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African Scramble

African Scramble

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Published by Gabriel Lambert

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Published by: Gabriel Lambert on Mar 15, 2011
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Gabriel Lambert Global and Imperial History 
Why Scramble for Africa?
ake up the White Man's burden--Send forth the best ye breed--Go bind your sons to exile
o serve your captives' need;
o wait in heavy harness,On fluttered folk and wild--Your new-caught, sullen peoples,Half-devil and half-child.
1
 In this extract from The White Mans Buren, Kipling succinctly captures thezeitgeist 
 
- it was the western and specifically the white mans heavyresponsibility to bring Christianity, civilization and commerce
2
to the dark continent and indeed all primitive peoples across the world. But do suchapparently philanthropic (though inherently racist) sentiments provide asuitable explanation for the scramble for Africa, in which every part of thecontinent, save Liberia and Ethiopia, was annexed or made a protectorate by1914? Imperialist rhetoric , with its mix of self-interest, racial arrogance andmissionary zeal
3
may well have concealed deeper reasons for the rapid seizureof land by the European powers  economic and strategic factors may have beena more important motivating factor than the moral crusade Kipling advocated.Yet, the very term scramble is misleading. If one can identify distinct regional orcountry-specific reasons for annexation, or if one would like to distinguishbetween the carving up of land on paper at the 1884-5 Berlin Conference and thephysical process of annexation, it would be best to talk of scrambles. It is alsonecessary to distinguish between means and motive  if some Europeancountries had the ability to partition Africa earlier in the 19th century, why didthey not?European states may have possessed the ability to annex African territory beforethe 1880s, but it was only in this period that they could do so without sufferingmajor losses in battle and by disease. In early 19th century West Africa theannual mortality rate was around 250-750 per 1000, mostly due to malaria.
4
Yet,by the latter part of the century, largely due to the discovery of the prophylacticproperties of the cinchona tree from South America in the late 1840s, the deathrate had dropped to 50-100 per 1000. In a British expedition to the Asantecapital of Kumasi lasting two months only 2% of the force was lost due todisease.
5
The invention and widespread use of repeating rifles with hollow-basedbullets to catch rifling from around 1885 and the patent of the Maxim machinegun, capable of firing 11 bullets per second in 1886, meant that a relatively smallnumber of trained troops could wield unprecedented firepower at superior
1
 
he White Mans Burden
, Rudyard Kipling, 1899, was urging America to take up the WhiteMans burden in the Phillipines after Spanish-American war.
2
Parker, J., and Rathbone, R.,
African History,
p88
3
 
ibid,
p95
4
Curtin, P., Feierman, S., Thompson, L., Vansina, J.,
African History,
p445
5
 
ibid,
p446
 
 
Gabriel Lambert Global and Imperial History 
ranges.
6
Therefore, whilst the annexation of Algeria took France a lengthy 17years of attrition beginning in 1830 since both sides had similar weapons, theMahdist army was essentially broken in a single battle at Omdurman in 1898where it suffered 11,000 dead to the British 49 since they repeatedly chargedranks of machine guns and rapidly-firing rifles.
7
Thus technologically, it was onlyin the 1880s that Europe had the means to undertake invasions in an efficient and inexpensive manner.However, it must be added that, before the scramble began in earnest in 1880s,it was unlikely that any European power would have been able to interfereextensively in Africa, regardless of technology. Most developed states wereeither suffering internal crises, did not exist, or had other territorial ambitions.France suffered revolutions in 1830, 1848 and, most embarrassingly, in 1870during the Franco-Prussian War, Germany and Italy were not a united countriesuntil around 1871, Russia had a large Asian landmass for expansion and the USAwas preoccupied with Mexican conquest and then the devastating Civil War.
8
 The only power who might have taken an more significant interest in Africa wasBritain. Yet her concerns were and remained primarily commercial  all sherequired for this aim was free trade, which she guaranteed through her navy.There was simply no need to annex territory if it was simply being used to trade.What changed in Britain and the other European powers that gave them the
motive
as well as the
means
to compete to occupy African territory?One explanation is economic. A Marxist position would argue that the politicalbodies of the time were simply representing the monopolistic groups of financialcapital
9
in their commitment to secure colonies. Interestingly, this idea wasshared, though in different terms, by William Gregory, former Tory MP andgovernor of Ceylon who argued that the governments decision to invade Egypt was at the request of a clique of investors.
10
It is true that the loss of confidencein Egyptian stability in June 1882 when the money markets learnt of Egyptianinstability may have influenced the British decision to invade (though concernsfor the Suez Canal as the fastest route to India remained paramount). However,other than in Egypt and South Africa, there was very little foreign capitalinvested in Africa. British investment in Egypt was still only 1.3% of the totalcapital invested abroad in non-European countries in 1913.
11
Indeed, trade withthe continent also remained low, suggesting that economic justifications of annexation were groundless  in 1909 British trade with tropical Africa stood at £14 million, up from £2.3 million in the late 1860s but still only representing 2%of extra-European trade.
12
 Yet, in the early 1880s, there was no way of predicting what the economic returnfrom Africa would be. For instance, France saw in the interior of Africa markets
6
Iliffe, J.,
Africans 
he History of a Continent,
p193
7
Parker, J., and Rathbone, R.,
African History 
,
 
