European Colonialism: Africa


Figure 1.--The interior of Afruca in the mid-19th century ws still largely uncharted. One of the dramas that gripped the press in America and Europe was the whereabouts of the Scottish exploer Dr. Livingstom who disappeared in Africa while searching for the source of the Nile. The "New York Herald" paid Henry Morgan Stanley (1841-1904) to find him (1869). (Staley wasn't his real name. He had grown up in a Welsh work house.) It took 2 years, but Stanley finally found him in what is now Tanzania. He of course said, "Dr. Livingston I presume." After the explorers came colonization.

European colonialism began with the Portuguese voyages of exploration along the coast of africa in the 15th century. They were soon followed by the Dutch, English, French, and Spanish. These countries set up trading posts along the coast, but did not move inland to establish actual colonies. The one exception to this was in South Africa where Dutch settlers did establish farms. After the English took over Capetown in 1814, the Dutch moved inland to avoid English domination. The French had moved to establish colonies in North Africa in the mid 19th century. It was not until the 1870s. however, that the Europeans began to carve out colonies in sub-Saharan Africa. It was then that the "Scramble for Africa" began. European imperialism has been blamed, with considerable justification, for many of the problems of modern Africa. Along with the rampant nationalism and desire for profit, however, there was a strong moral aspect to European colonialism in Africa. Those who read about child slavery, child soldiers, female circumcision, the AIDsS epidenmic, and other problems experience some of the main motivations that prompted Victorian imperialists.

European Voyages of Discovery

European colonialism began with the Portuguese voyages of exploration along the coast of Africa in the 15th century. These voyages were promoted first by the Portuguese, especiall Prince Henry th Navigator. The Crusades had helped wet European appetites for products from China and the Spice Islnds. The Europeans wanted to establish direct contact with China. The Turks and Arabs controlled access to the Silk Road. The Portuguese throughout the 15th century moved further and further south along the coast of Africa. The Spanished financed Columbus voyage to sail west in order o reach China. Of course he instead discovered America (1492).

Trading Outposts

They were soon followed by the Dutch, English, French, and Spanish. These countries set up trading posts along the coast, but did not move inland to establish actual colonies.

South Africa

The one exception to this was in South Africa where Dutch settlers did establish farms. The term "boer" is the Duch word for farmers. The Boers, or Afrikaners which is the more common term today, are the descendents of the Durch who founded Cape Colony in southern Africa (1652). The Dutch settlers initially estblished a colony at Cape Town near the stratehic Cape of Good Hope to support shipping around Africa to Asia. French Huguenots (Protestants) fleeing religious supression arrived (1687) and inter-married with the Dutch. The strict Calvinism of the Boers and their conflict with the vast native population as well as conflivts with the despotic Dutch East India company developed a spirit of rugged independence in the Boers. The Dutch ceeded the Cape Colony to Britain (1814) near the end of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. Conflict with the British began almost at once, but intensified after the British freed the slaves that the Boers still held (1834). After the English took over Capetown, the Dutch moved inland to avoid English domination. The conflict beteen the British and Dutch settlers would eventually lead to the The conflict beteen the British and Dutch settlers would eventually lead to the Bohr War (1899).

North Africa

The French had moved to establish colonies in North Africa in the mid 19th century. The Barbary states maintained their independence throughout the 18th century. European traders would pay tribute to avoid pirate attacks. The British held the piracy in check to some extent, but also paid tribute. Aftr the American Revolution, American shipping was no longer protected by the Royal Navy. The result was the first American foreign military expedition ordered by President Jefferson against the Barbary Pirates. After the Napoleonic Wars, the French began to move against the Barbary Pirates. One of the results was the creation of a new style which proved poplar for boys--the Zouave style. Military operations were initiated to protecr expanding French economic interests in Algeria and other North African areas. One popular style did originate in Algeria. Two battalions of troops were formed in 1830 by General Bertrand Clausel as part of the French military occupation of Algeria. The troops were from a tribe of Kabyles dwelling in Algeria. The name of the tribe was Zouaoua, which in France gave rise to the term, "zouave". The organization of these tribesmen as part of the French army was designed to establish a bond between them an the French occupation forces. They came to serve as mercinaries in the French army. French officers were put in charge and a certain number of French soldiers incorporated within their ranks. The mingling of French and natives did not prove satisfactory, and after 1839, none of the natives were recruited, although regiments of Algerian tirailleurs were subsequently formed.

