What is Neo-Colonialism?

Statue of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first President, who coined the term neo-colonialism.
Statue of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first President, who coined the term neo-colonialism.

Neo-colonialism is the term used to define the economic sabotage of underdeveloped countries propagated by developed countries and large multinational corporations. The term was first coined by Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, in the 1960s. Kwame Nkrumah, who was renowned for championing for Pan-Africanism, discussed the issue of former colonial powers meddling in the internal affairs of the young African countries in his 1965 book “Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism.”

Neo-colonialism During the Cold War

Neo-colonialism was quite evident during the Cold War of the 20th century, as the then global superpowers, the United States, the Soviet Union, and their respective satellite countries engaged in their ideological conflict. Both warring parties accused each other of neo-colonialism and used notorious means to have their interests protected in underdeveloped countries including sponsoring military coups and civil wars. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser once accused the US of interfering in the internal affairs of third world countries which did not subscribe to its foreign policies. While the United States and the USSR rejected such claims, these global powerhouses were extremely nervous when underdeveloped countries came together to seek self-determination through anti-colonialism. It was evident during the Cuba-sponsored Tricontinental Conference (also known as the “Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa, and Latin America”) which brought together underdeveloped countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia with a purpose of ending neo-colonialism, a move which sparked outrage from France and the United States. The organization’s chairman, Mehdi Ben Barka was clear in his claim that the US was the main propagator of neo-colonialism in the world.

French Neo-colonialism in Africa

France was among the European powers which benefited greatly during the colonization of Africa, with the European country amassing many colonies, particularly in West Africa. Therefore, it was not expected that France was impressed with the wave of independence that swept across Africa in the mid-20th century. While France did grant independence to all of its African colonies in the 20th century, it continued to play an economic and political role in their internal affairs and would not hesitate in protecting its interests in these countries using unconventional ways. The interference of France in the internal affairs of its former colonies was labeled as “Francafrique” or “French Africa.” Most presidents of former French colonies who had close links with Paris such as Niger’s Hamani Diori, Gabon’s Omar Bongo, and Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, were seen more as France’s puppets than as heads of sovereign states.

Chinese Neo-colonialism

China is on the path of becoming the world’s biggest economy and a global superpower. During the country’s upward trajectory, China’s economy has been reliant on its dominant manufacturing sector which consumes millions of tons of raw materials. While China is endowed with rich mineral resources itself, the country primarily relies on imports to meet its domestic demands. Africa has become China’s focus on its quest of acquiring these natural resources, which the continent has in plenty. Bi-lateral agreements between African countries and China run to billions of dollars as China invests heavily in developing the infrastructure in these countries in return offering the mineral resources such as rare metals, oil, gas, and copper. These agreements between China and African countries has many neo-colonialism tendencies and has attracted much criticism around the world. From the perspective of these critics, China is taking advantage of the vulnerability and desperation in many underdeveloped African countries by offering them huge unsustainable loans for projects which are usually predetermined to be undertaken by Chinese firms, using Chinese workforce. These enormous loans leave the already developing countries reeling in foreign debt. The United States government, through the then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, explicitly warned African countries about the new form of neo-colonialism being propagated by China. The Chinese government has vehemently denied claims of being engaged in neo-colonialism, stating that the bilateral agreements are purely economically inclined and mutually beneficial.

South Korean Neo-colonialism

South Korea has a huge population, which is growing at a fast pace. The South Korean government realized that the current food supplies in the country would not be enough to sustain its population in the future. To remedy the forecasted problem the government, in conjunction with several powerful South Korean multinational companies, started purchasing farming rights in huge tracts of land for agricultural purposes in under-developing countries. In Madagascar, an estimated 1.3 million hectares (representing 50% of Madagascar’s arable land) were procured for the cultivation of corn and biofuel crops. Immediately, the deal elicited much outrage from all over the world with claims of neo-colonialism being voiced. Critics were appalled that Madagascar, which had more than half of children under five years being malnourished, offering its arable land for food production of a foreign country. The outrage culminated in violent anti-government protests in Madagascar which cost hundreds of lives but ultimately resulted in the downfall of the regime and the cancellation of the deal. Despite the cancellation, South Korea is unrelenting in its quest for food security through foreign land agreements and already has food production ongoing in Cambodia, Indonesia, Mongolia, and Tanzania.

Multinational Corporations

Neocolonialism is not exclusively propagated by governments but also by large multinational corporations. Many of these corporations are infamous for their investments in underdeveloped countries which only benefits few politicians in these countries but end up having detrimental social, economic, and even environmental effects. In such instances, these corporations rely on the cheap labor from the underdeveloped countries, an act which prevents the country from accessing and investing in advanced production technologies. Corruption in government usually protects the activities of such multinational corporations.

Dependency Theory

Neo-colonialism is closely related to the dependency theory. The dependency theory is a political concept which prescribes that wealthy countries channel resources from developing countries, benefitting themselves at the expense of these developing countries. The dependency theory was a response to the modernization theory. According to the modernization theory, economic growth of any society is progressive and takes place in developmental stages which are universal and therefore underdeveloped countries need the assistance of developed countries to accelerate their developmental growth through technology transfers and investments. Propagators of the dependency theory aimed to discredit the modernization theory, stating that developed countries were the biggest beneficiaries of such relationships, to the detriment of underdeveloped countries.


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