Which European Colonial power treated their colonies the best and which the worst?s

Sep 2010
3,538
Somewhere in the former First French Empire
#1
Recently I saw a documentary about Imperialism and it was mentioned that both the Netherlands and Britain were in comparison to their colleagues on the imperialistic front the most just and gave the most freedom the the citizens in their Empire (outside Europe of course). It also said France and Belgium treated their colonies the worst. It was argued that in the Dutch (Indonesia, Suriname, Dutch Antilles) and British (British Guyanna, South Africa, India, Australia, Canada etc) Empire the locals enjoyed much freedom, were except for war time not subdued to massive amounts of deaths and could live a reasonable life. Then for the French and Belgians it was argued that both nations centralized their colonies to the limit, oppressed the people within and most money they made from their colonies was spend in the homeland and not in the colony itself. But the question remains, is this true? Or are their arguments that entire different nations like Portugal or Italy were much extreme or more liberal towards their colonies.

Although I appreciate all the information from our British forum members, please let this topic not become another British Empire topic (from which their are already so many), but please try to focus also on the other European Empires.
 
Dec 2009
19,933
#2
Recently I saw a documentary about Imperialism and it was mentioned that both the Netherlands and Britain were in comparison to their colleagues on the imperialistic front the most just and gave the most freedom the the citizens in their Empire (outside Europe of course). It also said France and Belgium treated their colonies the worst. It was argued that in the Dutch (Indonesia, Suriname, Dutch Antilles) and British (British Guyanna, South Africa, India, Australia, Canada etc) Empire the locals enjoyed much freedom, were except for war time not subdued to massive amounts of deaths and could live a reasonable life. Then for the French and Belgians it was argued that both nations centralized their colonies to the limit, oppressed the people within and most money they made from their colonies was spend in the homeland and not in the colony itself. But the question remains, is this true? Or are their arguments that entire different nations like Portugal or Italy were much extreme or more liberal towards their colonies.

Although I appreciate all the information from our British forum members, please let this topic not become another British Empire topic (from which their are already so many), but please try to focus also on the other European Empires.
"It also said" usually implied deliberate unashamed apologetic propaganda from any particular colonial power against her competitors; the crueler the colonialist practices of other powers could have been depicted, the more you would have been able to unilaterally justify any kind of abuse against your own victims.

It is evident that the treatment of the European offshoots (fundamentally the British dominions) was entirely different stuf from the antive populations (even within the same dominions).
The main exception would be the Boer (mostly Dutch derived) population during their second war; the interesting point here is that, contrary to the case of the bona fide non-European native populations, the abuse against the Boer was extremely well documented (as they received mych more sympathy from other European and European derived populations around the world) including the infamous inauguration of the concentration camps.

Talking specifically about the treatment of the non-European native populations, the more the issue is explored the clearer it becomes that all colonialisms were essentially the same; the treatment of the colonial victims depended fundamentally on the psychology of each & any individual colonial master, not their nationality.

The major powers often manipulated information against their competitors as a mere justification of their own greed & ambition; the most notorious example would be the Free State of Congo, when some powerful competitors were utterly humiliatingly bested by the territorial acquisition strategy of the king of the tiny humble Belgium.

Another clearly manipulated case were the Herrero in SW German Africa (modern Namibia); after WW2, it is clear that an international accusation of genocide asking for retribution had much greater chance of success against Germany than any other former colonial power.

The more the issue is explored, the more it becomes clear that apologetic propaganda aside, all colonialisms were fundamentally equivalent for the victim non-European native populations.
 
Last edited:
Nov 2011
1,749
Bolton, UK
#3
Recently I saw a documentary about Imperialism and it was mentioned that both the Netherlands and Britain were in comparison to their colleagues on the imperialistic front the most just and gave the most freedom the the citizens in their Empire (outside Europe of course). It also said France and Belgium treated their colonies the worst
I agree.
 
May 2011
516
Leon, Spain
#6
Don't be hatefull Sylla :lol:.
How is he being hateful? everyone else here seems to be pro-imperialism...If you think the dutch were one of the more humane empires, than you really need to go to Indonesia. I for one have been, and some of the stuff you hear about is significantly worse than that of Australia and Mexican imperialist...Keeping in mind that ALL are bad...'ALL' doesn't exclude Britain either fanboys
 
May 2010
1,345
Canada
#7
Its hard to judge really, some powers had specific intentions in mind when establishing colonies and plans to govern them. Look at Australia it was meant to be a Penal Colony, For the French Canada was supposed to be a giant trading post, so on and so forth. Perhaps the French did not govern Canada as harshly as they did in other places as its only value to them was to retrieve furs and raw materials... there is no reason to rule with an iron fist when you meet your profit margin nicely.
 

Bismarck

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
2,847
rangiora
#8
...If you think the dutch were one of the more humane empires, than you really need to go to Indonesia. I for one have been, and some of the stuff you hear about is significantly worse than that of Australia and Mexican imperialist...
Yeah, because 'hearing about' stuff years after an event from people who weren't even there is just soooo reliable.

The fact of the matter is different locales experienced at different times varying degrees of oppression and exploitation. It is impossible (and silly) to generalise about entire empires covering many lands over the expanse of time.
 

WeisSaul

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,836
New Amsterdam
#9
The French were not the Belgians. The French were not the nicest of people, but they weren't as bad as the Belgians were in the Congo.

The worst colonial power, I'm guessing, would have to have been either the Germans or the Belgians. The Germans committed a massive genocide in south-west Africa.

The French were hypocrites though. They proclaimed themselves as the nation of brotherhood, equality, liberty, and democracy, and denied those rights to their colonies. Though they eventually gave citizenship to their colonized peoples, it was more or less a sham. In Algeria, the Muslims had the same amount of representation as Christians, even though they massively outnumbered the Christians, and Algeria was part of Metropolitan France! Perhaps if the French were a little nicer to their colonized peoples, endowed their citizens with equal rights and voting opportunities, and allowed increased migration within the empire, they could have kept territories like Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger as contiguous French Republic, and actually had a reason to be so smug about themselves. Instead they were racist hypocrites and oppressors, and got their comeuppance.

In comparison, I'd say the British were the best of the imperial powers. They were pretty hands off when it came to governance, and aside from a few taxes, basic laws, and governing and judicial bodies, they left people to themselves. The British set up infrastructure and provided rule of law, and spread British civilization, values, technology, and philosophy across the world. The British could have easily forced their continued presence on many of their smaller possessions (Zanzibar, Belize, Bahrain, Singapore, etc) but allowed them independence instead. In sharp contrast, the French fought bloody wars to keep their empire, and later propped up French-backed dictators.

In short: British (1) French (2) Belgians (3) Germans (4)
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Anyways, what was Italian colonialism like? Libya under Italo Balbo was supposedly THE place for Italians to move to, eventually causing Italians to stop going to America preferring Libya. Eritrea was also supposed to be pretty good, and Mogadishu was "The Pearl of the Indian Ocean". The Italians were crappy towards the Ethiopians though, those poor bastards, though that was much less a colonial acquisition than an occupation.
 
Dec 2009
19,933
#10
In short: British (1) French (2) Belgians (3) Germans (4)
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Nice British (or British-derived) ranking.

You won't believe it, but authors from other colonial master nationalities beg to differ.

Not that such natural bias would be particularly relevant...

At the end of the day, the more you learn about colonialism, the more evident it becomes how similar were the clones to each other, as anyone could easily verify on his / her own.