Why Was Africa Colonised In The Years

?Why Was Africa Colonised In The Years 1870-1914? Essay, Research Paper

The period 1870-1914 saw virtually

the whole of Africa come under the direct rule of a handful of European

colonial states. Compared to previous forays, penetration into Africa occurred

at a rapid rate with relatively little cost to the European states. This rapid

expansion has been attributed to many factors ? some of which are explored in

this essay.At the time, Europe?s strength

stemmed from a massive increase in industrial capacity and the invention and

refinement of technology and medicine. (the production of steel increased

twenty-fold from 1870 to 1890). 1 Iron hulled steamships allowed

Colonialists to venture further inland, protected by large artillery and aided

by swift movement. Improved muskets and machine guns gave decisive advantages

to European forces over indigenous people. Developments in railways and telegraphs

allowed efficient control of vast areas.By 1914 only Ethiopia remained

independent with much of the continent being divided by French or British rule.

A large proportion of western and central Africa belonged to French, including

Algeria, Morocco, Senegal and Gabon. In fact, the French controlled the largest

amount of land in Africa (over three million square miles). The British

controlled much of east and southern Africa, including Egypt, Sudan, Rhodesia

and South Africa. Germany controlled Kamerun (Cameroon) and South West Africa,

with Belgium having sovereignty over the Congo.The issue of motivation for

European colonisation of Africa has been a greatly debated issue between

historians from across the political spectrum. The liberal-socialist view is

that colonialism was a direct result of capitalist doctrine and an extension of

monopoly capitalism ? essentially that pursuit of new markets and fresh

resources drove colonialist expansion.2 The opposing view is

characterised by a denial of any economic considerations in the decisions to

colonise foreign lands with the motivation lying in nationalistic sentiments

and political manouvering.3Although both points of view have

some merit, neither fully explains the motivations completely. This is due to a

fragmented view of the facts ? either a purely economical or purely political

view. A fuller picture can be ascertained by further investigation.The Economic View The widespread availability of

reliable transport such as merchant shipping helped facilitate globalisation

and world trade, which in turn stimulated greater demand for tropical goods.

New technology depended on materials found mainly in remote areas. Products

such as cotton and indigo for cloth, oil and rubber for engines and machinery,

copper and gutta-percha for electric and telegraph lines, and tin for canned

foods.Africa had much of this wealth from

rubber in the Congo, to copper in Zambia to gold and diamonds in South Africa.Due to the growth of mass

consumption and the increase in disposable income that come with the greater

industrialisation, the demand for ?colonial goods? rose sharply with tea,

coffee, sugar, cocoa and tropical fruits being consumed in greater quantities.

Although originally supplied to western buyers by non-western producers at the

beginning of the 19th century, supply was unable to meet demand. By

the end of the century, after wars of conquest, the colonialists had control of

the areas and worked to increase production and lower costs by applying western

industrial and scientific techniques. ?the European may come, in

small numbers, with his capital, his energy and his knowledge to develop most

lucrative commerce and obtain products necessary to the use of his advanced

civilisation? 4 The search for markets can be a

factor in the motives for colonial expansion. Many believed the way out of

economic depression to be via massive export drives.5 Typically if a

colonising country were strong enough, it would attempt to enter the markets of

an undeveloped country by using an ?open door? policy and enforced free trade

agreements. Flooding the country with less expensive mass-produced goods. ?However,

if the colonising country was not able to compete with the various nations

vying in the area, then the occupation of territory would ensure that national

businesses had a distinct advantage. In this respect Hobsbawm comments:?The ?new imperialism? was the natural by-product of

an international economy based on the rivalry of several competing industrial

economies, intensified by the economic pressures of 1880? 6 The Political ViewAnother motive for colonisation was for strategic ends. In order to

restrict or protect access to various territories. Gibraltar and Malta are

examples of strategic territories held to control access to the Mediterranean.British expansion in Africa has been seen by some historians as a

strategic move to protect India (the Jewel in the British Crown). Hence this

strategy required control of all routes to the subcontinent including the short

route to the north of Africa, via the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, the long route

to the south via the Cape of Good Hope as well as the whole of the Indian

Ocean. This policy also involved the maintaining of territory along the East

Coast of Africa.In some cases instability in a particular country led the Powers to

