Colonialism, far from being over and in the past, continues to hold us and our futures in its thrall. Do you agree?

Colonialism, far from being over and in the past, continues to hold us and our futures in its thrall.’ Do you agree?
By Libin Farah

Colonialism is a historical phenomenon supported by the notion that certain territories and people require and beseech domination, as well as forms of knowledge affiliated with domination (Said, 1994 p.9). Said’s definition takes into account the direct impact of colonialism as well as the impact it had on discourse and the language used to discuss it.

The first section of this essay will aim to illuminate Said’s argument further by exploring the evolution of the colonial rhetoric.

The second section of this essay aims to highlight the current impact that the division of land, the establishment and inheritance of the colonial state and territorial disputes have in contemporary times in the global south. Ethnic divisions in Rwanda, the creation of Israel and the French colonial state in African nations will help support this idea. While direct colonization is a thing of the past a new phase of imperialism has emerged.

The third section of this essay will take contemporary examples such as US humanitarian intervention to illustrate this point.

All three sections of this essay will provide evidence to support the overarching claim that while colonialism has technically ended its consequences can still be felt today.

Also, traditional colonialism has been replaced modern imperialism and thus many states continue to face dominance from imperial powers.

The impact of colonialism can still be felt in the way it is discussed through discourse. Discourse refers to not only the use of language when describing something but also the world views and ideologies that are implicit or explicit in such uses (Coffin, 2009 p.11).

As the post-colonial history of the Orient has been constructed by Orientalists the language in which we use to describe colonialism today is an example of how colonial rhetoric is still prevalent (Said, 1985 p.3).

An entire generation of ‘enlightened’ European scholars worked hard to strip Africa of any semblance of civilization using the printed page (Cesaire, 1972 p.22). The vocabulary of classic nineteenth-century imperial culture is plentiful with words and concepts like “inferior” or “subject “subordinate peoples,” “dependency,” “expansion,” and “authority (Said, 1994 p.9).

These images created by Orientalists legitimized colonial rule as it created the image of the ‘Other’ and the ‘Lesser’. These images transcend into contemporary times as previously colonized regions are depicted in similar ways. For example, the US media coverage of developments in the Middle East. The Middle East had been reconstructed so by Western elite ‘experts’ so that it comes off as inferior in technology, religion and culture (Kamalipour, 1997 p.194).

Further, the Middle East has been made synonymous with terrorism, political instability and religious instability. These images have colonial origins as they were created by the Occident to justify intervention.

Therefore, there is a relationship between knowledge and power because due to the power imbalance between the Orient and the Occident the West are able to create the image of the East in a way that enables them to pursue their economic and political interests.

Therefore, the correlation between power and knowledge is highly significant as those in power determine the perception of Orient. Despite colonialism in its historical form not being present today, the ripple effect created by colonial rhetoric is still present in the demonization of postcolonial regions.

The legacy of colonialism can still be felt today in the Middle East with Arab-Israeli tensions. Following the collapse of the Ottoman empire during WWI the Middle East became a new arena for colonial powers to exert influence.

The Balfour declaration (1917) declared a Jewish homeland in British occupied Palestine. The process of state building was funded by multiple actors including the US which recognised the sovereignty of Israel. The imposition of a Jewish state within an Arab homeland combined with the marginalisation of the Arab people is a clear example of how colonial manoeuvres are still present today.

Throughout the 20th century tensions between the Arab and Israel have materialised on numerous occasions in the 1948 war and the Six Day war 1967. Israel was a colonial invention as it was partly created to function as a buffer for the spread of Arab nationalism and a strategic position for Britain as it allowed them to protect the Suez Canal and trade routes to India (Marshall, 2017).

As Israel was created for the maintenance of the colonial system it internalized and adopted colonial tendencies in relation to Palestine. The state of Israel, with the support of the West, encourages settling in territories that are Palestinian. In the space of 25 years, 1920-1945, had gone from 11% to 31% of the population (Khan, 2016).

During the creation of Israel from 1947-1949 900,000 Palestinians from 34 different Arab communities forcibly migrated (Brown, 1985). This idea of settler colonialism is another manifestation of modern imperialism yet is not met with hostility from powers that claim to be liberal.

This demonstrates the idea that the international system is one that is designed to suit the agendas of modern imperial powers. The international order is determined by the West and as Israel is supported by the US, violations against human rights and illegal occupations are not with little repercussions.

