Scramble for Africa | Africa | Imperialism

Heather DeLancett HIST 445 – European Imperialism Prof.

Michael Bitter Spring 2011 – 4th 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 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. Beyond mere ignorance of these linguistic and cultural differences, once discovered, they were used to exploit and 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 vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration.”2 Given how vile much of the history of human conscience has been, this is quite a statement of the sheer cruelty and disregard for life in the name of profit which occurred. In this recent and radically exponential shift in exploitation, the causes and the complementing technological advances seem far easier to sort out than the 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.

2 The 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 slave trade 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 The Ottoman Empire also laid claim in Libya and Egypt, and as the Empire declined it lost the ability to ward off competing European nations in these areas. The official end of the transatlantic slave trade left a gaping 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 and short distances inland near rivers. With the advances in medical diagnosis and treatment of malaria and new availability of quinine potent and inexpensive enough to be used as a prophylactic,4 Europeans lacking 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 major motivation 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. Cash crops and mining for gold and diamonds were the most profitable resource market after the slave trade officially ended – though these resources were gained due to forced labor in many cases. There was no re-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 leading to ongoing genocides and civil wars between ethnic peoples that had been used as pawns against each other 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.

3 The 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 had served 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 to increase 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 for the powerful nations to battle each other in a power struggle for these territories. Even in the formal conclusion 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 and ruinous to Europe. Not only did it destroy the infrastructure of a lot of the continent, but it also changed 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.

4

Bibliography
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness: Appendix A, Comments from Conrad from “Geography and Some Explorers". Buffalo: Broadview Press, 1999. Headrick, Daniel R. The Tools of the Empire - Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1981. Wesseling, H. L. The European Colonial Empires – 1815-1919. Translated by Diane Webb. London: Pearson Education Limited, 2004.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful