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Colonization: Why Africa Suffers Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 5th, 2019

Introduction

Colonization refers to the domination of a weaker nation by a superior state (Johnstone 225). From 15th-19th century, a number of European nations such as Portugal, France, Britain, and Spain were motivated to acquire colonies in different parts of the world. Social, economic, and political factors facilitated the acquisition of colonies in Africa.

For instance, during the 19th century, Europe underwent a tremendous change socially, politically, and economically due to the industrial revolution, which began in Britain and later spread to other European countries. Britain as the pioneer of industrial revolution required more raw materials for her industries, markets for the manufactured goods, as well as, new avenues to invest surplus capital (Johnstone 109). Therefore, Britain was motivated to acquire colonies in Africa in order to satisfy her needs and wants.

Other European countries also followed suit in the race for African colonies. Colonization of Africa by the European nations led to the introduction of foreign policies and institutions that had a great impact on postcolonial Africa. Therefore, this paper examines the state of pre-colonial African societies, factors that led to European colonization of Africa, British colonial rule in Africa, and the impact of British colonialism on the postcolonial African states.

Pre-colonial African Societies

Before European colonialism in Africa, the African societies had distinct socio-economic and political structures, which determined their operations. Politically, African societies had decentralized and centralized governments. In the centralized governments, a king or a chief ruled the society with the help of clan elders (Shillington 66). The clan elders had a major responsibility of updating the king about various affairs of the kingdom; they also helped the king to make policies, as well as, settling petty cases within the community.

Some of the major African kingdoms that had a centralized system of government include the Mali and Songhai kingdoms in West Africa, as well as, the Buganda kingdom in East Africa. These kingdoms had well-organized governments that governed vast regions. For instance, the Buganda kingdom had a parliament, a chief justice, and a prime minister who assisted the king to rule the kingdom. Similarly, in the West African kingdoms several chiefs ruled the vassal states on behalf of the king.

The centralized governments also had well-organized military systems, which protected the community against external attacks. The soldiers were well trained and equipped with weapons, which they used for defense during wars. Therefore, before colonialism centralized African states had regimented governments, which controlled their affairs.

On the other hand, the African communities that had a decentralized system of government did not have a central authority (Shillington 75-77). In such societies, clan elders managed the affairs of their clans. However, whenever there was an issue that affected an entire community, the clan elders would come together and deliberate on the issue. For example, incidents of calamities such as floods and famine would require the deliberation of the clan elders in order to find a solution.

Additionally, the clan elders would mobilize for the formation of a community military in case of an attack from their enemies. In the pre-colonial decentralized governments, members of a community could break away from their original community in case of dissatisfaction. This was motivated by the fact that land was communally owned. Therefore, the system was less powerful and everybody had a say over community affairs.

Economically, pre-colonial African societies engaged in a variety of economic activities. Some of the economic activities that the African societies practiced include trade and agriculture. In the centralized governments, land belonged to the king who in turn distributed it to his subjects for cultivation.

Through agricultural activities, African communities were able to produce enough food for consumption, as well as, surplus food products that the communities sold out in order to get goods that they did not produce (Shillington 114). For example, the Buganda kingdom and the West African kingdoms such as Mali had fertile soils, which favored agricultural activities. As a result, the kingdoms produced large amount of agricultural produce that boosted the living standards and led to increase in population.

Apart from agriculture, the pre-colonial African societies also engaged in trade. Some of them participated in local trade, regional trade, and long-distance trade. Local trade took place at village level on specific days at a particular place. This type of trade enabled neighboring communities to exchange goods in order to acquire what they did not produce.

Local trade involved barter trade system, which entailed the exchange of goods for goods. Other communities also participated in long-distance trade. An example of long-distance trade took place between the East African Coastal communities and the communities that occupied the interior parts of East Africa. On the other hand, regional trade took place between two distinct geographical regions.

