Colonialism is the establishment and maintenance, for an extended time, of rule over a people that is separate from and subordinate to the ruling power. It imposes alien, authoritarian and more or less repressive regimes on materially inferior societies. Colonialism, because it moulds geographically, culturally, politically, socially and economically the life of subordinate societies to meet the needs of the colonial powers, not only violates, in the present, the elementary rights to self-determination but jeopardizes future possibilities of self-centred development.
Colonialism as described above, no longer occurs; the last colonial empire (Portugal) collapsed in 1975. If the term is still widely used, it is to denote (abusively) situations similar in some but not all aspects to colonial domination (apartheid, neo-colonialism) or that have risen with the process of decolonization (Commonwealth nations, dependent territories, associated States, dependencies, condominiums, UN Trust Territories, territories, unincorporated territories, overseas territories, overseas departments, self-governing territories, self-governing associations). Often colonial situations have been endorsed by the international community with the consequence that, although colonies as such have disappeared, the peoples have become minorities: more or less integrated, more or less discriminated against (Sahahuris, Basques, American Indians, Sikhs, Armenians, etc.).
Many of the events that have shaped Africa's geo-political, socio-economic and environmental development over the past century are related to the colonization of the region and its subsequent partition in 1885 among several European countries. During the first half of the 20th century, the colonial authorities imported economic development policies and patterns which largely neglected the adverse impacts on the poor majority of people and on the environment. On achieving independence during and after the 1960s, African governments inherited and maintained centralized economic and sectoral institutions and narrowly focused economic growth policies, usually with the encouragement and support of international aid agencies. These national and international 'development' policies, in combination with rapid population growth and increased poverty, had progressively adverse impacts on the state of the environment throughout the continent.
Self-determination and independence are not the exclusive prerogatives of the powerful, but fundamental and inalienable rights of all peoples everywhere. Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness cannot serve as a pretext for dictation by a minority different from the local majority in culture, history, beliefs and often race, of the conditions of social, economic and political life. The military or economic subordination is always accompanied by bestial exploitation and often by extermination of the indigenous population. After independence, domination and exploitation subsist under a new form, namely neo-colonialism.
Countries characterized by social, cultural, economic and political backwardness, require guardianship of a stronger state. The colonial mode of government is as legitimate as any other and has accomplished the advancement of dependent peoples in every sphere. For example, the lack of infrastructure capable of carrying relief supplies to famine victims in Ethiopia has been blamed on the fact that the country was never colonized. The colonial powers and their missionaries have forced certain countries to abolish at least the most inhuman customs and superstitions. Colonizing nations developed the resources of the overseas territories; without their organizing zeal, the formerly subjected countries would be even less competent to rule themselves than several of them are today. In some new nations many of the older inhabitants now ask themselves whether they felt more secure under foreign rule or under the present continual turmoil of revolutions now they are free to govern themselves.