Neocolonialism can be defined as the continuation of the economic model of colonialism after a colonized territory has achieved formal political independence. This concept was applied most commonly to Africa in the latter half of the twentieth century. European countries had colonized most of the continent in the late nineteenth century, instituting a system of economic exploitation in which African raw materials, particularly cash crops and minerals, were expropriated and exported to the sole benefit of the colonizing power. The idea of neocolonialism, however, suggests that when European powers granted nominal political independence to colonies in the decades after World War II, they continued to control the economies of the new African countries.
The concept of neocolonialism has several theoretical influences. First and foremost, it owes much to Marxist thinking. Writing in the late nineteenth century, Karl Marx argued that capitalism represented a stage in the socioeconomic development of humanity. He believed that, ultimately and inevitably, the capitalist system in industrially developed countries would be overthrown by a revolution of the working class; this would result in the establishment of socialist utopias. In 1916, Vladimir Lenin modified this thesis, claiming that the rapid expansion of European imperialism around the world in the last decade of the nineteenth century had marked the highest stage of capitalism. Presumably, then, the end of imperialism (which Lenin believed would be the result of World War I) would mark the beginning of the end of capitalism. However, neither imperialism nor capitalism came to an end after the war or in future years. European empires persisted well into the 1960s.
With the granting of independence to colonies, a theory of modernization took hold. This suggested that independent countries would begin to develop very rapidly, politically and economically, and would resemble "modern" Western countries. It soon became clear, however, that this was not happening. Postcolonial theorists now sought answers for the continued underdevelopment of African countries and found a second influence in dependency theory.
Dependency theory first gained prominence as a way to explain the underdevelopment of Latin American economies in the 1960s. It proclaims that underdevelopment persisted because highly developed countries dominated underdeveloped economies by paying low prices for agricultural products and flooding those economies with cheap manufactured goods. This resulted in a perpetually negative balance of payments that prevented underdeveloped countries from ever becoming competitive in the global marketplace. Economic theorists of postcolonial Africa, such as Walter Rodney and Samir Amin, combined the Marxist-Leninist concept of colonialism as a stage of capitalism with the concept of underdevelopment to create the concept of neocolonialism, which Kwame Nkrumah called "the last stage of imperialism."
According to Rodney and Amin, European countries, and increasingly the United States, dominated the economies of African countries through neocolonialism in several ways. After independence, the main revenue base for African countries continued to be the export of raw materials; this resulted in the underdevelopment of African economies, while Western industries thrived. A good example of this process is the West African cocoa industry in the 1960s: during this time, production increased rapidly in many African countries; overproduction, however, led to a reduction in the selling price of cocoa worldwide. Neocolonial theorists therefore proclaimed that economies based on the production of cash crops such as cocoa could not hope to develop, because the world system imposes a veritable ceiling on the revenue that can be accrued from their production. Likewise, the extraction and export of minerals could not serve to develop an African economy, because minerals taken from African soil by Western-owned corporations were shipped to Europe or America, where they were turned into manufactured goods, which were then resold to African consumers at value-added prices.
A second method of neocolonialism, according to the theory's adherents, was foreign aid. The inability of their economies to develop after independence soon led many African countries to enlist this aid. Believers in the effects of neocolonialism feel that accepting loans from Europe or America proved the link between independent African governments and the exploitative forces of former colonizers. They note as evidence that most foreign aid has been given in the form of loans, bearing high rates of interest; repayment of these loans contributed to the underdevelopment of African economies because the collection of interest ultimately impoverished African peoples.
The forces of neocolonialism did not comprise former colonial powers alone, however. Theorists also saw the United States as an increasingly dominant purveyor of neocolonialism in Africa. As the Cold War reached its highest tensions at roughly the same time that most African countries achieved independence, many theorists believed that the increasing levels of American aid and intervention in the affairs of independent African states were designed to keep African countries within the capitalist camp and prevent them from aligning with the Soviet Union.
