Scramble for Africa: Sub-Saharan Colonization


Figure 1.--The image of empire was one of the advance of civilization. Europeans were told they were bringing Chritianity and the benefits of modern science to the backward areas of the globe. The image here is an idealized view promoted in Europe. The realities of colonial rule, however, were often quite different than this civilizing mission. Click on the image to see the impact of Belgian colonianl rule. Virtually enslaved workers, including children, who did not meet work quotas were mutilated by Belgian colonial overseerers.

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. newspaper 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 effort was more chaotic. Colonies were created in both West and East Africa. In South Africa, the British not only faced the Bohrs, but also the 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 Navy was still so dominant. Economic interests from these countries rapidly moved into the new colonies to exploit the resources.

Misionaries

Relatively little missionary work was done in Africa until the 19th century. Tere were Christians in northeastern Africa (Egyptian Copts and Ethiopian Chrustians) where the churches dated from the very beginning of Christianity. Other than that Christianity was limited to the remnants of the Kongolese Empire (modern Congo Brazzaville and western Democratic Republic of the Congo). Catholic missionary expeditions were launched after the Napoleonic Wars in West Africa, especially Senegal. There were also efforts in Gabon. French Jesuit missionaries began working along the coast at this time and they gradually began working with the native kingdoms in the interior. Protestant missionaries began working in Sierra Leone (1804). The missionaries came from many different European and American churches. They competed with each other for converts and their were, as a result, conflicts. The abolition movement had a major impact on spreadung Christinity. Britian and America abolished tge slave trase (1807). The Royal Navy and to a lesser extent the U.S. Navy launched a decades long campaign to end the slave trade. The British abolished slavery throughout their Empire (1834). Outlawing first the slave trade and and then slavry itself created large numbers of free slaves thatvhadc been Christianized. It also proved to be an enducemnent to set up European Christian missions. Human compassion in Europe for the plight of slaves led to donations for funding mission work in Africa. This began in northern American states even while slavery continued in the southern states. The Protestants spread the Christian gospel through the slaves who were liberated from slaving ships along the West Coast. American abolitionists promoted the resettlmentbof feeed slaves in Liberia. Christianity was at the center of the abolitionist movenents in America and Britain. Christian missionaries brought not only the Gospel but education and health care. Many of the first schools and hospitals in Africa were the work of missionaries. Many Africans wanted education. And just as Protestantism in Europe played a major role in founding public education, Christian missionaries in Africa founded schools so that converted Africans could read the Bible. Dr. David Livingstone (1813-73) is perhps the best known missionary. The slave trade which continued in East Africa wher Islam had a powerful pressence in Zanzubar. Arab slave traders operatung from Zanzibar and coastal ports. The Royal Navy began anti-slavery operations in the Indian Ocean, but resistance from Arab emirates made supressing the slave trade a difficult indertaking. Dr. Livingston believed that the slave trade could only be suppressed by a combination of Christianity and trade. He travelled extensively from east to west in eastern and southern Africa working to bringing Christianity to Africans. He never stayed long in any single location. He achievd some success among the Tswana people (in modern Botswana). Conversion to Christianity in somecareas caused social upheaval. Livingstone and other missionaries was, howver, were unable to seriously impede the slave trade. Their conversions were mostly Africans who had traditional religious beliefs. Few Muslims converted which affected effirts to end the skave trade. Livingston and othr missionaries advicated for European Governments to formally colonize africa as a way of finally ending the slave trade.

Africa in the late-19th Century

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. The Europeans had enclaves along the coast. They were first established by the Portuguese (15th century). The Spanish, Dutch, English, and French followed in their wake (16th century). These were, however, with the exception of South Africa, trading outposts. And few Europeans ventured into the interior. Those that did, did not go very far into the interior and primarily stayed along major rivers. 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. newspaper 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. While the lines abd features began to apper on the map large areas of Africa even in the late-19th century were hardly touched or visited by Europeans. And what the Europeans found were tribes and villages little changed from the time when the Europeans first arrived. The exception was those reas ravahed by the Arab and European slave trade.

