What European settler-colonialism looked like in Africa

Imperialism Was Built on Settler-Colonialism


This paper builds on Nkrumah’s approach of starting from the point of knowing the enemy.  Collective imperialism, sham independence and neo-colonialism as described in Book One Chapter One of Nkrumah’s Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare are re-examined in the context of 21st century globalization.  Capitalism was built on the theft of land and resources in the process of colonization.  The most extensive exploitation of land and resources resulted in the near extermination of indigenous peoples and the creation of powerful settler regimes that serve to support the dominance of USA-European capitalism.  Racism played a key role in justifying the barbaric conquest process that led to the creation of not only the USA, but also massive settler states like Canada and Australia as well as the newest settler state of Israel. In particular the conquest mentality is examined as a historical feature of expanding capitalism.  This mentality is discussed in reference to its ideological implications as well as the material impact it has on environmental destruction, the displacement of people and the extended uneven distribution of wealth and power.  All class-based societies have used propaganda to justify exploitation.  Settler colonial capitalism’s propaganda is grounded in racism.  Much of the current generation is in denial of the significance of the brutality of settler capitalism and its conquest mentality, just as they are in denial of white privilege.  This is directly related to Nkrumah’s point on psychological warfare of the enemy.  This study looks at the settler colonial efforts in Africa from Algeria in the north, Kenya in the East and Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa in southern Africa.  Settler colonialism has failed politically in Africa.  However, neo-colonialism is a reality across Africa.  It continues to disrupt Africa’s development and exploit Africa’s human and natural resources.  Following Nkrumah’s directive we examine how neo-colonialism was initiated and how it thrives. The linkage between settler colonies, former settler colonies and other neo-colonial states is studied to gain insight on imperialism’s strategy.  The Pan-African organization posed by Nkrumah is the best approach to reversing the effects of settler colonialism in Africa and can serve as a guide to indigenous struggles globally.  

The Creation of Settler States

    On page one of the Handbook, Nkrumah states “It is essential that we know what we fight and why we fight”.  What we fight is a system of settler capitalism.  Columbus did not discover America.  He did not even visit the USA mainland.  However, he is heralded as a symbol of European adventurism that led to the creation of settler states across North and South America.  Hence, we have the District of Columbia (the Capital of the USA), the country of Columbia and holidays, cities, streets, schools, parks and provinces named after Columbus across the Americas.  This is a testament to settlerism.  Europeans came in waves to colonise the Americas.  Never before was there such a movement.  They vanquished the indigenous populations through warfare and disease.  They stole land through terrorism and broken treaties.  Instead the history books of the conquerors read that they tamed the frontier and brought civilization to the wilderness.  How does one justify the destruction of the way of life of millions of indigenous peoples across continents?  They convince the world it did not happen by presenting a history that is a lie.  Europeans settlers not only invaded the Americas.  Both, Australia and New Zealand are creations of European settlerism.  Today we are faced with capitalism that has for over two hundred years dominated as a world system to exploit the masses.  Capitalism was built very much on the land stolen by settlers.  Table 1 contrast the landmass of the five most significant European colonisers that established settler colonies with the land of their corresponding colonies.  There is much more that needs to be explored in terms of the significance this land grab has in terms of the current imbalance of power.

    The English-speaking settler countries emerged as the more powerful capitalist partners to UK and the EU.  The South American settler colonies are unique in two ways.  Due to Portugal and Spain lower standing among capitalist they did not receive the technology transfer and development that USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand received as extensions of England. Secondly, the settler pattern in South America engaged more indigenous labour and in the case of Columbia, Venezuela and Brazil involve significant African slave labour.  Therefore the population of all but Argentina is significantly a mixture of indigenous and African people.  In all cases the Europeans dominate economically and politically.  There is a need to further study this unique situation and determine a proper course of engagement with African populations and indigenous peoples’ movements.

    Land Mass in Sq KM
European ColonizerSettler ColoniesEuropean countrySettler coloniesSize ratio
PortugalBrazil, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissua91 47010 419 340113
United Kingdom (non-African)USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand549 97026 187 93747
United Kingdom (African)South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kenya549 9702 993 7475
FranceAlgeria549 9702 381 7414
SpainSix Largest (Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Columbia, Venezuela, Chile)498 9808 625 19317
A table illustrating the growth in land under control of colonizing nations

Our enemy is settler capitalism.  We fight to reclaim our land as Africans and to see justice for all indigenous people in their struggle to reclaim their land.  Land is the basis of power.  It is the source of raw materials – oil, platinum, gold, silver, iron, and hundreds of other minerals.  It is the source of food crops – corn, wheat, sugar, fruits, etc. and non-food crops – rubber, tobacco, lumber, cotton, etc.  Capitalism escalated production globally.  Stolen land and forced labour was the basis of this production.