If the forces of neocolonialism were so obvious to many theorists at the time, why then could independent African countries not simply recognize them and steer toward economic models that would allow them to be more competitive in the world market? Most students of neocolonialism had theories about the continuing drain of African resources. Perhaps the two most prolific were Kwame Nkrumah and Frantz Fanon. Many theorists and politicians came to espouse the ideas of these two men; a general understanding of the causal theories of neocolonialism may therefore be gained through a brief summary of their writings.
Kwame Nkrumah was a major figure in African politics for more than four decades. Born in Gold Coast (later Ghana) in 1909 and educated in Philadelphia and London, Nkrumah became a powerful leader in the movements for African independence and pan-African unity in the 1930s and 1940s. He became the first president of independent Ghana in 1957 and ruled until 1966, when his regime was overthrown by a military coup. Aside from his political activity, Nkrumah also wrote several books dealing with issues facing contemporary Africa. Of particular importance was his 1965 Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism in which he sought to prove the existence of neocolonial forces in Africa and explain the impediments to overcoming them.
According to Nkrumah, the most important factor allowing for the perpetuation of neocolonialism in Africa was the "balkanization" of the continent that had occurred as a result of European colonialism. Colonizers had broken Africa into dozens of administrative units in order to govern it more effectively, and the colonial boundaries had become the lines within which African countries had been given independence. Nkrumah believed that the interests of Africa were being damaged by the need of each new country to fend for itself. For instance, the fact that each produced and exported its cocoa crop independently was what resulted in lower prices. Nkrumah believed that through African unity and cooperation, the continent could best combat neocolonialism. This required a policy of nonalignment in the Cold War. Believing that Africa had all the resources necessary to achieve true economic independence, Nkrumah promoted inter-African trade, so that the continent could wean itself from Western imports. He also believed that African unity would help to strengthen African countries' bargaining power on the world market, as well as in international politics. If Africans aligned with each other, rather than with the various Western countries that wished to exploit them, the future could be safeguarded. Nkrumah also believed that concerted efforts toward industrialization should complement agricultural and mineral exports in order that African countries become able to produce their own finished goods and reduce their reliance on European and American manufactured products. By enacting such policies, the spell of neocolonialism could be broken, ushering in an era of distinctly African "socialism." Many African leaders of the day, including Sékou Touré of Senegal and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, held similar beliefs. Although these men fought diligently for African unity and economic development, their goals were mostly not achieved.
Frantz Fanon offered a different perspective on the dilemma facing independent African countries. Fanon was born in Martinique, in the West Indies, in 1925. Educated in France, he moved to Algeria in 1953 to practice psychiatry, and soon became embroiled in that nation's violent struggle to gain independence from France. As the Algerian war of independence was nearing its end, Fanon wrote his most celebrated book, The Wretched of the Earth (Les damnés de la terre ), in which he discussed, among other things, the causes of neocolonialism in Africa, and the solution he foresaw.
Fanon took much of the basis for neocolonialism for granted, seeing the exploitative tendencies of Western countries as inherent to their capitalist nature. He saw no place for Africa in this system. The African petty bourgeoisie, which had received power from the exiting colonial government, was the primary cause of neocolonialism in Africa. Fanon believed that the Africans who took power at the time of independence had been favored by European powers because they were willing to effect a smooth transition from colonialism to neocolonialism. Since they were generally of the Western-educated middle class who had in many ways benefited from the colonial system, they had the most to gain from a continuation of colonial economic policies. Fanon accused them of collaborating with the colonial power to ensure that the interests of both would continue to be met after the declaration of formal political independence; this class of Africans had betrayed the masses on whose backs the various nationalist movements had been borne. In order to achieve complete and final independence for African countries, "a rapid step must be taken from national consciousness to political and social consciousness" by the masses in order to check the power of the governing class, which had merely replaced the colonial administration as the most direct exploiters of African people. Violent revolution was the only means to drive oppressive neocolonial forces from the world. Fanon's ideology was supported by several political actors in Africa, including Amilcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau, who warred against a deeply entrenched Portuguese colonial regime until his assassination in 1974.
