The colonization of Africa and its effect on African indigenous industry

Term Paper, 2019

15 Pages


Table of Contents


Colonization of Africa: Nature and Process

Pre-19th Century African Indigenous Industry and the Coming of the Industrial Colonization

Colonization and African Indigenous Industry: Changes and Adaptation




Prior to European interaction with Africa, both units had existed fairly well in their geographical enclave and developed civilizations best suitable for them. For ‘avoidable’ reasons however, Europe had to demand reaping from Africa what she sow not. The HOWS is briefly discussed in this piece.

RAJI Afeez Tope


The African Continent has always been the land of mystery for Europeans. Though Europeans knew little about the continent, its people, customs, traditions and interior as a whole, a lot of them were highly curious about the continent. In the 19th century European kingdoms started to pay great attention to Africa and a lot of scientists, missionaries and explorers flooded Africa. What they saw extremely astonished them. The African continent was full of impressive sights – exotic animals, unique landscapes and indigenous people with their own culture and life, which were completely different from the Europeans. As a result, the widely known “Scramble for Africa” had began, leading to a colossal colonization of the continent that left lasting impressions and far reaching effects on indigenous people in Africa.1 one of such effects and arguably the most detrimental was the scar it left on African indigenous industry. Clear enough, this assertion is informed by the fact that the first rule of life – survival – found its full expression in the self-sustaining technological endeavor characteristic of African indigenous industry, prior to the coming of the Europeans on colonial sojourn. By the time Africa was left to Africa though on a peripheral ground, the land has been ripped of its human and material treasures.

Colonization of Africa: Nature and Process

Most of Africa spent two generations under colonial rule.2 The Berlin Conference (1884–1885) established the principle that European occupation of African territory had to be based on effective occupation that was recognized by other states, and that no single European power could claim Africa. The Berlin Conference led to the “Scramble for Africa.” Between 1878 and 1914, European powers divided up the entire African continent except for the independent countries of Ethiopia and Liberia.3 Colonialism is the direct and overall domination of one country by another on the basis of state power being in the hands of a foreign power (For example, the direct and overall domination of Nigeria by Britain between (1900-1960). The first objective of colonialism is political domination. Its second objective is to make possible the exploitation of the colonized country.4 albeit practically, the latter remains the core, the former is just a peripheral means to this extractive end as shall be shown shortly.

Colonialism began as a result of changes in the mode of production in Europe (For example, the emergence of industrial revolution). The industrial revolution ushered in a new process of production in place of the earlier slave-based economy. The industrial revolution was a revolutionary trend in the history of mankind. The problem of how to lubricate machineries came up with the emergence of the industrial revolution. The slave trade and slavery have by this time fulfilled their basic function of providing the primitive capital. The quest for the investment of the accumulated capital and the need for raw materials as well led to the colonization of Africa.5 Thus, the European keenly observed same to the best of their capacity.

Chazan et. al indeed observed that colonization was simply an extension of the trading ties that existed for over 400 years between Africa and Europe. Peasant agriculture characterized most parts of the region and there was no money economy. Production patterns were conditioned by land availability. Trade involved slaves, gold, ivory, salt, and other commodities. Trade in slaves is argued to have deprived the region of enormous human capital. The trade in different items continued until the middle of the 19th century, when European governments decided to take administrative control of the regions they traded with.6 it is on this basis that colonization may be said to have been with the Africans right from the first European contact with its people, at least on economic and psychological grounds, and it was simply predatory on the African indigenous industry.

Pre-19th Century African Indigenous Industry and the Coming of the Industrial Colonization

Contrary to what is explicit in most Eurocentric literatures about pre-colonial African indigenous industry most of which spells negativity, one can only wonder; where names as Gold Coast, Ivory Coast, and others would have come from, were it not that these undeniable treasures have been greatly worked upon by their rightful possessors! Generally, the pre-colonial African states were engrossed in gold, salt, iron, and copper mining, bronze carving and woodworks, whilst cloth weaving and dyeing, smithery, baskettery and leather industries also thrived. True to this, Gaynor7 observed, “in the 1400s, a system of using standard weights in the form of brass figures to weigh the gold dust currency was developed in the West African state of Ghana”. This obviously states the level of industrial sophistication of this state. Onwubiko8 noted as well that Industries such as iron smelting and cloth weaving by handlooms were important in 11th century Ghana.

