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Scramble for Africa

Scramble for Africa

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Published by HeatherDelancett
Unlike previous colonization projects, the continent of Africa was divided into territories assigned to various European nations on completely arbitrary measures. The African continent at the time was still largely unexplored, and the men at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 were ignorant and unaware of the various pre-existing tribal and cultural boundaries and which ethnic groups were homogenous or rivals.
Unlike previous colonization projects, the continent of Africa was divided into territories assigned to various European nations on completely arbitrary measures. The African continent at the time was still largely unexplored, and the men at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 were ignorant and unaware of the various pre-existing tribal and cultural boundaries and which ethnic groups were homogenous or rivals.

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Published by: HeatherDelancett on May 07, 2012
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Heather DeLancettHIST 445
 –
European ImperialismProf. Michael BitterSpring 2011
 –
4
th
Short
New Imperialism in Africa
European Imperialism reached its height of power, influence and excess during the phase known
as the “Scramble for Africa.”
As
Wesseling notes, “Africa is a European concept.”
1
Unlike previouscolonization projects, the continent of Africa was divided into territories assigned to various Europeannations on completely arbitrary measures. The African continent at the time was still largelyunexplored, and the men at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 were ignorant and unaware of the variouspre-existing tribal and cultural boundaries and which ethnic groups were homogenous or rivals. Beyondmere ignorance of these linguistic and cultural differences, once discovered, they were used to exploitand exacerbate long-standing tensions in order to propagate and maintain colonial control. Referring to
the Belgian policy under King Leopold II in Belgium Congo, Joseph Conrad calls it “the v
ilest scramble forloot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration
.”
2
Given howvile much of the history of human conscience has been, this is quite a statement of the sheer cruelty anddisregard for life in the name of profit which occurred. In this recent and radically exponential shift inexploitation, the causes and the complementing technological advances seem far easier to sort out thanthe vast and continuing consequences.
1
H. L. Wesseling.
The European Colonial Empires
– 
1815-1919.
D. Webb, Translator. (London: Pearson Education Limited, 2004)p. 84.
2
 
Joseph Conrad.
Heart of Darkness: Appendix A
 , Comments from Conrad from “Geography and 
Some Explorers
”. (Buffalo:
Broadview Press 1999) p. 160.
 
2The three
causes driving the “scramble” that seem most influential and plausible to me are the
decline and collapse of the Ottoman Empire
s influence in North Africa, the end of the transatlantic slavetrade and the alkaloid extraction and commercial manufacture of quinine. Wesseling points out that
Tunisia was “officially” a province of the Ottoman Empire, but was primarily independent
in 1881.
3
TheOttoman Empire also laid claim in Libya and Egypt, and as the Empire declined it lost the ability to wardoff competing European nations in these areas. The official end of the transatlantic slave trade left agaping hole in profits that needed to be filled by other resources, such as rubber, coffee, sugar, palm oil,and timber. Previous to 1880, European settlements in Africa all concentrated along the coasts andshort distances inland near rivers. With the advances in medical diagnosis and treatment of malaria andnew availability of quinine potent and inexpensive enough to be used as a prophylactic,
4
Europeanslacking the genetic immunity to malaria could greatly reduce their chances of not dying immediately in
exploration of the African continent’s interior
.The key differences to the African colonial manifestations are mainly due to the majormotivation of capitalist financiers for resources at maximum profit. Africa was not wanted in and of itself for land for colonial settlers or religious freedom or for trade with its sparse populations. Cashcrops and mining for gold and diamonds were the most profitable resource market after the slave tradeofficially ended
 –
though these resources were gained due to forced labor in many cases. There was nore-investment of this resource capital into the infrastructures of Africa, so even at official
“independence” of many of these African “nations” the land and people were left without their valuable
resources, with a culture of dependence on European goods, in political instability, and frictions leadingto ongoing genocides and civil wars between ethnic peoples that had been used as pawns against eachother by the European Imperialists.
3
 
H. L. Wesseling.
The European Colonial Empires
– 
1815-1919.
D. Webb, Translator. (London: Pearson Education Limited, 2004)p. 149.
 
4
 
Daniel R. Headrick.
The Tools of the Empire
– 
Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century 
. (New York:Oxford Univ. Press, 1981) p. 66-68.
 
3The greatest difference effecting Europe directly was the alliances and enemies that the
European nations made during the “Scramble for Africa” led to World War 1.
The Ottoman Empire hadserved strategically to shield various European nations, and Russia, from attacking each other directly.
5
 The removal of this buffer led the new nations of Germany and Italy, discontent with their lack of booty
and world influence due to coming late to the “nation” stage,
to wage war with their neighbors toincrease their power and influence. WW1 signals the
essential end of the “scramble” as the territories
worldwide had been divvied up under official or informal control, and the next logical step would be forthe powerful nations to battle each other in a power struggle for these territories. Even in the formalconclusion of this war, during the Paris Peace Conference, territorial redistribution was the key topic.
6
 
However, this “battle”
for territory that manifested into two World Wars became extremely costly andruinous to Europe. Not only did it destroy the infrastructure of a lot of the continent, but it alsochanged the financial position of European nations from creditor to debtor.
7
 
5
 
H. L. Wesseling.
The European Colonial Empires
– 
1815-1919.
D. Webb, Translator. (London: Pearson Education Limited, 2004)p. 233.
 
6
 
Ibid. p 240
.
7
 
Ibid. p. 247.
 

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