In the long history of European colonialism, some colonialists did better by their colonies than others, and the legacy is mostly one of still-enduring pain. For example, virtually no one (save Newt Gingrich) thinks the Belgians did much of a job in Central Africa, where their mistakes included artificially dividing the population into Hutus and Tutsis, precipitating one of the continent's worst humanitarian disasters. But many historians generally consider the British presence in India, while at times horrifically violent, to be one of the most benevolent and productive in colonial history. Was it a net gain for India? Or did it cause more harm than good?
- The British Gift Indian-American journalist and TV host Fareed Zakaria wrote in his 2008 book, The Post-American World:
India's democracy is truly extraordinary. ... India's political system owes much to the institutions put in place by the British over two hundred years ago. In many other parts of Asia and in Africa, the British were a relatively temporary presence. They were in India for centuries. They saw it as the jewel in their imperial crown and built lasting institutions of government throughout the country--courts, universities, administrative agencies. But perhaps even more importantly, India got very lucky with the vehicle of its independence, the Congress Party, and its first generations of post-independence leaders, who nurtured the best traditions of the British and drew on older Indian customs to reinforce them.
- Actually, More British Involvement Made India Weaker The Harvard Business School's Lakshmi Iyer did a formal study on the colonial legacy in India and found it lacking. From the abstract as gathered by Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating: "Controlling for selective annexation using a specific policy rule, I find that areas that experienced direct [British] rule have significantly lower levels of access to schools, health centers, and roads in the postcolonial period. I find evidence that the quality of governance in the colonial period has a significant and persistent [and often negative] effect on postcolonial outcomes."
- Colonization No Blessing, But Some Positives Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating sums up, "Taken together, the moral of these studies could be that colonalism isn't great for a country's future political and economic wellbeing, but if a country is going to be colonized, they're better off with the British than the French. It's also very possible that the legacy of colonialism -- whether positive or negative -- manifests differently in national rather than local governance."
- Ideal Is No Colonialism, But British Were the Least Bad Professor and blogger Olumide Abimbola writes, "Of course, the ideal would be not to be colonised at all. Having said that, let me add this: one cannot overstate the advantage of having English and not French as the national language. It opens a wider world of possibilities. I am thinking of migration, studying abroad, outsourcing, etc."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.