AskDefine | Define neocolonialism

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neocolonialism n : control by a powerful country of its former colonies (or other less developed countries) by economic pressures

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From neo- + colonialism


  1. The control or domination by a powerful country over weaker ones (especially former colonies) by the use of economic pressure, political suppression and cultural dominance.

Extensive Definition

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Neocolonialism is a term used by post-colonial critics of developed countries' involvement in the developing world. Critics of neocolonialism argue that existing or past international economic arrangements created by former colonial powers were or are used to maintain control of their former colonies and dependencies after the colonial independence movements of the post World War II period. The term Neocolonialism can combine a critique of current actual colonialism (where some states continue administrating foreign territories and their populations in violation of United Nations resolutions) and a critique of modern capitalist businesses involvement in nations which were former colonies. Critics of neocolonialism contend that private, foreign business companies continue to exploit the resources of post-colonial peoples, and that this economic control inherent to neocolonialism is akin to the classical, European colonialism practiced from the 16th to the 20th centuries. In broader usage, current especially in Latin America, Neocolonialism may simply refer to involvement of powerful countries in the affairs of less powerful countries. In this sense, Neocolonialism implies a form of contemporary, economic Imperialism: that powerful nations behave like colonial powers, and that this behavior is likened to colonialism in a post-colonial world.

Neocolonialism charges against former colonial powers

The term neocolonialism first saw widespread use, particularly in reference to Africa, soon after the process of decolonization which followed a struggle by many national independence movements in the colonies following World War II. Upon gaining independence, some national leaders and opposition groups argued that their countries were being subjected to a new form of colonialism, waged by the former colonial powers and other developed nations. Kwame Nkrumah, who in 1957 became leader of newly independent Ghana, expounded this idea in his Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, in 1965.

Pan-African and Nonaligned movements

The term neocolonialism was popularised in the wake of decolonialisation, largely through the activities of scholars and leaders from the newly independent states of Africa and the Pan-Africanist movement. Many of these leaders came together with those of other post colonial states at the Bandung Conference of 1955, leading to the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement. The All-African Peoples' Conference (AAPC) meetings of the late 1950s and early 1960s spread this critique of neocolonialism. Their Tunis conference of 1960 and Cairo conference of 1961 specified their opposition to what they labeled neocolonialism, singling out the French Community of independent states organised by the former colonial power. In its four page Resolution on Neocolonialism is cited as a landmark for having presented a collectively arrived at definition of neocolonialism and a description of its main features. Throughout the Cold War, the Non-Aligned Movement, as well as organisations like the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America defined neocolonialism as a primary collective enemy of these independent states.
Denunciations of neocolonialism also became popular with some national independence movements while they were still waging anti-colonial armed struggle. During the 1970s, in the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola for example, the rhetoric espoused by the Marxist movements FRELIMO and MPLA, which were to eventually assume power upon those nations' independence, rejected both traditional colonialism and neocolonialism.

Paternalistic neocolonialism

The term paternalistic neocolonialism involves the belief held by a neo-colonial power that their colonial subjects benefit from their occupation. Critics of neocolonialism, arguing that this is both exploitive and racist, contend this is merely a justification for continued political hegemony and economic exploitation of past colonies, and that such justifications are the modern reformulation of the Civilizing mission concepts of the 19th century.


The classic example used to define modern neocolonialism is Françafrique: a term that refers to the continuing close relationship between France and some leaders of its former African colonies. It was first used by president of the Côte d'Ivoire Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who appears to have used it in a positive sense, to refer to good relations between France and Africa, but it was subsequently borrowed by critics of this close (and they would say) unbalanced relationship. Jacques Foccart, who from 1960 was chief of staff for African matters for president Charles de Gaulle (1958–69) and then Georges Pompidou (1969-1974), is claimed to be the leading exponent of Françafrique. The term was coined by François-Xavier Verschave as the title of his criticism of French policies in Africa: La Françafrique, The longest Scandal of the Republic.
In 1972, Mongo Beti, a writer in exile from Cameroon published Main basse sur le Cameroun, autopsie d'une décolonisation ('Cruel hand on Cameroon, autopsy of a decolonization'), a critical history of recent Cameroon, which asserted that Cameroon and other colonies remained under French control in all but name, and that the post-independence political elites had actively fostered this continued dependence.
Verschave, Beti and others point to a forty year post independence relationship with nations of the former African colonies, whereby French troops maintain forces on the ground (often used by friendly African leaders to quell revolts) and French corporations maintain monopolies on foreign investment (usually in the form of extraction of natural resources). French troops in Africa were (and it is argued, still are) often involved in coup d'états resulting in a regime acting in the interests of France but against its country's own interests.
Those leaders closest to France (particularly during the Cold War, are presented in this critique as agents of continued French control in Africa. Those most often mentioned are Omar Bongo, president of Gabon, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, former president of Côte d'Ivoire, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, former president of Togo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, of the Republic of the Congo, Idriss Déby, president of Chad, and Hamani Diori former president of Niger.


