Why the colonialist succeeded to achieve growth

Tapiwa Gomo

A COUPLE of weeks ago, in discussing why Africa has continued to lag behind on development, I highlighted some examples from the Asian countries, the Middle-East region and some from South American region. What is common among these regions is that, they have built their economies around a home-grown and home-led models. I also noted that some of the countries in these regions acquired or borrow resources to support their home-grown ideas. Key to their successes is that their economies are home-owned.

Develop me with Tapiwa Gomo

Along the way, I also discussed some of the reasons why post-colonial African leaders have failed to achieve the same economic growth as their colonial counterparts. A corpus of literature is available on Africa’s poverty as a global concern, including some prescriptive models and solutions. Most of this is written by western authors. In most of the conclusions, the buck has stopped with the African leaders that even with the abundant resources, they have failed to transform the lives of millions of Africa.

On their part, the African leaders have been resisting the blame by attributing their failures to colonial past and the exploitative policies by western governments through their International Finance Institutions. The battle to deny responsibility has indeed not helped Africa and has left the continent more vulnerable to exploitation by other regions and its corrupt leaders.

While African leaders continue to blame colonialism, there is no hiding from the simple fact that the centrality of political power is the determinant of how the economy is grown and how its benefits are distributed in a given society. The poverty in African countries is neither a curse nor spawned by forces of nature. Poverty and its counterparts especially political and economic instability are an outcome of the social structure of a particular society.

Understanding the different political economic structures that existed in both colonial and post-colonial Africa is central not only to addressing poverty and its attendant counterparts, but to understanding why African countries’ economies have continued to lag behind. How did the colonial administrations manage to achieve growth and development in Africa which their post-colonial counterparts have failed to achieve?

When the settlers moved to Africa in the late 1890s they, without paying a cent, quickly became property owners and owners of productive assets which manifested in how their society developed. The settler politician was the same as the investor. Political status of leaders derived from economic interests. It was not easy to become a politician without economic assets. Politics was driven by economics.

Political and economic decisions were therefore symbiotic and undertaken by the same people. As a result, both their private sector and the government expenditure was essentially resourced from profits that came initially from agriculture, mining and other economic ventures. The settlers and owners of productive assets created profits for their governments to enable it to support development projects in their areas of interests.

As the settler elite reproduced itself by profit, their society had surplus resources which went into investment, primarily to make the land and other productive assets of the settlers more profitable and to advance the collective economic growth and development agenda. The railway, road and telecommunication networks in most southern Africa countries were built before independence, largely to service the agriculture and mining sectors under the colonial administrations. So the settler who sat in government and also an investor developed the infrastructure system to make ‘their’ productive assets more productive and more profitable, which gave rise to the partial industrialization witnessed in some of the countries in the region. Once again, the model was ‘home-grown’ and ‘locally-owned’.

As their economies grew, so did their control over mining, farming and engineering and other emerging service sectors. They also had control over where towns and cities would be located and what skills to be imparted to the black community. The black elite became part of the settler elite to provide skilled labour.

This scenario is by far the opposite of what subsist in the post-independent Africa. The African leader who took over at independence did not own productive assets, so their government expenditure has been financed through revenues which came from settle investors who still owned the means of production. There was now separation between a politician and an investor, where the former is expected to provide services to the later. This has presented sustainability challenges as the use of state revenue to finance the private consumption of the settler elites meant an ever-increasing direct and indirect taxes. It also meant that the settler investor no longer had the responsibility to take care of services which they expected the new government to provide. Their contribution is now only limited to taxes. In addition, diverting state resources to support private sector meant that less resources are available for investment to create employment and provide services to the people.


  1. baba u can write well but one thing u fail to write about is before colonialist we had thriving economy we had assets n they was no poverty whatsoever howsoever then the colonialist came removed ubuntu m ade second class citizens n slaves thereby enriching himself.africa must go back to ubuntu.it is the colonialist who make african leaders greedy

  2. It sounds like a long excuse for non-performance to me. It sounds more like post-independence every resource was spend on trying to keep politicians in power through patronage which is obviously about giving money to people who would otherwise not be smart enough to make it so that they owe favours.

  3. Everything rises and falls on LEADERSHIP. How they achieve that is their own baby but they must be prepared to work with everyone not in a vindictive manner as we had done but in a proactive that serves our interests. This is our CHOICE. we choose what we want and pursued it. PERIOD!!

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