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.