?step in? in order to protect interests. Countries in which local governments

cracked or local nationalism reacted against ?outside? interference such as in

Tunisia or Egypt. The colonising powers in these situations felt that the

seizing of power was the only alternative to the evacuation of their citizens

and the potential loss of investments in the country.The suddenness and speed with which Africa was colonised during the

period 1870 ? 1914 cannot adequately be explained by the previous motivating

factors until the actions of Bismark and the German claim for colonies is taken

into account.Germany, being a major industrial nation in Europe, resented the fact

that such a powerful nation as herself should have such a small share of

colonial territory. This led Bismark ? the German Chancellor, to embark upon a

drive for colonisation on the African continent and to call the Berlin

Conference of 1884-85. The aim of the conference was to partition Africa and to

settle tensions surrounding the Belgian King Leopold?s occupation of the Congo

? a resource rich colony being coveted by a number of European powers.Fourteen countries attended the Berlin Conference during which, the

Europeans agreed not to ?acquire? territory without informing other powers (who

may want to present a claim to the same land). A decision to leave the Congo in

the hands of Leopold was also made ? mainly due to the fact that dispossessing

him meant a sharing out of spoils ? the terms of which could not be resolved.

Hence in order to maintain a ?balance of power? in the area Leopold kept the

Congo on the condition that he open the territories to free trade.During the conference ? the European Powers effectively took possession

of Africa. Interestingly there was no representation from any African people

who were neither consulted nor told of the decisions.7 The conference triggered a massive rush by the European Powers to make

claims, no matter how unsubstantiated, in order that they not be ?left out? of

further expansion.It can be seen

that although the land was distributed, the authority over much of it had yet

to be acquired. Essentially the conference laid down the ?rules? of expansion

and sought to ensure that European Armies did not fight each other over

territorial disputes.Bismark?s motives behind staking Germany?s claim to colonies was

probably in order to win support of National Liberals in the 1884 Reichstag

elections by a show of national prowess in colonial conquest. His success in

this election demonstrates the effect of domestic politics and ?Social

Imperialism? as a motivating factor. The belief in the superiority of European

ideas and culture was strong and the glory associated with being part of a

?Master? or colonising race was something which astute politicians did not fail

to notice and sought to use. It is important to note that these sentiments were

rarely openly stated in a frank manner but were reflected in the prevailing

attitudes that saw non-Europeans as inferior, backwards and even infantile.

Though generally, these sentiments were used to justify colonial conquest at

the time rather than to drive it.Conclusion It can be argued that colonialism did not provide any economic

advantage to the state that could not have been achieved without direct rule8

and hence the economic motivation played no part. However, this view

fails to measure the benefits that the colonial environment provided to

traders, prospectors and businessmen who were major benefactors of government

policies.The provision of security and investment guarantees, the removal of

trade barriers and tariffs and the existence of cheap land and labour, were a

direct consequence of colonial occupation and military pressure. So although

some countries such as China were subjected to western conditions on trade, the

threat of force as a response to non-compliance was real ? only due to the

previous examples in India and Africa.To describe the expansion of Europe as motivated by political, social and

emotional forces ? devoid of economic motive simply cannot be correct since

there were many compelling economic reasons to do so. The fulfilment of market

demands for raw product and the search for new markets being foremost.? However, the nature and speed of expansion

depended on the political environment at the time so although the motivation

and need for colonisation existed due to economic reasons, the triggers and

impetuses were the manoeuvrings of competitor states.The retention of territory, even after it had lost its ?profitability?

is indicative of a non-economic or emotional motivation for acquiring land, but

the fact that de-colonisation was a consequence of this hints at the opposite.

That is not to say that occasionally lands were held for reasons of prestige,

such as German and Italian experiences in Africa, but it does negate the fact

that the initial motive was to gain economic benefit.References:1 Hobsbawm,

page 35 2

Fieldhouse, page 208 3 Hobsbawm,

page 62 4 Sir Harry

Johnston, 1930, A

History of Colonisation of Africa by Alien Races, Cambridge (Hobsbawm, page

63) 5

Fieldhouse, page 380 6 Hobsbawm,

page 67 7 Ferro,

page 73 8

Fieldhouse, page 384Bibliography:Hobsbawm,

E., 1987, The

Age of Empire 1875-1914, London Fieldhouse,

D.K, 1982, The

Colonial Empires ? A Comparative Survey from the Eighteenth Century, London Headrick,

D.K., 1988, The

Tentacles of Progress ? Technology Transfer in the Age of Imperialism, New York Ferro, M.,

1997, Colonization

? A Global History, London

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