Assignment: Colonialism or Imperialism
Apart from Asia, however, population density in least developed countries is relatively low. Africa’s average population density is only 24 per square kilometer, as opposed to India’s 296, the United Kingdom’s 646, Japan’s 880, and Singapore’s 5,571. Africa has more arable land per capita than any other so-called developing region.
Why are so many of the least developed countries in the world located in sub-Saharan Africa? There is no simple answer, but no doubt the legacy of colonialism—enslavement, foreign intrusions, cultural genocide, and shameless exploitation—plays a major role.
The Legacy of Colonialism
Only twenty-three countries among the current United Nations membership were independent in 1800. More than half of these states were in Europe, with Afghanistan, China, Ethiopia, Japan, Iran, Nepal, Oman, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, and the United States rounding out the list.* Since then, the number of independent states has risen to more than 190. World War II (1939–1945) was a watershed because it led to the rapid deconstruction of the European colonial empires (see “Landmarks in History”). Most of the countries existing today came into being during this recent period, and all but a few were least developed countries. Also, the breakup of the Soviet Union led to the creation of some twenty-five new independent states in Eastern Europe, Transcaucasia, and Central Asia by 1994.
For centuries, the great powers of Europe competed for colonial holdings, ruling and administering over weaker and technologically less-advanced peoples and territories located in faraway places around the globe. These colonial empires were a source of great prestige and wealth. In the nineteenth century, European powers scrambled to colonize Africa. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Holland, Italy, Spain, and Turkey all possessed overseas colonial empires (see Figure 9.4). This European intrusion—which came to be known as colonialism or imperialism—became synonymous with subjugation and exploitation in the minds of the indigenous peoples.
Colonialism did include Europeans dominating native peoples, and it was based on implicit or explicit notions of racial superiority or religious zeal (or both). However, there were great differences in the methods and means employed by the colonial powers. For instance, the British approach was far milder than Spanish colonial rule, which was notorious for its rapacity and cruelty.
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