Psychological warfare of the enemy

    Since capitalism’s inception, the campaign of misinformation and psychological warfare has featured racism against Africans, and indigenous people of the Americans, Asia and Australia.  The claims that the original people of the Americas where savages and Africans were less that human and only Europe was civilized were all lies used to justify genocide and theft of land.  The result was the successful growth of Australia, Canada and the USA but the destruction of the culture and civilization of millions of indigenous people.  Racism guides much of the thinking today that demonizes Black and Brown immigrants to Europe and the Americas.  It guides the thinking of settlers in Southern Africa that think they have the right to own land stolen by their ancestors.  The notion of failed states in Africa is more psychological warfare by capitalism that blames the victim.  Capitalism has systematically disrupted the development of African states through invasions, other military actions, financial blockades, and the backing of corrupt leaders.  The capitalist media sends the message that Africans have mismanaged our affairs.  The truth is that capitalism has maintained the exploitative relationships established under colonialism to maintain and increase corporate profits.

Settler colonial efforts in Africa 

    Africa was the last continent divided among the colonial powers.  The Berlin conference of 1884-85 saw European powers dividing Africa among themselves with England, France, Portugal, Germany and Belgium getting the largest shares.  The King of Belgium seized the Congo.  The murder and pillage that followed in the Congo is well documented.  Belgium is 30 thousand SQ KM in size.  The Congo is larger than 2 267 thousand SQ KM.  This again shows the significance of land in creating wealth.  The Congo was seventy five times the size of Belgium as illustrated by the pie chart.  Belgium could not settle the Congo so they exercised brutal forced labour on the people to extract minerals, rubber and other exports to Europe.  They set in place with the help of their European allies destabilization that is still in place.  Proxy governments ruled most of Africa until 1960, the year 17 African countries got political independence.  By 1966 all but a handful of countries in Africa had political independence. 

    European efforts to settle in Africa were less successful than in the Americas.  France annexed Algeria to France.  After a serious revolutionary war Algeria was liberated.  The Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) fought France from 1954 to 1962. Upon independence in 1962, 900,000 European-Algerians (Pieds-noirs) fled to France. Prior to that Algeria had the largest number of European settlers in Africa outside of South Africa.  The people’s victory in Algeria was seen as a signal that settlerism can be defeated, a signal not only to Africans, but to all indigenous people struggling to reclaim their land.   Kenya in the East and Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa in southern Africa, were the target of English settlers.   In each case Africans had to take up arms to fight for political independence.  The first to gain independence was Kenya in 1963, then Zimbabwe in 1980, followed by Namibia in 1990 and finally in South Africa political apartheid ended in 1994. Now neo-colonialism dominates Africa.  Yet, settler colonialism in Africa is still real and must be dealt with.  Even though European settlers are less than five million in South Africa, they own 72% of the farms and agricultural holdings by individual landowners.

The Linkage

    The European colonial powers established links with their colonies through multinational corporations, banks and other financial institutions.  This linkage included large capitalist institutions in settler countries such as USA and Canada.  Alcan, General Electric, Rio Tinto, Exon-Mobil, Firestone Rubber and Alcoa are all examples of corporations that remained in place in Africa at the end of colonial rule.  This set the tone for neo-colonialism.  Africans now had the ability to elect their leadership.  However, the economies of these new nation-states were still controlled by corporations and financial institutions in colonial and major capitalist countries.  When progressive and revolutionary parties and leaders move to seize control of resources from these multinational institutions they are met with resistance.  Capitalists claim that restating these resources is a violation of international law.  They use this excuse to place sanctions on African governments, promote regime change, and in some cases fund military coups.  There is a long history of these efforts from the coup in Ghana against President Nkrumah in 1966 to the destructive bombing of Libya in 2011.  When direct military intervention is not possible, financial blockades are the course of action.  This is the situation faced by Cuba, Venezuela and Zimbabwe today.  At the beginning of the 21 century, Zimbabwe made the revolutionary decision to reclaim land and distributed new farms to over 300 000 families across the country.  Since then, Zimbabwe has been under a vicious set of financial and diplomatic sanction led by the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.  It is no coincidence that the English and their primary settler colonies are at the lead of this assault.  They are in the forefront of defending settler rights.  They realise that the power of USA, Canada and Australia is linked to the exploitation of the land they stole from indigenous people.  While organised capitalist forces oppose Zimbabwe’s aggressive land reclamation, the common man and women support it.  It was no surprise that at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa, President Mugabe received a warmer welcome from the masses than the President of South Africa and any other dignitaries.  Unfortunately the Pan-African forces are not organized to provide economic support or force the reactionary capitalists to rescind their destructive sanctions