For example, the West African kingdoms traded with the North African communities across the Sahara desert, hence the trade was known as the Trans-Saharan trade. Trading activities took place due to availability of trade commodities and the demand for goods. Through trading activities, African societies accumulated wealth, which they used to build and expand their kingdoms. Therefore, pre-colonial African societies were well organized economically even before the establishment of colonial rule.

Pre-colonial African societies also had effective social organization, which comprised of customs, beliefs, values, and traditions. However, social organization of the African societies differed from one community to another. Every community had religious beliefs, which they practiced. For instance, most African societies practiced polytheism, which is the worship of many gods. Similarly, they had religious leaders who presided over religious ceremonies like offering sacrifices to the gods and leading prayers (Word Press).

The pre-colonial African societies also had a number of ceremonies such as birth ceremonies, harvest ceremonies, and war victory ceremonies. During the ceremonies, religious leaders performed several rituals depending on the societal beliefs and customs. The aim of the ceremonies was to reinforce the spirit of communalism and goodwill.

Therefore, the above discussion clearly depicts that the pre-colonial African societies had efficient social, economic, and political institutions before European colonialism. However, their organization was disrupted due to the establishment of European colonialism. The European nations introduced their own systems of administration, as well as, Western culture contrary to the African traditions.

Factors that Led to European Colonization of Africa

During the 19th century, European countries such as Britain rushed to acquire colonies in Africa. The rush for colonies has often been described as the scramble for Africa that led to the partition of Africa among the European powers. The partition of Africa refers to the peaceful sharing of African territories during the1884-1885 Berlin conference among the European powers (Nardo and Nardo 115). European powers were motivated to acquire territories in Africa due to political, economic, and social reasons.

Economic Factors

The emergence of industrial revolution in Europe during the 19th century led to economic transformation in Europe. The industrial revolution began in Britain in 1750 and later spread to other parts of Europe. This period was characterized by factory system that led to the replacement of human labor with machines, mass production of industrial goods, development of good transport and communication system, and accumulation of surplus capital by trade merchants (Smith 12-14).

As a result, European nations had to look for new avenues in which they could invest the surplus capital and make maximum profits. Similarly, the European nations produced surplus industrial goods, which the population in Europe could not consume; hence, they had to look for new markets for their goods.

The establishment of industries also led to the demand for more raw materials such as cotton, coffee, and tea. Therefore, these factors facilitated the acquisition of colonies in Africa, which the Europeans considered as unoccupied land endowed with natural resources that they required.

Social Factors

Social factors in Europe also facilitated colonization of Africa. For instance, during the 19th century European countries like Britain registered increased population growth rate because of better living standards (Smith 55). As a result, Britain, as well as, other European nations required space to re-settle the surplus population and Africa was preferable because they considered it an empty continent.

The Europeans also wanted to spread Christianity in Africa and to civilize Africans whom they regarded as barbarians. European missionaries encouraged their governments back in Europe to establish colonial rule in areas where the Africans opposed missionary activities. For example, the Church Missionary Society (CMC) called upon the British government to establish colonial rule in the Buganda kingdom (Thomas 51-69).

Political Factors

Additionally, the Europeans acquired colonies for prestige purposes. During the 19th century, ownership of colonies was a sign of power; hence, a number of European powers such as France acquired colonies in order to boost their ego. Similarly, during the industrial revolution there was growth of nationalism in Europe.

European nations considered themselves more superior than other races due to national pride. Consequently, countries such as Germany and Italy acquired colonies as an expression of their national pride (Duiker and Spielvogel 614-615). Germany also pursued the policy of world expansion, which influenced her to gain colonial possessions in Africa.

As a result, European countries partitioned Africa among them during the Berlin conference. One of the principles stipulated in the Berlin Act stated that each power had to exercise the principle of effective occupation. Effective occupation meant that, “Powers could acquire rights over colonial lands only if they actually possessed them, in other words the European powers had to sign treaties with the local African chiefs; they had to establish an administration in their territories in order to govern them” (Harris 267).

