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Colonialism has had a great impact on the politics and economics of African states. Post-independence, African states have modeled themselves after the West, copying the centralized and authoritarian systems of administration of their colonial masters .All African states have political systems characterized by ethnic exclusions and marginalization. Although multi-party systems have emerged, the opposition operates under restriction by the ruling party. Additionally, corrupt behavior among African leaders has been influenced by experiences under colonial rule. Economically, African resources have been extensively exploited by colonizers, rendering Africa economically weak and a loser in its interaction with the global economy. The colonial past and present influences the current political and economic realities in African states. A question arises: Would Nigeria be better off economically and politically if it were not colonized? Given that the British conquered Nigeria and took control over its territory, not much positive economic progress or political growth has emerged. Therefore, Nigeria might have been better off if it was left alone.
Colonialism and the process of colonization brought adverse effects to economic growth. Before Nigeria’s colonization by the British, the inhabitants relied on agricultural production. Helen and Milner (94) assert that under colonial rule, Nigeria remained an agricultural country, exporting agricultural raw materials and importing finished goods from the colonial master. This is evidence that the British benefited more than the native Nigerians despite the fact that the raw materials belonged to them. If Nigerians could have had knowledge about converting raw materials into finished products, their economy could be much better. Industrialization in Nigeria was heavily discouraged.
How it works
Modern economic policies were put in place, shaping Nigeria’s future in terms of marketing, labor supply, and investment. The colonial process and formal economic exploitation ended in 1960. Although Nigeria was left relatively strong but undiversified in its economy, efforts were made to rectify these defects and create a diversified economy comprising agricultural, industrial, and service sectors. After independence, Nigeria’s governments have taken steps to guide economic development. Education has continuously been advanced at all levels to enhance requisite skills and labor force for the development of infrastructure roads and communication networks. These have been modernized more than they were before they were inherited from the British colony. Hydroelectric dams have been constructed for energy production. Secondary industries and automobile assembly plants have been started to provide job opportunities.
Due to a lack of adequate capital from native residents, these activities are undertaken and financed by the government with help from international financial institutions from Britain and the United States. Foreign oil companies such as Shell BP, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Agape, and Texaco, have partnered with the government in the oil sector, which is the main economic booster of the Nigerian economy. However, this indicates a continued dependency on former colonial powers. The established governmental industries and businesses were inefficient and corrupt, reflecting the flawed governance inherited from the colonial masters. Productivity was low due to mismanagement and corruption in all successive governments.
One of the major issues arose when the government prioritized the industrial sector above all others. This led to steep competition for scarce resources for industrialization. Large amounts of capital investments were used for industrialization, leading to the abandonment of well-known agricultural production. Large-scale industrialization necessitated experienced skill which native residents lacked. This was the fundamental error made by the leaders left behind by colonizers. As such, unskilled labor and insufficient finances severely impacted the industrial sector.
Also, Nigerians’ neglect of agricultural production caused food shortages. In the past, Nigerians produced adequate food for domestic needs; however, after independence, the government was unable to supply food domestically and, therefore, started importing food from foreign countries, which was not nutritious enough. Among the imports were palm oil from Malaysia – of which Nigeria was the largest producer and exporter – and rice from the United States. Once the largest African poultry producer, Nigeria lost status due to inefficient corn production and a ban on the importation of corn. It is no longer the largest exporter of peanuts, cocoa, and rubber (Guy Peters, 262).
Several factors contributed to problems in the agricultural sector. These factors included labor shortages due to rural-urban migration of the workforce, leaving the aged and unenergetic forces in the farm. Environmental factors, such as soil erosion, poor soil, drought, and lack of knowledge on conducting agricultural research that could boost production efficiency, also played a role.
Other constraints that hindered production growth included the use of insufficient technology due to low capital investment in this field, low emphasis on educating young people on agriculture, inadequate product promotion, and poorly developed marketing strategies. Infrastructure development was hindered by poor transport infrastructure, lack of refrigeration, under-investment due to lack of credit facilities, trade restrictions, poor pricing strategies, and unstable pricing policies. Import restrictions limited the availability of agricultural and food processing plants. The region’s topography also prevented the introduction of long-term modern production techniques and investments on plants. Some of these challenges were a result of the impact of colonization, as Nigerians adopted British methods without considering the long-term implications.
These problems of import and food shortages were addressed by the military government of Olusegun Obasanjo in the late 1970s and 1980s, through securing funds from World Bank, providing farmers with fertilizers, allocating subsidies to the agricultural sector, discouraging rural to urban migration by creating jobs in rural agricultural plantations, and negotiating better pricing and trade terms. Unfortunately, these solutions did not fully resolve the agricultural crisis. Issues regarding machinery and modern techniques still needed to be addressed, often requiring dependence on former colonial powers to improve Nigeria’s economy.
According to Jeffrey Haynes (364), Nigeria’s debts increased as administrators engaged in external borrowing, subsidized food and rice imports, and kept gasoline prices low. In the 1980s, economic realities forced the government to negotiate a loan with the World Bank to reschedule Nigeria’s external debts.
However, external borrowing created more economic problems than it solved. Much of the money never reached Nigeria and the portion that did was invested in abandoned or nonperforming public sector projects. The external debt escalated to US$30 billion during the regime of Babangida. Similarly, the structural adjustment program prescribed by the International Monetary Fund failed to improve the economic status and led to inflation and unemployment. To offset this situation, state spending on healthcare and education was reduced. Ongoing political instability, due to Babangida’s annulment of the presidential election results in June 1993 and the subsequent authoritarian rule of Sani Abacha (1993-1998), worsened the overall economic situation. The gross corruption of the Abacha regime and its violation of people’s fundamental rights turned Nigeria into an international pariah for six years, thus discouraging foreign investment in the economy. Many industries and manufacturing companies could not obtain raw materials and were forced to close. Others operated under severe handicaps, including rampant power outages and scarcity of refined petroleum.
Not enough had been done in the years of plenty to diversify the economy or to sustain the development. Military coups, the military overthrow of civilian governments, and political instability worsened the situation. There was considerable optimism in May 1999 when Olusegun Obasanjo became Nigeria’s civilian president. Many hoped that he would lift Nigeria from the verge of economic bankruptcy. One of Obasanjo’s objectives was to secure debt relief from Nigeria’s foreign creditors. However, these creditors insisted that Nigeria’s wealth of untapped resources provided the means for the country to pay off its debts, and refused to cancel its debts of US$30 billion.
In spite of some opposition, Obasanjo embarked upon a program to privatize some parastatals in order to reduce corruption, promote efficiency, and raise productivity. He introduced an anti-corruption bill which passed through the legislature and recovered some of the revenues that had been stolen from the country and deposited in Western banks (Green, Laura & Luehrmann, 267). The inflation rate, which was estimated at 12.5 percent at the start of his administration, was estimated at 6.6 percent in 2000.
The question still remains whether colonialism affected the native countries’ economy either positively or negatively, and whether the native countries would have been better off had they not been colonized. The argument given above suggests that the countries might be far better off than they are now if they had not been colonized.
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