African Legacies: Europe and America Essay

With every encounter, a memory remains, no matter how small the event the impact is always present. For the last 6 centuries, Europe and America have had a strong influence on Africa. Beginning in 1441 with Portugal’s hand in slavery to the United States and Great Britain part in the Libyan Civil war, the Western world has long been attracted to Africa (Hoag Lecture Notes). The legacies left behind are seen as reasons for Africa’s progression and regression. Some of the interventions have brought advancement to certain sectors whilst in others it has created a multitude of social, economic, and political problems.

European and American involvement in Africa has left many legacies, which to this day are responsible for many of the continents woes. The first encounter Europe had with Africa was in 1441 with the enslavement of 12 West Africans, they were shipped to Portugal, merely out of curiosity (Hoag Lecture Notes). Before the arrival of Europeans, Africa had its own unique form of slavery, which was kin based. With the creation of Elmina, in present day Ghana and West Africa quickly became the hub for slavery. The Atlantic Slave Trade was completely different from any previous slave system.

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Europeans for one saw African slaves as property merely for economic activity, they maintained no social bond and granted slaves no rights. With the ever increasing need of labor in the New World plantations, the system heavily purchased people from Africans. As an outcome of slavery many legacies emerged. Racism, the African diaspora in the Americas and Europe, weakened societies, distorted and dependent African economies and the formation of two colonies were the most important. Racism was a key factor in the trade, for the first time the system had been based on skin color.

With Social Darwinism serving as justification, Europeans began seeing themselves as having a higher developmental status. More over slavery created large communities of African slave descendents in the Americas and in Europe, with no knowledge of their ancestral history, they have created new lives and identities where ever the slave trade took their descendants. Soon after the end of the Atlantic Slave Trade the repercussions were apparent in Africa, they had suffered greatly from a loss of social bonds and culture, and a decrease in population.

As a result of depopulation, the rate of production and technological advancements dropped. People also began importing cheap foreign goods. This ultimately led to a dependent African economy which became “mono-cultural and geared towards the needs of the colonial power” (Understanding Slavery). Liberia and Sierra Leone were direct products of the abolishment of slavery, established for the resettlement of former slaves. In 1792 Sierra Leone was formed by Britain as a colony, and Liberia formed in 1820 was the American colony (History World).

The British are said to have a created better colonies compared to the French, through indirect rule they were able to attract settlers and create various successful income generating initiatives rather than trying to further the policy of assimilation. Britain focused on creating basic infrastructure throughout its colonies. They took advantage of their colonies vast mineral wealth and fertile soil. With the discovery of gold and diamonds in South Africa and Ghana, the “African El Dorado” begun, Europeans flocked to Africa in search of a new life and a chance of wealth, just as Cecil Rhodes had done. Hoag Lecture Notes) These minerals quickly powered Europe’s industrial revolution. Agriculture was popular with many British, as they grew coffee and tea in Kenya, coffee in Ghana, and tobacco in Zimbabwe. Through various economic incentives, Africans cultivated the crops. Many of the crops were sold to marketing boards at under par prices. With the profits British colonial administrations with the help of concession companies were able to build extensive railroads from inland to the coast. To build the railroads, laborers from India were brought over, this in turn led to a large Indian population settling in Africa.

British colonies soon became full of settlers, who went on to develop the colony to suit their needs. The development of a viable economy and creation of infrastructure in British colonies will forever be one of the most important legacy of colonial rule. With Evangelicalism on the rise and the Scramble for Africa underway, missionaries looked to Africa for converts. The legacy left behind by the missionaries can still be seen all over Africa. Motivated by paternalistic ideology, and tales of David Livingstone, who believed that “commerce and religion” would benefit Africans and bring them closer to civilization. Africa: A Voyage of Discovery with Basil Davidson) Europeans ventured into the unknown hinterland and set up missions. The Catholic missionaries worked hand in hand with the colonial government and traders. Priest’s usually had trusted status among the Africans. These Christian missions set up important social services in the colonies for Africans, such as schools and hospitals. Since colonial governments did not offer education and health care, missionaries were the only place for Africans to access such services. Mission primary and secondary schools became the common way for Africans to get an education.

The most apparent legacy from colonialism is language, almost all former British colonial subjects speak English and all former French colonies are francophone. To this day many mission schools still exist. These schools were instrumental in educating the many Africans that went on to fight for de-colonisation, through education the missionaries empowered many people. For example, President Robert Mugabe, was educated by Marist priests in Rhodesia (The Economist). Under French direct rule, the practice of “evole” was heavily encouraged by the colonial government.

Assimilation meant an African could become a French citizen thus became immune from forced labor, and had access to French legal system. To become a citizen one of the conditions was education, this could only be achieved through mission schools. The creation of social services and Christianity are some of the legacies left behind by the European missionaries in Africa. Every African country has experienced post-colonial problems, with this, the question “how many of Africa’s problem are a result of European and American involvement? ” arises. Various political, economic, and social issues can be traced back the country’s colonial roots.

African countries after independence usually adopted their colonial systems of government. These colonial political systems had been always be undemocratic, and allowed no popular participation of citizens, usually meaning one party state. This could be seen as a reason why many African countries have problems when it comes to holding fair presidential elections, and why there are a large number of dictators. For example in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has been in power since 1987, and the country has held many suspected rigged elections (Hoag Lecture Notes).

Furthermore European governments focused largely maintaining police and army forces in order to put down revolutions and uprisings and force their rules upon defiant Africans. Colonial governments across Africa abused many people that did not comply with their rule. Under King Leopold, many Africans were forced to work by the Force Publique, and if they refused they were abused and mutilated. During the Kenyan Mau Mau Revolt from 1952 to 1960, British forces killed 1,819 Kenyans (Hoag Class Notes). Today human right violations and oppression are recurring topics in Africa.

Africa has had issues governmental abuse for centuries. These political issues can be blamed on colonialism. Africa’s economic stagnation is a result of former colonial policies, when the Europeans came to Africa they came in search of raw materials, which they would export, mainly cash crops and minerals to Europe. There the materials would be manufactured into goods a sold back to Africa. If raw materials had been kept and for local production profits would remain in Africa instead of foreign hands. This cycle has continued and led to continued dependency.

European first lured Africans into these low skilled jobs, with economic incentives, and with a continued demand for labor especially in the mines, high skilled labourers are few. Colonial administrations encouraged people to work in distant places away from home, this migrant workforce, has now become one of the driving forces of HIV in Africa. Economic issues have been plaguing post-colonial Africa, and many of the problems can be traced back to colonial economic policies and practices. Social issues of ethnicity caused by regional divides have led to forced interactions and ethnic rivalries.

Most African political parties are ethnic based. Many armed conflicts have occurred due to ethnic differences for example, the Biafra War, and the Eritrean–Ethiopian War which caused were both ethnic succession movements. Ever since Europeans landed in Africa, they have had a hand in most African affairs, some beneficial and some detrimental to Africans. Over time present issues somehow carried on from the past, creating a vicious circle of influence. European and American intervention has created legacies, that are clearly evident in present day Africa.


“Legacies. ” Understanding Slavery. N. p. , n. d. Web. 12 Dec 2012. . Gascoigne, Bamber. “History of Sierra Leone” HistoryWorld. From 2001, ongoing.. Davidson, Basil, perf. Africa: A Voyage of Discovery with Basil Davidson. RM Arts, 1984. (29 March 2007). “Robert Mugabe: The man behind the fist”. The Economist. ////http://www. economist. com/node/8922493? story_id=8922493. ) Hoag, Heather. Class Lecture. Modern African History. University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, 22 Aug 2012- 15 Dec 2012