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Should Britain Apologise for Colonialism in Africa (or Not)?

Updated on November 1, 2018
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Being informed about customs and tradition is the only way future generations’ will ensure that our history does not become extinct...

Colonialization in Africa and the role played by Britain can be said to be highly condemnable in today’s society, but shouldn’t we just place ourselves in the past and search ourselves on what our own outlooks would have been at the time?

Colonialism, the “practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically” was indeed a violation of other people’s rights, becoming an authority over them and virtually all they own. Their territories, their rich natural resources, their languages, their politics and economies, religious beliefs, and people.

But then we can argue the fact that the times of imperialism are different from modern times. There was really no such thing as human rights and neither was there empathy for the weak and oppress(able). The practice at the time was one of a stronger power extending its control over the weaker ones. It was a time of economic exploitation of natural resources and creation of new markets for their mother nations.

An Imperial Federation Map of the World Showing the Extent of the Colonisation by the British Empire in 1886
An Imperial Federation Map of the World Showing the Extent of the Colonisation by the British Empire in 1886

It was just the order of their days and the aristocratic had the say! The colonised were uneducated, had far fewer rights, were impoverished, and unaware of what was going on so they were an easy 'game'.

It wasn’t only the British that partook in the practice of colonisation. Other Europeans had their territories in most of Africa, much of Asia, Australia, and the Americas with most of them sending settlers (Colonial settlers) from their own countries to populate their new-found territories.

Should Britain Apologise?

Is it time for Britain to apologise for their imperialistic legacy that has often been criticized as the root cause of the rough and uneven social and economic development worldwide, especially as it relates to the third world countries?

While some believe that Britain's aim was never to build an empire, so can never be described as being imperialists, others in countries once ruled by the British (especially) still have lingering resentments and historical grievances against their past colonial masters.

Many appear to believe that the United Kingdom should apologise for the part they played in this ‘ill’ of the past that began in the 16th century and culminated in the very early 20th century (some say the 19th century), but then, should the past remain what it is, the past? Or not?

It’s true that today’s descendants of the colonial masters have a much different mindset from their forefathers and it seems quite natural that they feel bad about what happened in the past but once the apologizing begins, when does it stop?

In that case, shouldn’t it be extended to the descendants of slaves snatched from their nations by the American, the lingering effects of which are still noticeable even until today?

And how about the current crises in the Middle East which could also be laid at the feet of British mapmakers, shouldn’t they apologise for that too?

Maybe we should go far back to the time of the Mongols. Or should we seek apologies from the descendants of Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, or Alexander the Great?

Apologies are not really necessary because some issues of the past are the way the world took shape.

A handful of leaders have recognized the suffering that the colonial system has inflicted but none has actually, on behalf of their country, come forth to say “We are profoundly sorry for Colonialisation and slave-trading of the past and the ways it has affected you as a people”.

Apologising for Colonialisation is not necessary. Apologies will change nothing, so, of what is its worth? Rather, the descendants of past Colonial masters who are now leaders of the First World countries should not allow themselves (like they mostly do) encourage a new form of colonisation whereby they receive and help hide-away stolen wealth acquired from the leaders of their former territories just because this pays them tremendously.

Their complacent look-the-other-way attitude while doing nothing makes them collaborators of sorts. Why? Because it is good to have such wealth in their own countries, within the British economy, albeit being caretakers of such loot stolen from African and a few Asian countries.

British Colonies in Africa

British Occupation of India

The Positive Effects of Colonialism

Colonisation has its own positive sides though. A great number of countries benefited from it by way of education, religion, aid and new skills. We must not forget the fact that Britain, especially, gave a great deal to the colonised nations, like India for example. Many of such nations, particularly the more serious ones, have become great in their own right due to being colonised.

I am typing this on my laptop asides having my smartphone and IPad. Maybe without being colonised in the past, I’ll be looking to the sun for the time of day. Maybe without it, I’ll still rely on talking drums to relay messages, who knows.

But one thing is clear, what happened then has shaped the world in no small way in making it become one global village. With the benefit of hindsight, it all didn’t work out too badly.

Now we get the chance to see millions of fellow humans who are starving to death, dying from diseases and living in inhuman levels of poverty and know we can all do something about it.

The Negative Effects Colonialisation

Whilst conditions are much better than what it was four centuries ago, today’s elite and overtly wealthy in some of the colonised territories majorly in Africa still exploit the common man in their individual nations.

A place like Africa is still suffering from being carved up into countries that have diverse people speaking so many different languages and having totally differing ideas. This was not beneficial to Africa.

Take Rwanda for example where colonialists felt one group was better than the other subsequently and practically made one lord over the other. The result? A genocide that left different factions fighting for power.

The past is the past, and hopefully, we’ve learned from it. Instead of clamouring for Britain to apologise for its role in Colonialisation, the world needs to move on with its quest of making it a better place to live, for all.

Should the British tender an unreserved apology for Colonisation, or not?

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© 2018 artsofthetimes


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    • artsofthetimes profile imageAUTHOR


      9 months ago

      You are right @Ashutosh. I too believe it's best we look to the future and see how we can make the world as of today, a better place to live and exist.

      Colonialism surely left wounds from the past, but it's best the majority of us put it all behind us.

    • AshutoshJoshi06 profile image

      Ashutosh Joshi 

      9 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Well, while there is no harm in tendering an apology, I personally think it wouldn't make much of a difference. I understand there's a large chunk that feels an unconditional apology is owed to them, I kind of respect their opinion too.

      I think what's more important is that the Brits know there history correctly - the atrocities committed by the empire, the oppression, supression, exploitation and more importantly the wounds or damage they left behind.

      Ofcourse we are thankful for the know-how and ideas they brought, industrialisation, english language, culture but then at the end of the day, the colonies paid a hefty price and they paid it over and over again!!

      'Millions they killed and billions they extorted.' But then that's all in the past. How far can we delve into it and who all can we blame for our misfortunes, instead we should focus on getting our act together!!


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