Of course, neocolonial theory has its detractors as well. Opponents argue that the concept is merely an attempt to continue to blame colonialism for Africa's problems rather than confront the major issues hampering independent African governments, such as corruption, inefficiency, and protectionism. They argue that these problems, more than any systematic process of external exploitation, have been responsible for the poor performance of African economies since independence. Others continue to argue that neocolonialism persists, if in slightly different form. Transnational corporations, such as petroleum and mining companies, and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization are responsible for much of the neocolonial influence in African countries in the early twenty-first century. The activities of these corporations and organizations transcend the boundaries and powers of the traditional nation-state, making it difficult to talk about interregional relationships except in terms of such paradigms as united North (Europe, Canada, and the United States) and underdeveloped and desperate South (Africa, Asia, and Latin America). As the understanding of international and intercontinental relations becomes more and more refined, the idea of neocolonialism will continue to be revisited. It is for this reason that neocolonialism has entered the vocabulary of all students of Third World affairs and is an important concept in the history of ideas.
See also Anticolonialism ; Colonialism ; Dependency ; Internal Colonialism ; Modernization ; Modernization Theory ; Third World .
Amin, Samir. Neo-Colonialism in West Africa. Translated from the French by Francis McDonagh. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1973.
Falola, Toyin, ed. Africa (Volume 5, Contemporary Africa ). Durham, N. C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2003.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constance Farrington. New York: Grove Press, 1963. Originally published in French, 1961.
Museveni, Yoweri K. What Is Africa's Problem? Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. Originally published in 1992.
Nkrumah, Kwame. Neo-Colonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism. New York: International, 1966.
Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1981. Originally published in 1972.
Woddis, Jack. Introduction to Neo-Colonialism. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1967.
"Neocolonialism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/neocolonialism
"Neocolonialism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/neocolonialism
The term neocolonialism came into use in the 1960s as former European colonies in Africa were gaining their independence. It describes a continuing relationship between Western countries and former colonies that is said to offer the Western world many of the advantages of colonial rule without many of the costs. Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972), the first president of Ghana, was apparently the first person to use the term in print, in his 1965 study Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. Nkrumah was particularly concerned about the economic relationship between former colonial masters and their African dependencies, and focused on the role of the mining industry. Nkrumah’s analysis is also more frankly Marxist than other, later critics who use the term.
The term has come to cover a broad range of relation-ships—for example, those between the United States and Latin American countries and those between regional powers, such as France, in Africa and countries that were never their colonies. It also has come to be used by analysts from a wide range of theoretical backgrounds, though at its core the idea owes a great deal to Marx. The historian Immanuel Wallerstein, for example, gave the idea a broad theoretical basis in his book The Modern World System, first published in 1974. Wallerstein offered a general theoretical structure governing both the rise of colonialism and its decline and replacement with new, but still exploitative, forms of international relationships. Wallerstein’s ideas were drawn from neo-Marxist theory and were also influenced by the French Annales school and its foremost proponent, Fernand Braudel. Wallerstein has in turn stimulated a series of collaborators and followers, including Andre Gunder Frank and Charles Tilly. Another strand of neocolonial theory comes from the Latin American Dependency school economists, also somewhat influenced by neo-Marxist ideas. The Egyptian political scientist Samir Amin has updated the concept in his work since the turn of the twenty-first century, focusing on the political economy of international relations between wealthy and poor nations.
Neocolonialism is a controversial term, implying that the objective of the wealthier partner is to keep the poorer country dependent and poor. Generally used by people on the political Left, the term has also enjoyed a vogue among far-right critics of internationalism in the United States. Use of the alternative term neoimperialism makes clear that the speaker believes that the wealthy nation intends to establish an empire through economic means, whereas neocolonialism leaves open a more classical Marxist dialectical interpretation of the process.