Scramble for Africa: Sub-Saharan Colonization

It was not until the 1870s did the Europeans began to carve out colonies in sub-Saharan Africa. It was then that the "Scramble for Africa" began. [Scramble] Africa in the 1860s was still in many ways the Dark Continent. Basic geographic information such as the source of the Nile was still unknown. The work of explorers was headline news. The source of the Nile was found by Burton and Speke finally discovered the source of the Nile (1865). A U.S. newspaoer sent Henry Stanley (a former work house boy) to find Dr. David Stanley. The search and eventual encounter made headlines throughout America and Europe (1869). Stanley died in Africa and his body was brought back to Britain to be burried in Westminster Abbey, an indication of the importance of these explorers to the Victorians. Colonial rule soon followed. The European edplorers brought back accounts of backward peoples, continuing slave trade, primitive religious rites, and sexual abandon. The most horrifgy accounts to the Victorians was cannibalism. Even today the continuingbimage of primitive Africa is Europan explorers in a large iron cooking pot. Thus the European people were prepared for seizing colonies and this was further inspired by rising nationalism. The colonial era was launched by one of Europe's smallest countries--Belgium. King Leopold II, who proved to be the most brutal colonizers launched the colonial race in Africa. Belgium was a new country and had not participated in the colonial competition of the 16th and 17th century. Now Leopold declared, "Belgium must have a colony". The colony Leopold founded, the Belgian Congo, was a far cry from the humanitarian inpulse with which th Victorians justified colonialism. The French followed with a huge colonial empire in West Africa which connect with their older North African colonies. The British effoirt was more caotic. Colonies were created in both West and East Africa. In South Africa, the British not only faced the Bohrs, but also th Zulus. Cecil Rhodes dreamed of railroad connecting British colonies from Captown to Cairo. There were also Portuguese and Spanish colonies. The new European states also paricipated. The Germans were late to the table, but claimed their own colonies in southern and western Africa. Italy obtained colonies in East Africa. This was all accomplished in a relitively short period and with surprising little conflict between the power involved, probably because the Royal Nvy wa still so dominant. Details on the boundaries were worked out by Lord Salisbury and Count von Bismarck. [Wilson, p. 489.] Economic interests from these countries rapidly moved into the new colonies to exploit the resources. [Larence, p. 288.]

Justification

Agression and empire building needs no justification. Commonly the goals are wealth, resources, and power. The Mongols as they conquered most of Asia and the Middle East and large areas of modern Russia did not attempt to justify their conquests. On the otherhand, the Mongol Empire did not last long. Commonly the great empire builders have attempted to justify their conquests. Even the great totalitarian oowers of the 20th century developed justifications for their conquests (Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, militaristic Japan, and NAZI Germany). The basic difference between the Communists and Fascists which share fundamental elements is in the radically different justifications for aggression. Often the justification was a civilizing mission. This was at play with the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. In more recent times humanitarianism became a factor. Often this was a thin veil for the more mundane motiviations of wealth and power. This does not mean, however, that humanitarianism was not a factor to be recoked with and in the 19th century a real concern among European publics. This was at first manifested by missionaries especially in the 19th century who offered schools and modern medical care. This may not have been a major concern for the colonial powers, although when we read about leaders like Gladstone we can see it was not entirely absent even among the powrful. It was among the Victorian public that the humanitarian ideals of empire had real currency. And they donated money to finance the missionary effort. Along with 19th century humanitarianism came racism. This was adecelopment coming from the Atlantic slave trade. Unfortunately in the 19th century as part of socialDarwinism a scientific rationnel was developed that received widespread accaeptance.

Christianity

The European maritime outreach began with the Portuguese as they sailed south down the Atlantic coast of Africa (mid-15th century). Their goal was to open profitable maritime trading routes to the East to go around the Muslim domination of land routes. They were not interested in establishing African colonies, but did found coastal trading posts. There was no important effort to spread Christianity. This was initially the same objective as led by Columbus, they sailed west out into the Atantic. Soon the Spanish. Soon the Spanish changed their objectives as it became clear that they had not only encountered a whole new continent, but that fabously wealthy native Americans empires existed on the new continent. This began with Ferdinand and Isabella. They were known as the Catholic Monarchs who had just completed the Reconquista of Spain, driving out Muslims and Jews. Perhaps more than any other European state, Isabella and Ferndinand and their sucessors were fervent Christians and from an early point, along with empire building, spreading Christianity was a major goal of state. Thus Christian priests (inckudung the Dominicans and Frasiccans) accompanied the Conquistadores and and spreading the faith was a fundamental justification. At fitst there was a debate as to whether the Native Americans were actually people. Spanish rule was brutal. Eventually the Church took on the mission of protecting Native americans. Bartolomé de las Casas became the symbol for this effort. The other European coonizers were less concened about spreading Chistianity. But in the later Scrable for Africa, Christianity became an important concern (19th century). And missionaries spread not only the Gospels, but lso modern humanitarian efforts like education and modern medicine.

