The Enduring Effects of Colonialism in Africa Today

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About this sample


Words: 2139 |

Pages: 5|

11 min read

Published: Jan 28, 2021

Words: 2139|Pages: 5|11 min read

Published: Jan 28, 2021

The legacy of colonialism around the world is very complex and it continues to impact modern society in many countries, especially countries within Africa. The book, Citizen and Subject by Mahmood Mamdani, is one of the many pieces of literature that examines the relationship between colonialism and its impact on certain countries. Specifically, Mamdani focuses on South Africa as a relevant example of lasting colonial impact and uses the country to propose a unique theory regarding the impacts of colonialism. Although, Mamdani uses South Africa as his primary example, he applies his theory to all of Africa. This theory justifies the lack of democratization and development within Africa today as a direct consequence of colonial rule. In particular, he analyzes the different forms of colonial rule, such as indirect rule and direct rule, and discusses how they continue to affect African institutions and society. This analysis further highlights the way modern day African countries such as South Africa have failed to reform and replace these colonial styles of rule which have become institutionalized within their countries. Mamdani’s theory is distinct within this field of research because of the way he focuses on the institutional impacts of colonialism instead of solely the societal, economic, or cultural effects. The ideas explained in Citizen and Subject provide alternative reasoning to why so many African countries struggle to democratize and develop. Overall, Mamdani’s book provides an interesting and unique perspective on the enduring detrimental legacy of colonialism in Africa.

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In order to analyze Mamdani’s theory, it is important to understand how he presents his ideas. The beginning of the book includes an analysis of many different themes, however Mamdani dedicates a large portion of the introduction to discuss the lasting impacts of racism and colonial perspectives on the African people. By referring to a speech by General Jan Smuts, the former South African military leader and Prime Minister, Mamdani shows the audience how colonizers viewed African people as inferior. In his speech, General Smuts compares Africans to children, insinuating that they are mentally inept. In addition, General Smuts refers to the African people as “bad” and “uncivilized”. By including these comments made by General Smuts, Mamdani highlights the racism associated with colonial rule. Mamdani then states that, “non-racial colonialism needs to be brought into the open” and approaches an entirely new angle of colonialism. At first, this drastic switch from discussing racism to discussing institutions was confusing and seemed unrelated to Mamdani’s entire argument. However, this discussion on racism is later connected to the way racism influenced different types of government. Mamdani states that the entirety of the post-colonial reform has been deracialization. Referencing General Smuts, Mamdani quotes him, saying, “the political system of the natives was ruthlessly destroyed in order to incorporate them as equals into the white system.” This quote highlights two main themes, firstly the way racism affected communities, and also how the process of deracialization led to structural changes in government and society. These changes allowed colonizers to infiltrate and change the institutions within African countries. Using Smuts again, Mamdani quotes, “his native institutions were ruthlessly proscribed and destroyed” in reference to the way colonizers attempted to assert native Africans into the colonial lifestyle and colonial rule. Mamdani describes how colonial rulers, including Smuts, dismembered and replaced native rule and institutions with their own versions. However, during this discussion, Mamdani is a little unclear on how this quote connects to his overarching emphasis on ruling styles. Many readers may be unable to infer that Mamdani uses these quotes as a way of showing how colonial leaders exercised direct rule. Colonial rulers attempted assimilation of native Africans into European lifestyle and the implementation of European laws within Africa are examples of direct rule. Unfortunately, the readers are not provided with this clear description and connection between Smutz quotes and direct colonial rule. Mamdani’s writing is unfocused on the point he is trying to make and often bounces back and forth between themes of racism, ruling styles, and theorists. Mamdani had the opportunity in this area to show a clear relationship between racism and ruling styles; it is apparent that the foundations of both direct and indirect rule were built around discrimination, however Mamdani fails to make this connection clear.

Later, Mamdani dedicates a large portion of his focus on civil society and how it connects to colonial influence in African institutions. Mamdani states that, “civil society is an embryonic and marginal construct in Africa” but does not develop this statement. Mamdani implies that civil society is a new and emerging construct in Africa that does not play the same role in African countries as it does in Western democracies. As equal rights for both white and black people became a priority in South Africa, the implementation of laws to protect and enforce these rights was the first step towards equality within the country; civil protections like freedom of speech and press were necessary in order to allow for equality to take hold. What is most interesting about this discussion is the way Mamdani demonstrates to readers that equal rights were not necessarily a positive thing for all Africans. In Mamdani’s words, he states that, “the principle of equal rights was applied in its crudest form and while it gave the native a semblance of equality with whites, which was little good to him, it destroyed the basis of his African system which was his highest good.” Mamdani connects his previous argument, about the institutional legacy of colonial rule, to the impact of civil society, or the lack thereof, in South Africa. He continues to argue that colonization destroyed native African institutions and replaced them with faulty institutions intended to give the appearance of equality while enabling colonial rulers to control their native subjects. Ultimately, this is an important component of the book because it emphasizes the way in which colonialism is intertwined with civil society in Africa and how it may be affecting the promotion of equality in many African countries today.