Similarly, the principle of effective occupation required the European powers to utilize the economic resources in their colonies. Therefore, after the Berlin conference the European powers proceeded to take total control of their colonial possessions in Africa. Each European power used different methods to establish colonial rule, which would enable them to achieve their interests. For instance, France used the policy of assimilation and association in her colonies.

The concept of assimilation “was based on the idea of expanding French culture to the colonies outside of France in the 19th and 20th century” (Nardo and Nardo 154). This means that those who adopted the French culture would be considered French citizens. The French aimed at civilizing Africans by exposing the Africans to their cultures, customs, laws, institutions, and language.

However, the French resorted to association when assimilation failed. The concept of association meant that the French would continue to relate with the Africans without either of the parties interfering with each other. However, the French retained the ultimate authority. Under association, Africans would retain their own customs and traditions as long as the customs were in line with the interests of the French (Johnstone 97-99).

However, the major aim of France was not to assimilate or form an association with the Africans. The main goal of the policy of assimilation and association was to enable the French to easily exploit and rule the Africans. The policy of assimilation and association later came to influence the post-French colonies in West Africa.

Apart from France, Britain also demonstrated effective occupation of her African colonies. Britain was one of the major European colonial powers in Africa. The British had colonies in West Africa, East Africa and in the Southern region of Africa. In West Africa Britain acquired colonies in Gold Coat (modern Ghana), Slave Coast (modern Nigeria), Gambia, and Sierra Leone. In East Africa, Britain colonized Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika after World War 1.

In order to administer her colonized territories effectively, Britain employed different administration techniques, which played a major role in the postcolonial African states because most of the newly independent British colonies embraced the British colonial legacies at independence. British colonial legacies can still be traced up to date in a number of former British colonies in Africa. Unfortunately, some of the British colonial legacies have negatively influenced development in the postcolonial African states.

Methods Used by Britain to Administer Her Colonial Territories in Africa

The methods used by Britain to administer her colonies include chartered trading companies, indirect rule, the settler rule, and the condominium government that Britain used to administer Sudan in a joint effort with Egypt (Thomas 59).

British Chartered Trading Companies

Historically, “trading companies were formed between trading merchants in order to undertake business ventures, which required enormous amount of capital that an individual merchant could not raise” (Duiker and Spielvogel 177).

Groups of rich European merchants formed most of the trading companies during the 16th century in order to conduct trade beyond Europe. The trading companies got charters from their governments. Through chartered companies states managed to “use private resources for exploration and trade beyond the means of limited resources of the treasury” (Duiker and Spielvogel 179).

In order to administer her African colonial possessions effectively, Britain granted charters to a number of British private companies, which administered the colonies on behalf of the British government. Some of the British chartered companies include the British South Africa Company, Imperial British East Africa Company, and the United Africa Company in West Africa (Johnstone 205).

The Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) administered East Africa Protectorate. The company was formed after the Berlin conference of 1884-1885 under the leadership of Sir William Mackinnon. The company had the authority to develop trade in the British East Africa Protectorate.

According to the charter granted to the IBEAC, it would have “immunity of prosecution, the company had the power to raise taxes, impose custom duties, administer justice, and make treaties with the local African chiefs on behalf of the British government” (Nardo and Nardo 137).

As a result, the IBEAC used the powers granted to it to exploit resources in East Africa Protectorate and to maintain order in the British territory. The company also facilitated the building of the Kenya-Uganda railway, which promoted effective occupation of the territory because it enabled the British officials to penetrate into the interior parts of East Africa Protectorate. However, due to bankruptcy and conflicts with the local African communities the company collapsed.

In the Southern region of Africa, the British used the British South Africa Company to administer Nyasaland (modern Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (modern Zambia), and Southern Rhodesia (modern Zimbabwe) up to 1923 (Nardo and Nardo 140). The British South Africa Company also got the authority from the British government to perform a number of duties. For instance, the company got the mandate to trade with the African rulers, to own and manage the land, and raise a police force (British South Africa Police).

In exchange for the privileges, the company was to develop the British territory and to respect the existing African laws and traditions (Nardo and Nardo 147). On the other hand, the United Africa Company controlled British territories in West Africa. The United Africa trading company in West Africa also had exclusive economic and political authority over the British West African territories.