Neocolonialism as a concept focuses on economic relationships between wealthier and poorer countries. Wealthier countries are said to use various mechanisms—political and military as well as strictly economic—to keep within their national economies as much as possible of the value added in any productive process with international components, while relegating the more laborious and less valuable parts of the productive process to poorer countries. Wallerstein suggests that the world (or that part of it in regular, economically significant contact) at any point in time is divided into three zones: a core zone, in which the most profitable production takes place and where control over the whole system resides; the semi-periphery, where valuable forms of production take place under the supervision of the core; and the periphery, where less valuable forms of production take place. The peripheral areas under the control of any given core increase; the exploitation and even force that marks the relationship between the core and the peripheral areas grow, as the core gets more efficient at production and at governing itself. Semi-peripheral areas share more in the fruits of their labor and are a reasonably favored class of countries. Indeed, when the system changes and a new set of core countries come to power, they generally come from the semi-periphery (as, for example, when the United States supplanted or joined the United Kingdom in the early twentieth century).
The relationship between countries can be seen as an analogy to the relationship between people in classical Marxist economic analysis. The core countries are like the capitalists: They do not generally produce much themselves (though they might have some productive functions), but they exercise control over production by controlling money. The semi-peripheral countries are like the professional or technical elite of an industrial society: They produce very valuable things, and are pampered as a result, though they have little control. The peripheral countries are like the working class: They are exploited as aggressively as possible. Some development theorists have noted that many areas in the periphery are actually for the most part outside the world system and equate these “fourth world” countries or failed states to Marx’s lumpen-proletariat. Other writers following up on Wallerstein’s ideas have suggested that subdividing the world beyond the level of the nation-state might be more productive. Regions or cities may be better units of analysis. New York, London, Berlin, and Tokyo are the core cities of the modern world economy, whereas, say, Seattle, Canberra, Bangalore, Dubai, Singapore, and Beijing are semi-peripheries and rural West Virginia might be nearly as peripheral to the world economy as rural Inner Mongolia (though perhaps not quite so far away from the core as rural Congo).
Wallerstein points out that the societies of core and peripheral countries are marked by very sharp class divisions, with a few very wealthy people ruling over many poor. Meanwhile, the semi-peripheries are often places of relative class harmony. One sign that a country (or region) has moved out of the semi-periphery and into the core is the rise in class tensions there. Wallerstein detects this pattern at work in Renaissance Europe; similar changes have taken place in American society since World War I. In the peripheral countries, the class divisions often result in the creation of a ruling class tied to the interests of foreign capitalists. The dependency school economists in Latin America made this point when describing the economic relationship between their countries and the United States in the mid-twentieth century. Their signal contribution to the understanding of neocolonialism was to show not only what happened but also how it happened.
Even though in most cases Latin American countries (outside the Caribbean) had ceased being formal colonies by the middle of the nineteenth century, they had not evolved toward greater economic independence but instead toward greater dependence on the core countries of the world-economy—Britain until World War I and then the United States. British and American business interests either owned most of the means of production or controlled the terms of trade such that local owners had to do business on their terms. Country after country found its mineral or agricultural products moving into a world market at a price just barely above that which producers needed to stay in business, with the ensuing profits and well-paying jobs in transformation industries remaining in North America and Europe. Latin American observers felt the local ruling class was acting in the interests of North American and European capitalists rather than their own countrymen. They deduced from this that, as Marx had suggested, class solidarity trumps national identity. Just as the German and American worker have more in common with each other than either has with their own country’s capitalists, the Venezuelan oil magnate or Argentine rancher has more in common with the New York banker or Texas oilman than he does with Venezuelan or Argentine workers. Thus it was the “enemy within the gates” who ensured that the relationship between poor and wealthy countries was exploitative.
