What is Neocolonialism?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Neocolonialism is a term used to refer to the idea that nations that have historically acted as colonizers may exercise power and control over former colonies. Theorists who study neocolonialism argue that corporations can also be involved in this practice, sometimes with the support of governments and sometimes acting on their own. There are a number of factors contributing to the development and persistence of neocolonialism.

One of the areas where neocolonialism can be most clearly seen is in the realm of economic policy and business practices.
One of the areas where neocolonialism can be most clearly seen is in the realm of economic policy and business practices.

This concept began to arise in Africa during the mid-20th century, when a number of African nations began to achieve independence from European powers. Intellectuals in Africa noted that despite the fact that these nations were politically free in the sense that they were not legally treated as colonies, many had not achieved full freedom. In some cases, their governments were under the control of former colonial powers, as seen when foreign governments pushed for the nomination of specific people to positions of power, and many such nations had an economic dependence on their former colonizers.

One of the areas where neocolonialism can be most clearly seen is in the realm of economic policy and business practices. When they were colonies, many nations were exploited for natural resources. The practice of resource exploitation by foreign powers persists under neocolonialism and some nations encounter stiff resistance when they attempt to nationalize or otherwise retake control of their resources.

International economic policy can contribute to neocolonialism, as seen when former colonies are given loans with very restrictive terms in order to support development initiatives. Corporations active in former colonies may use their clout to force concessions on the part of the national government, including relaxations on everything from environmental regulations to trade tariffs. Some scholars argue that multinational companies are in a clear position of power and abuse that power to create business conditions favorable to their interests.

The legacy of colonialism can also play out in the form of social policy. Foreign aid programs are sometimes accused of engaging in neocolonialism by forcing values and policy on countries in need without considering the cultural or historical contexts of aid crises. Likewise, the developed world is sometimes accused of behaving in a patronizing manner towards developing nations by compelling them to enact policy rather than empowering them to act on their own.

Colonialism and neocolonialism are complex and charged subjects. There are a number of ways to resist the social and cultural attitudes left behind by colonialism, including rethinking economic policy and the way that nations and corporations interact with members of the developing world.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I beg to differ that neocolonialism should be considered as something that has to be in practice to all the countries that were once colonies of the great powers, because taking the political perspective of the responsible authorities will result in operating like a puppet.


I think colonialism was imperialism in every sense of the word-- political, economic and cultural control through force. Neocolonialism is distant control through economic structures.


@fBoyle-- I don't agree with you. It's not right to say that the colonial powers have nothing to do with the poverty and problems in the countries they colonized. They definitely are responsible to some degree because they made those countries reliant on them for everything. They didn't establish permanent governance structures in those countries, they didn't educate and train the locals. The only goal was to exploit the natural resources which they still do today.

In my view, colonialism hasn't ended at all. Colonial powers may not be as physically present in these countries as before, but their control and influence over them hasn't lessened.


I don't know why neocolonialism is always seen like a bad thing. Yes, former colonial powers still have influence in these countries, they influence the politics and even make money by setting up corporations there.

But they also invest in the country, give financial aid when necessary and militarily intervene to save lives when there is civil war.

It's not like all of these countries are well off and capable of running themselves now that they're free. Most of them are in poverty, underdeveloped and dealing with conflict.

Just look at the poverty in Africa. How is it fair to blame everything on former colonial powers? These countries can improve themselves but instead they are busy fighting for power and politicians are busy filling their bank accounts in Switzerland while the people starve.

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