The Political Impact of Colonialism

Direct and indirect rule

In the political sphere, colonialism affects first of all the pre-colonial elites, although domination took different forms. One impact of colonialism was the political centralization of territories having no central government or, where centralization already existed, the foreign take-over or domination of pre-colonial central government (Bockstette, Chanda and Putterman 2002: 352). As Bergesen/Schoenberg (1980: 232) stressed: „The extent of control obviously varies from colony to colony, and within colony from region to region.“ Many authors differentiate between an allegedly British style of indirect rule and an allegedly French style of direct administration. According to Herbst (2000: 82), British adherence to indirect rule is overstated and “the notion of a single-minded colonial approach to ruling Africa is therefore unsupported by the evidence.” Coleman (1960: 265) draws these styles rather as polar extremes of a continuum than as dichotomy and puts them in perspective: “in practice these forms have not been applied consistently either over time or to the different traditional authority systems within single territories.” Where there has been the most effective indirect rule, the political integration has been more difficult and the tension between old and new elites has been more evident.

In contrary, where direct rule has been most effectively, the political integration in a Unitarian political system has been easier and less obstructed by old elites. Lange (2004), analyzing exclusively the variation in British colonialism, argues that direct rule provided an administrative structure based on formal rules, had a centralized legal-administrative structure with a formal chain of command that linked the diverse state actors throughout the colony to the central colonial administration in the metropole, while indirect rule promoted local despotism by allowing traditional rulers to be “rent-seekers extraordinaire”. As a result, “the colonial state in indirectly ruled colonies lacked the capabilities to imple¬ment policy outside of the capital city and often had no option for pursuing policy other than coercion” (Lange 2004: 907). For a sample of 33 former British colonies, he constructed a variable mea-suring the extent to which British colonial rule depended on customary legal institutions for the regu-lation of social relations, by dividing the number of colonially recognized customary court cases by the total number of court cases in 1955. Bollen and Jackman (1985) argue rather generally that the transfer of power was more orderly in British than in other colonies (cf. Lipset et al. 1993).

In places where colonialists had to cope with high mortality rates , they settled less and created extrac¬tive institutions (Acemoglu et al. 2001, 2002). In contrast to settler colonies, these extractive institutions con¬centrate power and are prone to expropriation of property. Institutions as educational facilities and infra¬structure are according to Grier (1999) more established where colonization lasted longer. She also emphasizes constitutional differences within the British Empire. La Porta et al. (2008) are less concerned with constitutional differences between the areas ruled by one colonial power, but rather between different colonial powers. According to this research, the legal systems established in British colonies are based on common law, which allows less state intervention than the French legal system established in other colonies. In between the two are the German, Scandinavian and Socialist legal systems.

Instrumentalization of ethno-linguistic and religious cleavages

One of the most problematic legacies of colonial domination resulted from the instrumentalization of ethnolinguistic and/or religious cleavages. It was common to identify “martial races” (and, thereby, non-martial races) and recruit among them the soldiers/mercenaries for the colonial army. From the Indian experience came the British ‘martial races’ doctrine, „which held that certain ethnic stocks were summoned by cul¬ture and history to military vocations” (Young 1994: 105). As Trocki (1999: 88) says, the British “specialized in cultivating certain populations as military allies”: Their Indian army was clearly segregated on the basis of religion and caste member¬ship. In British Borneo, mainly Iban were used as policemen and soldiers, while in British Burma the army was – apart from staff brought in from British-India – dominated by the Karen and Shan which had been converted to Christianity by mainly US-missionaries. In the Netherlands East Indies, the Dutch had long made it a policy to employ Ambonese in the colonial military (ibid.). Ethno-religious minorities also filled the lower ranks of the French colonial army in Syria (Thobie et al. 1990: 204). In the British areas in Africa, “the military units created in the early days utilized an ethnic recruiting strategy: Tiv in Nigeria, Acholi in Uganda, Kamba in Kenya“ (Young 1994: 105).

Also the recruitment into civil service followed in certain cases a similar strategy. Groups allied with the colonialists were also given privileged access to education and therefore to the administration, others were disadvantaged, neglected or punished for being unruly, while again others remained generally outside the scope of government policy. In British Ceylon, Christian Singhalese and people of partly European descent, but also Tamils were clearly overrepresented in the administration. In the state of Jordan, newly founded under British protection, lower officials were mainly Palestinians and Syrians (Cleveland 1994: 199). In Cambodia and Laos, the French preferred to employ Vietnamese in the administration and also as domestic workers, thereby reinforcing older ethnic animosities (Forest 1980: 454-58), while in their mandate of Lebanon, all political key posts were given to Maronites (Traboulsi 2007: 76). Liberated slaves had a special position in some African countries as Gambia, Sierra Leone or Benin. In Gambia, they were „gradually acquiring prominence in commerce and the educational and religious institutions established by the British, as well as entering government employment“ (Hughes/Perfect 2006: 2). In Togo, the embryonic secondary education leading to posts in the administration was dominated by Ewe and Guina-Mina, and five families comprised alone 16% of the enrolment (Künzler 2007: 71). Groups from the Southern parts dominated colonial administration also in Benin and the Ivory Coast.

In the economic sphere, colonial policies created or reinforced occupational specializations along ethno-linguistic and/or religious lines, mainly by granting concessions to members of some groups more often than to others. In Egypt, e.g., the British privileged Syrian Christian middlemen (Reid 1998: 238). Also in Uganda, they were well-disposed towards alien traders: “commerce was firmly in the hands of Asians“ (Karugire 1996: 28f).

In Southeast Asia, Chinese and Indians were generally seen by the colonial powers as better suited to trading and work on plantations than indigenous groups such as the Malays. Chinese operated as tax-farming entrepreneurs and compradores, collecting and managing goods and businesses for colonial financial and agen¬cy institutions and importers and exporters. The “various tiers of Chinese entrepreneurs and middlemen” (Elson 1999: 170) were the ties between the world economy and the village, the mining camp and the plantation in Southeast Asia. In newly independent countries, these legacies proved to be social explosives.