The French Community and the later Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie are defined by critics as agents of French neocolonial influence, especially in Africa. While the main thrust of this claim is that the Francophonie organisation is a front for French dominance of post-colonial nations, the relation with the French language is often more complex. Algerian intellectual Kateb Yacine wrote in 1966 that "Francophony is a neocolonial political machine, which only perpetuates our alienation, but the usage of French language does not mean that one is an agent of a foreign power, and I write in French to tell the French that I am not French".

Belgian Congo

After a hastened decolonization process of the Belgian Congo, Belgium continued to control, through The Société Générale de Belgique, roughly 70% of the Congolese economy following the decolonization process. The most contested part was in the province of Katanga where the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, part of the Société, had control over the mineral and resource rich province. After a failed attempt to nationalize the mining industry in the 1960s, it was reopened to foreign investment.

United Kingdom

Critics of British relations with its former African colonies point out that the United Kingdom viewed itself as a "civilizing force" bringing "progress" and modernization to its colonies. This mindset, they argue, has enabled continued military and economic dominance in some of its former colonies, and has been seen again following British intervention in Sierra Leone.

Neocolonialism as economic dominance

In broader usage the charge of Neocolonialism has been leveled at powerful countries and transnational economic institutions who involve themseleves the affairs of less powerful countries. In this sense, "Neo"colonialism implies a form of contemporary, economic Imperialism: that powerful nations behave like colonial powers, and that this behavior is likened to colonialism in a post-colonial world.
In lieu of direct military-political control, neocolonialist powers are said to employ financial, and trade policies to dominate less powerful countries. Those who subscribe to the concept maintain this amounts to a de facto control over less powerful nations (see Immanuel Wallerstein's World Systems Theory).
Both previous colonizing states and other powerful economic states maintain a continuing presence in the economies of former colonies, especially where it concerns raw materials. Stronger nations are thus charged with interfering in the governance and economics of weaker nations to maintain the flow of such material, at prices and under conditions which unduly benefit developed nations and trans-national corporations.

Dependency theory

The concept of economic neocolonialism was given a theoretical basis, in part, through the work of Dependency theory. This body of social science theories, both from developed and developing nations, is predicated on the notion that there is a center of wealthy states and a periphery of poor, underdeveloped states. Resources are extracted from the periphery and flow towards the states at the center in order to sustain their economic growth and wealth. A central concept is that the poverty of the countries in the periphery is the result of the manner of their integration of the "world system", a view to be contrasted with that of free market economists, who argue that such states are progressing on a path to full integration. This theory is based on the Marxist analysis of inequalities within the world system, dependency argues that underdevelopment of the Global South is a direct result of the development in the Global North.
The basis of much of this Marxist theory is in theories of the "semi-colony", which date back to the late 19th century.
Proponents of such theories include Federico Brito Figueroa a Venezuelan historian who has written widely on the socioeconomic underpinnings of both colonialism and neocolonialism. Brito's works and theories strongly influenced the thinking of current Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.

The Cold War

Critics of neocolonialism portray the choice to grant or to refuse granting loans (particularly those financing otherwise unpayable Third World debt), especially by international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank (WB), as a decisive form of control. They argue that in order to qualify for these loans, and other forms of economic aid, weaker nations are forced to take certain steps favorable to the financial interests of the IMF and World Bank but detrimental to their own economies. These structural adjustments have the effect of increasing rather than alleviating poverty within the nation. Some critics emphasize that neocolonialism allows certain cartels of states, such as the World Bank, to control and exploit usually lesser developed countries (LDCs) by fostering debt. In effect, third world governments give concessions and monopolies to foreign corporations in return for consolidation of power and monetary bribes. In most cases, much of the money loaned to these LDCs is returned to the favored foreign corporations. Thus, these foreign loans are in effect subsidies to corporations of the loaning state's. This collusion is sometimes referred to as the corporatocracy. Organizations accused of participating in neo-imperialism include the World Bank, World Trade Organization and Group of Eight, and the World Economic Forum. Various "first world" states, notably the United States, are said to be involved, as described in Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins.