The trading companies that Britain used to administer her territories in Africa were ruthless and often mistreated the Africans. Despite the harsh rule that the companies established over the Africans, the British government failed to revoke the charters, thereby allowing the companies to rule for a long period. The major aim of the companies was to make profits at the expense of developing the British colonial territories.

Therefore, the companies introduced bigoted and draconian policies in order to maximize their profits (Shillington 106-108). Due to bankruptcy and conflicts with the local communities, the companies collapsed and the British government took over the administration of the territories. Unfortunately, the British government also adopted the adverse policies that the trading companies had introduced. Some of these adverse policies greatly affected the African territories up to the postcolonial era.

Indirect Rule

The British also used indirect rule to administer her territories. This system entailed the use of African traditional institutions and leaders to rule on behalf of the British (Johnstone 188). However, the decisions were made by the British colonial officers, hence African leaders acted as implementers of the decisions made by the British.

Fredrick Lugard introduced the indirect rule system of administration. He initiated the system in Northern Nigeria among the Fulani of the Sokoto Empire. However, the system was futile in East Africa, as well as, Southern Nigeria among the Igbo (Duiker and Spielvogel 164). Lugard had a general belief that all African societies had a centralized system of government. Therefore, when he attempted to use indirect rule in decentralized states the system failed terribly.

Unlike the French who attempted to assimilate Africans into the French culture, the British were blunt about their perception of Africans and their societies. Therefore, in West Africa the British did not attempt to assimilate the Africans into the English culture. The reason for adopting indirect rule was to preserve African cultures. However, the main idea behind indirect rule was to enable the British government to minimize operational cost and maximize the exploitation of raw materials within the territories (Harris 122-124).

However, the British later introduced Western culture in the West African territories, thereby interfering with the African cultures. Additionally, the British imposed new leaders on Africans. The imposition of rulers over the African communities always caused revolts from the communities. For example, in Northern Nigeria the non-Fulani and non-Muslims opposed the Fulani Emirs that the British used to rule on their behalf (Harris 86-88).

The non-Fulani and non-Muslims within the Sokoto Empire opposed the rule of the Fulani Emir due to corruption and dictatorship. Similarly, there were constant revolts among African communities, which were forced to merge with their neighboring communities as an attempt made by the British officials to establish centralized governments. British policy of indirect rule in West and East Africa perpetuated ethnic tensions and rivalries that have lasted up to date.

Settler Rule

In areas where there were several European immigrants (settlers), the British used settler rule to administer the territories. The European immigrants used direct rule to administer the colonies on behalf of Britain (Word Press). Settler rule was used to administer British territories like Kenya in East Africa, South Africa, Southern and Northern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe and Zambia), and in South-West Africa. Most of the settlers came to Africa to acquire permanent residence.

Therefore, they embarked on effective occupation of the African territories by establishing plantations of cash crops, which they could export to their home countries. In order to operate effectively, the settlers enacted laws, which would suit their interests at the expense of the Africans. As a result, Africans were exposed to harsher treatment under settler rule as compared to the indirect rule.

The settlers regarded the Africans as people who were naïve and only qualified to act as their subjects. The role of the Africans in the colonial territories was that of domestic workers who provided labor in the settlers’ plantations. Africans were prohibited from growing cash crops, as they would pose competition to the settlers. Therefore, the European settlers introduced radical measures, which would enable them to inhibit any form of competition from Africans.

For instance, Africans were alienated from their rich arable land and re-settled in crowded reserves (Thomas 59). This enabled the settlers to acquire large chunks of land in which they established plantation farming. On the other hand, the Africans who had been resettled in the reserves could no longer practice effective agriculture in the reserves due to in adequate land. Similarly, most of the reserves had infertile soil and poor climatic conditions. Some of the Africans also lived as squatters in their own land.