    Since the early part of 2018, South Africa has been engaging the communities across the country in discussion on ‘land appropriation without compensation’.  The Pan-African forces in the country have pointed out this should more appropriately be termed ‘a just plan for land reclamation’.  Africans are reclaiming what was stolen through settler colonialism.  The most racist elements in the country led by Afri-Forum (a so-called civil rights organisation) are already calling on the USA and other western countries to initiate sanctions.  At these town hall meetings across South Africa the majority are clearly calling on the return of their land. South Africa was the most significant attempt by Europeans to establish a settler colony in Africa.  The settler population is shrinking.  “Stats SA showing that over 612,000 white South Africans will have left the country since between 1985 and 2021 – 430,000 of which will have left in the 20 year period between 2001 and 2021 (at a rate of 21,000 a year, in-line with most of the population declines).” (from https://businesstech.co.za/news/government/260219/south-africas-white-population-is-still-shrinking/).  The current European population in South Africa is less than 8%.  The masses will not allow the continuation of the wealth disparity.  Revolution is in the making.  Many of the revolutionary forces warn that with the securement of our land will come capitalist sanction.  We must be ready for struggle

Pan-African organization

    The only solution to our current situation of exploitation is global Pan-African organisation.  Africa has over 1.2 billion people.  It is the most resource rich continent.  However, we are not organised.  We are divided into 54 nation-states, more than any continent.  The landmass of Asia is greater than Africa and its population is more than twice that of Africa.  It only has 48 countries.  What is so unnatural about the division of Africa is that it was not the will of African people but the divisive work of European colonisers.  The African Union and various African leaders give lip service to unifying Africa.  The masses must take it on themselves and organize and not rely on leaders to bring Africa together.  It is every African’s responsibility to work toward one unified Africa.  This work must recognise the enemy; capitalism and imperialism.  The only just future for Africa requires a process to bring about scientific socialism that returns the wealth to the people and moves us toward world communism.

    We have a lot of work to do to bring about Pan-Africanism (one unified socialist Africa).  We must educate ourselves and others on the nature of the enemy – capitalism.  The settler campaigns of the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries resulted in the massive settler states of USA, Canada and Australia, junior settler states like New Zealand and Israel. The settler states partner with their parent countries in Europe to continue imperialist domination. Africa is a key battleground against imperialism in its settler and neo-colonial form.  Africa is on the verge of defeating settlerism in Africa.  We must rally all our forces to expose settler capitalism and support indigenous struggles across our planet Earth.    Political education is critical in organising a revolutionary force that understands the enemy.  The A-APRP is relentless in organizing our Political Education work-study circle program to educate and train revolutionaries to struggle and organise for one united socialist Africa.   The All African People’s Revolutionary Party has embraced the challenge to analyse Kwame Nkrumah’s Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare.  This process leads to the development of research that will contribute to extending the original Handbook to address the current milieu.  This research paper is designed to place a particular emphasis on the extensive role that settler colonialism has played on the inequality of today and the continued role it plays in imperialism globally.  The Pan-African movement must recognise the need to fight against settler colonialism.  The A-APRP gives high priority to actively supporting the struggle for the rights of indigenous people across our planet. These rights centre on their right to reclaim their land.  All justice-loving, socialist and communist movements and political parties must recognise and strongly support the land rights struggles of indigenous people.

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Dr. John Trimble is an educator and organizer with the Azania chapter of the All African People's Revolutionary Party. John Trimble holds Masters degrees from Stanford University in computer science and from UC Berkeley in operations research as well as a PhD in systems engineering from Georgia Tech. He is currently an Associate professor in systems and computer science at Howard University.