The origin of the word ‘colonialism’ can be traced back to the Latin word “colōnia”  meaning “a place for agriculture”. The standard definition of colonialism is “a policy and practice of a power in extending control over weaker peoples or areas”. Even though the policy has been used by multiple civilizations in different continents since ancient times, it is broadly used today to refer to European economic and political domination in different continents  (late 16th century and lasted until the early 1970s.)


The early Assyrian empires and the Roman Empires of early antiquity period (484 BC – 250 AD) can be considered the precursors to the practice of colonialism when both the empires expanded their border with the view to assert cultural domination and exploitation of resources. 

Modern colonialism began with the age of exploration during the early 15th century when explorers like Christopher Columbus and Francisco Pizzaro made voyages to the American continent. Soon many European explorers from Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and Netherlands would have their own colonies in the Americas with the British dominating North America and the Spanish and the Portuguese holding the Southern half of the Americas.

By the late 19th century, the Industrial revolution would see Britain and France take over many countries in the Middle-East, South and Southeast Asia, whose resources would be exploited by the colonial powers well into the 20th century. It was after the end of World War II in 1945 that the erstwhile colonies gained independence due to multiple factors, chief among them being local independence movements (The Indian Freedom struggle and Independence Movements in Vietnam and Indonesia are notable examples) and the colonial powers themselves being economically weakened due to the devastation caused by the Second World War.

Global political solidarity projects such as the Non-Aligned Movement were instrumental in the decolonisation efforts of former colonies along with the United Nations setting up a Special Committee on Decolonisation in 1962, to encourage this process. The last colony to gain independence was the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which became the new nation of Zimbabwe on 18th April 1980.


  1. Settler Colonialism: This involves immigration on a grand scale, with political, religious and economic factors being prime motivators. The outcome is that any local existing population will be largely replaced. The colony in question will be exploited for mainly agricultural purposes.

Example –  The erstwhile colonies of  Australia, United States of America and Canada.

  • Exploitation Colonialism: Exploitation colonialism focuses on the exploitation of natural resources and the local population as cheap labour that benefits the mother country economically.

Example – use of local labour in India and South East Asia where the indigenous population was used as slave labour to cultivate cash crops such as tea and rubber.

  • Surrogate Colonialism: Surrogate colonialism involves a settlement project supported by a colonial power, in which most of the settlers do not come from the same ethnic group as the ruling power.

Example – South Africa and Rhodesia (Modern-Day Zimbabwe and Zambia) where large numbers of British settlers became the dominant group despite being in minority as compared to the local indigenous population.

  • Internal Colonialism: It is a notion of uneven or even discriminative power structure between different areas of a state. 

Example – control and exploitation may pass from whites from the colonising country to a white immigrant population within a newly independent country.


  1. Colonialism improved health and care system
  2. Restoration of women’s right
  3. Development of infrastructure and food security.
  4. Brought civilization and made peoples of colonies literate through education.
  5. Political development – democracy, nationalism, and legitimacy.
  6. Expansion of land – before colonialism, there was no terrain known as Nigeria. There were only towns and villages, which were more or less restricted to their areas, living on their own. With the initiation of colonization, colonial masters expanded the land for all ethnic groups, towns and villages. Members of any ethnic group can now move to and live in any part of the country and call the place home.


  1. Colonialism caused constant war and conflicts
  2. Detoriation of cultural practices and identity by inhaling manners and practices of colonial masters.
  3. Extensive loss of land among colonies.
  4. Heavy imposition of tax.
  5. There was on set economic dependency syndrome.


  1. Political Impact: One impact of colonialism was the political control of regions having no central government or, where centralization already existed, the foreign take-over or domination of pre-colonial central government. Consequently, the colonial state in indirectly ruled colonies lacked the competences to implement policy outside of the capital city and often had no option for following policy other than compulsion.
  • Economic Impact:  It includes drain of wealth expropriation of land, control over production and trade, exploitation of natural resources and improvement of infrastructure. Colonialism led to a considerable outflow of financial resources. It is best recognised in the case of British India, where a controversy between Indian historians and protectors of British colonialism still has not been settled. The so called “Home Charges,” the official transfers of funds by the colonial government to Britain between 1858 and 1947, consisted mainly of debt service, pensions, India Office expenses in Britain, purchases of military items and railway equipment.
  • Social Impact:  With the development of colonialism in India, new middle class also arose which consisted of people who get a modern education and would become interested in public services. Another significant group which emerged was a group of trained professionals such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists. This group became very important in society and was able to develop because of the British influence on education in the country following the defeat of the British East India Company. This class was more liberal in its viewpoint because it drew its position and strength from professional competence rather than hereditary privilege. Many  practices like Sati, Child marriage were abolished by education with social reformers in India.

After World War II, colonial systems were pull to bits in a process called decolonization.

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