The land given to the African squatters could only favor subsistence agriculture. The settlers also influenced the formation of colonial governments, which were purely dominated by the Europeans. Through the colonial government, the settlers enacted laws, which enabled them to get cheap labor from the African population. The settlers paid the Africans meager wages for providing labor in the plantations. Unfortunately, the wages earned by the Africans went back to the colonial masters through a system of hut tax.

Condominium Government

The condominium system of administration was used by Britain and Egypt to jointly rule Sudan. In order to administer Sudan effectively, Britain employed the divide-and-rule policy. This policy divided the Africans and made them to distrust and fight one another (Thomas 55-56).

As a result, Britain took advantage of the mistrust among Africans and established their rule over the Africans. The divide-and-rule policy also separated Southern Sudan from Northern Sudan. The British concentrated in developing the North at the expense of the South, thereby creating rifts between the Africans in the North and South. The policies adopted by Britain in the administration of Sudan, as well as, other African territories greatly influenced the development of African states in the postcolonial era.

Impact of British Policies and Institutions on Postcolonial African States

The British policies and institutions used in the administration of colonial territories had far-reaching consequences on the economic and political development of postcolonial African states. A number of British colonies inherited some of the British administrative methods at the dawn of independence.

Consequently, the inherited colonial policies have played a major role in the retarded development of the postcolonial African states (Word Press). One of the reasons, which made Africans to inherit the colonial institutions and policies, was lack of adequate skilled personnel who could devise better systems of administration for the newly independent nations.

British policies in East Africa, as well as, West Africa resulted into a wave of ethnic consciousness, which was absent in the pre-colonial African societies (Shillington 110). For instance, the policy of indirect rule created tension among the West African communities. In Nigeria, the major ethnic communities include the Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, and Yoruba.

These communities managed their affairs independently in the pre-colonial era. However, the establishment of the British colonial rule in Nigeria led to the imposition of rulers who did not have the consent of the ethnic groups. As a result, several ethnic conflicts occurred during the colonial period in Nigeria and other British territories in West Africa (Nardo and Nardo 141). Unfortunately, the conflicts continued up to the postcolonial era, thereby posing a great challenge to economic development.

Ethnic consciousness that resulted from British policies influenced the political entities formed by the Africans during the struggle for independence. For example, in West Africa and East Africa ethnic groups formed political associations and parties in order to demand for independence from the British.

In Nigeria, “the major political parties formed around ethnic lines include The National Convention of Nigerian Citizens, which was dominated by the Igbo, The Action Group that was dominated by the Yoruba, and The Northern People’s Congress for the Hausa and the Fulani in the Northern region of Nigeria” (Harris 146-148).

The Nigerian situation also applied to other West African and East African countries. Therefore, at independence the political parties that took over from the British administration were majorly composed of leaders from certain ethnic groups.

This made some of the ethnic groups to feel alienated; hence, such communities often organized revolts against the government, thereby creating political instability. Consequently, political instability resulted into delayed economic growth because more attention shifted towards political matters at the expense of economic development. Additionally, ethnic based governments also gave a leeway to corruption among the leaders. This trend has persisted up to date in former British colonies.

Corruption has played a major role in hindering economic growth in the African countries. For example, the Nigerian GDP has always dwindled. In the 1960s the GDP expanded by 132%, 1970s it registered 283% growth, 1980s the GDP decreased by 66% as shown in figure 2 in the appendix (World Bank). Today, the Nigerian GDP has a lower growth rate of 7% as compared to the 1960s.

British policies and administrative institutions also promoted a culture of African dependency on Britain and other European nations. During colonial administration, the British were the decision makers whereas the Africans acted as implementers of the decisions.

Therefore, the African leaders always looked up to their colonial masters on how to go about various issues. A similar trend was also evident during the early years of postcolonial era. The newly independent African states consulted the British on various issues concerning the administration of their countries (Duiker and Spielvogel 188).

Similarly, the newly independent states lacked adequate financial resources and work force that would enable them to administer their countries effectively. As a result, the newly independent African states shifted their attention to Britain for financial aid. Today, most of the African countries still depend on financial assistance from the major European powers like Britain. Therefore, most of the African countries are bound in huge debts that cannot allow them to register high economic growth rates (World Bank).

