Colonialism: Both Violent and Institutional

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The scope of European imperialism on the African continent is so expansive and horrific that one can hardly begin to comprehend it on an intellectual level. Until these countries gained their independence (and with some, even afterwards), imperialistic tyranny, dictatorships, slavery, and racism were the laws of the land. However, even in post-colonial times, African countries have remained impoverished and stricken by internal violence, not unrelated to the destruction left by colonialism, followed by the subsequent cutting of ties with the mother country. This is due to many factors, which would perhaps be the focus of a sociology paper, but this paper intends to examine the relationship between direct, aggressive colonialism and the forms of oppression, especially through education, that remain in post-colonial Africa today. While 19th-century imperialism was direct and physically violent, post-colonial imperialism is largely passive and more difficult to identify, and thus, more difficult to overcome.

To illustrate an example of 19th century imperialism, one can look to Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel A Heart of Darkness. The character of Kurtz represents the dark side of European colonization, a man who has carved out a life for himself in the depths of the Congo jungle, where he rules as a tyrannical king. There are references to the “people in the bush” (Conrad 65) and “pure, uncomplicated savagery,” (Conrad 94) fairly racist things to say, dehumanizing the natives. Kurtz slept with the native women, took the ivory, and killed any who would rebel. His dogged desire to stay as king in this fantastical land is a metaphor for European reluctance to withdraw from Africa: only being satisfied until they’d drained every last drop of resources and inflicted every last ounce of pain.

After European rule had ended, African countries faced a very different problem: how to progress into the future, make their countries grow and prosper. One could think that this would start with education, to create a new class of professionals to help the country’s economy. But, according to Gilbert and Tompkins in Post-Colonial Drama Theory, Practice, Politics, Euro-centric curriculums prevented African students from learning organically about their country’s history. “Due to their supposed humanistic functions, English literature occupied a privileged position in the colonial classroom, where its study was designed to civilize native students by inculcating in them British tastes and values, regardless of the exigencies of the local context” (Gilbert 15). In this way, African students are forced to learn a set of cultural values that are drastically different from what they are experiencing in their day to day lives and will not help them or their country succeed. The Eurocentric view of history becomes the ‘correct’ one, leaving African students in a disenfranchised position as they are unable to contextualize their own experience with what they are taught in school. Rather than create their own, new methods of understanding, as the country needs, they are forced to attend European universities and perhaps stay in Europe to pursue careers, detracting from the economic growth of the African countries. The European countries, with their longer history of Euro-centric education, will outclass them.

This is a problem that is not easy solved. Institutional colonialism, even in the post-colonial age, seems a much more devastating and long-lasting problem than violent colonialism. Even though the crimes against humanity were more horrific, it is the inability to cut ties, and latent subservience to European rule, that inhibits African nations from truly progressing in the 21st century.

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Waiheke Island: Floating Press, 2008. Print.

Gilbert, Helen, and Joanne Tompkins. Post-Colonial Drama Theory, Practice, Politics. London: Routledge, 1996. Print.