p98
8
Oliver, R., and Matthew, G.,
History of East Africa,
p357
9
Sik, E., in Betts, R. F.,
he Scramble for Africa  Causes and Dimensions of Empire
, p65
10
James, L.,
he Rise and Fall of the British Empire,
p273
11
Sanderson, G.N., The European Partition of Africa: Origins and Dynamics, p101
12
 
ibid,
p101
 
 
Gabriel Lambert Global and Imperial History 
and outlets for capital which would not merely palliate but cure the malaise of the industrial economy.
13
Similarly, the
Leeds Mercury 
of the 28 February 1885predicted a vast market for cotton goods, blankets, crockery, muskets.
14
Thus it was
expected 
that Africa would yield far more both in terms of new markets andraw materials such as cotton, dye-woods, waxes, vegetable oils and lubricants tofuel her growing industrialization.
15
Such expectations were understandable,given the general condition of the world economy  from the mid-1870s most European markets had been flooded with inexpensive agricultural produce astheir own export rates fell. Tariffs raised by most European countries gave riseto the idea of forming imperial trading blocks with preferential rates toencourage growth.This was apparent with Portugals systematic exploitation of Angola andMozambique in what might be termed new mercantilism.
16
Whilst thenationalistic fervour from colonial relations might provide a means of distractingthe urban proletariat from radical socialism and anarchism its prime functionwas to try to drag Portugal out of financial crisis. Colonial goods were shippedfor re-export from Portugal (mainly cocoa, rubber and coffee, the latter two fromAngola) and tariffs were raised on domestic consumables such as sugar.
17
As it transpired, the coffee market was already saturated from South America. But it was far more appealing to contemplate colonial expansion than complexdomestic economic reform that would inevitably risk alienating a section of onespopulation. But even if the actual yields from colonies were low, it was the
prospect 
of systematic economic gain to aid the struggling European economiesthat attracted many to Africa.In some cases, economic interest groups, particularly traders and merchants,specifically requested either annexation of territory in which they wereoperating. This was particularly true of British merchants  the importance of Egypt stability to provide a capital market and the pressure from financiers toinvade has already been mentioned but William Mackinnon and his involvement in East Africa provides another example. As long as the conditions for legitimatecommerce and Christianity were established, it did not matter to Britain whoactually possessed the territories on the east coast.
18
It was far easier to operateindirectly, by strengthening a local state, in this case the Sultan Barghash of Zanzibar. It was only the arrival of Carl Peters, the founder of the
Gesellschaft für Deutsche Kolonisation
in 1885 who successfully sought treaties with the localchiefs and the need after 1887 to secure the source of the Nile that spurred thegrant of a royal charter to Mackinnons new trading company in 1888, therebydemonstrating direct British support for his territorial acquisitions on the east coast.
19
Thus what started as an indirect economic relationship rapidly turnedinto a more direct, important relationship. But this change occurred not because
13
 
ibid,
p101
14
James, L.,
he Rise and Fall of the British Empire,
p293
15
Oliver, R., and Matthew, G.,
History of East Africa,
p352
16
Clarence-Smith, G.
he
hird Portuguese Empire. A Study in Economic Imperialis
m, p81
17
 
ibid,
pp87-8
18
Oliver, R., and Matthew, G.,
History of East Africa,
p356
 
19
 
ibid 
, p377
 

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