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The Post-Colonial Hangover

February 1, 2012

Joshua Keating in Foreign Policy:

It’s hard to find countries that are nostalgic for colonialism, at least among those that were on the receiving end of it. At the same time, it’s hard to escape the impression that some countries had a worse time of it than others. The former British Empire includes rising power India and Africa’s most stable and prosperous countries — Botswana, Ghana, and South Africa. France’s former dependencies in Africa and Southeast Asia, from Ivory Coast to Cambodia, don’t seem to have fared nearly as well in the post-colonial era.

Some, such as historian Niall Ferguson, have even argued for the positive legacy of the British Empire, seeing the Pax Britannica as an era not merely of imperialist expansion but also of “spreading liberal values in terms of free markets, the rule of law, and ultimately representative government.”

But beyond anecdotal observations, is there any evidence that the type of colonialism determined the way former colonies turned out? Were the bloody post-independence civil wars of Angola and Mozambique, for example, a legacy of Portuguese colonialism, or were competition for resources and the Cold War more to blame? How would the recent histories of Algeria and Vietnam have differed if France had let them go peacefully? [More]

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