Exploitative colonialism is an economic system in which the colonizers seek to exploit the economic resources of the colony while incurring the lowest possible cost themselves. Agricultural plantations, mining operations, and manufacturing plants are typical of exploitative colonialism. Government and other institutions exist to support the economic endeavor.
Most nineteenth-century Asian and African colonies were run on the exploitative pattern. The colonial power established a new political, economic, and social structure in the colony in the service of economic exploitation. Colonial policy was set in the home nation for the home nation’s benefit and with little concern for the colony. The colony was ruled by a small elite ofWestern officials, businessmen, farmers, and missionaries who lived apart from the indigenous population in urban enclaves designed and built in European style. In British Nigeria in the 1920s, for example, there was one British official for every 100,000 people. The colonizers often ruled indirectly through favored local leaders who were expected to maintain order, recruit laborers, and collect taxes and food for the colonists. The local leaders and their families, in turn, received preferential treatment. The colonizing power typically made use of a divide-and-rule strategy in which local ethnic groups were pitted against one another so as to forestall organized resistance to colonization.
Colonialism drew the colonies into the expanding world economic system. The colonizers sought land, the products of the land, mineral wealth, and cheap labor. They also sought to use the colonies as a market for goods produced in the home nation. This activity stimulated economic expansion in the colonies, but nearly all wealth flowed to the home nation. There was relatively little economic opportunity for the colonized peoples. Some might find employment as low-level civil servants or as domestics in European households, but most remained farmers or were forced to work in mines or factories. The crucial role of middleman was often taken by so-called “middleman minorities”—people from distant ethnic groups encouraged to settle in the colony to fill this role. Asian Indians, for example, filled this role in British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean.