Effects of Imperialism in Africa

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  • 0:04 Africa Before Imperialism
  • 2:06 Economic & Social Effects
  • 2:58 European Ideals & Institutions
  • 3:26 African Resistance
  • 4:24 Postscript
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason McCollom
Between the 1880s and the first decades of the 20th century, Europeans imposed their control over most of Africa. Learn about this 'Scramble for Africa' and its effects on the continent in this lesson.

Africa Before Imperialism

We all have our routines in life. Think about your personal schedule, your friends and family circles, and the way you do everyday things in your community. Think as well about your deeply held beliefs in terms of religion, politics, or social relations. What if a group of people suddenly came into your town, told you to forget those things (or else), and proclaimed they were in charge. Sounds shocking, doesn't it?

Now imagine that happening to an entire continent. This was the effect of European imperialism in Africa in the late 19th century through the mid-20th century. Imperialism means that in various ways--some violent, some informal, some more hands-off than others--a group of people takes control of others' lands, and often dictates their lives as well.

Prior to the era of Imperialism from the 1880s onward, Africans lived in a variety of ways. There were large kingdoms and sprawling urban centers, and there were smaller villages headed by elders and chiefs. Some Africans tended herds of animals while others were educated elites or Islamic religious leaders. Others worshiped local gods and goddesses and their lives centered on the family and clan. Imperialism changed all this, as Europeans disrupted these traditional ways and imposed their beliefs and social structures on colonized Africans.

Europe and Africa had centuries of interaction before colonialism. Most of these connections occurred, however, at coastal outposts in Africa. Few Europeans ventured into the interior of the continent. The Industrial Revolution brought new technologies--especially military technologies--to the hands of Europeans, along with motivations to exploit Africa's natural resources and raw materials. These conditions, coupled by Europeans' belief in their superiority and Africans' inferiority, enabled the British, French, Belgians, Germans, and Italians to increase their control over Africa to 90 percent by 1914.

Economic and Social Effects

Europeans turned the small farms and pastures that dotted sub-Saharan Africa into commodity-producing plantations. Here, Africans worked for their new colonizers growing cotton, coconuts, palm oil, or cocoa for export. Forced to pay taxes to the imperialists, Africans now had little choice but to work for wages on European-owned large farms. Others found themselves laboring for Europeans in a variety of ways, such as the diamond mines of British financier Cecil Rhodes.

These changes drastically altered long-standing patriarchal family structures, as men labored far from home. Women and children remained in villages, often alone for long periods of time. Europeans now stood atop a new hierarchy, with European-educated Africans below them, and with African workers at the very bottom.

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