved out in search of lands, raw materials and markets for their products. In Africa, they created different countries by imposing land-expropriation law on various unfriendly and unconsented kingdoms and communities[5][6] for collecting raw materials.[7] They killed those who opposed their invasion and trained the pliable oned to assist them in enforcing colonial rule.[8] Before leaving at independence, they fixed constitutions to guide their indigenous replacements[9] to keep seizing and exporting the different people’s resources in exchange for European consumer products.[10] To appear democratic, Africa’s colonially-imposed governments create states, districts and ministries to share few foreign products as infrastructure, salaries and charity. So, different Africans struggle to occupy the colonially-made offices in order to benefit more from the foreign exchange.

Possible contributions of colonialism to productivity and social responsibility

Given some infrastructural glamour in some African cities, it could be said that colonialists intended to bring civilization. This would serve as the excuse for slaughtering the different community defenders that resisted their civilizing efforts. Thus, some of the things that could suffice as colonial benefits to Africa and Africans include:


  • Unity and democracy: before the colonial invasion, different communities lived separately across Africa.[11] Some communities traded with others, while some occasionally fought each other over territory, trade or other causes. Yet, many did not know or interact with other communities beyond their immediate neighbours. So, colonialism widened their knowledge about other communities, and also introduced language and political structures for their collaboration.


  • Money: money facilitates the ease of doing business by allowing people to measure and exchange goods and services without carrying their products wherever they go. The pre-colonial and sub-Saharan African communities did not have advanced monetary system for transacting businesses. Rather, they traded in an inefficient system of trade-by-barter. Colonialism introduced money system to facilitate the ease of trade in Africa.


  • Modern infrastructure: many, especially sub-Saharan Africans, did not have advanced tools and infrastructure like tarred roads, hospitals, electricity, and pipe-borne water. So, colonialists introduced these modern infrastructure in, especially sub-Saharan Africa.


  • Formal education in arts and sciences: the formal system of education had not been in most sub-Saharan African communities before colonial invasion. Many African communities had and passed down local ways of production and environmental management with low-tech tools. But, at the invasion of colonialism, they saw modern tools and methods of production.


  • Globalized religions: before colonialism, various communities had traditional ways of worshipping or relating with their deities according to their environments. The worship of some of these deities required blood sacrifices and some crude practices. So, the colonialists allowed missionaries to introduce other international religions like Christianity that could connect Africans to other peoples and cultures of the world. Also, the new religions curtailed some practices like killing of twins and blood sacrifice, and extolled virtues of humility, love, piety, kindness and obedience.


  • Foreign goods: with their industrial growth, European colonialism equally introduced a wide variety of consumer products like tea, biscuits, television, camera, phone, books and many others, which Subsaharan Africans had not been using at the time.


  • Entry to foreign territories: though slave-trade took many Africans to Europe and the Americas, colonialism made it possible for Africans to enter the more technologically advanced countries as free men and woman for business, academic and socio-political purposes.


With the introduction of these physical items and cultural elements, it could be said that colonialism was truly intended to civilize Africans and increase their productivity and social responsibility. This will support some people’s belief for recolonizing Africa as the solution for underdevelopment in Africa.

The illusions of civilization in colonialism

On the contrary, these supposed civilizing benefits of colonialism may not be as benevolent as painted. From another angle, they seem like cocaine-drugging process that invaders provide as tiny outlets for surrounded army. So, some of the victims hoping to pass through the tiny outlet of colonial favour will support the invaders’ plan for the defeated peoples. The illusion or validity of these ‘civilizing’ benefits can be weighed by their contributions to productivity and social responsibility in Africa.


  • Unity and democracy: creating new countries by forcefully merging unconsented kingdoms under a westernized democracy brought perpetual chaos instead of productive collaboration. “Africa’s nation states were formed by foreigners, lines drawn by Europeans on maps of places they had often never been to. They carved out territories, cut up kingdoms and societies of which they had little idea… they (Africans) lack a common conception of nationhood.”[12] And this lack of a common conception of nationhood provided ways for using some groups to exploit the others (divide and rule). And instead of support mutual collaboration between former kingdoms, it weakened African countries’ social responsibility by using some sections to exploit or restrict others.


“For being distracted in opinions concerning the best use and application of their strength, they do not help but hinder one another; and reduce their strength by mutual opposition to nothing: whereby they are easily, not only subdued by a very few that agree together; but also when there is no common enemy, they make war upon each other, for their particular interests.”[13]


  • Money: wealth consists in what is produced and consumed: food, clothes, houses, vehicles, books [gadgets], schools, and churches.[14] Money does not create wealth. Instead, it is a ticket people agree or are forced to use for exchanging goods and services. In sub-Saharan Africa, colonialists introduced money as a ticket for foreign consumption to reward locals who find, seize, extract or send raw materials for European industries.[15] By getting colonialists’ money, the individual can then buy some European products, many of which were produced from seized African resources. So, while money served as a catalyst for producing goods and services in Europe, it was introduced as reward for exploiting human and natural resources in Africa. It does not yield productivity nor social responsibility; but a greedy dependency on foreign goods.


  • Modern infrastructure and social services: just as money was introduced to boost exploitation of resources, modern infrastructures were also introduced to reward those who directly or indirectly assist in colonial exploitation. “The colonialists’ scanty social services were meant only to facilitate exploitation; they were not given to any Africans whose labour was not directly producing surplus for export to Europe.”[16] The transport infrastructure leads directly from the hinterlands to the seas for exporting raw materials and for importing and distributing foreign products and services. The infrastructural paths are not meant to support intercommunal or interstate trade in industrial resources, but to enable their export.


