Colonialism vs neocolonialism, as it can be inferred from their form, are two closely related terms. However, they have slightly diverging denotations which we shall clearly evaluate and explain in this article.
These two terms, despite the large volume of work that has been dedicated to critically understanding them, have also remained rather elusive (Butt, 2013). This might be a result of the little difficulty scholars encounter in pinpointing, exactly, what activities, interactions, injustices, and a lot more, can be categorized as colonialism, or neocolonialism in the broader sense. Scholars around the world—in and outside the academic sphere—have critically continued to work out a suitable definition to describe these rather elusive concepts and their seeming implications on society.
In the narrow sense, colonialism, on one hand, according to Bishop et al (no date), can be referred to as the “practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. Usually involves the settlement of citizens from colonial power in the colony.” Neocolonialism, on the other hand, is defined as “the continued exercise of political or economic influence over society in the absence of formal political control” (Go, 2015).
Our focus, however, in this article is not solely to define these terms, but rather to examine colonialism vs neocolonialism and also explain them individually.
As explained above, colonialism has been somewhat–difficult–to–define the term, mainly because of the fact that many of the definitions provided by scholars have been viewed to be rather insufficient in capturing the idea behind the term itself. These provided definitions do not seem to expressly capture the notion of colonialism as many historical, geography and political scholars seem to have described it to have been during the periods of territorial and political domination. Another reason is the fact that many definitions have only been able to capture the term “colonialism” based on particular disciplines as related to the understanding of the term itself.
So, for us to be able to fully cover and understand the term colonialism, a few scholarly definitions shall be examined and also explained.
The first definition is by Go (2015). Colonialism, here, is defined as the direct political control of a society and its people by a foreign ruling state. In this sense, colonialism is viewed as the political domination of one state (obviously with more military power and material advantage) over another (most likely a less powerful state). This definition presents colonialism as “imperialism”, in which all the affairs of the dominated state or region is fully controlled by the dominating state, from politics to religion, to the economy, and all other important aspects on which the dominated region seems to survive.
According to Horvath (1972), colonialism is viewed as “…a form of domination – the control by individuals or groups over the territory and/or behaviour of other individuals or groups.” This definition seems to better capture the whole idea of colonialism. First, is the “control” of a set of individuals or groups over another set, and this often involves the capturing or seizing of “territories”, as well as the “imposition” of behaviours. For example, in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, the dominating European countries in these regions seem to promote the idea of “civilization” to impose their own behaviours and cultures (which includes language) on the dominant regions they seized. This goes beyond political control, to the capture and imposition of cultures, as well as the seizure of territories and regions for their own personal use.
Colonialism can also be viewed as “exploitation.” According to Wikipedia (2019), “Exploitation colonialism is the national economic policy of conquering a country to exploit its population as labour and its natural resources as raw material.” The purpose of colonialism, here, is viewed as a form of exploitation of the dominated regions, and wealth distribution by the dominating states. For example, Rose (2015), in his article, “The Exploitation of Colonialism,” believes that when the British first came to India, their economic mentality was to establish a system that immediately shifted the wealth distribution of the region, showing that colonialism was aimed at exploiting the resources of the dominated regions for the industrial development of the dominating regions.
“Neocolonialism”, as the name implies, refers to “new (neo) colonialism.” It was a term that was coined by an African philosopher and politician, Kwame Nkrumah (He was also the first president of Ghana, formerly known as Gold Coast).
According to Go (2015), Neocolonialism is defined as “the continued exercise of political or economic influence over society in the absence of formal political control.” Neocolonialism according to Go, here, exceeds physical power to the “influence”, either political, economic, or technological, a country seems to have over a particular region.
Halperin (2014) defines “neocolonialism” as “the control of less-developed countries by developed countries through indirect means.” This control is indirect in the sense that no force or military power is exerted on the controlled region. In this sense, the “controlling” country is only promoting their economic and political influence over the controlled country.
Neocolonialism usually comes after a region has been directly colonized and is often a continuous process. A country that “neocolonises” usually adopts methodologies and such agents as globalization to promote its influence over other countries. Neocolonialism is often reflected in the culture, religion, and economy of the dominated region.