Cultural Studies Essay on Main difference between colonialism and neocolonialism

The term colony comes from the Latin word colonus, meaning farmer. This root reminds us that the practice of colonialism usually involved the transfer of population to a new territory, where the arrivals lived as permanent settlers while maintaining political allegiance to their country of origin.

Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. One of the difficulties in defining colonialism is that it is not easy to distinguish it from neocolonialism. Frequently the two concepts are treated as synonyms. Like colonialism, neocolonialism also involves political and economic control over a dependent territory. The etymology of the two terms, however, provides some clues about how they differ.

According to Longman Contemporary English Dictionary ‘colonialism’ is when a powerful country rules a weaker one and establishes its own trade and society there.


Before the abolition of the slave trade by Denmark in 1802 and Britain in 1807. The entire West African Coast witnessed trade in slaves which were need for the plantations of the then Industrialized new world. The nations involved were France, Britain, Denmark, Portugal and Germany.

About forty years later the trade changed to that of colonialism – conquest and occupation by Europeans. The Berlin West African Conference of 1884 – 1885 gave international recognition to a situation that was already in existence. 1945 – 1960 witnessed a reversal of the process of colonization – decolonization while 1960 till date is witnessing a reincarnation and a resurrection of colonialism – neocolonialism.

Below shows a chronology of dates and the sequence of events from colonialism to neocolonialism and the present day ongoing process of neocolonialism.

1880 – 1885 – Proto-Colonial period

1885 – 1945 – Colonial Era


1884 – 1885 – Berlin Conference (the scramble for Africa)

1885 – 1900 – Period of Conquest and occupation

1900 – 1919 – Period of Penetration

1919 – 1939 – Period of Colonial Rule

1939 – 1945 – Decline of colonial rule

1945 – 1960 – Period of decolonization

1960 – Till date – Period of Neocolonialism.


The term “neocolonialism” was first coined by Kwame Nkrumah, the first post-independence president of Ghana, and has been discussed by a number of twentieth century scholars and philosophers, including Jean-Paul Sartre and Noam Chomsky

Neocolonialism is the practice of using capitalism, globalization, and cultural forces to control a country (usually former European colonies in Africa or Asia) in lieu of direct military or political control. Such control can be economic, cultural, or linguistic, by promoting one’s own culture, language or media in the colony, corporations embedded in that culture can then make greater headway in opening the markets in those countries. Thus, neocolonialism would be the result of business interests leading to deleterious cultural effects.

Neocolonialism as defined by Longman’s contemporary English Dictionary is “when a powerful country uses its economic and political influence to control another country”.


Though colonialism and neocolonialism are two sides of a coin. There are a number of differences that distinguishes the two.



It is not modern (between 1880 – 1960s

It involves physical or territorial occupation by the colonizers

It has ended

It is the early state of capitalism or imperialism

It varies according to country e.g. Indirect Rule, (British) and policy of assimilation association by the French.

It was led by France and Britain.

It is a modern phenomenon

It is not involve direct or physical presence of the colonizer any more

It is ongoing i.e it is a continuous process

It is the highest stage of Imperialism

Neo-colonialism uses one methodology – agents of Globalization

It is now led by USA

Probably nothing has become as controversial a subject as the impact of Colonialism on Africa among scholars of history and political science. Scholars such as Gann, Duignan, Perham and PC Lloyd see colonialism and neocolonialism as a blessing rather than a curse while other scholars such as Kwame Nkrumah, Che Guevara, Walter Rodney, MHY Kaniki A.E. Afigbo, A. Adu, Boahen, Ali Mazrai etc. sees it as a curse rather than a blessing. To buttress this further Che Guevara’s says.

“As long as imperialism exists it will by definition exert its domination over other countries. Today that domination is called neocolonialism.

Che Guevara, Marxist revolutionary 1965

In view of this, the impact of Neo-colonialism therefore is not a lesser task to assess particularly from social, economic and political perspectives in Nigeria. To be frank, though there were positive effects but every greater were the negative ones.

Below is my assessment of the impact of neocolonialism on the social, economic and political life of Nigeria.


(1) Provision of a lingua franca.

This is a positive impact of Neo-colonialism in Nigeria. The provision of a lingua franca (official language) for Nigeria can now be seen as a blessing due to the marriage of inconvenience which brought the numerous linguistic groups that constitutes the country to easily adopt a neutral language. Neo-colonialism through globalization has further consolidated the use of English language as the business and official language not only Nigeria but across the Anglophone countries.

