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To what extent and why do you support the view that colonial development was an essential if not regrettable phase in Africa’s development Argumentative Essay


Colonial past in African continent is widely known for its effect on economy. In fact, both the left and right wing believe that it restructured African economies. However, those in the center maintain that its impact was limited and confused. According to dependency and Marxists theories, which inclined to the left, colonial powers ensured that African economies were non-autonomous and dependent on their system of metropolitan as well as international economy.

In essence, this ensured that African economies were dependent on their standards and remained vulnerable to fluctuations in prices of commodities due to over specialization. On the other hand, those on right wing emphasized progressive achievements of colonialism as well as opportunity for future growth. In this regard, it became essential to asses effects of colonialism on development of African economies. This paper will support the view that colonial development was essential phase in Africa (Jennings, 2009, p.94-111).

Colonial Period

Economic outcome of Colonial period in Africa was largely witnessed between c. 1945 and c. 1960. During this period, restructuring of African economies occurred in a large scale. In fact, some economies experienced complete overhaul of their pre-colonial development structures.

African economies were gathering momentum during this period. Besides, statistics show that British Africa’s value of export (between 1947 and 1960) registered a huge increase from £120.1 Million to £591 Million. Moreover, French Africa’s value of export (between 1948 and 1953) also increased from $291 million to $484million. This shows a robust increase in export between these periods as well as restructuring of economy.

Evidently, colonial period transformed these economies, which had previously depended on subsistence farming and barter trade. For instance, statistics show that during this period, per capita growth for Cameroon was 1.5 percent. Similarly, that of Kenya was 1.9 percent despite trouble from Mau Mau resistance. Other countries such as Senegal and Tanganyika, among others recorded even higher per capita growth in 4.4% and 3.7% respectively. Moreover, colonial development improved with annual increase in export by colonies.

Apart from development and economic restructuring, Colonial period was overshadowed with constant resistance from colonies who wanted to rule themselves. For instance, Kenya had Mau Mau, among other associations that sought to take power from white settlers. This combined with other issues such as poor infrastructure, among others worked to impede colonial development. According to George Abbot, colonies were previously mandated to fund their growth from exports and self earned funds or loans attracted.

However, this changed with the Britain changed its economic policy instituting a colonial development act in 1929. This was established under Joseph Chamberlain who was the then secretary of State for colonies. In essence, imperial government decided to be responsible for economic development of its numerous colonies. This was very important as it enabled colonies to gain funds for production and infrastructure development.

Colonial Development

The British government acquired several colonies with a population of over 80 million compared to their own, which was about 51 million. Moreover, the area covered by its colonies was vast as it encompassed tropical region. They saw tropical region as a good area for development and productivity.

However, this was impeded by environmental and psychological factors that slowed growth. For instance, even though tropical region was known for its fertile soils, unlimited sunshine and rainfall among other environmental benefits, it entailed environmental hazards such as tropical diseases, wild animals, among others.

Colonies, especially those situated in Africa had trouble in development under previous British colonial policy, which mandated them to utilize what they earned for future growth of economies. Tropical diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and trypanosomiasis as well as swollen foot, which was prevalent in cocoa, among others. Furthermore, other problems of political interests and administration were prevalent during these periods. These were some of the problems facing colonial development as it emerged.

Imperial government therefore revised their colonial policy to be responsible for economic development of their colonies. According to Abbot, these colonies were previously required to fund their own economic growth from exports and loans. However, this changed with the imperial government changing its economic policy by establishing colonial development act in 1929.

Joseph Chamberlain was put at the helm of things given that he stepped in as secretary of State for colonies. Imperial government wanted to induce economic growth on its numerous colonies. They instituted an annual fund of £1 million to colonies in order help stimulate their economies.

However, this project is said to have failed to achieve its potentials in colonies. This failure was largely attributed to psychological problems in planning and environmental causes. Moreover, British economic problems and panic in instituting colonial development advisory committee also influenced its failure to accomplish economic goals. In essence, different obstacles marred colonial development although it was a necessary phase in African economic development.