The public debts of most African countries have continued to rise over the years. For example, Ghana and Nigeria have registered high public debt in the last fifteen years as shown in figure 1 in the appendix. This trend is also evident in other West African countries, as well as, East African states formerly colonized by Britain.

Introduction of British language and religion also influenced political and economic maturity of British colonies in the postcolonial era. Just like other European powers that had acquired colonies in Africa, Britain introduced the English language in her territories.

The British also introduced Christianity and disregarded the African religious beliefs that existed in the pre-colonial era, thereby leading to conflict of interests between the British and the Africans. For instance, in Northern Nigeria the British introduced Christianity to a region that had practiced Islam for over five hundred years (Duiker and Spielvogel 126).

Therefore, the result of introducing a new religion led to serious conflicts between the Muslims and the Christian converts. Additionally, the Muslims formed radical movements, which aimed at fighting Christianity. In the postcolonial era, a number of religious conflicts have occurred in Nigeria and other West African states, hence creating political instability. Consequently, development has often been hampered by frequent cases of political instability in the African countries.

British settler rule also influenced the formation of postcolonial African states. The African states that were under British settler rule instituted minority governments at independence. Minority governments were prevalent in the settler colonies and majorly consisted of the Europeans. Similarly, at independence the Africans emulated this example.

One of the African countries that exclusively adopted the minority government was South Africa, which pursued the policy of Apartheid (Nardo and Nardo 135). Under the Apartheid regime, the Nationalist Party dominated by Boers legalized racial segregation and allowed the Whites to dominate the South African government.

The settler rule also led to appropriation of good fertile land to the White settlers at the expense of Africans. Unfortunately, the African leaders at independence and in the postcolonial era “nationalized huge tracks of communal land and distributed it among themselves, their families, and cronies” (Shillington 155-158).

This scenario took place in Nigeria following the 1977 Land Use Decree, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. As a result, a number of communities in these countries cannot attain self-reliance due to lack of resources such as land. However, retarded development in Africa cannot be blamed totally on colonial injustices because there are several internal factors in Africa that have influenced the rate of development.

Conclusion

From the above discussion, it is evident that the pre-colonial African societies were well organized economically, socially, and politically. However, in the 19th century the Europeans who partitioned Africa and established colonial rule disrupted the African traditional structures. The Europeans were motivated to colonize Africa because of social, economic, and political factors. Every European power used different methods to administer the colonies.

For instance, Britain used indirect rule, settler rule, condominium government, and trading companies to administer her territories. The British colonial institutions and policies had adverse effects on the Africans during colonial period and the impacts have lasted up to the postcolonial period. Most of the economic and political problems that African countries experience today owe their origin to European colonial rule in Africa.

Appendix

Figure 1: Showing increase in Ghana’s Public Debts

Showing increase in Ghana’s Public Debts

Figure 2: Showing Nigeria’s GDP

Showing Nigeria’s GDP

Works Cited

Duiker, William and Jackson Spielvogel. World History: Since 1500. London: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.

Harris, Norman Dwight. Intervention and Colonization in Africa. Chicago: Read Books, 2008. Print.

Johnstone, Harry H. A History of the Colonization of Africa by Alien Races. London: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.

Nardo, Dan and Don Nardo. The European Colonization of Africa. New York: Morgan Reynolds Incorporated, 2010. Print.

Shillington, Kevin. Encyclopedia of African History. New York: CRC Press, 2005. Print.

Smith, Nigel. The Industrial Revolution. London: Evans Brothers, 2009. Print.

Thomas, Stewart. “Africa in the 19th Century.” Journal of Social History 42.1 (2008): 51-69. Print.

Word Press. Pre-Colonial Africa. Kenworthy Newsmedia, 13 Aug.2010. Web.

World Bank. World Development Indicators. World Bank, 29 Nov 2012. Web.

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