Scramble for Africa

Scramble for Africa
The Rhodes Colossus, a caricature of Cecil Rhodes after announcing plans for a telegraph line from Cape Town to Cairo. For Punch by Edward Linley Sambourne.

The Scramble for Africa, also known as the Race for Africa or Partition of Africa[1] was a process of invasion, occupation, colonization and annexation of African territory by European powers during the New Imperialism period, between 1881 and World War I in 1914. As a result of the heightened tension between European states in the last quarter of the 19th century, the partitioning of Africa may be seen as a way for the Europeans to eliminate the threat of a Europe-wide war over Africa.[2] The last 59 years of the nineteenth century saw transition from ‘informal imperialism’ of control through military influence and economic dominance to that of direct rule.[3]

Attempts to mediate imperial competition, such as the Berlin Conference (1884–1885), failed to establish definitively the competing powers' claims.[citation needed] Many African polities, states and rulers (such as the Ashanti, the Abyssinians, the Moroccans, the Dervishes and the Zulus) sought to resist this wave of European aggression.[4] However, the industrial revolution had provided the European armies with advanced weapons such as machine guns, which African armies found difficult to resist (with the exception of the Abyssinians, who were indeed successful).[5] Also, unlike their European counterparts, African rulers, states and people did not at first form a continental united front although within a few years, a Pan-African movement did emerge.[6]



This article is part of
the New Imperialism
Origins of New Imperialism
Imperialism in Asia
The Scramble for Africa
Theories of New Imperialism
David Livingstone, early explorer of the interior of Africa.

The Portuguese had been the first post-Middle Ages Europeans to firmly establish settlements, trade posts, permanent fortifications and ports of call along the oceanic coasts of the African continent, from the beginning of the Age of Discovery, in the 15th century.

European exploration of the African interior began in earnest at the end of the 18th century. By 1835, Europeans had mapped most of northwestern Africa. In the middle decades of the 19th century, the most famous of the European explorers were David Livingstone and H. M. Stanley, both of whom mapped vast areas of Southern Africa and Central Africa. Arduous expeditions in the 1850s and 1860s by Richard Burton, John Speke and James Grant located the great central lakes and the source of the Nile. By the end of the 19th century, Europeans had charted the Nile from its source, traced the courses of the Niger, Congo and Zambezi Rivers, and realized the vast resources of Africa.

Even as late as the 1870s, European states still controlled only 10 percent of the African continent, all their territories being near the coast. The most important holdings were Angola and Mozambique, held by Portugal; the Cape Colony, held by the United Kingdom; and Algeria, held by France. By 1914, only Ethiopia and Liberia were independent of European control.

Technological advancement facilitated overseas expansionism. Industrialisation brought about rapid advancements in transportation and communication, especially in the forms of steam navigation, railways, and telegraphs. Medical advances also were important, especially medicines for tropical diseases. The development of quinine, an effective treatment for malaria, enabled vast expanses of the tropics to be accessed by Europeans.


Africa and global markets

Areas controlled by European colonial powers on the African continent in 1913.

Sub-Saharan Africa, one of the last regions of the world largely untouched by 'informal imperialism', was also attractive to Europe's ruling elites for economic and racial reasons. During a time when Britain's balance of trade showed a growing deficit, with shrinking and increasingly protectionist continental markets due to the Long Depression (1873–1896), Africa offered Britain, Germany, France, and other countries an open market that would garner them a trade surplus: a market that bought more from the colonial power than it sold overall.[3] Britain, like most other industrial countries, had long since begun to run an unfavourable balance of trade (which was increasingly offset, however, by the income from overseas investments).

As Britain developed into the world's first post-industrial nation, financial services became an increasingly important sector of its economy. Invisible financial exports, kept Britain out of the red, especially capital investments outside Europe, particularly to the developing and open markets in Africa such as to the white settler colonies, the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia.[citation needed]

In addition, surplus capital was often more profitably invested overseas, where cheap materials, limited competition, and abundant raw materials made a greater premium possible. Another inducement for imperialism arose from the demand for raw materials unavailable in Europe, especially copper, cotton, rubber, palm oil, cocoa, diamonds, tea, and tin, to which European consumers had grown accustomed and upon which European industry had grown dependent. Additionally, Britain wanted the southern and eastern coasts of Africa for stopover ports on the route to Asia and its empire in India.[7]

However, in Africa – exclusive of the area which became the Union of South Africa in 1910 – the amount of capital investment by Europeans was relatively small, compared to other continents. Consequently, the companies involved in tropical African commerce were relatively small, apart from Cecil Rhodes's De Beers Mining Company. Rhodes had carved out Rhodesia for himself; Léopold II of Belgium later, and with considerably greater brutality, exploited the Congo Free State. These events might detract from the pro-imperialist arguments of colonial lobbies such as the Alldeutscher Verband, Francesco Crispi and Jules Ferry, who argued that sheltered overseas markets in Africa would solve the problems of low prices and over-production caused by shrinking continental markets.

John A. Hobson argued, in Imperialism, that this shrinking of continental markets was a key factor of the global "New Imperialism" period.

