Neocolonialism is a term used to refer to the idea that nations that have historically acted as colonizers may exercise power and control over former colonies. Theorists who study neocolonialism argue that corporations can also be involved in this practice, sometimes with the support of governments and sometimes acting on their own. There are a number of factors contributing to the development and persistence of neocolonialism.
This concept began to arise in Africa during the mid-20th century, when a number of African nations began to achieve independence from European powers. Intellectuals in Africa noted that despite the fact that these nations were politically free in the sense that they were not legally treated as colonies, many had not achieved full freedom. In some cases, their governments were under the control of former colonial powers, as seen when foreign governments pushed for the nomination of specific people to positions of power, and many such nations had an economic dependence on their former colonizers.
One of the areas where neocolonialism can be most clearly seen is in the realm of economic policy and business practices. When they were colonies, many nations were exploited for natural resources. The practice of resource exploitation by foreign powers persists under neocolonialism and some nations encounter stiff resistance when they attempt to nationalize or otherwise retake control of their resources.
International economic policy can contribute to neocolonialism, as seen when former colonies are given loans with very restrictive terms in order to support development initiatives. Corporations active in former colonies may use their clout to force concessions on the part of the national government, including relaxations on everything from environmental regulations to trade tariffs. Some scholars argue that multinational companies are in a clear position of power and abuse that power to create business conditions favorable to their interests.
The legacy of colonialism can also play out in the form of social policy. Foreign aid programs are sometimes accused of engaging in neocolonialism by forcing values and policy on countries in need without considering the cultural or historical contexts of aid crises. Likewise, the developed world is sometimes accused of behaving in a patronizing manner towards developing nations by compelling them to enact policy rather than empowering them to act on their own.
Colonialism and neocolonialism are complex and charged subjects. There are a number of ways to resist the social and cultural attitudes left behind by colonialism, including rethinking economic policy and the way that nations and corporations interact with members of the developing world.