(2) Cultural Dominance

According to Ali-Mazrui: “African are not necessarily the most brutalized of peoples, but they are almost certainly the most humiliated.”

Using the agents of a globalization e.g. the Mass Media, Internet Western Movies etc. Nigerian culture like other African countries is evidently being subjugated and dominated by the western culture. Many Nigerians today seem to have imbibed the European way of life at the expense of our rich African culture (colonial mentality). This is gradually leading to a loss of cultural identity.

(3) Western Education

This is an indispensable effect that Neo-colonialism has also used as a tool for Nigerian continuous reliance on the west for inadequate, lopsided and wrongly oriented education which was bequeathed by colonialism and consolidated by Neo-colonialism. This is evident from the fact that our acquisition of western education has helped in a neglect of technological and industrial education rather than that of a technological advancement.

(4) Environment Degradation

Oil spillages due to the exploitation of oil by some multinational companies such as Shell, Exxon Mobil etc. has to a large extent polluted Nigeria’s water and land resources particularly in the oil producing areas of the Niger Delta. Consequently this has affected the eco-system, the habitat and the cultural occupation of the people of that area.


Positively Nigeria as a country has benefiting economically from Neo-colonialism. However the negative economic impacts seem to outweigh the positive impacts. One out of the negative economic impacts includes:

(1) Economic Dependency

International Organizations accused of participating in neo-colonialism are the World Bank, World Trade Organizations, the Group of Eight the Paris Club, the World economic forum, IMF etc. have been used by the first world countries to subject Nigeria into some structural adjustments which will increase rather than alleviate poverty . These Organizations are neocolonial agents used to ensure a perpetual economic failure and dependence of Nigeria as evident in the high rate of underdevelopment, poverty, debt burden etc. which has characterized our economy.

(2) Economic Subjugation by Multi-national Corporations

Critics of neocolonialism has also argued that investment by multinational corporations enriches few in under-developed countries and causes humanitarian, environmental and ecological devastation to the population which inhabits the colonies. These corporations such as Shell, Exxon Mobil etc. are responsible for a continuous flow of natural resources (oil) which unduly benefits the neo-colonial states.

(3) Economic Brain Drain

Today modern slavery exists through visa lotteries used to siphon not only Nigeria’s but ultimately the human resources of the developing countries. This is an economic brain drain strategy to subject the third world into a continuous technological hostage.


(1) Consolidation of Democracy in Nigeria

Though Nigeria’s political history has been characterized by the Military versus the Civilians. Recently democracy seems to have been fully entrenched in Nigeria through neo-colonial agent, such as the U.N. and other similar organizations.

(2) Political Dependency

Nigeria’s membership of the United Nations and the Commonwealth which sit joined immediately after Independence provided reasons why we have always been politically dependent on neo-colonial states like the USA and Britain. Consequently, Nigeria membership Pan-African Movement like, NEPAD, the Non-Aligned Movements, the African Union, the ECOWAS have not liberated as from this unending political grip of dependency.

(3) Political Instability and Regime Change

Apparently, government either Military or Civilian which poses no threat to the neo-colonial states in Nigeria seem to last longer than the ‘unfriendly’ ones. In my opinion, no other reason can be tendered as why the Murtala Seven Months Regime (July 1975 – February 1976) and the Buhari regime (December 1983 – August 1985) were very short lived. Nigerian leaders who refuse to be stooges or puppets of the neo-colonial powers are usually forcefully removed.

(4) Loss of Independence and Sovereignty

Neo-colonialism, as a continuation of colonialism have of course eroded the independence or sovereignty which Nigeria like many third world countries claimed to have gotten.

(5) New – Colonialism

Finally, neo-colonialism is the tool which has helped the neo-colonial states to continue the colonial process which started around 1880 and obstructed by decolonization or “Independence” of Nigeria in 1960

In conclusion, whatever colonialism and neo-colonialism did or is doing for Africans in Africa or Nigeria, given its opportunities, it resources and the power and influence it is wielding till date it could and should have done far more than it has done. It is precisely because the neo-colonial states not only did not see the development of Africans as their first priority but did not see it as a priority at all that they stand criticized. The continuous existence of the tools of neo-colonialism therefore poses an existential threat to the development of Nigeria and Africa.