Social Darwinism

Charles Darwin was the English biologist who after his participation in a British scientificic expedition aboard the HMS Beagle (1830s) conceived of natural evolution. Several observations led to his conclusions such as finding sea shells in the high Andes or the variations in tortoises and finches on the Galapagos Islands that suggested the animals were adjusting to environmental differences in a way that created new species. Other biologidts/naturalists at the time had also reached similar conclusions, but Darwin was the first to publish his theories in his landmark Origin of the Species (1859). Central to Darwin's theory was the response of individuals to the environment and the perpetuation of characteristics best adapted to the environment. Those organisms best suited to their environment thus achieved a degree of survival advantage and passed their superior genetic characteristics to their proginy. The concept was viciously attacked at the time, mostly by religious groups. In fact the religious fundamentalists continues to object to evolution, but interestingly now attempts to desgise its attacks in pseudo-science -- inteligent design. Social Darwinism actually has noting to do with Darwin himself who was describing biological processes. Social Darwinism was the creation of the philosopher, Herbert Spencer. While presented as scientific, it was never subjected to the rigorous scientific examination to which Darwinian evolution was subjected. Thus Social Darwinism is more of a philosophical construct, basically a pseudo-science. The term Social Darwinism was designed to cloth the concept in verities of science. The heart of Social Darwinism as argued by Spencer was the concept of 'survival of the fittest'. Spencer tried to apply the scientific principles of Darwinian evolution to culture and race. Spencer writing in the late-19th century saw a dominant Europe and backward socities in Asia and Africa which were being colonized. Spencer was British and he saw Britain and the British Empire as the most successful country. He also saw a world that was being dominated by Anglo-Saxon Protestant Christianity. Because Europeans were white and other regions were populated by other races, racism became an important element of Social Darwinism. The concept was useful way of legitimizing European imperialism.

Humanitarianism

Humanitarianism is a moral ideal of kindness and sympathy toward other human beings. An early theoretical manifestation comes out of the Jedeo-Christian ethic and best expressed in Jesus' parable of the Good Samritan. An early effort was that of the Catholic Church to protect Native Americans as pursued by Father Bartolomé de las Casas. Humanitarianism as an effective movement, however, required major cultural movements which first appeared in the West: democracy, capitalism, and the industrial revolution. These movements were important because until capitalism transfored the econmy of the west, most of the population lived in poverty, ofren abject poverty. Impactful humanitarian efforts are not possible among a population living in poverty. Once large numbers of people are lifted from poverty into the middle-class than real humanitarian efforts are possible. The Indistrial Revolution created the wealth needed to fund public education and health programs and eventually the panoply of programs cimprising the modern welfare state. And democracy created the political mechanism for the public to demand such efforts from governments. Christian churches to varying degrees supported this effort and the Americand French Revolutions created a similar secular dynamic. It is this no accident tht major reform movements like the campaign to end slavery, limit child and female labor, prison reform, and protect aboriginal populations all occured in the 19th cenntury. This became part of the justification for colonialism, to bring the befeits of modern technology and modern goverance to less civilized peoples. Colonial authorities attempted to varying degrees attempted to include humanitarian aims into colonial government policies. [Lester and Dussart] Of course colonia authorities rarely lived up to the humanitarian ideals. There were numerous examples of abuses. The worst was the Belgians in the Congo. The Germans launched a genocidal campign in Southwest Africa (Namibia). The Brirish failed to effectively deal with genocide in India. Along with failures rhere were accomplishments including the intridyction of modern technology like rail roads, medical science. public health, the first modern schools, law courts, and a range of modern institutions. Tragically in most of the various empires, there was little effort to introduce democracy until after World War II. And their experience with capitalism was largely explotive rather than the wealth generating apects that transformed America and Europe. As a result, colonial elites were particulrly sympathetic to socialist thought during the Decolinization period following World War II.

Boundaries

The Europeans did not encounter a Africa that existed in caos. There were in fact many native kingdoms and distinctive tribes. For the most part the boundarie drawn in European chancelires paid no attntion to the exising political, tribal, ethnic, religioius, and linguitic boundaries. Many modern conflicts in Africa are the result of creating boundaies which cut the exising pre-coloniasl organization. In addition, the Europeans then pitted the different groups within each colonial against each other to make it easier to control and rule. The conflicts betwen variius tribes, such as the Tutsis and Hutus, were often xacerbated during the colonial era.

Modern Africa

European imperialism has been blamed, with considerable justification, for many of the problems of modern Africa. Along with the rampant nationalism and desire for profit, however, there was a strong moral aspect to European colonialism in Africa. Those who read about child slavery, child soldiers, female circumcision, the AIDsS epidenmic, and other problems experience some of the main motivations that prompted Victorian imperialists. [Wilson, p. 489.]

Sources

Lawrence, James. The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (London: Little Brown, 1994).

Lester, Alan and Fae Dussart. Colonization and the Origins of Humanitarian Governance: Protecting Aborigines across the Nineteenth-Century British Empire (Cambridge University Press: 2014).

Wilson, A.N. The Victorians (W.S. Norton & Co.: New York, 2002), 724p.

"Scranmle for Africa," Times, September 1884.







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Created: August 3, 2003
Last updated: 5:56 PM 8/31/2016