William Easterly of New York University, however, disagrees with the link made between capitalism and imperialism, arguing that colonialism is used mostly to promote state-led development rather than 'corporate' development. He has stated that "imperialism is not so clearly linked to capitalism and free markets... historically there has been a closer link between colonialism/imperialism and state-led approaches to development."[8]

Strategic rivalry

While tropical Africa was not a large zone of investment, other regions overseas were. The vast interior between the gold and diamond-rich Southern Africa and Egypt, had, however, key strategic value in securing the flow of overseas trade. Britain was thus under intense political pressure to secure lucrative markets against encroaching rivals, in China and the British Empire's eastern colonies, most notably India, Malaya, Australia and New Zealand. Thus, securing the key waterway between East and West – the Suez Canal – was crucial. The rivalry between the UK, France, Germany and the other European powers account for a large part of the colonization. Thus, while Germany, which had been unified under Prussia's rule only after the 1866 Battle of Sadowa and the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, was hardly a colonial power before the New Imperialism period, it would eagerly participate in the race. A rising industrial power close on the heels of Britain, it had not yet had the chance to control overseas territories, mainly due to its late unification, its fragmentation in various states, and its absence of experience in modern navigation. This would change under Bismarck's leadership, who implemented the Weltpolitik (World Politics) and, after putting in place the basis of France's isolation with the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary and then the 1882 Triple Alliance with Italy, called for the 1884–1885 Berlin Conference which set the rules of effective control of a foreign territory. Germany's expansionism would lead to the Tirpitz Plan, implemented by Admiral von Tirpitz, who would also champion the various Fleet Acts starting in 1898, thus engaging in an arms race with Britain. By 1914, they had given Germany the second largest naval force in the world (roughly 40% smaller than the Royal Navy). According to von Tirpitz, this aggressive naval policy was supported by the National Liberal Party rather than by the conservatives, thus demonstrating that the main supports of the European nation states' imperialism were the rising bourgeoisie classes.[9]

The scramble for African territory also reflected a concern for the acquisition of military and naval bases for strategic purposes and the exercise of power on an international scene. The ability to influence international events depended largely upon new weapons – steel ships driven by steam power – and for the maintenance of these growing navies, coaling stations and ports of call were required. Defence bases were also needed for the protection of sea routes and communication lines, particularly of expensive and vital international waterways such as the Suez Canal.[10]

Colonies were also seen as important aspects of 'balance of power' negotiations – useful as items of exchange at times of international bargaining. Colonies carrying a heavy native population were also important as a source of military power; Britain and France used large numbers of British Indian and North African soldiers respectively in many of their colonial wars. In the great age of nationalism there was strong pressure for a nation to acquire an empire as a status symbol; the idea of 'greatness' became inextricably linked with the sense of 'duty' that many European nations used to justify their imperialistic ambitions.[10]

Bismarck's Realpolitik

Germany began its world expansion in the 1880s under Bismarck's leadership, encouraged by the national bourgeoisie. Some of them, claiming themselves of Friedrich List's thought, advocated expansion in the Philippines and in Timor; others proposed to set themselves in Formosa (modern Taiwan), etc. At the end of the 1870s, these isolated voices began to be relayed by a real imperialist policy, which was backed by mercantilist thesis. In 1881, Hübbe-Schleiden, a lawyer, published Deutsche Kolonisation, according to which the ‘development of national consciousness demanded an independent overseas policy’.[11] Pan-germanism was thus linked to the young nation's imperialist drives. In the beginning of the 1880s, the Deutscher Kolonialverein was created, and got its own magazine in 1884, the Kolonialzeitung. This colonial lobby was also relayed by the nationalist Alldeutscher Verband. Generally Bismarck was opposed to widespread German colonialism, but he had to resign at the insistence of the new German Emperor Wilhelm II on 18 March 1890. Wilhelm II instead adopted a very aggressive policy of colonisation and introduced colonial expansion in the 1900s with the Weltpolitik (‘World Politics’) strategy.

Germany thus became the third largest colonial power in Africa. Nearly all of its overall empire of 2.6 million square kilometres and 14 million colonial subjects in 1914 was found in its African possessions of Southwest Africa, Togoland, the Cameroons, and Tanganyika. The scramble for Africa led Bismarck to propose the 1884–1885 Berlin Conference. Following the 1904 Entente cordiale between France and the UK, Germany tried to isolate France in 1905 with the First Moroccan Crisis. This led to the 1905 Algeciras Conference, in which France's influence on Morocco was compensated by the exchange of other territories, and then to the Agadir Crisis in 1911. Along with the 1898 Fashoda Incident between France and the UK, this succession of international crises reveals the bitterness of the struggle between the various imperalist nations, which ultimately led to World War I.

Clash of rival imperialisms

This scene from an Ethiopian tapestry depicts the Ethiopian triumph against European forces at the Battle of Adwa. The Italo-Ethiopian War of 1895–1896 distinguished Ethiopia as the only African state to maintain independence in the 19th century with a decisive show of force.

While de Brazza was exploring the Kongo Kingdom for France, Stanley also explored it in the early 1880s on behalf of Léopold II of Belgium, who would have his personal Congo Free State. While pretending to advocate humanitarianism and denounce slavery, Leopold II used the most inhumane tactics to exploit his newly acquired lands. His crimes were revealed by 1905, but he remained in control until 1908, when he was forced to turn over control to the Belgian government.

France occupied Tunisia in May 1881 (and Guinea in 1884), which partly convinced Italy to adhere in 1882 to the German-Austrian Dual Alliance, thus forming the Triple Alliance. The same year, Britain occupied Egypt (hitherto an autonomous state owing nominal fealty to the Ottoman Empire), which ruled over Sudan,, and parts of Chad, Eritrea, and Somalia. In 1870 and 1882, Italy took possession of the first parts of Eritrea, while Germany declared Togoland, the Cameroons and South West Africa to be under its protection in 1884. French West Africa (AOF) was founded in 1895, and French Equatorial Africa (AEF) in 1910.

