Would post-colonial nations be better or worse off if they had never been colonized?

Sort of inspired by this thread, where the question came up WRT Africa. Let’s leave out of the discussion “settler states” like the U.S. and Australia, which would not even exist as nations without colonization. I’m talking about, say, India: What would it be like now if there had never been a British Raj? If the European powers had never colonized Africa, what would Africa be like today?

Given what? Without a British Raj, Britain’s position is changed in the time when it was the dominant world power. What then? Would some other power have supplanted it? Would Britain have sought other conquests? How would other nations have developed in the light of the changed power of Britain? Hell, how would they have reacted? And why wasn’t there a Raj?

Without a good a detailed counterfactual, you can’t even begin to guess. With one, it’d still be highly speculative.

Let’s just assume the Age of Exploration never got started, or that it did, but it never took the form of Europeans moving in and taking over less advanced nations. Maybe Cortez got his ass kicked by Moctezuma and that made everybody think about finding different ways to profit from trade with the non-Christian world.

Perhaps an appropriate way of answering this question is by looking at countries that were not colonized but are otherwise similiar to those that were, and seeing how they compare.

But before you do that you also have to clarify what you mean by “better off”, since that is largely subjective. What are your benchmarks for that?

Excellent point.

My saxaphone instructor grew up in Senegal, and he’s angry at how uncivilized the world takes Africa to be. Of course, Dakar is a lot better off than say, Darfur. He seems to think that any problems ( political greed and corruption, although not as evident as in other African countries) were caused by Belgian colonization.

This guy’s father was a protege of Patrice Lumumba, a prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo that may have been assassinated with U.S. and Belgian influence.

Well, it’s hard to find parallels. All sub-Saharan Africa was colonized except for Ethiopia. Wait, there’s one: Burma was colonized (by the British) but neighboring Siam/Thailand never was. Thailand is now a much better place to be. Not that that settles the question, it’s just one example.

Afghanistan never was colonized (neither Russia nor Britain would allow the other to have it). I recall reading an argument that that was why it turned out to be so vulnerable, in the 20th Century, to imported ideologies like Communism (don’t forget there was a home-grown Communist revolution before Soviet troops entered the country) and Islamic fundamentalism; it had not been exposed enough to such things to develop any immunity.

Oh, no! I expect every Doper in this thread to have his/her own definition of that and be prepared to back it up! That’s where it really gets fun! :slight_smile:

I think the Aztecs would have been better off without colonization.

Weren’t they pretty much destroyed before colonization was in full swing? The Triple Alliance was crushed by Cortes if I recall correctly.


India received both good and bad things from colonization. That doesn’t mean we liked it, though. (What is with all this curiosity about India lately? I mean, it’s a good thing, but curious.) As others have said, there’s no way really to compare, and it’s too late to think “What would have been” anyway. India is here, after 300 years of British rule, it’s independent, and it seems to be well on the way to the First World.

Well, that was part of the process. First conquer, then colonize.

You could make a case that the Tenocha Empire, which existed mainly to extort sacrificial victims from subject nations – thousands of them every year – was something that really, really needed to be destroyed, if only for the subject nations’ sake. (Many of them had practiced human sacrifice before the Aztecs conquered them, but only on rare occasions. The Aztec religion has no parallel in history for bloodiness.) OTOH, I read in James Howard Kunstler’s The City in Mind, in the chapter on Mexico City, that within ten years of the conquest, the population of Mexico had been reduced by 90 percent! :eek: (Due to war, social disruption, impressment of natives for slave labor, and, of course, Old World diseases to which the Indians had no immunity.)

Just free association. The “Are blacks better off thread?” got me thinking about colonization in general, and then that got me thinking about India and Pakistan.

It’s an interesting question. My gut feel is, in the long term, better off. I base this on a couple factors:
Many societies were clearly following similar paths to Western societies - the rise of Empire and increased urbanisation. I believe, if left alone, this would have played out to land them in somewhat similar circumstances.
Africa, for one, had several thriving, literate, agarian societies. If not for the Scattering, they were only a couple hundred years behind Europe. Who know what they might have become?
As for India, hell, at the time of first European contact, I don’t think the difference in tech. was even that great. Europeans just got lucky in being able to exploit local politics, I think.

Lastly - I think looking at things like Aztec blood-sacrifice is a bit hypocritical. It was a momentary blip that I think over time would have morphed into something symbolic. Look at Carthage, the Celts, the Norse, the ancient Canaanites. Blood sacrifice was evident in the development of Western culture. Hell, Christianity is solely based on the idea. Whose to say the Mesoamerican blood religion may not have gone the same way?

New Zealand is an interesting case… if the British/French had never colonised NZ, the Maori would have presumably been left to do their thing and gotten absolutely nowhere, tech-wise.

I’d say that Maori in New Zealand are better off today than they were in 1840, at least in the sense they have a written language, higher life expectancy, and aren’t as likely to get killed in an inter-tribal war.

Of course, someone out there will no doubt disagree with me…

I will - just because they (in this hypothetical) aren’t being colonized, doesn’t mean they won’t get traded with. This would hopefully soon raise their level of tech etc.

If they hadn’t all eaten each other first, of course. People go on about the Aztecs, but it’s pre-colonial NZ I wouldn’t want to be stranded on.

This is confusing! Are you assuming that, without white settlement, the Native Americans and the Australian Aborigines would never have “evolved” to nation status? :dubious:

No, only that the nations into which they might have evolved would bear absolutely no cultural resemblance to the nations now living on those territories. Unlike, say, India or Burma or Cameroon.

Part of what made colonialism so great for the colonial powers, and so bad for the colonized, was the massive-scale extraction and exportation of resources. This is what made the colonial powers so incredibly wealthy.

This exportation continues to happen on a large scale: most of the resources in third world countries are owned by first world entities, and the profits from them leave the country before most locals can benefit from them. So they are left scrambling to pay off the interest on humungous debts (another legacy of colonialism) and can’t even begin to put together enough money to do what needs to be done for their own benefit.

If Africa got to keep its oil and diamonds and minerals and timber and whatever else it exports, for itself, it pretty clearly would be better off today.

But would it necessarily? The Middle East has oil, and it still manages to be a mess.

How about counties that got colonized late in the game? places like the Philippines (USA, 1899) or german east Africa (now kenya, ca. 1890), or Ethiopia (Italy, 1935). Outside of the Philippines, none of these places have fared any better 9or worse). My guess is that colonization was all about having access to cheap raw materials-any infrastructure that was built in these places was onlt to facilitate the extraction of raw materials. That is why you find railroads and ports, mines and factories, built near the supply points. Belgium 9the Belgian Congo) extracted billions $ from the Congo, and gave little (if anything ) back.