Civilizing Mission

The European edplorers brought back accounts of backward peoples, continuing slave trade, primitive religious rites, and sexual abandon. The most horrifyimg 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 by the notion that they were brining the benefits of modern society to the backward peoples of the world. The actual impact of colonial rule was often very different from the rosy view provide by European governments. Klpinger described the "White man's burden". This was to bring the nenefits of modern science and Christianity to Africa. Thus the work of missionaries and doctors was widely publicized. All the colonial regimes, however, were primarily designed to exploit colonies economically. There were differences in colonial regimes. The Belgians were the most brutal and rapacious. There was, however, an element of brutality and exploitation in all the European colonial empires. Much of this was not well known by the public at large. There was also racial prejudice. The Scramble for Africa coincided with the cult of Social Darwinism and Eugenics in the West.

Nationalism

Seizing colonies was further inspired by rising nationalism. The size of a country's empire became a matter of national pride. Europeans became fascinated about Africa. Europeans and Americans were intreaged about the search for Dr. Switzer. Europeans were both intreagued and repeled by images of Africa, with both the natives judged savages and the exotic beasts. We note photographers taking exotic images of Africa for sale in Europe. A good example is the Zangaki brothers.

Economics

Economic interests from these countries rapidly moved into the new colonies to exploit the resources. [Larence, p. 288.] The basic arguments were the need for raw material and markets. The development of European colonies was commonly focused on producing raw materials ahd shipping them tobthe coast for export. At the time, it ws widely believed that major powers needed colonies. They were prestige items, but also considered to be of significant ecoonomic importance. Marx believed that the exploitation of colonies was necessary to sustain capitalist economies. It came as a shock to most Europeans after World war II and decolonization that Europen economies were not adversely afected. And the most successful country, German, had lost their colonies after World war I. And it also surprised large number of people in the former colonies that living conditions and standards actually declined in many former countries after the colonial power declined.

National Imperial Expansion

The colonial era in sub-Saharan Africa was launched by one of Europe's smallest countries--Belgium. The French followed with a huge colonial empire in West Africa which connect with their older North African colonies. The British effort was more chaotic. Colonies were created in both West and East Africa. In South Africa, the British not only faced the Bohrs, but also the Zulus. Cecil Rhodes dreamed of railroad connecting British colonies from Captown to Cairo. Portuguese explorerors had begun the European expansion in Africa. As a result Portugal was an important colonial power in Africa. Spain was not an important player in African colonialism. The Pope had essentially divided the world between Spain and Portugal. South America except for Brazil which buldged toward Aftica was alloted to Spain. Thus the Spanish focus was west toward the Americas rather than south toward Africa. 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 Navy was still so dominant. Details on the boundaries were worked out by Lord Salisbury and Count von Bismarck. [Wilson, p. 489.]

Congress of Berlin (1874)

The Congress of Berlin did not launch the European "Scramble for Africa," but it did help set the fround rule for the competition and helped avoud potentially serious conflict among the participating European powers for more tha 15 years. It was anunusual diplomatic inititive fostered by German Chancellor Bismrck. Such international conferences were until then primarily convenrd to iron out the aftermath of a war. The idea of settleing such problems before they led to war was virtually unhward of in international diplomacy. All of the major powers had reasons to attend, especially France, Britain and the new European powerhouse of Germany. Other participating countries were Belgium, Portugal, and Spain. There were several issues addressed at the Congress, but the most contentious was the future of the Congo River basin.

Tribal Groups

Europe over more than two millenia of over devestating conflict has organized itseld along ethnic and linguistic lines. This has not occurred in Africa. Most modern African states reflect the boundaeies drawn by European colonial powers in the 19th century during the scramble for Africa. The Europeans commonly ignored tribal and linguistic afinities among African peoples. This mean that tribal groups were fracrtured and separated by boundaries. And in some cases tribes with a history of hostility to each other were left together in the same country. Thus modern African states commonly are composed of multiple tribal groups. And many tribal groups populate multiple countries. We have begun to collect information on some of these tribal groups. One such group are the Tuareg of the southern Sahara, a people who for milenia dominated the trans-Saharan cammel caravans.

Sources

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

Wilson, A.N. The Victorians (W.S. Norton & Co.: New York, 200), 724p.

"Scranmle for Africa," Times, September 1884.






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Created: 4:37 AM 4/20/2006
Last updated: 7:10 AM 5/26/2012

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