Gabriel Lambert Global and Imperial History
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.
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.
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
as well as the
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
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 governments decision to invade Egypt was at the request of a clique of investors.
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.
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.
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
he History of a Continent,
Parker, J., and Rathbone, R.,
Oliver, R., and Matthew, G.,
History of East Africa,
Sik, E., in Betts, R. F.,
he Scramble for Africa Causes and Dimensions of Empire
he Rise and Fall of the British Empire,
Sanderson, G.N., The European Partition of Africa: Origins and Dynamics, p101