Politics Current Political Nightmares Caused by British Colonialism  

Kellen Perry
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The British Empire governed a fifth of the world's people at its height, in 1922. The effects of this massive colonization can still be felt today throughout the world. Devastating political issues - some may even call them nightmares - caused by British colonialism have, according to historians, impacted many of the now-independent nations once under British rule.

Some of the ways colonialism affects politics today are obvious, such as the partition of India into the three nations of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, leading to countless political entanglements, many of them responsible for the deaths of thousands (or even millions). Some ways the British Empire affects politics now are considerably more subtle, but often just as nefarious. Read on to learn more about the dark side of British colonialism.

Fraught Relations Between India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh

Fraught Relations Between Indi... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Current Political Nightmares Caused by British Colonialism
Photo:  Photo Division, Government of India/WikiMedia Commons/Public Domain

Amit Singh of The Independent argues that the "fraught" relations between India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh is Britain's "most lasting and damaging colonial legacy." The partition of India, in 1947, into two independent nations, Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, displaced 15 million people and led to a "terrifying outbreak" of sectarian violence that British soldiers and journalists at the time said was more brutal than Nazi death camps. Much of this violence was centered in Kashmir, a state caught between the two newly-created countries. By 1948, more than one million people were dead.

In 1971, 500,00 people died when Bangladesh fought for independence from Pakistan. If you've ever looked at a map, the fact that Bangladesh was ever part of Pakistan makes little sense. Author Nisid Hajari says the relationship between India and Pakistan today “is getting more, rather than less, dangerous: the two countries’ nuclear arsenals are growing, militant groups are becoming more capable, and rabid media outlets on both sides are shrinking the scope for moderate voices.”

Boko Haram in Nigeria

Boko Haram in Nigeria is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Current Political Nightmares Caused by British Colonialism
Photo:  Michelle Obama/WikiMedia Commons/Public Domain

It's a thorny and insanely complicated subject, but Atane Ofiaja of Mic argues that the roots of Islamic extremist group Boko Haram can be traced to decades of resentment in northern Nigeria (where Boko Haram operates) at "the expansion of British colonial rule." Ofiaja writes that "the British built schools, roads and infrastructure" more in southern Nigeria than in the north, where locals "viewed what was happening as a vehicle for western evangelism and control of their land, culture and customs." This ultimately led to Boko Haram's "vehement rejections of westernization."

Boko Haram, which literally means "western education forbidden,"  has killed 20,000 people and displaced more than 2.3 million since 2009. The group received global media attention in April 2014, when it kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the predominantly Christian town of Chibok.

The Naxalite–Maoist Insurgency in India

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Professor Ajay Verghese argues that British colonialism is to blame for the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency in India. The conflict between "indigenous and low caste" Maoist groups and the Indian government spreads across half of India's 28 states and has killed hundreds annually since 2005. Verghese cites colonialism as a cause because the rebellion began in Bengal - "the site of Britain's earliest experiments with private property ownership in India" - and "geographically correlates" with regions in India formerly under British rule.

Yale's Shivaji Mukherjee also argued, in 2013, that "British colonial institutions set up political opportunity structures for [Naxalite-Maoist] rebellion through persistent and path dependent mechanisms of low state penetration, tribal alienation, and caste inequality."

Anti-Gay Laws in the Commonwealth

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Photo:  nancydowd/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
According to a 2015 report by the Human Dignity Trust, 40 of the 53 Commonwealth member states - countries that were once British colonies - have anti-gay laws that directly contribute to worsening HIV epidemics. The authors of the report say the "British colonial legacy" is to blame, and call upon the British prime minister to "prioritize decriminalization" immediately. The report specifically says that anti-gay laws "are an archaic relic of former British colonial power." HIV epidemics are getting worse in the Commonwealth, the report claims, for two reasons: (1) LGBT people are afraid to access healthcare services because of the criminalization of homosexuality; and, (2) there is less awareness about prevention in countries that criminalize same-sex relationships.