The West determine the nature of international relations and as Israel is an ally in the region it is in their interest to preserve Israel despite violations in international law. Thus, neo colonialism is evident in settler colonialism Palestine and on a global stage Western, particularly US dominance can be seen in the structure of the international system.

Another legacy of colonialism that is still present in contemporary times is ethic conflict. Outbreaks of violence in post-colonial states due to ethnicity have been frequent and pervasive.

This can be traced back to the ‘Scramble for Africa’ in which European imperialists drew artificial and arbitrary borders bringing together groups of people with varying ethnicities, religions and languages who did not form coherent national communities (Christie and Masad, 2013).

The French method of managing colonies involved assimilating the indigenous population into a ‘Greater France’ however assimilation was never uniform as certain ethnic groups had disproportionate access to French education and, therefore, made up the ruling elite within the French colonial administration (Blanton, Mason and Athow, 2001 p.479).

Class and ethnicity coincided under French imperialism and continued post-independence as these divisions hardened and became the fault lines for which ethnic violence would erupt. For example, in Rwanda the Belgium favored the Tutsi ethnic group over the Hutu and only permitted Tutsi’s to take administrative work (Riemer, 2011).

And to further ensure that entrance was limited to Tutsi alone, each person was branded Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa at birth (Riemer, 2011). Economic wealth became entangled in issues of ethnicity as those who had 10 cows or more were classed as Tutsi while those with less were classed as Hutu (Riemer, 2011).

The classification of ethnic groups exacerbated animosity between the groups. In this way European colonialism successfully birthed an ethnic divide that ultimately led to the Rwandan Genocide (1994) as they brought Western ideas of class and racial hierarchy.

Therefore, despite Rwanda gaining independence ideas of racial superiority remained intact thus showing how ideological problems brought by colonialism have long lasting consequences on state and society.

A retrospective examination of the African colonial state can illuminate some of the frailties of its postcolonial successor (Young, 1997 p.9). The function of the colonial state was to extract resources and wealth for the metropole.

The colonial state was a military and administrative entity and involvement with African society was very limited (Pecoraro, 2012). It did not seek legitimacy and used violence and corruption as means to maintain control. These same features can be seen in many African states today. For example the French administrative machinery remained largely unchanged during the transition to independence as the machinery changed hands but not the parts (Blanton, Mason and Athow, 2001 p.479).

While colonial regimes varied none were democratic (Ben-Rafael and Sternberg, 2002 p.194). Therefore, it is not surprising that democracy failed in Africa during the 1960s and 1970s as the modern state that would have facilitated democracy was not an organic development and unable to make democracy work.

Secondly, as Occident knowledge is constructed with the notion that Western values are superior, democracy was another Western invention that was superimposed on weak colonial states and was expected to succeed.

However, the violent and corrupt nature of the colonial state, a colonial legacy, is incompatible with the liberal values that democracy had to offer. In this way
Through the use of security policies the French aimed to retain some their colonial power in West Africa.

French presence has lingered in its previously colonized countries due to military cooperation agreements (Charbonneau, 2016 p.63). AMT agreements and permanent bases preserved French power and influence in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, Senegal and Ivory Coast since 1984 (Rhodes, 2004 p.63) AMT accords aim to create, through training, financial and technical support, the national armed forces of France’s ex-colonies (Charbonneau, 2016 p.63).

These accords ensured that France could legally launch the interventions in its African allies countries (Charbonneau, 2016 p.64). Therefore, France has established a permanent military presence in West and central Africa and is able to intervene in the domestic politics of each nation.

By doing so France is attempting to increase their power in the global sphere by attaching itself to regions in the world in which it was the hegemon. Direct colonialism has shifted to indirect imperialism as they create a system in which the national armies of ex-colonial states become dependent French assistance.

French imperial interests continued in the form of establishing dictatorship in ex French colonial states. French funding and support in West and central Africa is the primary source of sustenance for African dictatorships (Sharife and Feffer, 2009). France’s postcolonial Africa policy, Françafrique, designed to create structural dependence and domination by reasserting geostrategic control over natural resources through the use of black “governors.” (Sharife and Feffer, 2009).

The creation of African dictatorships supports the orientalist discourse that Africa is backward and regressive as liberal democracy was seen is the only form of legitimate political organization.