The mechanisms by which the core exerts control over its peripheries have changed over time. In classical colonial rule in the nineteenth century, the colonial masters ruled with the assistance of a large cadre of local officials, recruited through an elitist educational system and often made more loyal by careful exploitation of ethnic loyalties. France ruled its huge west African colony, comprising seven modern nations with tens of millions of inhabitants, with about fifty thousand French civilians of all descriptions and a few thousand French soldiers. They employed more than a million African officials who fulfilled functions from the most humble to some very prestigious positions. When formal colonial rule ended in Africa and Asia after World War II, these local elites became the ruling class of their new countries. As Nkrumah pointed out, in country after country the educational systems and ethnic political divisions continued to alienate the ruling classes from their own people and give them a sense of common identity with the international business and development bureaucratic class from the core countries. The sharp distinction between the lifestyle, attitudes, skills, and ambitions of the ruling classes of developing countries and those of their humbler countrymen stands in sharp contrast to the relatively homogenous societies of semi-peripheral countries such as Sweden, Singapore, or Dubai. (In the latter two cases, natives of peripheral countries are brought in as an oppressed and permanently alienated servant class so that social equality between citizens can be maintained.) On the other hand, an increasing distinction exists between the lifestyle, outlook on life, attitudes, ambitions, and values of the wealthiest Americans and those of ordinary people.
Military force was the final buttress of traditional colonialism. Neocolonialism cannot rely as much on force but has not abandoned it entirely. France still maintains significant garrisons in its former colonies in Africa, and those troops intervene regularly in such places as Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Chad, and Congo to defend French interests. U.S. interventions have been legion since the end of the nineteenth century. When an intervention goes badly, neocolonial interests around the world suffer. For example, when the U.S. intervention in Somalia in 1993 ended in failure, Haitian opponents of the American-led peace process were emboldened to attack the American election monitor mission and drive them out of the country.
Political means have been used to strengthen the control of wealthy countries over poor ones. One of the best-known and most controversial in the first decade of the twenty-first century is the use of international financial institutions, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), to force peripheral countries to grant favorable terms of trade on primary products. They do this by requiring privatization of state enterprises and free trade in primary products, which strengthens the control of core-country capital over the most productive sectors of the peripheral-country economy. Another effect of IMF-mandated economic restructuring has been to sharpen class divisions in the peripheral countries by forcing governments to reduce investment in rural development and education. Peripheral country elites have cooperated because continued contact with the world economy is essential for them to preserve their lifestyle; that contact would be imperiled if their country lost its IMF certification and could not be a member of the WTO. In countries where IMF coercion has been less successful, like Mexico, bilateral free-trade agreements with core countries, which bring substantial benefits for the peripheral country’s bourgeois, have served as the key to chain those economies to their dominant partners.
SEE ALSO Amin, Samir; Anticolonial Movements; Apartheid; Colonialism; Decolonization; Dependency; Dependency Theory; Empire; Exploitation; Frank, Andre Gunder; Imperialism; International Monetary Fund; Liberation Movements; Neoimperialism; Nkrumah, Kwame; Postcolonialism; Wallerstein, Immanuel; World Trade Organization; World-System
Amin, Samir. 2006. Obsolescent Capitalism: Contemporary Politics and Global Disorder. London: Zed Books.
Cardoso, Fernando Henrique, and Enzo Faletto. 1979. Dependency and Development in Latin America. Trans. Marjory Mattingly Urquidi. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Gunder Frank, Andre, and B. K. Gills, eds. 1993. The World System: Five Hundred Years or Five Thousand? London and New York: Routledge.
Nkrumah, Kwame. 1965. Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. London: Nelson. http://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/nkrumah/neocolonialism.
Tilly, Charles. 2003. Contention and Democracy in Europe, 1650–2000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 2004. World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Stewart R. King
"Neocolonialism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/neocolonialism
"Neocolonialism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/neocolonialism
ne·o·co·lo·ni·al·ism / ˌnēōkəˈlōnēəˌlizəm/ • n. the use of economic, political, cultural, or other pressures to control or influence other countries, esp. former dependencies. DERIVATIVES: ne·o·co·lo·ni·al adj. ne·o·co·lo·ni·al·ist n. & adj.
"neocolonialism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/neocolonialism
"neocolonialism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/neocolonialism