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Colonization in Nigeria and the Congo is one of the greatest atrocities committed by humankind. The system imposed by European powers, at its very own core, fomented all kind of abuses and violations, through policies that were dictated to comply with the economic demands from the colonizer´s homeland. Oppression, poverty, starvation, endemic brutality and forced labor under inhumane work conditions are some of the aspects colonialists´ regimes imposed on the colonized to benefit themselves.
These effects can be seen poignantly between the 1860´s and the 1910´s. Europeans hid behind the so-called “white man´s burden”; they preached they had the right and the moral obligation to “civilize” Africa. After the Berlin Conference in 1885, Europe´s imperialist powers divided Africa for themselves, without the natives being able to have any say on it (the infamous “Scramble for Africa”). A Nigerian newspaper noted: “The world has, perhaps, never witnessed until now such highhanded a robbery on so large a scale. Africa is helpless to prevent it… It is on the cards that this ‘Christian’ business can only end, at no distant date, in the annihilation of the natives” (Lagos Observer, 19 February 1885). The conferees also enunciated a dual mandate: that it laid in both Africa´s and Europe´s best interests to maintain free access to the continent for trade, and providing Africa with the benefits of Europe’s “civilizing mission”. However, European powers almost exclusively ripped the benefits from this so- called “free access”, enormously undermining Africa´s potential and culture, forever tarnishing her and her inhabitants, along the way.
Big trading companies were the one of the main drivers behind colonial expansion. Natives were forced to work in inhumane conditions for a foreign power that only cared about their own interests. These foreign powers oppressed natives, forcing them to exploit their land in order to obtain raw materials, such as palm oil, in the case of Nigeria, and ivory and rubber, in the case of Congo. Because colonizers had a monopoly over all or most of the resources, natives couldn´t make their own products. This benefited colonizers, as natives were forced to buy foreign products made from their local materials because that was all the market had to offer. This gruesome exploitation made the colonies ever more dependent on those who exploited them. In addition, it is theorized that colonialism helped appease the working masses back at Europe, for colonialists acquisitions re-enforced some kind of identification with their homeland´s “victories of progress and enlightenment”.
Millions of locals saw their ancestral way of life disrupted, under the pretenses of spreading religion, commerce and civilization, yet colonizer´s only had their own interests’ in mind. During the mid-nineteenth century, the British prime interest in West Africa was Nigeria. It planned in opening markets for the surplus of manufactured goods and expanding palm oil commerce. Besides, by taking over Nigeria, Britain could overthrow the traditional coastal chiefs that managed their own oil and ivory trade, resources they had anciently reaped and sold. Through division, local animosities, wars and the allure of being part of the empire, colonialists distracted the population and diverted the outrage caused by the never-ending abuses inflicted to the locals.
Although Belgian colonialism was no less intrusive than the British were, it was more ferocious and brutal. Under the Belgian colonial rule, the Congolese population declined by over 13 million between 1885 and 1908, as a result of diseases brought by colonizers, famine, and atrociously inhumane labor policies for extracting ivory and rubber. Though the exploitation of both resources resulted in unspeakable crimes, the so-called “Red Rubber system” (in reference to the blood spilled during the exploitation process of this resource) was the most notorious. This labor policy, imposed in the Congo Free State in 1889, created a slave society, where endemic brutality and cruelty was a common affair. All kinds of vicious and inhumane abuses ensued. Jean Stengers, a Belgian historian, described regions controlled by rubber companies as ‘veritable hells-on-earth”. Workers who did not meet an insanely high quota of rubber, or refused to do so, were beaten, whipped, had their right hand cut off or their wife´s and children´s. Mutilations, villages being plundered, rapes, arbitrary killings and mass murders were a common, day-to-day affair. The policy unsurprisingly led to a major collapse in the Congolese socio-economic structure and cultural life.
Progress in colonies is a simply a byproduct of a much greater development in the colonizer´s country. Any kind of development in the region is always dependent on the desires of occupant. If any progress makes is way through, it´s because it suits the colonizer´s interests. Britain annexed most of the Niger basin under the excuse of “eradicating the slave trade”, yet, despite blockading their ports, over 1 million West Africans were shipped from Nigerian ports, denoting the corruption of the British empire, for slave traders simply payed to pass illegally. The blockade only made slave traders earn more money per delivery because of the risks they supposedly surpassed.
The campaign was simply a façade for Britain to intervene in natives’ internal affairs (mostly economic internal affairs, because that´s where profits lied) in order to ultimately “assume” jurisdiction over the territory, without the locals approval. This led to the colonies and their natives to be plundered in an industrial scale in order to satisfy Europe´s on growing corporations, charters and companies. Notoriously, treaties of “peace” and “cooperation” with natives were signed whilst imperialist troops, with heavy artillery and machine guns, crushed any local dissent. With military help from their home countries, they intimidated African chiefs and rulers to comply their demands, or suffer the consequences.
With the pretense of spreading Christianity, a “civilized” religion, European powers forced their own society and culture unto the natives, dressing up their heinous expansion policy in false and hypocritical moral terms. Natives were coerced into working through repression, constant and unimaginable abuse of power from states that supposedly came to “enlighten” Africa, yet committed one of the most savage atrocities in the name of civilization. Because of colonialism arbitrarily imposed borders, ethnic groups were broken up or mixed up, causing tensions to arise among the tribes and dispersed over states. This was intentional, though. Colonialism chief´s principle is to divide and rule. By breaking up tribes, the region´s inhabitants didn´t stand a chance against the British or the Belgium Empire, or any other European power, really.
Europe fed its complex industries, acquired great economic wealth and fulfilled its capitalist needs through the colonies, at the expense of the colonized. They imposed a foreign way of living, which colonizers deemed to be civilization. Yet, they neglected to realize, tribes had their own civilizations before their intervention. The degradation and trauma caused to the inhabitants, the loss of human lives, forceful imposition of foreign culture, political, social, and economic structure, and unaccountable loss of cultural identities, languages, costumes, traditional socio-political structures, and other basic elements that made up the natives´ society. The occupants, who became the new privileged sector in the colonies, obliterated African traditional social structures and repressed some of the most rich and diverse cultures on Earth, simply because they could and it suited their interests.
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