Academic Papers

Impact of Colonialism in Contemporary Development Trajectories

The earthquake that took place in Haiti in 2010 killing over 250,000 people (Ramachandran et al, 2013) opened the debate on how the preconditions of the country contributed to maximise the effects of the natural disaster. According to Dr. Matthias Garschagen (2016), the disaster potential was not only driven by the force of the natural hazard but also due to the lack of coping capacity, basic infrastructure and poor health centers and evacuation shelters. Part of that underdevelopment comes from the history of colonialism in the country, as Haiti only finished paying a debt of €17bn with France in 1947 (Willsher, 2010). The debt was imposed by the French in 1825 as a consequence of the uprising of the Caribbean colony that deprives French settlers of their plantations and slaves. Although Haitians won independence through a revolt against the French colonizers, they were forced to repay for the freedom they had previously won. It took Haitians a hundred and twenty-two years to repay a debt that illegally had been imposed by the French and that had negative consequences in the economic development of the country in the long term.

The following research paper will analyze the impact certain types of colonialism had in the development trajectories of three different countries: South Korea, Nigeria, and Congo. These three cases of study will be used to explain how the Japanese, the British and the Belgian forms of colonialism had both positive and negative impacts in the way those colonized countries have developed. In the case of Korea and Nigeria this research paper will analyse how certain economic and political transformations in the colonial era have contributed or not to the stability and growth of the two countries, while the case of Congo will take a cultural approach to understand how the legacy of colonialism has shaped the role of identity in contemporary society. Finally, the role of identity will be also discussed in the context of current forms of colonialism such as Tibet in China and Kashmir in India.

When addressing the influence of colonialism in contemporary development trajectories in the Republic of Korea, it is important to highlight the rapid economic growth the region has been experiencing since 1962. The Republic of Korea is currently the world’s 15th largest economy and has moved from being an aid recipient to a high-income country (World Bank, 2017). It is an incredible achievement considering that the Republic of Korea remained a Japanese colony until 1945 (Kohli, 2004). However, Korea’s economic stability was very limited by 1905 due to the state’s incapacity to collect taxes on agrarian incomes but specifically due to a wide social class division and difficulties in connecting the centre of the state with the periphery. According to Atul Kohli (2004), those factors linked with financial difficulties to mobilize military response to growing external pressures made it easy for Japan to take over the region. As any other form of colonialism, Japanese colonialism made use of the force and coercion to establish a ruling government in Korea who would control every aspect of citizens lives. Despite the authoritarian regime that had been established, the Koreans witnessed the transformation from a corrupt and ineffective agrarian system into an organized efficient bureaucracy.

The Japanese developed infrastructure including the most advanced railway system in Asia outside Japan by 1945, but also a well-organized police force that included not only Japanese officials but a high number of Korean citizens who were trained and who progressed to hold high positions within the policy body. Advanced techniques of agricultural products such as the use of better seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation were also transferred with the goal of improving Korean agricultural system. Japanese colonizers also invested in expanding the education system raising the number of students from 10,000 in 1910 to 1.7 million by 1941 (Tsurumi, 1984). Although the level of development Korea would have experienced not having been colonized is unknown, the quality in formal institutions and investment in infrastructure and education was noticeable after Japanese colonialism in comparison to levels of 1900.

As well as all forms of colonialism are not the same, they do not have the same impact on a country’s development either. The way in which Japanese colonialism affected Korea was completely different from the impact British colonialism had in Nigeria. The British did not seek to modernize Nigeria, in contrast to Japanese colonialism that had promoted education and modernized the state structures as well as the agrarian sector, the British spent little energy in transforming the economy in the region they had just colonized. The failure in the implementation of a centralized government, giving ruling power to existing authority structures would have negative consequences for state building in Nigeria (Nicolson, 1969). As different regions of Nigeria were ruled in different ways according to the local authority, these regions experienced distinct socioeconomic characteristics. As a product of that lack of cohesion in the ruling system, a movement of regionalization of the nationalist spirit emerged, worsening the already weak centralist system of the colonial state. The economic reforms that the British implemented did not contribute to the development of the country as they relied on a classic colonial economy model based on exported commodities and imported manufactured goods.