Italy continued its conquest to gain its ‘place in the sun’. Following the defeat of the First Italo–Ethiopian War (1895–1896), it acquired Italian Somaliland in 1889–1890 and the whole of Eritrea (1899). In 1911, it engaged in a war with the Ottoman Empire, in which it acquired Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (modern Libya). Enrico Corradini, who fully supported the war, and later merged his group in the early fascist party (PNF), developed in 1919 the concept of Proletarian Nationalism, supposed to legitimise Italy's imperialism by a mixture of socialism with nationalism: ‘We must start by recognizing the fact that there are proletarian nations as well as proletarian classes; that is to say, there are nations whose living conditions are the way of life of other nations, just as classes are. Once this is realised, nationalism must insist firmly on this truth: Italy is, materially and morally, a proletarian nation.’[12] The Second Italo-Abyssinian War (1935–1936), ordered by Mussolini, would actually be one of the last colonial wars (that is, intended to colonize a foreign country, opposed to wars of national liberation), occupying Ethiopia which had remained the last African independent territory apart from Liberia, for five years. The Spanish Civil War, marking a new phase of what some call the European Civil War, began in 1936.

On the other hand, the British abandoned their "splendid isolation" in 1902 with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, which would enable the Empire of Japan to be victorious during the war against Russia (1904–1905). The UK then signed the Entente cordiale with France in 1904, and, in 1907, the Triple Entente which included Russia, thus pitted against the Triple Alliance which Bismarck had patiently assembled.

American Colonization Society and foundation of Liberia

James Monroe, first president of the ACS and US president (1817–1825). He invented the Monroe Doctrine, base of the US isolationism during the 19th century.
Joseph Jenkins Roberts became the first president of Liberia, one of only two independent African nations (alongside Ethiopia) at the time of European control and domination.

The United States took part, marginally, in this enterprise, through the American Colonization Society (ACS), established in 1816 by Robert Finley. The ACS offered emigration to Liberia (‘Land of the Free’), a colony founded in 1820, to free black slaves; emancipated slave Lott Carey actually became the first American Baptist missionary in Africa. This colonisation attempt was resisted by the native people.

The ACS was led by Southerners, and its first president was James Monroe, from Virginia, who became the fifth president of the United States from 1817 to 1825. Thus, ironically one of the main proponents of American colonisation of Africa was the same man who proclaimed, in his 1823 State of the Union address, the US opinion that European powers should no longer colonise the Americas or interfere with the affairs of sovereign nations located in the Americas. In return, the US planned to stay neutral in wars between European powers and in wars between a European power and its colonies. However, if these latter type of wars were to occur in the Americas, the U.S. would view such action as hostile toward itself. This famous statement became known as the Monroe Doctrine and was the base of United States isolationism during the nineteenth century.

Although the Liberia colony never became quite as big as envisaged, it was only the first step in the American colonisation of Africa, according to its early proponents. Thus, Jehudi Ashmun, an early leader of the ACS, envisioned an American empire in Africa. Between 1825 and 1826, he took steps to lease, annex, or buy tribal lands along the coast and along major rivers leading inland. Like his predecessor Lt. Robert Stockton, who in 1821 established the site for Monrovia by ‘persuading’ a local chief referred to as ‘King Peter’ to sell Cape Montserado (or Cape Mesurado) by pointing a pistol at his head, Ashmun was prepared to use force to extend the colony's territory. In a May 1825 treaty, King Peter and other native kings agreed to sell land in return for 500 bars of tobacco, three barrels of rum, five casks of powder, five umbrellas, ten iron posts, and ten pairs of shoes, among other items. In March 1825, the ACS began a quarterly, The African Repository and Colonial Journal, edited by Rev. Ralph Randolph Gurley (1797–1872), who headed the Society until 1844. Conceived as the Society's propaganda organ, the Repository promoted both colonisation and Liberia.

The Society controlled the colony of Liberia until 1847 when, under the perception that the British might annex the settlement, Liberia was proclaimed a free and independent state, thus becoming the first African decolonised state. By 1867, the Society had sent more than 13,000 emigrants. After the American Civil War (1861–1865), when many blacks wanted to go to Liberia, financial support for colonisation had waned. During its later years the society focused on educational and missionary efforts in Liberia rather than further emigration.

Crises prior to the First World War

Colonization of the Congo

David Livingstone's explorations, carried on by Henry Morton Stanley, excited imaginations. But at first, Stanley's grandiose ideas for colonisation found little support owing to the problems and scale of action required, except from Léopold II of Belgium, who in 1876 had organised the International African Association. From 1869 to 1874, Stanley was secretly sent by Léopold II to the Congo region, where he made treaties with several African chiefs along the Congo River and by 1882 had sufficient territory to form the basis of the Congo Free State. Léopold II personally owned the colony from 1885 and used it as a source of ivory and rubber.

Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza in his version of ‘native’ dress, photographed by Félix Nadar

While Stanley was exploring Congo on behalf of Léopold II of Belgium, the Franco-Italian marine officer Pierre de Brazza travelled into the western Congo basin and raised the French flag over the newly founded Brazzaville in 1881, thus occupying today's Republic of the Congo. Portugal, which also claimed the area due to old treaties with the native Kongo Empire, made a treaty with Britain on February 26, 1884 to block off the Congo Society's access to the Atlantic.

