While the expansion of trade improved the quality of life of many Europeans; it had negative implications for people of the colonized countries.
When you will carefully observe the modern map of Africa, it would appear that most of the boundaries are straight lines. It appears as if someone had deliberately made those straight lines. In 1885, the big European powers met in Berlin and demarcated the African continent for respective powers. That is how boundaries of most of the African countries appear as straight lines.
Rinderpest is a disease which affects cattle. The example of rinderpest in Africa shows that even a cattle disease can widely alter the power equations in a geographical area.
Africa was the land of vast resources of land and minerals. Europeans had come to Africa to make fortune out of mining and plantations. But they faced a huge scarcity of labour. There was another problem and that was that the local people were not willing to work in spite of being offered wages. In fact, Africa was a sparsely populated continent and people’s needs could be easily met with the available resources. There simply was no need to work for wages.
The Europeans applied various ways to force the people to work. Some of them are as follows:
Arrival of Rinderpest: Rinderpest arrived in Africa in the late 1880s. It came with the horses which were imported from British Asia. Those horses came as reinforcements for Italian soldiers who were invading Eritrea in East Africa. Rinderpest spread in the African continent like the forest fire. It reached to western coast of Africa by 1892 and within five years after that, it reached to southernmost tip of the continent. Rinderpest wiped off 90% of the cattle population of Africa during this period.
Loss of cattle meant loss of livelihood for the Africans. They had no choice but to work as labourers in plantations and mines. Thus, a cattle disease enabled the Europeans to colonise Africa.
Indentured labour is a bonded labour who is hired on contract for a specific employer for a specific period of time. Many poor Indians from modern day Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, central India and dry districts of Tamil Nadu became indentured labours. These people were mainly sent to the Caribbean Islands, Mauritius and Fiji. Many of them were also sent to Ceylon and Malaya. In India, many indentured labours went to work in tea plantations of Assam.
The agents often gave false promises and the workers were not even told about the place they were heading for. The condition in the alien land was quite horrible for the workers. They did not have any legal rights and had to work under tortuous conditions.
Form the 1900s, the Indian nationalists began to oppose the system of indentured labour. The practice was finally abolished in 1921.
Shikaripuri shroffs and Nattukottai Chettiars were among the groups of bankers and traders from India. They financed export agriculture in Southern and Central Asia. They had their own sophisticated system of money transfer to different parts of the world and even in India.
Indian traders and moneylenders also ventured into Africa alongwith the European colonizers. The Hyderabadi Sindhi traders ventured even beyond European colonies. By 1860s, they established flourishing emporia at busy ports around the world.
Historically, fine cotton from India was exported to Europe. After industrialization, the local manufacturers forced the British government to impose a ban on Indian imports. This resulted in British manufactured cotton textiles flooding the Indian market. The share of cotton textiles in Indian export was 30% in 1800. It declined to 15% by 1815 and to 3% by 1870s. But from 1812 to 1871, the export of raw cotton increased from 5% to 35%. During this period, Indigo emerged as a major export item from India. Opium was the largest exported item from India and it was mainly exported to China.
Although export of raw materials and food grains from India to Britain grew manifold but import of finished goods from Britain also increased. This resulted in a situation in which Britain was having the trade surplus. In other words, the Balance of Payment was in Britain’s favour. Income from the Indian market was utilised by Britain to serve its other colonies and also to pay ‘home charges’ for its officials who were posted in India. The home charges also included payment of India’s external debt and pension for retired British officials in India.
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