Conclusion: The Legacy of Imperialism

To draw conclusions about imperialism it is valuable to look back at various historical case studies. That’s why we learned about the British Raj in India, the Opium Wars in China, and several cases in Africa during and after the scramble. What common patterns did you notice? Were the motivations for imperialism more similar or different? What methods made European imperialism possible and successful? Europeans said that they intended to bring commerce, civilization, and Christianity to the rest of the world. Based on the case studies you read, were these noble goals?

European Imperialism in Asia and Africa has certainly left a lasting legacy in the modern world. Some former colonies have fared quite well. A couple former imperial port cities—Hong Kong and Singapore—have been among the wealthiest cities or countries in the world. According to the CIA World Fact Book, these cities both had a higher GDP per capita than the United States or Great Britain in 2011 (Wikipedia). Older former settler colonies—such as the United States, Canada, and Australia—are also among the wealthiest. Other countries that have recently shuffled off imperial control—China and India—have had the fastest growing economies in the world since opening up their economies to the highly competitive global free market.

Other countries have not fared well at all. Almost all of the poorest countries in the world in 2012 were in sub-Saharan Africa, with the Congo leading the pack. Most of these African countries have seen their GDP per capita decrease since independence from European imperial control. Political instability has perhaps been the biggest problem in the development of Africa. Companies do not want to risk investing in countries suffering from civil wars, rebellions, corruption, and violent regime changes. Between independence starting in 1957 and continuing through1990, only six out of 150 African heads of state gave up their power voluntarily (Meredith 379). Clearly, the newly independent nations of Africa still struggle with unscrambling the legacy of imperialism.

The history of imperialism leaves us with profound questions to evaluate. Should countries intervene in the affairs of other nations to help them develop? If so, when should wealthy countries intervene? What was wrong with imperialism? What about imperialism may, in the long run, have helped some of these conquered countries? What more information would you need to draw conclusions?

Content by Vern Cleary    Design by Stephen Pinkerton