By 1890 the Congo Free State had consolidated its control of its territory between Leopoldville and Stanleyville and was looking to push south down the Lualaba River from Stanleyville. At the same time the British South Africa Company of Cecil Rhodes (who once declared, ‘all of these stars... these vast worlds that remain out of reach. If I could, I would annex other planets’[13]) was expanding north from the Limpopo River sending the Pioneer Column, guided by Frederick Selous, through Matabeleland and starting a colony in Mashonaland. To the West, attention was drawn to the land where their expansions would meet Katanga, site of the Yeke Kingdom of Msiri. As well as being the most powerful ruler militarily in the area, Msiri traded large quantities of copper, ivory and slaves, and rumours of gold reached European ears. The scramble for Katanga was a prime example of the period. Rhodes and the BSAC sent two expeditions to Msiri in 1890 led by Alfred Sharpe, who was rebuffed, and Joseph Thomson who failed to reach Katanga. In 1891 Leopold sent four CFS expeditions. The Le Marinel Expedition could only extract a vaguely worded letter. The Delcommune Expedition was rebuffed. The well-armed Stairs Expedition had orders to take Katanga with or without Msiri's consent; Msiri refused, was shot, and the expedition cut off his head and stuck it on a pole as a 'barbaric lesson' to the people. The Bia Expedition finished off the job of establishing an administration of sorts and a 'police presence' in Katanga.

Native Congo Free State labourers who failed to meet rubber collection quotas were often punished by having their hands cut off

The half million square kilometres of Katanga came into Leopold's possession and brought his African realm up to 2,300,000 square kilometres (890,000 sq mi), about 75 times larger than Belgium. The Congo Free State imposed such a terror regime on the colonised people, including mass killings with millions of victims, and slave labour, that Belgium, under pressure from the Congo Reform Association, ended Leopold II's rule and annexed it in 1908 as a colony of Belgium, known as the Belgian Congo.

A hard-hitting 1906 Punch cartoon depicting King Leopold II of Belgium as a rubber vine entangling a Congolese man.

King Leopold II of Belgium's brutality in his former colony of the Congo Free State,[14][15] now the DRC, was well documented; up to 8 million of the estimated 16 million native inhabitants died between 1885 and 1908.[16] According to the former British diplomat Roger Casement, this depopulation had four main causes: "indiscriminate war", starvation, reduction of births and diseases.[17] Sleeping sickness ravaged the country and must also be taken into account for the dramatic decrease in population.

Estimates of the total death toll vary considerably. As the first census did not take place until 1924, it is difficult to quantify the population loss of the period. Casement's report set it at three million.[18] See Congo Free State for further details including numbers of victims.

A similar situation occurred in the neighbouring French Congo. Most of the resource extraction was run by concession companies, whose brutal methods resulted in the loss of up to 50 percent of the indigenous population.[19] The French government appointed a commission, headed by de Brazza, in 1905 to investigate the rumoured abuses in the colony. However, de Brazza died on the return trip, and his "searingly critical" report was neither acted upon nor released to the public.[20] In the 1920s, about 20,000 forced labourers died building a railroad through the French territory.[21]

Suez Canal

Ferdinand de Lesseps had obtained many concessions from Isma'il Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan, in 1854–1856, to build the Suez Canal. Some sources estimate the workforce at 30,000,[22] but others estimate that 120,000 workers died over the ten years of construction due to malnutrition, fatigue and disease, especially cholera.[23] Shortly before its completion in 1869, Khedive Isma'il borrowed enormous sums from British and French bankers at high rates of interest. By 1875, he was facing financial difficulties and was forced to sell his block of shares in the Suez Canal. The shares were snapped up by Britain, under its Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who sought to give his country practical control in the management of this strategic waterway. When Isma'il repudiated Egypt's foreign debt in 1879, Britain and France seized joint financial control over the country, forcing the Egyptian ruler to abdicate, and installing his eldest son Tewfik Pasha in his place. The Egyptian and Sudanese ruling classes did not relish foreign intervention. In 1881, the Mahdist revolt erupted in Sudan under Muhammad Ahmad, severing Tewfik's authority in Sudan. The same year, Tewfik suffered an even more perilous rebellion by his own Egyptian army in the form of the Urabi Revolt. In 1882, Tewfik appealed for direct British military assistance, commencing Britain's occupation of Egypt. A joint British-Egyptian military force ultimately defeated the Mahdist forces in Sudan in 1898. Thereafter, Britain (rather than Egypt) seized effective control of Sudan.

Berlin Conference

The occupation of Egypt, and the acquisition of the Congo were the first major moves in what came to be a precipitous scramble for African territory. In 1884, Otto von Bismarck convened the 1884–1885 Berlin Conference to discuss the Africa problem. The diplomats put on a humanitarian façade by condemning the slave trade, prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages and firearms in certain regions, and by expressing concern for missionary activities. More importantly, the diplomats in Berlin laid down the rules of competition by which the great powers were to be guided in seeking colonies. They also agreed that the area along the Congo River was to be administered by Léopold II of Belgium as a neutral area, known as the Congo Free State, in which trade and navigation were to be free. No nation was to stake claims in Africa without notifying other powers of its intentions. No territory could be formally claimed prior to being effectively occupied. However, the competitors ignored the rules when convenient and on several occasions war was only narrowly avoided.