Neocolonialism allegations against the IMF

Those who argue that neocolonialism historically supplemented (and later supplanted) colonialism, point to the fact that Africa today pays more money every year in debt service payments to the IMF and World Bank than it receives in loans from them, thereby often depriving the inhabitants of those countries from actual necessities. This dependency, they maintain, allows the IMF and World Bank to impose Structural Adjustment Plans upon these nations. Adjustments largely consisting of privatization programs which they say result in deteriorating health, education, an inability to develop infrastructure, and in general, lower living standards.
They also point to recent statements made by United Nations Secretary-General's Special Economic Adviser, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, who heatedly demanded that the entire African debt (approximately $200 billion) be forgiven outright and recommended that African nations simply stop paying if the World Bank and IMF do not reciprocate:
The time has come to end this charade. The debts are unaffordable. If they won't cancel the debts I would suggest obstruction; you do it yourselves. Africa should say: 'thank you very much but we need this money to meet the needs of children who are dying right now so we will put the debt servicing payments into urgent social investment in health, education, drinking water, control of AIDS and other needs.' (Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Economic Advisor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan).
Critics of the IMF have conducted studies as to the effects of its policy which demands currency devaluations. They pose the argument that the IMF requires these devaluations as a condition for refinancing loans, while simultaneously insisting that the loan be repaid in dollars or other First World currencies against which the underdeveloped country's currency had been devalued. This, they say, increases the respective debt by the same percentage of the currency being devalued, therefore amounting to a scheme for keeping Third World nations in perpetual indebtedness, impoverishment and neocolonial dependence.

Sino-African relations

In recent years, the People's Republic of China has built increasingly stronger ties with African nations. China is currently Africa's third largest trading partner, after the United States and former colonial power France. As of August 2007, there were an estimated 750,000 Chinese nationals working or living for extended periods in different African countries. China is picking up natural resources — oil, precious minerals — to feed its expanding economy and new markets for its burgeoning enterprises. In 2006, two-way trade had increased to $50 billion.
Human rights advocates and opponents of the Sudanese government portray China's role in providing weapons and aircraft as a cynical attempt to obtain petroleum and natural gas just as colonial powers once supplied African chieftains with the military means to maintain control as they extracted natural resources. According to China's critics, China has offered Sudan support threatening to use its veto on the U.N. Security Council to protect Khartoum from sanctions and has been able to water down every resolution on Darfur in order to protect its interests in Sudan.

Other approaches to the concept of neocolonialism

Although the concept of neocolonialism was developed by Marxists and is generally employed by the political left, the term Neocolonialism is also used within other theoretical frameworks.

Cultural theory

One variant of neocolonialism theory suggests the existence of cultural colonialism, the alleged desire of wealthy nations to control other nations' values and perceptions through cultural means, such as media, language, education and religion, purportedly ultimately for economic reasons. One element of this is a critique of "Colonial Mentality" which writers have traced well beyond the legacy of 19th century colonial empires. These critics argue that people, once subject to colonial or imperial rule, latch onto physical and cultural differences between the foreigners and themselves, leading some to associate power and success with the foreigners' ways. This eventually leads to the foreigners' ways being regarded as the better way and being held in a higher esteem than previous indigenous ways. In much the same fashion, and with the same reasoning of better-ness, the colonised may over time equate the colonisers' race or ethnicity itself as being responsible for their superiority. Cutural rejections of colonialism, such as the Negritude movement, or simply the embracing of seemingly authentic local culture are then seen in a post colonial world as a necessary part of the struggle against domination. By the same reasoning, importation or continuation of cultural mores or elements from former colonial powers may be regarded as a form of Neocolonialism.

In postcolonialism theory

Postcolonialism is a set of theories in philosophy, film, political sciences and literature that deal with the cultural legacy of colonial rule. Postcolonialism deals with cultural identity in colonized societies, referencing neocolonialism as the background for contemporary dilemmas of developing a national identity after colonial rule: the ways in which writers articulate and celebrate that identity (often reclaiming it from and maintaining strong connections with the colonizer); the ways in which the knowledge of the colonized (subordinated) people has been generated and used to serve the colonizer's interests; and the ways in which the colonizer's literature has justified colonialism via images of the colonized as a perpetually inferior people, society and culture.
Theories of postcolonial studies include Subaltern Studies (specifically its postcolonial manifestations), Frantz Fanon's " psychopathology of colonization", and filmmakers of the Latin American Third Cinema (such as Tomás Gutiérrez Alea of Cuba or Kidlat Tahimik of the Philippines).

Critical theory

While critiques of Postcolonialism/neocolonialism theory is widely practiced in Literary theory, International Relations theory also has defined Postcolonialism as a field of study. While the lasting effects of cultural colonialism is of central interest in cultural critiques of neocolonialism, their intellectual antecedents are economic theories of neocolonialism: Marxist Dependency theory) and mainstream criticism of capitalist Neoliberalism. Critical international relations theory frequently references neocolonialism from Marxist positions as well as postpositivist positions, including postmodernist, postcolonial and feminist approaches, which differ from both realism and liberalism in their epistemological and ontological premises.

Conservation and Neocolonialism

There have been other critiques that the modern conservation movement, as taken up by international organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature, has inadvertently set up a neocolonialist relationship with underdeveloped nations.