Although the form of colonialism in Nigeria by the British was less intrusive than Japanese colonialism in Korea, the impact made by the British was considerable but not in a good way. The outcome resulted in a weakly formed state without a central authority or national civil service, lack of essential government functions such as systematic taxation and poor missionary-led education system (Kohli, 2004). According to data from the World Bank (2017), Nigeria faces today important issues in access and quality of services in the education and health system along with inefficiency in providing social services at the state level.

Robbert Maseland (2017) agrees with the fact that colonialism has affected African institutional and economic development, however, he believes that the impact colonialism had is no longer persistent. According to his research, colonialism negatively affected African countries economies but it did so for a limited space of time, and that in the long term, consequences of colonialism tend to fade. The case of Nigeria proves that the consequences of certain types of colonialism still remain part of today’s society. Nigeria faces continues terrorist attacks rooted in the commodity export based economy from the British colonialism. It was mainly the classic colonial economy model based on commodity exports such as oil inherited during colonial period what triggered violent conflict in the 1980s by indigenous groups such as Ogoni, Urhobos and Isikos in the Niger Delta. Those indigenous groups took action against a government who protected oil companies making profit at the expense of Nigerian resources while suffering the consequences from the environmental degradation product of oil’s companies’ exploration and production (Hallmark, 2017).

Since 2006, Nigeria has witnessed the rise of violence and armed conflict in the Delta with the birth of two rebel groups, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). These groups like the indigenous in the 1980s still have the same goal which is to eject those oil companies from the Niger Delta and give back control over oil resources to the local people (Ikelegbe, 2005).

The cases of a study of the Japanese and the British colonialism put an emphasis on institutional and economic development, however, it is important not to forget that development can be also measured by other indicators. Using an economic lens to frame the consequences of colonialism is very limited because it does not take in consideration other factors such as culture and identity. When looking at conflict for instance, it is important to look at cultural explanations of political conflict rather than economic explanations. Mahmood Mamdani (2001) takes this approach to give an answer to current conflict in areas of Africa such as Kivu in eastern Congo. Mamdani departs from the premise that boundaries in Africa have been created artificially with a pen and a ruler on a map and that the concepts of ethnicity and race have been used to divide the society in the benefit of a minority which was often a ruling elite minority. North Kivu had been the subject of such division with the differentiation between indigenous and non-indigenous people. The Banyarutshuru were considered indigenous because they had lived in Congo before the Belgian colonisers arrived, however the Banyamasisi had only moved to Congo during the colonial period as labour migrants and therefore were not considered indigenous. That division placed one group in a better position than the other, empowering those who were considered indigenous and disempowering the ones considered as non-indigenous. Who gets to decide who is indigenous and who is not? Why should the Belgian colonial period be considered as the cut-off date for the belonging of a group to a certain place? Sadly, the democratic opposition of Congo passed a law in 1991 defining a Congolese as “anyone with and ancestor then living in the territory demarcated by Belgians as the colony of Congo” (Mamdani, 2005). The legacy of colonialism is perpetuated through the establishment of the colonial state of Congo as the date of birth for the independent state of Congo. In designating who is indigenous and who is not according to Belgian colonialism, Congo is not challenging the legacy of colonialism but preserving it.

Studying the effects of colonialism is important to understand current trajectories of development, however, studying colonialism as something from the past would be denying the presence colonialism still has in current days. Dibyesh Anand (2011) uses the term of Postcolonial Informal Empire (PIE) to refer to the way in which the nation-state, especially in the cases of China and India, shape the liberties of citizens subjected to the political power of the securitised state through coercive control. Despite their legacy of colonialism, especially in the case of India, this two countries still oppose absolute political sovereignty over nationalist collectives such as Kashmir and Tibet. The denial for self-determination in Kashmir and Tibet highlight the struggles of this nations to freely express their identity and the way in which contemporary colonialism claims to be acting upon the defence of the interests of Tibetans and Kashmiris to control every aspect in society.

