This is a paper I wrote during my time at Spelman College.
The massive movement of colonization onslaught in Africa was between the years 1880 and 1900, due to industrialization in Western Europe, a search for new markets, and the availability of natural resources in Africa. Bismarck, a leader of Germany during the time, invited other European powers to colonize West Africa. In 1884-1885, The European powers held a conference, which divided Africa into various territories, carving what is now known today as Africa. From the first steps the European powers took on the soil of Africa, the future for Africa changed. As a consequence of colonization Africa has undergone countless detrimental effects that play leading roles in its current situation today.
W. E. B. Dubois in his article, “Worlds of Color,” “examinees the geopolitical shifts in Europe, its colonies, as well as in the United States after the First World War in order to assess the interrelations of race and labor” (Billingslea 1). Dubois states that the European nations profited off of the land of others, by writing:
“If now the world, and particularly the laboring world, should come to realize that industrial efficiency as measured by the amount of goods made and the size of the private profit derived therefrom is not the greatest thing in the world; and that by exchanging European efficiency for African leisure and Asiatic contemplation they might fain tremendously in happiness, the world might be less afraid to give up economic imperialism” (Billingslea 22)
Dubois is arguing that if people recognize that money and amount of materialistic items are not as important as human life and happiness, then the world might be able to surrender the idea of imperialism. In King Leopold’s Ghost, the documentary explores the mass destruction of natural resources. The mining of the African soil and the killing of the wildlife, such as elephants, for profit, are examples of the European nations not caring about the people of Africa and just depleting their sources of income and resources. Since Europe has full control and ownership over Africa, tribes in Africa are suffering from more than just labor exploitation.
Dubois further explains the role militarism has in the colonization of Africa by writing, “Militarism is costly and to increasing masses of men since the Great War….a most effective method of military control” (Billingslea 22). What Dubois is saying is that, militarism was too costly and required too many men for the European nations, especially after the wars, so African troops were implemented. These African militias that were imposed in the various European colonies caused hostility amongst the African people. Wars broke out. Many wars since the Europeans colonized Africa have broken out amongst different African groups as a result of the forced comingling of various tribes. In King Leopold’s Ghost, in chapters 31-36, the documentary delves into conflicts in the Congo amongst the African peoples. As a result of the European powers coming together to divide land in Africa amongst themselves, different tribes, that may have even been at war with one another, were forced to live side by side, and some tribes were divided based on the territorial lines drawn. These divisions led to the internal wars that only highlighted the difference between the colonizer and the colonized and the negative effects the colonizer had on the colonized.
Aimé Césaire pays close attention to the negative relationship between both the colonizer and the colonized, as well as suggesting that colonization does not actually civilize the colonies, but in fact does the complete opposite, contesting the claims of positive aspects of colonialism in his article “Discourse on Colonialism”. Like Dubois, Césaire agrees that colonization dehumanizes the colonizer. This idea is known as “thingification”, which is a process of turning the colonizer into a thing by denying him his humanity. Both Dubois and Césaire recognize that the Europeans invaded Africa with a mission by writing that,
“no one colonizes innocently, that no one colonizes with impunity either; that a nation which colonizes, that a civilization which justifies colonization—and therefore force—is already a sick civilization, a civilization which is morally diseased, which irresistibly, progressing from one consequence to another, one denial to another, calls for its Hitler, I mean its punishment” (Césaire 39).
The European nations deliberately invaded Africa with an intention to exploit the African people and the land. In King Leopold’s Ghost, the documentary delves in depth upon the markings the Europeans made in Africa. They exploited the African people’s labor, stole the natural resources from the African land, and murdered much wildlife to sell for profit. The mission of the Europeans was to gain economic wealth and be economic, global leaders. What these Europeans were not noticing, was that the people were starving, falling ill with disease, fighting due to tribal differences, and having trouble adjusting to the ways in which the Europeans wanted them to live.
Both Césaire and King Leopold’s Ghost explain the mass exploitation and cruelty that was imposed upon the African peoples, who were then enslaved. Césaire writes about the common cruelties that the Europeans imposed upon the people of Africa writing that, “forced labor, intimidation, pressure, the police, taxation, theft, rape, compulsory crops, contempt, mistrust, arrogance, self-complacency, swinishness, brainless elites, degraded masses” (Césaire 42).Rape was common, and often resulted in mulato children, who too were forced into the vicious cycle of forced labor. The idea was to “civilize” the African people, but this in fact did the opposite and only made the colonizer appear more dehumanized.
In the 1950s, Africa was finally able to gain complete independce from the overbearing powers of Europe. Due to the devastating effects that the European nations brought to Africa, the country is still struggling as a third-world nation. As a result of the mass killing of the wild life, certain wild animals, such as elephants, have become endangered. As a result of the enslavement of the African peoples, many of the once strong and independent Africans have grown scarce. As a result of the African militia taking control, numerous wars have broken out, and countless amounts of genocides have been recorded. Turmoil. The colonization of Africa by the European powers has left Africa in a state of desperate need of repair. Colonization dehumanized the colonizer and brought a new point of view and reality to the colonized. As noted by both Du Bois and Césaire, and seen in King Leopold’s Ghost, colonization did not civilize the people of Africa, if anything it brought the people further away from civilization due to internal conflicts.
Billingslea-Brown, Alma Jean. “Worlds of Color” W. E. B. Du Bois. African Diaspora and the World: Readings for 112. New York, NY: American Heritage Custom Pub. Group, 1995. 1-25. Print.
Césaire, Aimé. “Discourse on Colonialism.” Discourse on Colonialism Transl. by Joan Pinkham. New York: Monthly Review, 1972. 31-78. Print.
King Leopold’s Ghost. Dir. Pippa Scott and Oreet Rees. Perf. Philippe Bergeron, Don Cheadle, James Cromwell. Linden Productions, 2006. Itunes.