Mamdani later becomes more clear on why he chose to include racism in his introduction; he suggests that the racist foundations of colonial rule led to the many consequences he discusses in his book. These racist foundations include the European belief that Africans were “uncivilized.” It is for this reason that Mamdani believes that Europeans found it necessary to mold African institutions and society into a more civilized, “European mold.” Mamdani also discusses the effects of racism on indirect rule, where colonizers used rural tribal leaders and tribalism to rule and oppress the African people. This point was unfortunately a little unclear, as Mamdani struggles to show readers how the use of indirect rule via tribalism connects with his overall argument. Mamdani potentially suggests that the destruction of native institutions was a result of indirect rule, which altered traditional forms of government in favor of imported European ideas. However, Mamdani’s message regarding tribalism and institutions is not as concrete as it should be.

One of the primary points of focus for Citizen and Subject is the idea of territorial segregation and how it affected institutions. This part of the book is when Mamdani begins to center on South Africa and the Apartheid movement. Using the ideas previously established about indirect rule in tribal areas and direct rule in urban areas, Mamdani suggests that these ruling styles led to a state separated into two parts. This idea was one of the first concrete points that Mamdani made in the book, as he showed how colonial ruling styles led to a divided state between urban areas in South Africa which were often ruled more directly and tribal rural areas that were ruled indirectly. Mamdani suggests that apartheid in South Africa is deeply rooted in this original bifurcated state. This point was a very strong one, however more analysis on the way these ruling styles actually led to a separate state would have made it stronger. A common trend within Mamdani’s writing is that while he builds the foundations of a strong argument, he struggles to fully explain and complete these arguments; Mamdani constructs a few points, such as his idea about the colonial ruling styles separating the state into two parts, however he does not elaborate enough on how this separation occurred nor how it led to such a divide. Mamdani does have some very strong points however he often lacks the ability to fully elucidate his points and instead goes to other ideas or tangents.

Returning to his analysis of the bifurcated state, Mamdani also discusses how territorial segregation was also connected to racial segregation. Mamdani explains how this segregation in the colonial period led to apartheid. What stands out the most in this discussion is that Mamdani focuses almost exclusively on apartheid in South Africa, despite having previously stated that he wanted to, “establish that apartheid, which is usually considered unique to South Africa, is actually a generic form of the colonial state in Africa.” Mamdani does not do a good job at establishing this point, especially considering this was one of his main goals for the book. Mamdani assumes that apartheid was a common theme in many African states due to colonialism, however this umbrella statement does not necessarily fit into all post-colonial African states, and he does little to explain the problems in his argument. Former colonies like Kenya did not experience apartheid and ended up champions for democracy in Africa. The example of Kenya is extremely harmful to Mamdanis overall theory about colonialism and apartheid because it proves that apartheid is not necessarily a common consequence of colonialism in Africa. Furthermore, it is disappointing that Mamdani focused primarily on apartheid when there are so many other consequences of a bifurcated state that could have been examined. Mamdani could have showcased how increasing tensions between tribal groups and colonial rulers, or tensions between rural and urban groups led to more generalizable consequences across Africa.

Focusing on racial segregation, Mamdani returns to the words of General Smuts, who he acknowledges was racist. Mamdani focuses on General Smuts desire to, “de-africanize the African” which furthers his point that colonial actions and interests in Africa had underlying notions regarding race. However, it is often difficult to understand how all of these ideas connect to the overarching institutional theory that Mamdani is trying to make. What Mamdani suggests is that the racial segregation and territorial segregation in South Africa led to institutional segregation. Although this may be true, Mamdani fails in many ways to show the readers how all of these things connect and ultimately led to such a drastic change in African institutions. Examples of this institutional change include racist policies that segregate and discriminate against different racial and ethnic groups. While Mamdani is not arguing an incorrect point, he does not provide enough clear explanation and examples to prove his theory. Each individual component of Mamdani’s argument are clear, such as the way colonizers racially segregated and discriminated against Africans, however the reader struggles to see how these individual ideas connect to the institutional legacy of colonialism that Mamdani tries to explain.

What is most difficult to grasp within Citizen and Subject is the way Mamdani applies his theory to all of Africa. Why Mamdani chooses to blanket all of Africa with his theory is odd, as it is not applicable to all African countries. Instead of focusing on the singular example of South Africa, which his theory does a good job of explaining, he discusses all of Africa in a manner that is confusing and not justified. Mamdani fails to acknowledge the differences that have and continue to occur and in countries all around Africa due to their colonial pasts. Instead, Mamdani tries and fails to prove that his theory could be a model applied to all countries within Africa.

Mamdani’s theory focuses so heavily on the legacy of colonialism that it fails to recognize the way South Africa and other African countries have individually developed and changed in the post-colonial period. Throughout his book, Mamdani’s suggests that colonialism remains a primary component of African identity, society, and government without acknowledging the progress that many African states have made as a response to colonization. It is evident that culture and identity are both extremely diverse and unique around Africa and although colonialism still lingers, as argued by Mamdani, the people and societies of Africa have still been able to form identities independent of their colonial pasts.

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Despite claims that are applied too generally, Citizen and Subject remains an interesting piece of literature that provides unique insight into the colonial legacy of Africa. Mahmood Mamdani does a great job at analyzing the formation of different types of segregation in countries such as South Africa. Consequently, he shows how colonial leadership led to institutional segregation and how colonial rule affected the formation of native African society and government. 

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

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The Enduring Effects Of Colonialism In Africa Today. (2021, January 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
“The Enduring Effects Of Colonialism In Africa Today.” GradesFixer, 25 Jan. 2021,
The Enduring Effects Of Colonialism In Africa Today. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 May 2024].
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