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Responsibility for colonialism


Sultan of Swat
Staff member
Got this from another forum, which I thought would garner some great discussion here on GF. I'm surprised we have discussed this in the past actually. Well that I can remember.

On one hand Europe destroyed good parts of Africa and Asia 100-200 years ago, and modern Europe does nothing significant to help those countries to develop. On the other hand why should modern Europeans feel responsible for what their ancestors did 100 years ago?


Registered Member
I know of late in the 19th century that many of the European imperial powers occupied most of the continent of Africa leaving only a few independent nations, and I remember learning something about it was the Belgians who introduced the concept of a racialised system of power. This is really all I know of this time, and all I can offer for now.


A Darker Knight
I guess they don't really have to be responsible.... but in the interest of good PR, it'd be nice to show responsibility.

Although I'm not sure if Europe can actually do anything to help. I hear the economy isn't looking so great over there, while the economies of Asia and Africa are on their way up.


Registered Member
Yes, I believe that Europe has a responsibility. Many of the problems in former colonies today are still rooted in the colonial past.

But this shouldn't be a blame game, because I think most Europeans responsible for colonialism or crimes committed in this context are no longer alife, and most of today's Europeans don't support open colonialism anymore.

But Europeans should be aware of this facet of their past and take a moral responsibility.

Also, it's wrong to say that all problems in former colonies are Europe's fault (not that anybody did that here, but seem to think so). For misery in the respective country, for example in Africa, there are quite a few reasons, one of which certainly is colonial past -- but there are also indigenous factors. Some former colonies managed to do much better quickly compared to others, although they had a similar starting position. In other cases, there are cultural or political factors Europe cannot be blamed for that keep development down.

Another interesting question is whether colonialism has really ended. Some people claim it has just changed the name, once formal colonies became informal protectorates. What's called "liberation", "nation building" allegedly is very similar to colonialism: Invading a foreign country, establishing a pro-Western regime there, installing military bases and permanent military presense and taking advantage of the resources in the respective country. Even the nice moral justifications for such missions are similar: In the 19th century, it was "improving the life of undeveloped backwards people by teaching them superior European values and education", today it's "protecting the people from horrible backwards values" or liberating them by "bringing Western values" aka "democracy and freedom". I'm not sure what to think of these claims, but it's worth further examination, I guess.

Add to that economic dependency on the world market: The Western economies don't care much about many former colonies, but recklessly use their (financial) power to exploit resources there (sometimes that includes cooperation with ugly thugs), to sell their goods on these markets, including weapons, which additionally fuel conflicts. At the same time, we (in the West) use protectionist measures to shield our markets from goods from these regions, which makes it very difficult for them to improve their situation. IMF and World Bank, dominated by Western countries, often impose policy measures on such countries, which many critics say makes development much more difficult.

On the other side, I don't think it's entirely correct to say the West does nothing substantially to help former colonies. Maybe it's not enough, but we do a few things. First there is development aid (which, of course, could be bigger), and things like the EU's "everything but weapons-plan", a contract between the EU and many African countries that allows them to sell all their goods on the European market without paying import taxes, except for weapons.