This shows how colonialism still has a hold on our future as ex colonial powers still exert political, military and economic influence in West and central Africa.
Historically colonialism has been direct control of economic resources and political influence as well as the metropole encouraging settlers.

However, direct settler colonialism would be incompatible with modern political organization as it would threaten state sovereignty, self-determination and other liberal values that the West value.

Therefore, colonialism, in modern times, must be more discreet or enveloped with rhetoric of progression and aid. Imperialism is distinct from colonialism as it refers to the idea of subjugation and dominance while colonialism is the idea in practice.

Imperialism is still experienced today through the emergence of a new imperial superpower, the US. US humanitarian intervention are examples of the contemporary forms of imperialism. When America seeks to aid a developing country it has created a strategy of international client patronage and dependency based on US political and military control over aid recipients (Hudson, 2003 p.217).

American intervention restricts rather than enlarges the capacity for aid-dependent countries towards greater self-reliance (Hudson, 2003 p.217). US aid strategy thus has been designed to further America’s foreign policies (Hudson, 2003 p.220).

The world hegemon behaves in a very similar manner to previous colonial powers in that it seeks to advance its own political and economic agenda while simultaneously extracting resources and stationing military troops within the state.

In this way, America has entered a phase of neocolonialism in which media and discourse describes developing countries as inferior economically, militarily and culturally and require America support which is depicted as an act of benevolence.

This reinforces the notion that the international system is in favor of imperial powers as they are the ones who dictate the nature of relationships between states.

In conclusion, colonialism has evolved and taken the form on neo colonialism. Imperialism, the idea behind historical colonialism, is still present and will dominate our future as hegemons continue to behave like previous imperial powers.

Modern colonialism is unique as it exposes the contradiction within orientalist discourse. As much of contemporary knowledge is constructed by the West, relations with ex colonial states demonstrate that international relations are imperial. Neo colonial powers determine the nature of international relations as they build ties with those of strategic use to them.

In this light imperialism is masked by other rhetoric yet will continue to dominate international relations in the future. Despite most of the world is made up of sovereign states that went through decolonization the legacy and impact of colonialism can still be felt through political structures.

The elites in Rwanda, the creation of Israel and colonial state inheritance all reinforce the overarching theme that while direct historical colonialism is a thing of the past the legacy and impact of the political structures lingers and still affects domestic politics today.


Ben-Rafael, E. and Sternberg, Y. (2002). Identity, culture and globalization. 1st ed. Leiden [etc.]: Brill, p.194.

Blanton, R., Mason, T. and Athow, B. (2001). Colonial Style and Post-Colonial Ethnic Conflict in Africa. Journal of Peace Research, [online] 38(4), pp.473-491. Available at:

Brown, L. (1985). International politics and the Middle East. 1st ed. New York: I. B. Tauris, London.

Cesaire, A. (1972). Discourse on colonialism. 1st ed. New York: NYU Press, p.22.

Charbonneau, B. (2016). France and the new imperialism. 1st ed. London: Routledge, p.63.

Christie, K. and Masad, M. (2013). State formation and identity in the Middle East and North Africa. 1st ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Edkins, J. and Zehfuss, M. (2014). Global politics. 1st ed. London: Routledge, p.350.

Hudson, M. (2003). Super imperialism. 1st ed. London: Pluto Press, p.217.

Khan, A. (2016). 100 Years of the Middle East: The Struggle for the Post Sykes-Picot Middle East. 1st ed. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Marshall, A. (2017). The Origins of Imperial Israel: A Buffer Against Arab Nationalism. [online] Andrew Gavin Marshall. Available at: [Accessed 24 Mar. 2017].

Pecoraro, A. (2012). What are the Political Causes of Failed States in Sub-Saharan Africa?. [online] E-International Relations. Available at: [Accessed 24 Mar. 2017].

Rhodes, E. (2004). Presence, prevention, and persuasion. 1st ed. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, p.63.

Said, E. (1994). Culture and imperialism. 1st ed. New York: Vintage Page, p.9.

Said, E. (1985). Orientalism. 1st ed. London: Penguin Books, p.3.

Young, C. (1997). The African colonial state in comparative perspective. 1st ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, p.9.

Krishna and quij reference their definitions of colonality, race and types of knowledge,

Ability to control discours eofn instituitions, set the agenda,

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