Where would Africa be today if white imperialism had not happened?

Maybe a naive question since there are so many variables. A lot of the problems in Africa is often explained by the euro/american imperialism.

How much did this mess up the Africa that we are seeing today?

scamartistry, this is your fourth OP in Great Debates today (not counting the one I moved to General Questions). Please spend a little more time on your OPs and try starting a few less threads. Meanwhile I’m revising the thread title - I think you left out a “had not.”

I love alternate history speculations. Give me a little bit of time to research, but I am pretty sure Africa would remain just south of the Mediterranean regardless of European policies.

It would probably have seen a lot more Islamic imperialism.

No modern infrastructure worth mentioning.

When looking at global history in it’s entirety, one comes to the conclusion that Europe and it’s spawn the Unites States are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to development of industry and social/ political betterment. Therefore, Africa would likely be in the same position it (and the middle east, parts of asia, and many other regions/countries) is now: run by a dictator with all resouces going to his coffers, the occasional war to rally the people, and abject poverty and no upward mobility for the majority of people.

What if questions are tough to answer. Without European imperialism perhaps Africa would have developed nations more naturally. Europeans tended to draw borders with out regards to the native inhabitants and I suspect that’s part of the continuing ethnic problems in Africa today.

Let’s remember that the colonial period in most of sub-Saharan Africa was relatively brief. The Scramble for Africa started in the 1880s and was over before WWI. And WWII was the beginning of the end for the colonial Empires, and by the 60s colonialism was over. Compare that to colonial rule in the Americas, which lasted hundreds of years.

There was a lot more to colonialism in Africa than the Scramble. The Cape was settled in the 1600s, the Portuguese had West African posts in the 1400s, and, of course, the Romans started messing around more than a millennium before that.

Pretty much this (it happened after all, at least in North Africa). I can’t see Africa just being left alone, so it would have been a matter of who decided to exploit all those natural resources there. I’m not sure if the various peoples of Africa would have been better off with Islamic imperialism or European…it’s probably a toss up, though my knee jerk probably uninformed reaction is that they would have been better off with the Islamic kind in the long run.


thanks, points noted

Yeah, there were European colonies dotting the African coast since the 1400s, and plenty of Arab colonies too in East Africa, and all of North Africa was colonized by the Arabs and then the Turks. But there’s a big difference between the map of Africa in 1870 and the map of Africa in 1914. In 1870 the European colonies are a few dribs and drabs. In 1914 Ethiopia is the only independent country left, unless you count Liberia.

There is no reason to make such a claim, except racism. Most infrastructure in Africa has been built after colonial rule.

The Islamic empires of sub Saharan africa were not mostly Arab states and not settlement states. In West Africa they are all of native peoples, and I think it foolish to call any of them ‘colonialism’ as it is not ordinary to call European on European conquest and war colonialism.

The only place where Islamic countries have a little colonial aspect is in the East Africa, but even to this the rulership went native very soon and they are not really colonialists.

I think organic local development has better result than the colonialism that Europeans made in 19th century based on racism. Earlier form of colonialism, of true merging of the outsiders, becomes organic and could be fine and healthy to bring in new ideas and technologies.

This is true, although of course this can not be only put on the head of the colonial rulers and I would not deny all things that they did, but it could have been done better, the racism that came forth turned even possibly good influences sour.

It is silly to call the North Africans colonised by Turks or Arabs who were few and were eaten up by the sea of locals, the dynasties were mostly local, even those who claimed to be “Arab” or Osmanli. That was the old tradition in the Mediterranean and is not of the same character as colonialism.

Long time or short time, European colonialism changed the shape of Africa forever. It happened just at the point where nations were shifting into formal states and a fully international economic and political order was becoming cemented. Even if they had been there two weeks, the borders they created would be a big deal for centuries to come. And of course since modern Africa is a creation of slightly-post-colonial Cold War maneuverings, it’s very very relevant to how Africa happens to be at this moment. Maybe in 200 years colonialism won’t look quite as important. But it really wasn’t that long ago, especially if you count the active role colonial powers continue to play event today (I believe on these very boards Chad got called “basically a French protectorate,” which is a quite accurate way of putting it…this stuff is still happening.)

I think this is an impossible question to even speculate on. It’d be tough to imagine what circumstances would leave Europe completely out of Africa, and the alternate history there is so changed that everything everywhere would have to be completely different. Its like asking what history would be like if there had never been any wars. How can you answer something like that?

