USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Colonialism and Economic Impact in Africa after the First World War

Before we turn our attention to African resistance, let’s mention a few things about the economic consequences of European colonial rule in Africa. In some parts of the continent, and especially where white settlers were in control, exploitation of labor and commodities was the rule. Miners in South Africa, for example, benefited little from the massive tonnage of diamonds extracted from lands. In other areas of the continent, like the Gold Coast, products like palm oil encouraged the growth of the small farmer – and yet even here under the most favorable conditions, the European merchant reaped the lion’s share of the economic benefit. With improvements in infrastructure, goods could move more swiftly and cheaply between key points – as we read about earlier in the semester concerning the Tarkwa mines.

In general, economic activity increased in Africa during the colonial years. Many Africans, primarily because of colonial taxation, were forced into the wage labor market. Labor was still one of the primary assets colonial powers could extract from their subjects and they adopted one form of labor abuse after another to benefit of corporate interests back home. Despite all of these economic shifts, however, the vast majority of Africans remained small farmers – and these farmers more or less continued to hover around subsistence level. Strategies of rotating cash crops in response to market conditions kept many communities economically viable.

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