F.K. Buah indeed purports same on British’s maiden contact with what is now the Gambia:

When the English first visited the Gambia and began to take an interest in the country, they found it well developed. Towns and villages had fortified walls. The people were skilled in many crafts. Some were smiths, others worked on leather, and others were skilled in potters, the visitors were also impressed with their method of farming.9

He in fact, noted the Bulon craftsmen to be great carvers of ivory vessel. Earlier indeed, Katsina and kano craftsmen produced first class works in leather, ivory metal and clay. This is evident from the writings of Leo Africanus in 1513.10 Evidence also abound of African indigenous technological innovativeness as exemplified by the Bini, who are often remembered for the art which they developed. It is believed that at first the Oba invited famous artist from Ife to teach his people. The Bini artist improved upon what they have learnt from Ife and consequently produced one of the finest works in bronze, ivory and brass.11 This, Europeans recognized on their unsolicited ‘visit’ to Africa which made them later introduce trade in this treasures and in places as Benin its outright seizure. This is later to be looted in the 1897 Benin Massacre

What Africans experienced in the early centuries of trade was precisely a loss of development opportunity and this is of greatest importance. During the 18th century, the African state of Dahomey and Asante became prominent. They had passed out of the communal stage and had somewhat feudal class stratification along with specialization in many activities such as working of gold, iron and cloth. Asante society under Opoku Ware had already shown a capacity for seeking out innovations, by going to the trouble of taking imported silk and unraveling it so as to combine the silk threads with cotton to make the famous kente cloth. In other words, there would have been no difficulty in such African societies mastering European technical skills and bridging the rather narrow gap which existed between them and Europe at that time.12

When African demand for cloth was increasing rapidly in the 15th,16th, and 17th centuries, there was a market for all cloth produced locally as well as room for imports from Europe and Asia. This development dealt a serious blow on African Indigenous Industry, this is because the market was directed by an acquisitive capitalist class. The European industry thus increased its capacity to produce on a large scale by harnessing the energy of wind, water and coal. European cloth industry was able to copy fashionable Indian and African patterns, and eventually to replace them. Partly by establishing a stronghold on the distribution of cloth around the shores of Africa, and partly by swamping African product by importing cloths in bulk, European traders eventually succeeded in putting an end to the expansion of African cloth manufacture.13 The result of this was not only that African cloth industry shuddered his men off the job but that there was a taste transfer which had hitherto been indigenously inclined. This is so as there is a readily available cheap European cloth, a phenomenon which in Rodney’s view led to “technological arrest” or stagnation, and in some instances actual regression,14 since people forgot the simple technique of their forefathers. This abandonment and that of traditional iron smelting in some part of Africa he submitted “is probably the most important instance of technological regression”. By this, it would not be out of place to describe this instance as ‘pseudo colonization’ or at least ‘economic dictatorship’.

The African condition in this regard would have been salvaged a bit, were it not for the European slave trade which was a direct block, in removing millions of youth and young adults who are the human agents from whom inventiveness springs. Those who remains in areas badly hit by slave-capturing were pre-occupied about their freedom rather than with improvement in production. Besides, even the busiest African in West, Central, or East Africa was concerned more with trade than with production, because of the nature of the contacts with Europe; and that situation was not conducive to the introduction of any technological advances.15 this technological downturn and ‘unprofitable’ engagement in trade remains the defining feature of African society throughout this period.

The most dynamic groups over a great area of Africa became associated with foreign trade notably, the Afro-Portuguese middlemen of upper Guinea, the Akan market women, the Aro traders of the Bight of Biafra, the mulattos of Angola, the Yao traders of Mozambique, and the Swahili and Wanyamwezi of East Africa. The trade which they carried on does require the invention of machinery. Apart from that, they were agents for distributing European imports.16 As such these Africans became the foremost promoter of booming European technology and resultant products at the expense of theirs.

The fore stated purportion does not mean that Africans against the odds of these times does not strive for an industrial rebirth, there were several attempt by Africans as especially exhibited by some great ones – Emperor Lebna Dengel of Ethiopia, Agaja Trudo of Dahomey and Assantehene Opoku Ware17 – to invite European technical knowledge into their respective domain in order to integrate their indigenous with foreign expertise.