The impact of colonialism in contemporary development trajectories is evident, especially in economic terms. Nonetheless, in weighing the impact of colonialism is important to take into consideration what would have happened if countries such as Korea, Nigeria or Congo would not have been colonized. Perhaps their development trajectories without a legacy of colonialism would have been more successful and Korea for instance could have been today the world’s 5th largest economy rather than the 15th. What it is difficult to deny is that colonialism did have an impact in reinforcing state’s political and economic structures in Korea, but also in promoting a commodity export based economy in Nigeria that would lead to insurgency among local groups for the country’s natural resources. In a similar way, Belgian colonialism affected negatively the relations between local communities through changes in the structure of their territorial organization and identity. In order to understand how countries that had been colonised have developed, it is important to look at the way in which colonialism affected those countries not only economically, but politically and culturally. Learning from the history of colonialism can help us identify and prevent practices that are currently used by countries such as China and India and that can have negative effects in the development trajectories of regions such as Tibet and Kashmir in the long term.

By Jordi Cortes

  •  Anand, Dibyesh. 2012. China and India: Postcolonial Informal Empires in the Emerging Global Order, Rethinking Marxism, 24:1, 68-86.
  •  Garschagen, Matthias. 2016. World Risk Report. United Nations University, Institute for Environment and Human Security.
  •  Hallmark, Terry. 2017. Oil and violence in the Niger Delta isn’t talked about much, but it has a global impact. University of Houston Energy Fellows. [online] available from: https://goo.gl/oDcv54, accessed 10th November 2017.
  • Ikelegbe, Augustine. 2005. The economy of conflict in the oil rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria, Nordic Journal of African Studies 14(2): 208-234.
  •  Kohli, Atul. 2004. State-Directed Development: Political Power and Industrialization in the Global Periphery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapters 1(“The Colonial Origins of a Modern Political Economy: The Japanese Lineage of Korea’s Cohesive Capitalist State”) and 8 (“Colonial Nigeria”), pp. 27-61 and 291-328.
  •  Mamdani, Mahmood. 2001. Beyond settler and native as political identities: Overcoming the political legacy of colonialism. Comparative studies in society and history, 43:651-664.
  •  Mamdani, Mahmood. 2005. Political identity, citizenship and ethnicity in Post-colonial Africa. Arusha Conference, “New Frontiers of Social Policy”. Columbia University.
  •  Maseland, Robbert. 2017. Is colonialism history? The declining impact of colonial legacies on African institutional and economic development. Journal of Institutional Economics forthcoming.
  •  Nicolson, I. F. 1969. The Administration of Nigeria, 1900–1960: Men, Methods, and Myths. Oxford: Clarendon, esp. 51–52.
  •   Ramachandran, V and Walz, J. 2013. Haiti’s earthquake generated a $9bn response, where did the money go? The Guardian. [online] available from: https://goo.gl/kTUw5Z, accessed 10th November 2017.
  •  Tsurumi, E. Patricia. 1984. Colonial Education in Korea and Taiwan, in Myers. Ramon H and Peattie. Mark R, eds., Japanese Colonial Empire (1984), esp. 305, Published by Princeton University Press.
  • Willsher, Kim. 2010. France urged to repay Haiti billions paid for its independence. The Guardian. [online] available from: https://goo.gl/uKrGtN, accessed 10th November 2017.
  •  World Bank. 2017. The World Bank in Republic of Korea. [online] available from: https://goo.gl/uJ5ILo, accessed 10th November 2017. – World Bank. 2017. The World Bank in Nigeria. [online] available from: https://goo.gl/bQZ96b, accessed 10th November 2017.
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