Neocolonialism and Jack

In this article we’ll look at the idea of neocolonialism and if “Jack” really has anything to do with it.


Hernan Fernando Cortes, a 16th-century Spanish Conquistador who conquered and therefore aided in the colonisation of Mexico.



Neocolonialism is a theory which looks at how some countries appear to have influence over less powerful countries, to their own profit. Colonial powers such as Britain, Spain and France forged Empires from these colonies in the past. They were able to control trade between the colonies and use resources from them to improve Britain and other colonies. Modern colonialism is more covert, and often involves monetary and political positions of dominance over other countries.

What does the “neo” part mean, then?

The prefix neo- means new. You have the British Empire, an example of historical colonialism; and neocolonialism, which is modern colonialism.

So, does it actually happen?

Arguably, yes. Many organisations – such as the European Union – have a hierarchy. In the EU, Germany and France (and to some extent the UK and Italy) sit at the top, dictating the actions of Greece, Poland and other less politically powerful countries within the EU.

The influence the US has on the UN Security Council and the IMF is similar to the influence Britain had over it’s colonies. This is primarily due to the US economy, but also stems from it’s position at the end of the Cold War, it’s current military strength and the allies it gained during World War I and II. The US (and the UK) also has a large banking sector which influences many countries around the world, and the dollar is the reserve currency for every country on the planet. To some degree it also uses wars to control countries, as well as sanctions.

China trades with Zambia in such a way that Beijing receives almost all of the copper the African nation produces. China gives back very little in terms of money, but instead invests into the infrastructure so as to improve the copper production industry – and often the workers come from China themselves, so the locals get little employment opportunities because of it. China helped finance the TAZARA railway running from Zambia to the Tanzanian coast, designed to carry copper from the Copperbelt mines to east-coast ports, where it could be transported via ship to China.

The TAZARA Railway fell into disrepair and was outdated. [Source: David Brossard | Flickr | CC-BY-SA-3.0]

In March 2014, China announced it will be funding a new railway from Mombasa to Nairobi (both Kenya) and eventually run it through Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. Arguably however, this is in all countries’ interest, rather than just China. So…

So, what?

Well the fact that Zambia benefits from China’s investment in some ways is evidence to the fact that neocolonialism is often good (to some degree) for every country involved.

The UN unites countries so as to avoid international conflict, develops countries and ensures human rights laws are followed. The IMF is an investment bank designed to improve poorer countries’ economies. The EU also helps all member countries, even if some see more profits than others. Neocolonialism is neither wholly good nor completely bad, and it is merely a matter of opinion either way.

Governments of poorer countries can also have the political power to control more powerful countries from influencing them, which is what Zambia did with the logging industry, with some success. They banned foreign logging companies from working in the country, thereby reducing deforestation and improving local logging industries. However, it didn’t work very well and Chinese companies are still logging there.

The Jack

Who? What?

Actually, the name of the UK’s national flag is the “Union Jack”, and is a combination of the English and Scottish national flags.

Union Jack

The Union Jack is a “union” of the Scottish and English flags. It was made when James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne, uniting the two countries (and also Ireland). The flag features the red cross from the English flag and the white “saltire” (45 degree cross) and the blue background from the Scottish flag.

But what has it got to do with neocolonialism?

That’s why we’re here, isn’t it, to see if it does? Well, the Union Jack is definitely linked to past colonialism. It was used as part of flags around the colonies, to show they belonged to Britain. However, even without colonialism, some of these former colonies have kept the Jack on the flag. Six of these flags are below.

Looks pretty an’ all, but is that really neocolonialism?

No, not really. it’s simply the country’s, state’s or region’s choice to show the Union Jack as a sign of their shared heritage with Britain.

Cool. So some nice wrapping-up sentence or two would be good right now.

Ok, ok. We’ve seen that colonialism is closely linked to neocolonialism, but that neocolonialism can be beneficial to both countries to some degree. And we’ve found out that the Union Jack might be on the flags of a few countries, but it doesn’t mean it’s because of neocolonialism.

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