Going by the statistic indications between the period 1945 and 1960, several improvements and restructuring of economic polices were seen in African colonies. For instance, as has been seen above, the period mentioned above registered increased growth in income per capita for colonies.

This was evident in countries such as Kenya, Tanganyika, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Malawi, among others. Moreover, more funds were structured to manage problems associated with tropical diseases. This was very instrumental in refining economic development through improved exports. During this period, manufacturing industries were mainly predominant in Egypt due to cotton plantations. In fact, Egypt represented over 31% of industrial activity during colonial periods.

This was followed by Zambia at 10%, which concentrated, mainly on mining for its industrial exports. Furthermore, the other countries majored mainly on cash crop exports like cocoa, tea, pyrethrum and sisal, among others. It is important to note that these changes and restructuring of colonial economies were brought through effects of colonial development.

At the same time, colonialism brought about restructuring of activities in colonies. For instance, social organization was majorly changed as people leant how to read and write. This enabled them to participate actively in economic development. Moreover, increased literacy levels transformed their social organization and culture as they embraced western influence. This has generated debate over freedom of culture and social organization of African colonies.

However, it is quite important to note that colonial development acted as a benchmark for economic development in colonies. In addition, it is important to note that desired objectives were not achieved. This may have been attributed to succession leadership that took power from imperial governments.

Postcolonial leadership did not have required skills and strength to surge their economies forward. This resulted in stunted growth of economies after colonial period. In fact, it has been established that colonies would have performed better under colonial government than as it later transpired.

However, it is also essential to that citizens of colonizers owned most companies in colonies as well as production firms. This also contributed to reduce opportunity for growth of colonies as profits from exports still ended in citizen of imperial government’s hand (Abbott, 1971, p. 68-81).

Significance of Colonial Development

Colonial development was an important phase in Africa because of several reasons. For instance, it triggered opportunity for economic growth in African states. Moreover, it imparted administrative and management skills on Africans to continue production of goods for economic development.

Colonial development improved productivity of its colonies with favorable tropical climate. Moreover, propitious distribution of heat and rainfall made tropical colonies like Nigeria, among others favorable for large-scale farming of cash crops. In addition, naturally irrigated swamps were good grounds for yielding root crops and rice, among others.

Research in human health and disease control was important in managing such problems. Furthermore, establishment of funds by the imperial government to assist in colonial development was very influential in providing a benchmark for economic growth. Colonial development also improved cultural interaction between imperial and their colonies as this established a foundation for capacity development and acceptance of all cultures.

It is also essential to note that colonial development led to industrialization of colonies. This was driven mainly by availability of raw materials for production and market for both materials and finished goods. For instance, statistics show that all colonies exported their materials to imperial governments.

This is true in the case between France and Ivory Coast, which traded regularly in both finished products and raw materials. Moreover, Britain traded with its colonies from Africa. This was very instrumental in stimulating development during colonial periods. In fact, as has been mentioned above, income per capita both British and French colonies improved dramatically during colonial period.

It can therefore be said that colonial development, which traversed education, industrial and political development helped to institute a foundation for economic development. The program was therefore an essential phase in Africa’s development. In essence, it was highly significant and necessary as a benchmark for further growth (Tosh, 1980, p. 79-94).

Disadvantages of Colonial Development

As much as colonial development had its importance as a benchmark for growth in colonies, it had several disadvantages. For instance, as those on the left said, it took freedom away from its colonies. This way, they were either semi autonomous or non-autonomous during colonial period.

This deprived them of the ability to take their own course. Moreover, it has been established that African countries had their own complex economies that were more advanced than specified by researchers. Therefore, to some extent the left believe that African countries could have forged their destiny in a free and autonomous manner.

It is also important to note that foreigners owned most firms in the colonies. This ensured that resulting profit was developing colonizers’ economies instead of serving their purpose in respective colonies. For instance, white settlers who were citizens of Britain owned various farms and industries throughout the colonies namely Kenya, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Cameroon, among others.

From the above argument, it is clear that the level of improvement expected in colonies was not achieved. This is mainly because foreigners owned most income generating projects. It is also important to note that most Africans were used in forced labor for production.

