The European Scramble
Commercial greed, territorial ambition,
and political rivalry all fuelled the European race to take over Africa.
This culminated in Africa's partition at the Berlin Conference 1884-5.
The whole process became known as "The Scramble for Africa".
ANGLO FRENCH RIVALRY
Until the 19th century the French had played
a smaller role in Africa than the British, but their defeat in the Napoleonic
War made them look to Africa for compensation. North Africa became a theatre
for Anglo-French rivalry, illustrated most dramatically by the Fashoda
incident, where troops from both powers marched from opposite directions
to meet in the wilderness in southern Sudan, bringing the two European
powers to the brink of war.
There were few French explorers
but there was growing interest in the
idea of using North Africa to play off the Germans against the British.
This was what triggered off what became known as the "Scramble for Africa."
"Gentlemen, in Europe such as it is today, in this
competition of the many rivals we see rising up around us, some by military
or naval improvements, others by the prodigious development of a constantly
growing population; in a Europe, or rather in a universe thus constituted,
a policy of withdrawal or abstention is simply the high road to decadence!
In our time nations are great only through the activity they deploy; it
is not by spreading the peaceable light of their institutions...that they
are great, in the present day."
Jules Ferry, Prime Minister of France [1880-1881,
For centuries Egypt was ruled
by the Ottomans based in what is now Turkey. Then in 1811 an Albanian
army officer, Mohammed Ali, took power. Under his rule Egypt's economy
and infrastructure expanded. Sudan fell under Egyptian control in the
1820s. By the middle of the century
Britain grew concerned about Egypt's influence in the region and increasingly
intervened in the commercial and political direction of the state.
By the late 1870s a nationalist movement
began to take root. Using a Government overspend as an excuse the French
and British imposed dual control. Riots and military rebellion then prompted
the British to send in an army of occupation in 1882. This provoked a
rift between the British and the French.
In 1830 the French occupied
Algiers; they subsequently came up against the Berber
jihad launched by the Qadiriyya brotherhood under the leadership of Abd
al-Kadir. Persistent and tireless in his opposition to the French Abd
al-Kadir was not defeated until 1847 when he was sent into exile. But
Berber and Arab fighters continued to resist the French until well into
the 20th century.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Tunisia
had a prosperous economy and cosmopolitan culture. Under Ahmed Bey there
was a modest programme of modernisation. As in Egypt, the debts mounted
up giving France an excuse to establish a Finance Commission. Tunisia
became a French Protectorate in 1881.
Morocco alone in North Africa remained
independent in the 19th century. European style modernisation was instituted
under Mawlay al-Hasan (1873-94) but plans for secular education and the
levying of taxes met with resistance from Muslim clerics. Morocco finally
lost independence in 1912 and was partitioned between France and Spain.
Ten years later, the nationalist movement in Egypt triumphed and Egypt
gained independence in 1922.
In 1911 Italy invaded Libya, then under
Ottoman rule. Ottoman resistance collapsed and Libya was accorded nominal
independence(without consulting the people of Libya). But Italy continued
to occupy Libya. The commander of the fighting force of the Sanussi brotherhood,
Umar al Mukhtar, defied the Italians until 1931 when he was executed.
In 1854 Louis Faidherbe began the French conquest of the Senegal valley,
and in 1863 Porto Novo (capital of modern Benin) was declared a French
protectorate. There followed a series of treaties with rulers in the Ivory
By the end of the century the French had
conceived a type of colonial rule which was highly centralised and made
little effort to involve local rulers. This contrasted with the British
colonial style, which in northern Nigeria took the form of indirect rule
through the local Emirs and chiefs.
& OLD PLAYERS
Despite the missionaries and the search
for new trading outlets, Europeans in the first 80 years of the 19th century
were not driven by any desire to rule and administer Africa. In 1865 the
House of Commons committee in Britain recommended that Britain give up
all her concerns on the West coast of Africa except for Sierra Leone.
Elsewhere in West Africa, leading African merchants still worked on equal
terms with European traders in the 1860's, and even enjoyed the attention
of Queen Victoria.
"We were favoured with sight of the beautiful
baptismal present our beloved Queen has made to the infant of Mrs. J.P.
L. Davies of Lagos, a lady well known as having enjoyed the high honour
of being a protégé of her majesty.
The royal gift consists of a beautiful gold cup and salver, with knife,
fork and spoon of the same metal and design, manufactured by J. Turner
of New Bond Street, London. The cup and salver are both inscribed as follows:
To Victoria Davies."
Queen Victoria quoted in the Anglo African newsletter, October 3rd 1863,
on the occasion of the birth of a baby born to the leading African trader
J.P.L. Davies and his wife, who was goddaughter to the Queen.
In the second half of the 19th century
the piecemeal patchwork of alliances, trading colonies, protectorates
and understandings yielded to sweeping changes imposed by the Europeans.
No longer content with improvising as
they went along, the British and the French were determined to put things
in order and establish a clear administrative hierarchy with Europeans
at the top and Africans below. Meanwhile, some of the oldest trading nations
in Europe abandoned Africa and new players emerged. The Dutch and Danes
left the continent whilst Germany, Italy and Belgium moved in. The Belgian
claim to the Congo proved the most disastrous of all.
Elsewhere the mineral wealth of the continent fixated and dazzled European
adventurers. But soon casual commercial dealings were replaced by systematic
exploitation and control. At the beginning of the 19th century the European
grasp of African geography was confined mainly to the coast. But by the
end of the century Europeans were straddling the continent with railways
and roads. Now it was possible to take
control - politically and commercially.
The Scramble for Africa had the effect
of defusing and displacing tensions between the European powers in Europe,
but eventually the tradeoffs and alliances could not disguise the fact
that Imperial Germany was on a collision course with Britain and France.
Now for the first time, Africans found themselves dragged into a conflict
which had its origins in the war rooms of Berlin and London. The moral
posturing of European powers, supposedly representing civilisation, wisdom,
reconciliation and order, soon disintegrated into the chaos, death and
destruction of World War I.