Who were the worse colonizers in Africa, the French or the Brits?
Updated: Oct 14, 2019
it’s me Cerbere.
to continue de series of random questions asked to regular people. The new one is another comparison between French’s en brits colonizer. To answer that sensitive yet valid questions, we have Emmanuel-Francis Nwaolisa, who is a specialist on creating essays, articles, and stories about African History. Complete and often untold or forgotten. The colonizers have definitely shape Africa in the way it is build today. Economy, langages, divisions, let’s dive into that “needed to be told” story.
Before the 19th-century, if you asked the average European who their ‘Germans’ were—in the sense of a militarily aggressive large nation— they would say the French or the Turk. Yet, since the Germans became ‘the Germans’, neither French, Turk nor German has waged war in mainland Europe. Did they cease to be French, German or Turk or was it something about the system in which they operated at the time that lent itself to aggression?
Colonialism does not differ based on national character. I believe it creates a specific set of pressures leading every nation involved in the practice to trend towards similar actions.
Colonialism is based on the rejection, by the coloniser, of the rights to the natives of unimproved land, that is any land that did not meet John Locke’s precepts of enclosure and agricultural or industrial work within. That is why all colonial justifications can be boiled down to we came to a desert and made it bloom. But, even deserts have people who consider it theirs.
There is a paranoid aspect to colonial projects. They are constantly close to the natives, yet wary of turning their back on them. Punishments tend to be collective, and war, total. The French in their occupation of Algeria sent out flying columns to burn down olive grooves, slaughter herds and burn down villages. The Boer did the same with their commandos and faced the same treatment from the British. They all made use of concentration camps.
The colonists walk their talk on improvement. Colonies are either failures or successes. The former people rarely hear about, so it is easy enough to assume that all colonies turn out successful. But, how do they do this? Colonists usually bring with them certain advantages, Huguenot communities in South Africa were excellent grape farmers, Dutch colonists brought with them advanced sugar processing techniques, British miners in South Africa brought with them mining skills honed in the island’s coal mines etc. However, expertise and scarcity equals expensive. As such, there exists no colony that was not reliant on the cheap labour, either of natives or imported labour: slaves, indentured servants, coolies etc. The reliance of the colony on the labour of potential enemies lends itself to the paranoid aspect to the colonial project already discussed above. It also encouraged brutal labour practices because the workers had little to minimal rights; their value lay in their cheapness.
In sum, there are no objective means of determining worse, the system forced all those who partook into a similar set of actions. Land had to be cleared and kept clear. Labour had to be terrorised and kept mobile or it would get too expensive at the expense of the colony’s viability.