Britain's occupation of Egypt and South Africa

Boer women and children in a concentration camp during the Second Boer War (1899–1902)

Britain's occupations of Egypt and the Cape Colony contributed to a preoccupation over securing the source of the Nile River. Egypt was occupied by British forces in 1882 (although not formally declared a protectorate until 1914, and never an actual colony); Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda were subjugated in the 1890s and early 1900s; and in the south, the Cape Colony (first acquired in 1795) provided a base for the subjugation of neighbouring African states and the Dutch Afrikaner settlers who had left the Cape to avoid the British and then founded their own republics. In 1877, Theophilus Shepstone annexed the South African Republic (or Transvaal – independent from 1857 to 1877) for the British. The UK consolidated its power over most of the colonies of South Africa in 1879 after the Anglo-Zulu War. The Boers protested and in December 1880 they revolted, leading to the First Boer War (1880–1881). British Prime Minister William Gladstone signed a peace treaty on March 23, 1881, giving self-government to the Boers in the Transvaal. The Jameson Raid of 1895 was a failed attempt by the British South Africa Company and the Johannesburg Reform Committee to overthrow the Boer government in the Transvaal. The Second Boer War was about control of the gold and diamond industries and was fought between 1899 to 1902; the independent Boer republics of the Orange Free State and of the South African Republic (Transvaal) were this time defeated and absorbed into the British empire.

Fashoda Incident

The 1898 Fashoda Incident was one of the most crucial conflicts on Europe's way to consolidating holdings in the continent. It brought Britain and France to the verge of war but ended in a major strategic victory for Britain, and provided the basis for the 1904 Entente Cordiale between the two rival countries. It stemmed from battles over control of the Nile headwaters, which caused Britain to expand in the Sudan.

Jules Ferry, French Republican who, as prime minister, directed the negotiations which led to the establishment of a protectorate in Tunis (1881), prepared the December 17, 1885 treaty for the occupation of Madagascar; directed the exploration of the Congo and of the Niger region; and organised the conquest of Indochina. He resigned after the 1885 Tonkin incident.

The French thrust into the African interior was mainly from West Africa (modern day Senegal) eastward, through the Sahel along the southern border of the Sahara, a territory covering modern day Senegal, Mali, Niger, and Chad. Their ultimate aim was to have an uninterrupted link between the Niger River and the Nile, thus controlling all trade to and from the Sahel region, by virtue of their existing control over the Caravan routes through the Sahara. The British, on the other hand, wanted to link their possessions in Southern Africa (modern South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zambia), with their territories in East Africa (modern Kenya), and these two areas with the Nile basin. Sudan (which in those days included modern day Uganda) was obviously key to the fulfilment of these ambitions, especially since Egypt was already under British control. This 'red line' through Africa is made most famous by Cecil Rhodes. Along with Lord Milner (the British colonial minister in South Africa), Rhodes advocated such a ‘Cape to Cairo’ empire linking by rail the Suez Canal to the mineral-rich Southern part of the continent. Though hampered by German occupation of Tanganyika until the end of World War I, Rhodes successfully lobbied on behalf of such a sprawling East African empire.

If one draws a line from Cape Town to Cairo (Rhodes' dream), and one from Dakar to the Horn of Africa (now Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia), (the French ambition), these two lines intersect somewhere in eastern Sudan near Fashoda, explaining its strategic importance. In short, Britain had sought to extend its East African empire contiguously from Cairo to the Cape of Good Hope, while France had sought to extend its own holdings from Dakar to the Sudan, which would enable its empire to span the entire continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

A French force under Jean-Baptiste Marchand arrived first at the strategically located fort at Fashoda soon followed by a British force under Lord Kitchener, commander in chief of the British army since 1892. The French withdrew after a standoff, and continued to press claims to other posts in the region. In March 1899 the French and British agreed that the source of the Nile and Congo Rivers should mark the frontier between their spheres of influence.

Moroccan Crisis

The Moroccan Sultan Abdelhafid, who led an anti-imperialist resistance during the Agadir Crisis.

Although the 1884–1885 Berlin Conference had set the rules for the scramble for Africa, it had not weakened the rival imperialisms. The 1898 Fashoda Incident, which had seen France and the UK on the brink of war, ultimately led to the signature of the 1904 Entente cordiale, which reversed the influence of the various European powers. As a result, the new German power decided to test the solidity of the influence, using the contested territory of Morocco as a battlefield.

Thus, on 31 March 1905 Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Tangiers and made a speech in favor of Moroccan independence, challenging French influence in Morocco. France's influence in Morocco had been reaffirmed by Britain and Spain in 1904. The Kaiser's speech bolstered French nationalism and with British support the French foreign minister, Théophile Delcassé, took a defiant line. The crisis peaked in mid-June 1905, when Delcassé was forced out of the ministry by the more conciliation minded premier Maurice Rouvier. But by July 1905 Germany was becoming isolated and the French agreed to a conference to solve the crisis. Both France and Germany continued to posture up until the conference, with Germany mobilizing reserve army units in late December and France actually moving troops to the border in January 1906.

The 1906 Algeciras Conference was called to settle the dispute. Of the thirteen nations present the German representatives found their only supporter was Austria-Hungary. France had firm support from Britain, Russia, Italy, Spain, and the U.S. The Germans eventually accepted an agreement, signed on May 31, 1906, where France yielded certain domestic changes in Morocco but retained control of key areas.

However, five years later the second Moroccan crisis (or Agadir Crisis) was sparked by the deployment of the German gunboat Panther, to the port of Agadir on July 1, 1911. Germany had started to attempt to surpass Britain's naval supremacy – the British navy had a policy of remaining larger than the next two naval fleets in the world combined. When the British heard of the Panther's arrival in Morocco, they wrongly believed that the Germans meant to turn Agadir into a naval base on the Atlantic.

The German move was aimed at reinforcing claims for compensation for acceptance of effective French control of the North African kingdom, where France's pre-eminence had been upheld by the 1906 Algeciras Conference. In November 1911 a convention was signed under which Germany accepted France's position in Morocco in return for territory in the French Equatorial African colony of Middle Congo (now the Republic of the Congo).