Islamic influence would probably get stronger, although I think Islamic “imperialism” would remain in coastal areas as it was before. Africans did a perfectly good job of spreading Islam themselves during the great medieval Islamic empire period, and don’t really need Arabs to do it for them. Getting across the Sahara or the Sudan probably wouldn’t be worth it for the Arabs. just to make some colonies. But in any case, we’d probably see more Islam in parts that are now Christian. That said, African Islam is (and probably has always been) it’s own thing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a new strain of Islam or some peri-Islamic religions (like the Sikhs in India,) emerged. Who knows, maybe without the missionary influence, local traditional religions could have formed into something more formal like Hinduism did.

During medieval times, West Africa at least had some very strong nations. Presumably those would continue to develop and mature as nation-states tend to. But nobody can begin to guess if they would have undergone an industrial revolution and the development that goes with that. Without that industrial revolution, they’d still be behind globally. But who knows? There certainly is lots of productive farmland. If they could get a fair deal on the global market, that may have helped spur industrialization.

But really, there is just no telling.

great post! thanks a lot

There would probably still be a florishing slave trade of Africans exported to the Middle East.

The premier alternate history novel on the subject is The Years of Rice and Salt, supposing that the Black Death had killed 99% of the population of Europe instead of 33%.

I see this attitude here that Islam is something foreign to Africa brought in by Arab outsiders.

That’s not really the best way to think of it, at least not in the West African context (I don’t know much about East Africa.) The spread of Islam in Africa was largely an indigenous movement, spread by trade at first and then intra-African empires later. In many ways, it’s a much more organic spread that Christianity’s spread to Europe, although there are some parallels and the timing wasn’t all that different. Anyway, Islam is as authentically Africa as Christianity is authentically Europeans, and much of Africa’s history and culture cannot be separated from Islam.

It’s also misleading to think of lighter-skinned Africans as somehow un-African or less African than black people and thus don’t count as an “authentic” part of Africa. Dark skinned Africans are just one of many African populations. They happened to be extraordinarily successful in terms of the territory they overtook during the ancient Bantu expansion period. But various light and lighter-skinned ethnicities have always been a part of the continent’s history and demographics. Despite the common concept of “black Africa” and “Sub-Saharan Africa” as a synonym, Africa is extraordinarily genetically diverse in a way that does not map neatly on color lines. This ethno-linguistic map gives some idea.

If you walk into any given West African city (and a lot of villages), you will find a thousand shades of “black,” each with their own testimony to the complex migrations and intermingling of people that has always been a part of Africa’s history. Berbers, Fulbe, Habesha, and all kinds of people of various skin tones have their own African histories (not to mention Pygmy, San, Khio and Malagasy populations, which are a whole 'nother story.) We’d probably call a Taurag man black, but he probably thinks himself as being on the Berber continuum. In other words, our way of grouping various African populations has little to do with African realities.

Do you also extend this philosophy to white Africans?

Lots of people don’t think of Rhodesians as an “authentic” part of Africa. Yet, they happened to be extremely successful in terms of the territory they overtook during the 20th century. Their country was even called the “breadbasket of Africa” and was able to export food to the rest of the continent. There are white people all over Africa…descendants of the settlers who were extraordinarily successful in terms of the territory they overtook during the modern colonial expansion period. Do you consider them to be a legitimate presence in Africa?

If not, what is it about their history that is any less legitimate than any of the many territorial wars and tribal battles and slaving practices that occurred between black Africans over the past several thousand years? Or did they just come late to the party?

I do not think so alone because it was too far behind initially, but like China or others, trade and access to buying technology could have sparked something new.

But fragile, the soils suffer from being fragile in almost all West Africa. It is a huge hindrance, most African soils are old soils and intensity is a problem. This is a handicap.

Not colonialism? Most people who live in North Africa today speak Arabic as their mother tongue. Of course the people who live there now are descendants of Arabized North Africans, not migrants from Arabia. But there are plenty of places in South America where people have spoken Spanish as a mother tongue for generations despite having overwhelming American Indian heritage. The Spanish colonists were, as you put it, eaten up by the sea of locals who now spoke Spanish and were Christian.

I guess I don’t see the difference between an Arab army that marches into North Africa, conquers the local people, sets up a local kingdom that might be independent or a vassal of some foreign power, converts the people to Islam, and everyone learns to speak Arabic, and a European Army that marches into Sub-Saharan Africa, conquers the local people, sets up a local kingdom, converts the people to Christianity, and teaches everyone English. Both are examples of colonialism.

We could argue that there are two types of colonialism, one where the conquered population is largely replaced or largely converted to the ethnicity of the conquering group, and one where the conquering group remains a small ruling class and the local population retains their ethnicity. But both are colonialism.