Africa During the Colonial Period, Part 2
Just as each country had their own motivation for wanting their “piece of the pie”;
the way they ruled differed as well. One can though, break the colonists’ leadership
styles into two major categories: direct rule and indirect rule.
Let’s first address the case of the French who saw colonization not just as a means
of having more resources; but also as a way to increase their cultural influence.
They ruled their colonies with the intention of assimilating Africans into French
culture and creating “African Frenchman”, so to speak. It is therefore easier to
understand why they invested more in the way of infrastructure. After all, in order
to teach Africans to become Frenchmen, some education would be needed. It also explains
why in addition to the military they sent members of the French administration personnel
to the colonies. African colonies were treated as extensions of territorial France.
Consequently, they controlled the regions directly and had the people of their choosing
in power. We will see next week what results this type of leadership had on the
colonies after independence.
Do not misunderstand this to mean that the French treated the average “African Frenchman”
as they treated their white French counterpart! Africans were viewed as one views
children: people with potential; but in need of being raised to adulthood. They
were certainly not seen as equals. Yet, some Africans in the colonies were able
to attain French citizenship and some even attended French universities. Algeria
was even made one of France’s “departments”, which is the equivalent to an American
county. The island of Reunion (a small island off the coast of Madagascar) remains
a French “department” even today.
One must though be honest in saying that Africans who lived in French ruled regions
of Africa had more opportunity to hold positions of power and to receive education
as well as have access to more infrastructure and improvements such as roads, railways,
phone lines, etc. Additionally, Africans also had to deal with the larger numbers
of white settlers who came to live in this new “region” of France (These included
both administrative persons who were stationed there; and French citizens who simply
decided to come and take advantage of business opportunities and start new in a
region with a great climate and opportunity to have power.) But the French did not
necessarily choose those who had held power in traditional Africa societies either.
Often leaders were chosen who fell inline with the French view of life and those
same men would never have attained important positions in the traditional systems
The second category is that of indirect rule. Two prime examples of European powers
which ran their colonies in this fashion are the English and the Dutch. African
colonies in this case are seen strictly as a means to an end. Neither the English,
nor the Dutch had any intention of having Africans as citizens of their nations.
Africans were simply the current inhabitants of their new lands. Since the colonies
were either seen as a place to extract raw materials or to allow European businesses
to prosper thanks to the raw materials which were abundant in certain regions; there
was no point in their view to invest in much infrastructure. Railways or roads for
example were run directly from the location of the resources to be transported to
the nearest port. Schools were not built, nor were any other communication or transportation
networks unless they would directly serve to export goods from Africa to Europe.
As for the manner of governing they were not interested in bringing too many officials
to run their colonies. It would have been too costly; thus, they gave orders through
the current leadership structure. In many cases, they removed or killed those who
refused to cooperate and replaced them with more “cooperative” members of African
There were numerous effects of colonization Africans. For one, it highlighted urban/rural
differences since most of investment was made in urban areas. This caused vast gaps
between urban and rural peoples in the way of education, etc.
One of the other major consequences which still haunts Africa today is that power
was completely removed from women in African society. Colonists imposed the male-dominated
structures which were commonplace in Europe.
Many African societies treated women and men as equals and women held positions
of power. Ga women for example dominated trade in the open markets and in Nairobi
during the 1940’s more than 60 percent of all homes were owned by women. But under
European rule, the vast majority of women lost their leadership positions which
were given to men because the Europeans women did not accept women as equals. Those
who were actually accepted for leadership roles were not paid. The colonists also
strongly encouraged African men to take control of sectors which women previously
controlled, teaching that men should be dominant in Africa as they were in Europe.
Independent, successful African women threatened the roles of both European and
African men, so the two worked together to rob women of their power in government,
society and the home.
Women gradually lost the right of property ownership where they had had the right
before; through reorganization of land ownership For example in Southern Zambia,
men used polygamy to gain more help on the farm and women were treated as farmhands,
no longer as partners. Women accepted this type of marriage because it was the sole
remaining means of having property.
Power was taken in a variety of ways. Professional training, for example was given
to males when provided. There were fewer facilities for girls than boys. Women could
gain entry into professions such as law, civil service, medicine, and academia in
general. Very few women were appointed to any European posts, and there was never
a female governor of a colony. The only part women played in the colonial government
was as petty traders and farmers. This has, to this day, maintained women in Africa
in a very subservient position.