France subsequently established a full protectorate over Morocco (March 30, 1912), ending what remained of the country's formal independence. Furthermore, British backing for France during the two Moroccan crises reinforced the Entente between the two countries and added to Anglo-German estrangement, deepening the divisions which would culminate in World War I.

Statue of Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, the "Mad Mullah", who led a twenty-year long anti-imperial resistance war.

Dervish resistance

Following the Berlin conference at the end of the 19th century, the British, Italians and Ethiopians sought to claim lands owned by the existing Somali empires such as the Warsangali Sultanate, the Ajuuraan State and the Gobroon Dynasty.

The Dervish State was a response established by Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, a Somali religious leader who gathered Muslim soldiers from across the Horn of Africa and united them into a loyal army known as the Dervishes. This Dervish army enabled Hassan to carve out a powerful state through conquest of lands sought after by the Ethiopians and the European powers. The Dervish State successfully repulsed the British Empire four times and forced it to retreat to the coastal region.[24] Due to these successful expeditions, the Dervish State was recognized as an ally by the Ottoman and German empires. The Turks also named Hassan Emir of the Somali nation,[25] and the Germans promised to officially recognize any territories the Dervishes were to acquire.[26]

After a quarter of a century of holding the British at bay, the Dervishes were finally defeated in 1920 as a direct consequence of Britain's new policy of aerial bombardment.[27]

Colonial encounter

Colonial consciousness and exhibitions

Pygmies and a European. Some pygmies would be exposed in human zoos, such as Ota Benga displayed by eugenicist Madison Grant in the Bronx Zoo.

Colonial lobby

In its earlier stages, imperialism was generally the act of individual explorers as well as some adventurous merchantmen. The colonial powers were a long way from approving without any dissent the expensive adventures carried out abroad. Various important political leaders such as Gladstone opposed colonisation in its first years. However, during his second premiership in 1880–1885 he could not resist the colonial lobby in his cabinet, and thus did not execute his electoral promise to disengage from Egypt. Although Gladstone was personally opposed to imperialism, the social tensions caused by the Long Depression pushed him to favor jingoism: the imperialists had become the ‘parasites of patriotism’ (Hobson[28]). In France, then Radical politician Georges Clemenceau also adamantly opposed himself to it: he thought colonisation was a diversion from the ‘blue line of the Vosges’ mountains, that is revanchism and the patriotic urge to reclaim the Alsace-Lorraine region which had been annexed by the 1871 Treaty of Frankfurt. Clemenceau actually made Jules Ferry's cabinet fall after the 1885 Tonkin disaster. According to Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), this expansion of national sovereignty on overseas territories contradicted the unity of the nation state which provided citizenship to its population. Thus, a tension between the universalist will to respect human rights of the colonised people, as they may be considered as ‘citizens’ of the nation state, and the imperialist drives to cynically exploit populations deemed inferior began to surface. Some, in colonising countries, opposed what they saw as unnecessary evils of the colonial administration when left to itself; as described in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) – contemporary of Kipling's The White Man's Burden – or in Louis-Ferdinand Céline's Journey to the End of the Night (1932).

Thus, colonial lobbies were progressively set up to legitimise the Scramble for Africa and other expensive overseas adventures. In Germany, in France, in Britain, the bourgeoisie began to claim strong overseas policies to insure the market's growth. In 1916, Lenin would publish Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism describing this phenomenon. Even in lesser powers, voices like Corradini began to claim a ‘place in the sun’ for so-called ‘proletarian nations’, bolstering nationalism and militarism in an early prototype of fascism.

Colonial propaganda and jingoism

Colonial exhibitions
Poster for the 1906 Colonial Exhibition in Marseilles (France)

However, by the end of World War I the colonial empires had become very popular almost everywhere in Europe: public opinion had been convinced of the needs of a colonial empire, although most of the metropolitans would never see a piece of it. Colonial exhibitions had been instrumental in this change of popular mentalities brought about by the colonial propaganda, supported by the colonial lobby and by various scientists. Thus, the conquest of territories were inevitably followed by public displays of the indigenous people for scientific and leisure purposes. Karl Hagenbeck, a German merchant in wild animals and future entrepreneur of most Europeans zoos, thus decided in 1874 to exhibit Samoa and Sami people as ‘purely natural’ populations. In 1876, he sent one of his collaborators to the newly conquered Egyptian Sudan to bring back some wild beasts and Nubians. Presented in Paris, London and Berlin, these Nubians were very successful. Such ‘human zoos’ could be found in Hamburg, Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Milan, New York, Warsaw, etc., with 200,000 to 300,000 visitors attending each exhibition. Tuaregs were exhibited after the French conquest of Timbuktu (discovered by René Caillé, disguised as a Muslim, in 1828, thereby winning the prize offered by the French Société de Géographie); Malagasy after the occupation of Madagascar; Amazons of Abomey after Behanzin's mediatic defeat against the French in 1894. Not used to the climatic conditions, some of the indigenous exposed died, such as some Galibis in Paris in 1892.[29]

Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire, director of the Parisian Jardin d'acclimatation, decided in 1877 to organise two ‘ethnological spectacles’, presenting Nubians and Inuit. The public of the Jardin d'acclimatation doubled, with a million paying entrances that year, a huge success for these times. Between 1877 and 1912, approximatively thirty ‘ethnological exhibitions’ were presented at the Jardin zoologique d'acclimatation.[30] ‘Negro villages’ would be presented in Paris's 1878 and 1879 World's Fair; the 1900 World's Fair presented the famous diorama ‘living’ in Madagascar, while the Colonial Exhibitions in Marseilles (1906 and 1922) and in Paris (1907 and 1931) would also display human beings in cages, often nudes or quasi-nudes.[31] Nomadic ‘Senegalese villages’ were also created, thus displaying the power of the colonial empire to all the population.

