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The Colonial Legacy
Perhaps the most important legacy of colonialism is the division of Africa into more than 50 states whose boundaries were set without regard for where the people lived or how they organized their own political divisions. The present boundaries often divide single African ethnic communities among two or more nation-states. For example, although most of the Somali people live in Somalia, there are significant minorities in Kenya and Ethiopia, many of whom would like to become citizens of Somalia. This has led to tension, and on occasion to border warfare, among Kenyan, Ethiopian, and Somali governments. Similarly, the Bakongo people of central Africa were colonized by three different European powers Belgium, Portugal, and France and now live in three different independent African nations Zaire, Angola,
and the Congo.
A second important legacy of colonialism was its effect on the economic life of the African people. All the colonial systems disrupted existing economic patterns, although the extent of the disruption varied from area to area. The change from food-crop to cash-crop production is an example. Colonialism also linked Africa economically to the European colonial powers. The benefits of these new patterns usually went to the European countries rather than to the African colonies. This history of economic exploitation has played an important role in shaping the way independent African governments have attempted to develop their own economies. Some countries, such as Ivory Coast, have built on the export-oriented economic
base created by colonial rule. Others, such as Tanzania, have attempted to redirect their economies away from the production of exports and toward producing crops and goods needed by the Tanzanian people. President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania described this approach as "Self-Reliance."
The third important legacy of colonialism was the introduction of ideas of European racial and cultural superiority. The colonial powers attempted to convince Africans that effective participation in the modern world required them to discard their own identities and cultures and become more like Europeans. Schools in colonial Africa taught African children about European history and European literature, while neglecting the history and cultural heritage of Africa itself.
The experience of colonialism in Africa, as in the 13 American Colonies, also generated a powerful desire among the colonized to be free. This feeling was strengthened after thousands of African soldiers fought for France and Britain in World Wars I and II. They returned home with a renewed spirit of freedom and desire to build independent countries that would take their proper place among the global community of nations. While the colonial authorities first resisted these notions, by the late 1950's they had become too strong to
be denied.