Colonialism: An Introduction




Defining Colonialism

Colonialism is a policy where one country seeks to extend political or economic authority over the people and physical territory of another country. Generally, economic dominance and exploitation of resources is the primary aim of a country indulging in colonialism. The origin of the word colonialism can be traced back to the Latin word “colonia,” meaning a place for agriculture.

Troops from India (then under British rule) do manual labor during the British occupation of Cyprus in the early 1900s. DE AGOSTINI/BIBLIOTECA AMBROSIANA/GETTY IMAGES

Troops from India (then under British rule) do manual labor during the British occupation of Cyprus in the early 1900s. DE AGOSTINI/BIBLIOTECA AMBROSIANA/GETTY IMAGES

The standard definition of colonialism is “a policy and practice of a power in extending control over weaker peoples or areas.” Even though the policy has been used by multiple civilizations in different continents since ancient times, it is broadly used today to refer to European economic and political domination in different continents that began roughly in the late 16th century and lasted until the early 1970s.

Colonialism and Imperialism

Although ‘colonialism’ and ‘imperialism’ are often used interchangeably. There are certain fundamental differences between the two terms. While colonialism is the physical act of dominating another country. Imperialism is the political ideology that drives the act. In other words, colonialism can be thought as a tool of imperialism.

Imperialism and colonialism both imply the ‘suppression of one country by another.’ Similarly, through both colonialism and imperialism, the aggressor countries look to profit economically from the exploitation of the valuable natural and human resources of the colonised country.

In contrast, countries pursue imperialism in hopes of creating sprawling (means ‘expanding’) empires by extending their political, economic and military dominance over entire regions, if not entire continents. Typical examples of imperialism—cases in which foreign control is established without any significant settlement—include the European dominance of most African countries in the late 1800s and the domination of Philippines and Puerto Rico by the US.

History of Colonialism

The practice of colonialism dates to around 1550 BCE when Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt and Phoenicia began extending their control into adjacent and non-contiguous territories. Using their superior military power, these ancient civilizations established colonies that made use of the skills and resources of the people they conquered to further their empires.

Rise and Fall of European Colonialism

Modern colonialism began with the Age of Exploration during the early 15th century, when explorers like Christopher Columbus and Francisco Pizarro made voyages to American continent. Soon many European explorers from Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and Netherlands would have their own colonies in the Americas, with the British dominating the North America and the Spanish and the Portuguese holding the southern half of the Americas.

During the late 19th century, with the peak of Industrial Revolution, Britain and France emerged as the dominant colonial powers. They expanded their influence across the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia. The abundant resources of these series were systematically exploited by the colonial forces, a practice that endured (means ‘continued to exist’) well into the 20th century. It was only after the end of the Second World War in 1945 that the erstwhile (means ‘former’) colonies gained independence due to the multiple factors chief among them being local independence movements (the Indian freedom struggle and the independence movement in Vietnam and Indonesia are notable examples), and the colonial power themselves being economically weakened due to the devastation caused by the Second World War.

Global political solidarity projects such as the Non-Aligned Movement were instrumental in decolonization efforts of former colonies, the United Nations also set up a special committee on Decolonization in 1962 to encourage the process. The last colony to gain independence was the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which became the new nation of Zimbabwe on 18th April 1980.




© 2023 Md. Rustam Ansari []


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