Colonization and African Indigenous Industry: Changes and Adaptation

The European age of overseas discovery brought them into a pronounced contact with Africa and the subsequent founding of colonial empires therein, the struggles of which filled the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This strife which severally manifested through trade with its stifling effect for Africans prepared the ground for the nineteenth century colonial onslaught. A conceptualisation and reasons for the colonisation of Africa have been discussed prior. The economic matrices to the colonisation are comparatively superior. Chinweizu, while discussing the European conquest of Africa noted that;

When Europe pioneered industrial capitalism, her demands upon the resources of the world increased tremendously. In addition to obtaining spices for her tables and manpower for her mines and plantations in the Americas, Europe set out to seize for her factories the mineral and agricultural resources of the entire world. Her need to take African manpower to the Americas declined. She needed instead to put African labour to work in Africa, digging up for her the riches of African mines; the trading companies that had for centuries bought and sold on Africa’s coast were found inadequate for seizing and carting off the raw materials of the African hinterland. Europe now felt a need to export her power into Africa’s interior to reorganize the farms, mines and markets for Europe’s greater profit. 17

It is important to note that initially, Africans did not necessarily lack the type of technology necessary for the exploitation and maximization of the exported capitals as Ocheni and Nwankwo18 would want us to believe. The need to reorganize and reorient the African labour force to adapt to the requirements and demands of the exported capital is just a means of familiarizing them with imposed alien industrial practices to which they have no choice.

To get Africans interested in working for the Europeans or the industrialists/merchants who had exported the capital, there was need for compulsion or use of force. The capitals transported and industrial organizational life associated with it was alien to the African economy and labour force. It was therefore hard for the Africans to voluntarily and willingly move to seek for job in the new industries developed with the exported capital. The problem or question then was how the Africans could be compelled to work in the new industries and change their work attitude to that of industrial life without revolt or with minimum violence. The only option was to take direct control of their economy and political administration and then use government machinery through the proclamation of laws to compel them to move from their enclave and to abandon their traditional system of production in preference to that of their colonizers. Hence, the need for direct colonization of the African territories and the consequent imperialism.19

And despite the rhetoric by which such rule was justified, the logic of administration was dictated by the needs of the metropolitan power.20 the colonies were frequently viewed primarily in terms of the evacuation of primary products and the regulation of prices by international commodity agreements.21 To the European rulers, the interest of the African natives consisted of being kept happy and contented, prevented from resorting to violence in settling internal differences, prevented from committing social vices and developing a respect for authority, law and order while all their energies were harnessed to providing raw materials and markets for factories in Europe.22 What does this suggest if not a total neglect of African indigenous technology and practices, which has been replaced by European models.

This does not mean that the Africans took all these without some form of ‘local’ resentment, Adebayo23 calls attention to the fact that: Since they (Europeans) had the monopoly of violence, it was not difficult for them to keep the people (Africans) quiet and make them behave. And of course, coming from a far more ‘advanced civilisation’. There were simple practical things which they performed as solutions to some problems and it appeared like magic to African simple folk. All these further assisted in surrounding them with a halo of awe and respect. 24 This was also achieved several other means.

First they began to take out of African use of occupancy whatever land they wanted, and they simultaneously assembled African labour to mine the land for gold, copper, diamonds, asbestos, tin, iron and zinc, or to farm it for wool, sisal, palm-oil and kernels, cotton, cocoa, rubber and groundnuts. But as the African people were reluctant to dispossess themselves of their lands and unwilling to work for the profit of Europeans, such land as the Europeans wanted had to be confiscated and African labour compelled. The means of doing this was the adoption by a white ruling race of legal measures designed expressly to compel the individual natives to whom they apply to quit land, which they occupy and by which they can live in order to work in white service for the private gain of the white man. When lands formerly occupied by natives are confiscated, or otherwise annexed for white owners, the creation of a labour supply out of the dispossessed natives is usually a secondary object. Yes, the creation of labour supply out of the dispossessed natives is a secondary issue because the people lived on land and make their means of livelihood or survival from tilling and working on the land. Since they had been dispossessed of their lands, they had no other means of survival or livelihood than to work for the colonialists unwillingly. They were compelled to work for the colonialist because they must survive together with members of their families.25


Excerpt out of 15 pages


The colonization of Africa and its effect on African indigenous industry
Economic History
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Africa, Colonial Africa, Underdevelopment, Technological Backwardness, industrial development, Colonial Exploitation
Quote paper
Afeez Tope Raji (Author), 2019, The colonization of Africa and its effect on African indigenous industry, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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