This was an injustice to them since they were not supposed to be forced to work. In fact, they had their traditions, a way of life, which was acceptable to them. Therefore, colonial development and its effects were to some extent aimed at rewarding colonizers rather than their colonies. Colonial development was therefore imposed on these countries even though they did not need it. It was a necessary project for white settlers who wanted to gain and develop their economies.

In fact, it is quite true to say that these profits and the named statistics showing increase income per capita and GDPs and GDIs, among others, only profited owners of these firms. Therefore, as far as colonial development worked to improve economies and was essential phase in Africa, it also had its repercussions. This included cultural distortion, forced labor and exploitation of their natural resources, among others (Meredith, 1975, 484-499).

Assertion and why

Colonial development has been referred to variously as essential, regrettable and unnecessary, among others. Those on the left such as Marxists among others faulted colonial development as a way of the west. In fact, they continued to fault it for locking colonies and denying them autonomy.

Moreover, they also believed that expression of African culture and tradition as backward was instigated out of exaggeration and excuse for exploiting their economies. Those on the center maintained that there was little or no effect of colonial development on Africa. In their defense, they cite the fact that these developments failed once natives took charge of the colonies.

They insist that colonial development had virtually no effect and bearing on the colonies. However, those inclined to the right believed colonial development was fundamental in development of African economies. In fact, even though they concur that it failed to reach its goals, it is clear that colonial development established the foundation for economic growth.

This is mainly because even though Africa’s economic development was exaggerated, it had inadequate capacity to forge its economy without skills and resources for development. In fact, they had no established sectors of economy like education, agriculture, currency and industry, among others.

Therefore, in order to begin a phase of development, they had to embrace colonial development. Colonial development brought about several improvements in African states. For instance, improved infrastructures in roads and railways provided trade routes and means of transport for goods, services and people, among others.

Moreover, natives taking charge f their economies were reared for the task ahead with the hoe of continuing or even improving development in colonies. Besides, trade relations were open between colonizers and their colonies even after transfer of power in order to realize continued growth. It is therefore essential to note that colonial development was an essential phase in Africa (Fieldhouse, 1986, p. 27-65).


Colonial development was very instrumental in establishing a benchmark for African economic surge. In fact, it trained natives on skills required for economic development. These included farming methods, cash crops, education, medicine and management, among others. Change in colonial policy was very instrumental in advancing funds to colonies for improvement in production.

This helped to increase exports and per capita for the colonies. Moreover, it established a foundation for capitalist economy. However, it also came with repercussions such as exploitation of natural resources, forced labor and distortion of traditions, among others. Nonetheless, colonial development was essential phase in Africa (Havinden & Meredith, 1993, p. 1-23).

Reference List

Abbott, GC 1971, ‘Re-examination of the 1929 Colonial Development Fund’, Economic History Review, 24, pp. 68-81.

Fieldhouse, DK 1986, Black Africa 1945-1980: Economic Decolonization and Arrested Development, Unwin Hyman, London.

Havinden, M & Meredith, D 1993, Colonialism and Development: Britain and its Tropical Colonies, Routledge, London.

Jennings, M 2009, ‘Building Better People: Modernity and Utopia in Late Colonial Tanganyika’, Journal of East African Studies, 3, No. 1, pp.94-111.

Meredith, D 1975, ‘The British Government and Colonial Economic Policy, 1919-39’, Economic History Review, 28, pp. 484-499.

Tosh, J 1980, ‘Cash crop revolution in Africa’, African Affairs, 79, pp. 79-94.

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1. Wolver-dok. "To what extent and why do you support the view that colonial development was an essential if not regrettable phase in Africa’s development." IvyPanda (blog), April 25, 2019.


Wolver-dok. "To what extent and why do you support the view that colonial development was an essential if not regrettable phase in Africa’s development." IvyPanda (blog), April 25, 2019.


Wolver-dok. 2019. "To what extent and why do you support the view that colonial development was an essential if not regrettable phase in Africa’s development." IvyPanda (blog), April 25, 2019.


Wolver-dok. (2019) 'To what extent and why do you support the view that colonial development was an essential if not regrettable phase in Africa’s development'. IvyPanda, 25 April.

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