In the U.S., Madison Grant, head of the New York Zoological Society, exposed Pygmy Ota Benga in the Bronx Zoo alongside the apes and others in 1906. At the behest of Grant, a prominent scientific racist and eugenicist, zoo director Hornaday, placed Ota Benga in a cage with an orangutan and labeled him ‘The Missing Link’ in an attempt to illustrate Darwinism, and in particular that Africans like Ota Benga are closer to apes than were Europeans.

Such colonial exhibitions, which include the 1924 British Empire Exhibition and the successful 1931 Paris Exposition coloniale, were doubtlessly a key element of the colonisation project and legitimised the ruthless Scramble for Africa. In the same way, the popular comic-strip The Adventures of Tintin, full of clichés, were an obvious carrier of an ethnocentric and racist ideology, reflecting the masses' consent to the imperialist phenomenon; see Hergé's Tintin in the Congo (1930–1931) or The Broken Ear (1935).

While comic-strips played the same role as westerns to legitimise the Indian Wars in the United States, colonial exhibitions were both popular and scientific, being an interface between the crowds and serious scientific research. Thus, anthropologists such as Madison Grant or Alexis Carrel built their pseudo-scientific racism, inspired by Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853–1855). Human zoos provided both a real-size laboratory for these racial hypotheses and a demonstration of their validity: by labelling Ota Benga as the ‘missing link’ between apes and Europeans—as was done in the Bronx Zoo—social Darwinism and the pseudo-hierarchy of races were ‘proved’, and the layman could observe this ‘scientific truth.’


Anthropology, the daughter of colonisation, participated in this so-called scientific racism based on social Darwinism by supporting, along with social positivism and scientism, the claims of the superiority of the Western civilisation over ‘primitive cultures’. However, the discovery of ancient cultures would dialectically lead anthropology to criticise itself and revalue the importance of foreign cultures. Thus, the 1897 Punitive Expedition led by the British Admiral Harry Rawson captured, burned, and looted the city of Benin, incidentally bringing to an end the West African Kingdom of Benin. However, the sack of Benin distributed the famous Benin bronzes and other works of art into the European art market, as the British Admiralty auctioned off the confiscated patrimony to defray costs of the Expedition. Most of the great Benin bronzes went first to purchasers in Germany, though a sizable group remain in the British Museum. The Benin bronzes then catalysed the beginnings of a long reassessment of the value of West African culture, which had strong influences on the formation of modernism.

Several contemporary studies have focused on the construction of the racist discourse in the nineteenth century and its propaganda as a precondition of the colonisation project and of the Scramble of Africa, made with total disconcern for the local population, as exemplified by Stanley, according to whom ‘the savage only respects force, power, boldness, and decision.’ Anthropology thrived on these explorations, as had geography before them and ethnology would afterwards. According to several historians, the formulation of this racist discourse and practices would also be a precondition of ‘state racism’ (Michel Foucault) as incarnated by the Holocaust (see also Olivier LeCour Grandmaison's description of the conquest of Algeria and Sven Lindqvist, as well as Hannah Arendt).

Extermination of the Namaqua and the Herero

A nineteenth-century caricature of the ‘Hottentot Venus’. Saartje Baartman, a Khoisan woman, was exhibited naked and in a cage as a sideshow attraction in England, fueling the African Association's indignation. After her death, her genitals were dissected and cast in wax. Nelson Mandela formally requested France to return her remains, which had been kept at the Parisian Musée de l'Homme until 1974.
Surviving Herero, emaciated, after their escape through the Omaheke desert.

In 1985, the United Nations' Whitaker Report classified Germany's turn of the century attempt to exterminate the Herero and Namaqua people of South-West Africa as one of the earliest attempts at genocide in the 20th century. In total, some 65,000 Herero (80% of the total Herero population), and 10,000 Namaqua (50% of the total Namaqua population) were killed between 1904 and 1907. Characteristic of this genocide was death by starvation and the poisoning of the population's wells whilst they were trapped in the Namib Desert.


During the New Imperialism period, by the end of the century, Europe added almost 9,000,000 square miles (23,000,000 km2) – one-fifth of the land area of the globe – to its overseas colonial possessions. Europe's formal holdings now included the entire African continent except Ethiopia, Liberia, and Saguia el-Hamra, the latter of which would be integrated into Spanish Sahara. Between 1885 and 1914 Britain took nearly 30% of Africa's population under its control; 15% for France, 11% for Portugal, 9% for Germany, 7% for Belgium and 1% for Italy.[citation needed] Nigeria alone contributed 15 million subjects, more than in the whole of French West Africa or the entire German colonial empire. It was paradoxical that Britain, the staunch advocate of free trade, emerged in 1914 with not only the largest overseas empire thanks to its long-standing presence in India, but also the greatest gains in the ‘scramble for Africa’, reflecting its advantageous position at its inception. In terms of surface area occupied, the French were the marginal victors but much of their territory consisted of the sparsely populated Sahara.

