There is no unanimity amongst scholars regarding the impact of Western Colonialism and Imperialism on Asia and Africa. On the one hand, some scholars hold that it greatly contributed to the civilizing of the backward people and contributed to the improvement of their living standards.
They argue that the various colonial powers set up schools and colleges, constructed roads and railways, built canals and bridges; provided law and order, improved sanitation and health, promoted trade and commerce and thus contributed to the welfare of the native people.
On the other hand, writers like John Conard and Holison are highly critical of the role of western imperialism in Asia and Africa. They associate imperialism with exploitation, misery, poverty, cruelty, conversion, degradation and racial segregation. Holison says that imperialism was ‘rapacious and immoral’.
John Conard says “In many cases the motives for empire building have been selfish and the people in the colonies have frquently been exploited for the benefit of the mother-country.” Both the above views contain only partial truth. In fact, the western colonization and imperialism was a mixed blessing. Its effect can be conveniently studied under the following heads.
1. Political Impact:
In the political sphere, Imperialism proved to be a blessing in disguise for some countries. For example it provided political unity to India which had been torn by dissensions and strife before the arrival of the western powers. Thus the British provided political unity to India which she had not achieved at any stage in her past history.
This was rendered possible due to development of railways, modern means of transport and communication, press, introduction of English language which served as lingua franca, and a uniform system of administration throughout the country. This unity paved the way for the growth of political consciousness amongst people and ultimately motivated them to overthrow the colonial and imperialist yoke.
Secondly, the western colonialism and imperialism was responsible for the introduction of western ideas like nationalism, democracy, constitutionalism etc. in Asia and Africa. The various imperialist powers tried to implant their ideas and institutions in their colonies and thus unconsciously let loose liberal forces in the countries of Asia and Africa.
Thirdly, the colonial powers introduced efficient system of administration in the country. It is true that the administrative machinery was evolved primarily to promote the interest of the imperialist powers and paid little attention to the well being and welfare of the natives.
Further, the natives were not given adequate representation in the civil services and generally excluded from higher positions. Despite these shortcomings, the system of administration, provided by the imperialist powers, exposed the colonial people to the system of western administration.
Fourthly, the imperialist rule also led to the rise of slavery. The slaves began to be sold and purchased as part of personal belongings. The practice commenced when Portuguese in the 15th century raided the African villages and enslaved the people.
These persons were then transported to America. In fact there existed a regular market of slaves in Lisbon. Even the English engaged themselves in the slave trade. This slave trade resulted in the uprooting of millions of Africans from their homes. What is still worse that they were made to work under the most inhuman conditions and were treated with great cruelty.
Finally, the colonialism and imperialism led to bitter rivalry among the European powers and they fought various wars for the possession of the^ colonies. For example France and Germany clashed over Morocco in Africa. In India also the French were involved in a long drawn-out struggle with the British.
2. Economic Impact.
In the economic sphere impact also the western imperialism had a mixed impact. On the positive side ii led to development of industries in Asia and Africa. The various imperialist powers set up industries in their colonies to make profits and thus paved the way for the industrialization of the colonies. The colonial powers established long lines of railways, built banking houses etc. in the colonies to fully exploit their resources. They also set up certain industries in these colonies to make quick profits and fully exploited the resources available there.
All this proved to be a boon for the colonies and led to their industrialization. On the negative side, the imperialist powers exploited the colonies by importing raw materials at the cheapest possible rates and exported the finished products at very high rates.
They also tried to cripple local industries, trade and commerce by enacting necessary industrial and taxation laws. This policy of systematic exploitation resulted in the draining of wealth and greatly contributed to poverty, starvation and backwardness of the colonies.
3. Social and Cultural Impact:
In the social and cultural spheres the colonial and imperialist rule produced serious consequences. In the first place it adversely affected the religions of the local people because the local people were encouraged by the Western Missionaries to embrace Christianity by offering them certain material benefits. As a result soon Christianity became a thriving religion in many Asian and African countries.
Secondly, the Christian Missionaries played an important role in providing certain social services to the local people in the form of hospitals, dispensaries, schools, colleges etc. and thus greatly contributed to the enlightening of the people of Asia and Africa. Thirdly, colonial and imperialist rule led to racial segregation. The European rulers treated their culture as superior to the Asian and African cultures and tried to impose the same on them.
Further, they believed that white races are superior to the black races and tried to keep aloof. They often enacted discriminatory laws against the local people. For example, in India the Indians could not travel in the railway compartment in which the Europeans were travelling. This policy of racial segregation greatly undermined the moral tone of the local population. Fourthly, the imperialist rule undermined the moral principles.
They foreshook all norms of morality to keep their hold on the colonial people. They tried to divide the local people and made them fight among themselves to retain power. The policy of ‘divide and rule’ followed by the British in India best exemplifies this policy of the imperialist powers. It is well known that this policy of ‘divide and rule’ ultimately led to the partition of India.
Finally, the policy of colonialism and imperialism caused untold misery and suffering to the people. The various imperialist powers were involved in a number of wars with the local people as well as amongst themselves which resulted in loss of millions lives. Thus colonialism and imperialism resulted in untold misery to humanity.
In the light of the above discussion we can say that colonialism and imperialism left a deep impact on Asia and Africa in the political, economic as well as social field.