Essays / Generic

How would Africa be today if colonialism never happened?

On Quora, I turned some attention to the “what if?” in alternate African history: How would Africa be today if colonialism never happened?

Africa would simply be (no) more or less like Europe or the Middle East is today.

Political Geography: A number of folks think the modern political geography would simply align with the ethnic groups in existence today. But this is unlikely. At the time the Europeans came, large African empires had already started assimilating small tribes or forming alliances with other large ethnicities. Languages would have further diffused and solidified until regional lingua franca are established. These empires and large tribes (like the historical Malian and Songhai, and the newer Oyo, Benin, Zulu, etc) would have maintained their military might to expand their territories and built even stronger city-states through regional commerce while also trading (slaves, minerals and other local commodities) with the Arabs and Europeans (who would have been forced to learn the local languages and acknowledge the regional administrations). Most likely, the Arabs would remain on the fringes of the Sahara while the Europeans stayed on the coast.

Technology: The African city states would have progressed faster with technological developments from the West, as they would have had to import the knowledge instead of the products (which, instead, came through the colonial administrators).  As international technology, trade and communication advanced, the rulers of these empires and city-states would have sent their citizens to other parts to acquire technical knowledge and import relevant technology. (The Malian ruler, Mansa Musa, demonstrated this in the 1330s.) Towards the end of the 19th century, the rivalling acquisition of technical knowledge and the exploitation of resources between the existing empires and city states  would force them into a brutal “African War”. Such a war would help to firmly settle boundary disputes and resource control conflicts. The alliances formed during the war would be determined by similar developments in America, Europe and Asia. (As a lot of variables would be involved in resolving this conflict, it would be difficult to project the resulting national boundaries. Nevertheless, modern boundaries will likely be based on a mix of geographical features and constituent ethnicities of the city states.)

Economics:  The modern national entities resulting from “The Great African War”  would be a mix of rich and poor countries, dependent on local resources, and the intelligence and whims of the rulers. But, in most cases, national wealth will be truly “national” as a form of communalism (or welfare capitalism) will be the dominant economic ideology in accordance with cultural norms. There will be wealthy individuals in the societies, but not from corrupt practices. In fact, corruption as Africans know it today will be little or non-existent as the political administration would have been based on cultural norm, instead of colonial convenience.

Political: The governments would be largely autocratic as they would have been based on monarchical principles. The citizens would, however, have inherent checks against government excess–checks developed through centuries of cultural norm. Human rights and democracy as developed in the West would be adopted by some progressive governments but, otherwise, they will be largely dismissed in favour of socially “earned” rights. In some areas, women and young people will have political authority but, generally, older men will control politics. By the end of the 20th century, ideas from western philosophy will create continuos agitations for constitutional monarchies, particularly in coastal regions.

Religion: The principal religious philosophy would be animist and therefore a more tolerant religious atmosphere would be present.There will be some Muslims in the Northern parts of the continent, with enclaves of Christianity in some coastal countries.

Arts: Local writings in the dominant languages would have spread faster, encouraged by the need to translate texts from the Arabic and Latin “importations”. With the spread of written and printed material, local histories, myths and cultural norms would have been documented more rapidly thereby generating new material for the next generation to work with. States or empires that refuse to adopt these ideas would be at a natural disadvantage and would either fade out or get swallowed by the ones that do. By modern times, Africa would be rich in its own documented and easily translatable arts and literature.

In summary, Africa would be radically different from what it is today. The myth of the “saviour” European is only true to the extent that the Europeans saved Africa from the results of their own interference. Without that original interference, the African ethnic groups would have had a chance to grow into modern nations (having the rich, the poor and the middling) along their own cultural projections and with their own distinct type of issues and solutions.

You can view other responses on Quora: How would Africa be today if colonialism never happened?


9 thoughts on “How would Africa be today if colonialism never happened?

  1. Pingback: How would Africa be today if colonialism never happened? | adejimiamos





  4. If you’re looking at Western Colonialism era, Africans would’ve needed to speak French in order to communicate with wealthy Europeans. An educated class would’ve been required, as well as printing press to increase education opportunities. And a desire to educate the masses.

    You’re also not factoring in Muslims, who tend to kill, convert or tax non muslims.

    The changes you project wouldn’t take place in a vacuum, but in a tribal society, likely resulting in the annihilation or sale of conquered tribes. Don’t forget it was the Arab slave traders who sold their surplus to the west.

    And tribes would have to figure out how to mine more efficiently, as well as to process minerals. That wasn’t happening on a large scale before colonization.

    They’d also need to head west to seek larger markets for their products.

    In short, it was capitalism that brought colonialism and without that, there would have been no large scale mining.

    Without large scale mining, there would be a dearth of goods to sell.

    Without the West coming to Africa, there would be no markets as none of this was initiated by Africans.

    Tribal society leads to corruption as the idea is to skew things so your tribe benefits.

    It’s likely without existing universities, Africa would send its sons to the West to learn. The question then becomes how would a tribal society determine who Would do Well? Would they send the sons of elites? Remember, the expectation is to import technology and the choices ate teach your own how to create technology or forever pay others to manufacture.

    It would take years for a society that hadn’t undergone the industrial revolution to make up for that.

    Through the lens of a colonial history and colonial education, it may seem obvious, but before colonialism, Africa was developing larger tribes nut you cite no development of industry, large scale mining or agriculture, suggesting thst but for western intervention, such things were unlikely to happen

    You complain of colonialism but thete is much corruption in African countries. We keep being told that we have to help starving africans, yet food donated to be given to others sits and rots or is sold at high prices.

    Africa needs to stop complaining about colonialism and step up to the plate to increase agricultural output, find ways to educate girls, increase access to fresh water and electricity instead of holding it’s hands out for more aid and allowing its corrupt leaders to rib their ciuntries blind.


  5. You are kidding right?

    You do realise Islam is and has been for a long time the majority religion of Africa.

    Without European colonisation, Islam would spread even deeper into Africa, Egypt under Muhammad Ali’s dynasty would conquer central Africa, Muslim empires in east Africa would go into the African interior, and without European missionaries, Islam would quickly null out the local animism of the interior Africans.


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