The political imperialism followed the economic expansion, with the ‘colonial lobbies’ bolstering chauvinism and jingoism at each crisis in order to legitimise the colonial enterprise. The tensions between the imperial powers led to a succession of crises, which finally exploded in August 1914, when previous rivalries and alliances created a domino situation that drew the major European nations into the First World War. Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia to avenge the murder by Serbian agents of Austrian crown prince Francis Ferdinand, Russia would mobilise to assist allied Serbia, Germany would intervene to support Austria-Hungary against Russia. Since Russia had a military alliance with France against Germany, the German General Staff, led by General von Moltke decided to realise the well prepared Schlieffen Plan to invade France and quickly knock her out of the war before turning against Russia in what was expected to be a long campaign. This required an invasion of Belgium which brought Britain into the war against Germany, Austria-Hungary and their allies. German U-Boat campaigns against ships bound for Britain eventually drew the United States into what had become World War I. Moreover, using the Anglo-Japanese Alliance as an excuse, Japan leaped onto this opportunity to conquer German interests in China and the Pacific to become the dominating power in Western Pacific, setting the stage for the Second Sino-Japanese War (starting in 1937) and eventually World War II.

African colonies listed by colonizing power



French map of Africa c. 1898 with colonial claims. British possessions are in yellow; French possessions in pink; Belgian in orange; German in green; Portuguese in purple; Italian in striped pink; Spanish in striped orange; independent Ethiopia in brown
  • French North Africa :





United Kingdom

The British were primarily interested in maintaining secure communication lines to India, which led to initial interest in Egypt and South Africa. Once these two areas were secure, it was the intent of British colonialists such as Cecil Rhodes to establish a Cape-Cairo railway. It is also important to stress that the United Kingdom had perhaps the most valuable possession in Africa: the Nile.

Independent states

See also


  1. ^ McKay, John P.; Hill, Bennett D.; Buckler, John; Ebrey, Patricia Buckley; Beck, Roger B.; Crowston, Clare Haru; Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. A History of World Societies: From 1775 to Present . Eighth edition. Volume C – From 1775 to the Present. (2009). Bedford/St. Martin's: Boston/New York. ISBN 978-0-312-68298-9. ISBN 0-312-68298-0. "By 1883 Europe had caught 'African fever,' and the race for territory was on." (McKay 738).
  2. ^ R, Robinson, J.Gallagher and A. Denny, Africa and the Victorians, London, 1965, Page. 175.
  3. ^ a b Kevin Shillington, History of Africa: Revised Second Edition, (New York: Macmillian Publishers Limited, 2005), 301
  4. ^ "| The Fall of the Asante Empire: The Hundred-Year War For Africa's Gold Coast". ASIN 0743236386. 
  5. ^ "The Matabele Campaign: being a narrative of the campaign in suppressing the native rising in Matabeleland and Mashonaland, 1896". ASIN 0543848086. 
  6. ^ "Pan-Africanism and nationalism in West Africa, 1900–1945; a study in ideology and social classes, by J. Ayodele Langley". Retrieved 2010-08-08. 
  7. ^ Lynn Hunt, The Making of the west: volume C, Bedford/ St. Martin 2009
  8. ^ Easterly, William (September 17, 2009). "The Imperial Origins of State-Led Development". New York University Blogs. Retrieved 2009-09-23. 
  9. ^ Alfred von Tirpitz, Erinnerungen (1919), quoted by Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, section on Imperialism, chapter I, part 3
  10. ^ a b H.R. Cowie, Imperialism and Race Relations – Revised Edition, Nelson Publishing: Volume 5, 1982
  11. ^ German colonial imperialism: a late and short-term phenomenon (PDF) by Bernard Poloni, in ‘Imperialism, hegemony, leadership’, March 26, 2004 Conference in the Sorbonne University, Paris (French)
  12. ^ Enrico Corradini, Report to the First Nationalist Congress: Florence, December 3, 1919.
  13. ^ S. Gertrude Millin, Rhodes, London, 1933, p.138
  14. ^ Bourne, Henry Richard Fox (1903). Civilisation in Congoland: A Story of International Wrong-doing. London: P. S. King & Son. p. 253.,M1. Retrieved 2007-09-26. 
  15. ^ Forbath, Peter (1977). The River Congo: The Discovery, Exploration and Exploitation of the World's Most Dramatic Rivers. [Harper & Row]. p. 374. ISBN 0-06-122490-1. 
  16. ^ The New York Times. 
  17. ^ Hochschild p. 226–232
  18. ^
  19. ^ Vansina, Jan (1966). Paths in the Rainforest. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 239. 
  20. ^ Hochschild, Adam (1998). King Leopold's Ghost. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 280–281. 
  21. ^ Coquéry-Vidrovitch, Catherine (1971). Le Congo au temps des grandes compagnies concessionaires 1898–1930. Paris: Mouton. p. 195. 
  22. ^ L'Aventure Humaine: Le canal de Suez, Article de l'historien Uwe Oster.
  23. ^ BBC News website:The Suez Crisis — Key maps.
  24. ^ Kevin Shillington, Encyclopedia of African history, (CRC Press: 2005), p.1406.
  25. ^ I.M. Lewis, The modern history of Somaliland: from nation to state, (Weidenfeld & Nicolson: 1965), p. 78
  26. ^ Thomas P. Ofcansky, Historical dictionary of Ethiopia, (The Scarecrow Press, Inc.: 2004), p.405
  27. ^ Samatar, Said Sheikh (1982). Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 131 & 135. ISBN 0521238331. 
  28. ^ John A. Hobson, Imperialism, 1902, p.61 (quoted by Arendt)
  29. ^ From human zoos to colonial apotheoses: the era of exhibiting the Other, by Pascal Blanchard, Nicolas Bancel, and Sandrine Lemaire
  30. ^ ‘These human zoos of the Colonial Republic’, Le Monde diplomatique, August 2000, (French) (Translation (English))
  31. ^ "February 2003, the end of an era". Retrieved 2010-08-08. 

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