  • Education in arts and sciences: “In the colonial society, education is such that it serves the colonialist… In a regime of slavery, education was but one institution for forming slaves.”[17] By seizing rights to their lands and resources for producing things, scientific education becomes useless for developing Africa’s industrial productivity. Instead, the best science graduates are drawn to work for the colonists’ countries and multinational firms, while local European apologists are supported to get governing positions.


“The main purpose of the colonial system was to train Africans to help man the local administration at the lowest ranks and to (protect) private capitalist firms owned by Europeans… That meant selecting a few Africans to participate in the domination and exploitation of the continent as a whole… and to instil a sense of deference towards all that was European and capitalist.”[18]


Though colonialists brought formal education, many communities in Africa had been educating their younger ones in different areas like blacksmithing, goldsmithing, weaving, crafts and others. And Africans would have adopted more formal education if colonialists did not invade for exploitation. So, if the colonial intentions were truly civilization, they could have introduced schools without stealing the people’s resources. Besides, it was religious groups that began spreading formal education as reparation for their government’s cruelty before colonialists followed to save face.


  • International religions: though international religions reduced crude practices like blood sacrifice, it blacklisted most of Africans’ religious beliefs and practices. This left a demoralizing and negatively generalized impression of evil, inferiority and immorality about African cultures. So, the colonialists allowed religious introduction if it does not interrupt their exploitation or it helps to distract and pacify the exploited people. Without supporting productivity, some religious groups bring distractions to promote political apathy, suspicion, spiritualizing physical problems and exaggerating reliance on prayers, obedience and naïveté.


  • Foreign products: An institution that robs Peter to pay Paul counts on Paul’s help to control or drug Peter. The colonialists who use imposed land laws and its supporters to exploit others will keep rewarding their loyalists. So, they send no more products than is necessary to keep the people voting in an institution for exploitation. These foreign products are rarely sent to areas without colonially-desired resources. Instead, they come as distracting incentives for people to keep voting under the systems that denies their rights to their industrial resources. Now, the previously productive aspects of African cultures are replaced with dependent consumerism.[19]


  • Entrance to foreign territories: the colonial immigration policies is built as a modern slave trade as it mainly accepts people who can extract African wealth or skilled labour for industry and marketing. Since the colonialists’ traditions (laws and institutions) in Africa render Africa unproductive, their countries become exile destinations for Africans. Now, many of the African exiles abroad fear returning home or deportation despite years of service.


The fact that Africa still serves the colonial intentions as hunting grounds for human and natural resources, and market for their surplus products, testifies to the damaging effects of colonialism. And until different African communities and kingdoms can own and use their resources for productivity, colonialism is still on.


As a captive in a legalized slave-city, a person cannot be free by running to exile, fighting the suffering or privileged inmates, nor attacking the jailers who have colonial orders to hold him. Instead, he defeats the ideas that hold the colonial system with superior ideas and aspirations for the society. This idea involves ideas for people to retrieve rights to defend themselves and their lands against colonially-made parliaments. If people keep depending on shares for supporting foreign exploitation and do not regain their right to own and use their lands and resources for sustainable industry, they will have no system to pass down to their children. Instead, they will keep rotating status as scared exiles, suffering or temporarily privileged inmates, or prison-warders for the invaders (colonialists). Africa’s corrupt politicians, supporters and civil servants are not the real enemies, they are just addicted-tools for postcolonial exploitation.



[1] Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, International Student’s Edition, 8th Edition, s. v. Civilize

[2] Cf. Aristotle, Politics, Bk 1

[3] Chukwunwike Enekwechi, Redefine your purpose, restart the nation (Ibadan: Restartnaija, 2019), p. 44

[4] Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, International Student’s Edition, 8th Edition, s. v. colonialism

[5] S. O. Oyedele, “Federalism in Nigeria” in Issues contemporary political economy of Nigeria (edited) Hassan A. Saliu, op.cit, p.57

[6] cf. Richard Dowden, Africa altered states, ordinary miracles. (New York: Public Affairs, 2010). p.3-4

[7] Walter Rodney, How Europe underdeveloped Africa, 2009 edition (Abuja: Panaf publishing Inc. 2009), p.273

[8] Oladele Fadeiye, European conquest and African resistance (Lagos: Murfat publication, 2011), p.65-69

[9] Cf. Walter Rodney, op. cit. 319.

[10] Walter Rodney, op. cit. p.319.

[11] Cf. Mogobe Ramose, “Discourses on Africa” in The African Philosophy Reader, Second Edition, Edited by P. H. Coetzee and A. P. J. Roux (New York: Routledge, 2003). p.3

[12] Richard Dowden, Africa altered states, ordinary miracles. (New York: Public Affairs, 2010), p.3

[13] Thomas Hobbes, p.130

[14] Henry Hazlitt, Economics in one lesson (New York: Pocket books, Inc. 1946),p.149

[15] Walter Rodney, op. cit. p.250

[16] Walter Rodney, op. cit. p.250

[17] FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front) Department of Education and Culture 1968, quoted in Walter Rodney, op. cit. p.246

[18] Walter Rodney, 293

[19] Chukwunwike Enekwechi, “Sharing consumption breaks and enslaves people” in Restartnaija, 17th December, 2019. retrieved 24th January.