The New Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa 1880-1914European
Imperialism from 1816-1880 entered a phase where economic ventures were
emphasized rather than political conquest, leaving China and Japan open to
Western trade but still independent. By the mid-19th century many pundits argued
that colonialism was out-dated and burdensome, and should be
There had been European possessions in Africa since the 16th
century (mainly connected with the slave trade), but these were small coastal
areas around trading ports. Again, even this limited colonialism seemed to be
waning . . . . BUT THEN:
1880-1914 THE NEW IMPERIALISM (somewhat like
the 18th century variety), was characterized by a frantic competition among
European nations to gobble up as much of the world map as possible. This led
these nations into conflicts with native peoples and with each other.
of the biggest stories of the NEW IMPERIALISM is "THE SCRAMBLE FOR
AFRICA", which was hot and heavy and well covered in the press (somewhat
akin in spirit to the 1960s Space Race and Weapons Race.)
only 10% of Africa was controlled by European Powers: colonies dotted along
the coast of West Africa (from the defunct slave trade), settlements in southern
Africa by Dutch, English & (long held) Portuguese, and Algeria in the north,
conquered by the French.
By 1900 only Ethiopia and Liberia remained
free of European control. (Even the Afrikaner Republics in South Africa
were conquered by the English in the infamous Boer War.)
How did it
happen? Two excuses: 1) In part the attraction of colonialism was the Glory of
Conquest, and 2) in part the so-called White Man's Burden to rescue the rest of
the world from themselves. [Are these two forms of arrogance, military and
cultural, still a part of Western society?]
1865 Leopold II becomes King
of Belgium and begins the New Imperialist rant; that is he starts giving
speeches in which he pushes the glories of exploration and conquest. In the
1870s Leopold sets his sights on the heart of Africa ( Conrad's "Heart of
Darkness") and in 1876 sends H. M. Stanley up the Congo to establish trading
posts and the beginnings of the Belgian Free Congo State (the setting for
Conrad's novel). This opens up the question of control of the bulk of
sub-Saharan Africa (West, Central and East Africa).
establishes a French Protectorate on the north bank of the Congo in direct
response to the Belgian Congo on the south bank (hence the division that still
stands between the two Congos.)
1882 Britain conquers Egypt, heating up
fierce, unbridled competition among all the powers of Western Europe for control
of the African continent, leading to . . .
1884-85 The BERLIN
CONFERENCE on AFRICA, in which the Western powers lay the rules for dividing
up Africa, mainly establishing the principle of "effective occupation" to claim
territory, leading to the GREAT PUSH into the interior reaches of the continent
by competing European armies.
1885-1898 Germany (under Bismarck) and
France cooperate against Britain in Africa. Pushing south from Algeria, East
from Senegal and North from the Congo, France (under Jules Ferry) conquers much
of Western Africa (and some of Central). The British greatly expand their
holdings by pushing into the interior from their coastal colonies in the West,
from South Africa north and east, and from Egypt south. Germany enters the fray
with Togoland and Cameroon in West Africa, Southwest Africa (Namibia) and German
East Africa or Tanganyika (now most of Tanzania); also Italy (Libya, Somalia) and
Spain (coastal West Africa).
1885 British troops pushing south from Egypt
encounter resistant from a large Muslim Sudanese army which defeats General
Charles Gordon in a massacre at Khartoum.
1898 The re-conquest of
(Anglo-Egyptian) Sudan under General Horatio Kitchener ends with the Omdurman
massacre. Later Kitchener's army clashes with a French force in the regions of
the Upper Nile, one of the few unclaimed areas left by then. This almost leads
to a European war until troubles at home (most notably the Dreyfus Affair) lead
France to pull out.
The re-conquest of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan characterizes
much of the conquest of West, Central and East Africa: European forces conquered
quickly. Organized resistance sometimes caused temporary setbacks, but the many
large and small resistance armies were in time destroyed by the superior
armaments of European armies and a brutal cultural arrogance.
Bennet, Norman R. Africa and
Europe: From Roman Times to National Independence. 2nd ed.
New York: Holmes & Meier, 1984.
Bohannan, Paul and Philip D. Curtin. Africa and Africans. 4th
ed. Prospect Heights, IL:
Curtin, Philip, ed. African History: From Earliest Times to Independence. 2nd ed. Boston:
Addison Wesley, 1995.
Dr. Jeff Taylor
The Metropolitan State College of Denver