See also


  • Opoku Agyeman. Nkrumah's Ghana and East Africa: Pan-Africanism and African interstate relations (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1992).
  • Global communication without universal civilization
  • Bill Ashcroft (ed., et al.) The post-colonial studies reader (Routledge, London, 1995).
  • Yolamu R Barongo. Neocolonialism and African politics: A survey of the impact of neocolonialism on African political behavior (Vantage Press, NY, 1980).
  • Mongo Beti, Main basse sur le Cameroun. Autopsie d'une décolonisation (1972), new edition La Découverte, Paris 2003 [A classical critique of neocolonialism. Raymond Marcellin, the French Minister of the Interior at the time, tried to prohibit the book. It could only be published after fierce legal battles.]
  • Kum-Kum Bhavnani. (ed., et al.) Feminist futures: Re-imagining women, culture and development (Zed Books, NY, 2003). See: Ming-yan Lai's "Of Rural Mothers, Urban Whores and Working Daughters: Women and the Critique of Neocolonial Development in Taiwan's Nativist Literature," pp. 209-225.
  • David Birmingham. The decolonization of Africa (Ohio University Press, 1995).
  • Charles Cantalupo(ed.). The world of Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Africa World Press, 1995).
  • Laura Chrisman and Benita Parry (ed.) Postcolonial theory and criticism (English Association, Cambridge, 2000).
  • Renato Constantino. Neocolonial identity and counter-consciousness: Essays on cultural decolonization (Merlin Press, London, 1978).
  • George A. W. Conway. A responsible complicity: Neo/colonial power-knowledge and the work of Foucault, Said, Spivak (University of Western Ontario Press, 1996).
  • Julia V. Emberley. Thresholds of difference: feminist critique, native women's writings, postcolonial theory (University of Toronto Press, 1993).
  • Nikolai Aleksandrovich Ermolov. Trojan horse of neocolonialism: U.S. policy of training specialists for developing countries (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1966).
  • Thomas Gladwin. Slaves of the white myth: The psychology of neocolonialism (Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, NJ, 1980).
  • Lewis Gordon. Her Majesty’s Other Children: Sketches of Racism from a Neocolonial Age (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997).
  • Ankie M. M. Hoogvelt. Globalization and the postcolonial world: The new political economy of development (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).
  • M. B. Hooker. Legal pluralism; an introduction to colonial and neo-colonial laws (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1975).
  • E.M. Kramer (ed.) The emerging monoculture: assimilation and the "model minority" (Praeger, Westport, Conn., 2003). See: Archana J. Bhatt's "Asian Indians and the Model Minority Narrative: A Neocolonial System," pp. 203-221.
  • Geir Lundestad (ed.) The fall of great powers: Peace, stability, and legitimacy (Scandinavian University Press, Oslo, 1994).
  • Jean-Paul Sartre. 'Colonialism and Neocolonialism. Translated by Steve Brewer, Azzedine Haddour, Terry McWilliams Republished in the 2001 edition by Routledge France. ISBN 0415191459.
  • Stuart J. Seborer. U.S. neocolonialism in Africa (International Publishers, NY, 1974).
  • D. Simon. Cities, capital and development: African cities in the world economy (Halstead, NY, 1992).
  • Phillip Singer(ed.) Traditional healing, new science or new colonialism": (essays in critique of medical anthropology) (Conch Magazine, Owerri, 1977).
  • Jean Suret-Canale. Essays on African history: From the slave trade to neocolonialism (Hurst, London 1988).
  • Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Barrel of a pen: Resistance to repression in neo-colonial Kenya (Africa Research & Publications Project, 1983).
  • Carlos Alzugaray Treto. El ocaso de un régimen neocolonial: Estados Unidos y la dictadura de Batista durante 1958,(The twilight of a neocolonial regime: The United States and Batista during 1958), in Temas: Cultura, Ideología y Sociedad, No.16-17, October 1998/March 1999, pp. 29-41 (La Habana: Ministry of Culture).
  • Richard Werbner(ed.) Postcolonial identities in Africa (Zed Books, NJ, 1996).
neocolonialism in Catalan: Neocolonialisme
neocolonialism in German: Neokolonialismus
neocolonialism in Spanish: Neocolonialismo
neocolonialism in Esperanto: Novkoloniismo
neocolonialism in French: Néo-colonialisme
neocolonialism in Galician: Neocolonialismo
neocolonialism in Italian: Neocolonialismo
neocolonialism in Dutch: Neokolonialisme
neocolonialism in Polish: Neokolonializm
neocolonialism in Portuguese: Neocolonialismo
neocolonialism in Russian: Неоколониализм
neocolonialism in Finnish: Uuskolonialismi
neocolonialism in Swedish: Nykolonialism
neocolonialism in Chinese: 新殖民主义
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