The Story of Africa


- Black explorers


- White explorers


- The European scramble


- The African scramble


- Egypt and Sudan


- Religious conversion and resistence


- Royal and political resistence


- Tax and trade wars


- Railways

White explorers


Scottish explorer Mungo Park
European explorers shared some of the reasons for travelling round Africa with Muslim fellow travelers, but had others peculiar to the time. They went in search of:

  • Scientific & geographical knowledge

  • Fame and celebrity

  • People to convert to Christianity

  • Power and knowledge

    European travellers hugely increased a general understanding of geography, climate and resources. Some accounts of the people were objective (as far as an outsider can be objective), others were willfully misleading. All the information these travellers brought back - wrong and right - contributed to devising an imperial strategy for controlling Africa.

    Sources of rivers

    For Europeans the golden age of travelling was the early 19th century. The first half of the century was dominated by a desire to establish the sources of two of African's great trading arteries, the Niger and the Nile respectively.

    The sort of men who undertook journeys across regions which were unknown to Europe were in the main strong-willed, eccentric, sometimes cruel and prejudiced. The African Association was founded in 1788 with the aim of finding Timbuktu and the origin of the Niger. The popular opinion for hundreds of years had been that the Niger was somewhere along the line, linked to the Nile.

    The Scots explorer Mungo Park died in 1805 trying to establish the truth, taking over 40 people with him. He relied on two African guides, Isaaco (described as "an African trader") and Amadi Fatouma. Other British travellers continued to look for the Niger including the Lander brothers.

    Central Africa

    The Englishman Denham and Scotsman Clapperton set off in 1822 in search of Central Africa. They argued the entire length of their journey from Kano to Lake Chad. Denham alone reached Mabah on the northern side of Lake Chad, but failed in his goal to get to the eastern side of the lake. He was accompanied by Arab merchant Bhoo Khaloom and Maramy, a slave of the king of Kouka.

    The Sahara

    The German, Heinrich Barth, explored the major trade routes of Sahara and Sahel, in particular Sokoto and Borno, writing a detailed five volume work. Rene Caillie, one of the few French explorers in West Africa, was the first European to have entered Timbuktu in the late 1820s. He nearly died crossing the Sahara disguised as a Muslim. Caillie was accused of making up the accounts of his trip, until Heinrich Barth verified it thirty years later.

    Falling out

    In East Africa it was the sources of the Nile which exercised the European imagination. Commissioned by the Royal Geographical Society and the Foreign Office, Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke set off to find the origins of the Nile.

    Richard Burton determined to fulfill an ambition to go where no man (i.e. European) had been before. A brilliant linguist, Burton combined great scholarship with a sexually obsessive, sadistic turn of mind and sweeping prejudice. He teamed up with the energetic, boyish, but less bookish John Hanning Speke.

    After enduring great illness and hardship travelling from Zanzibar to Tanganikya, they parted company and then fell out publicly over the source of the Nile, with Speke dying mysteriously the day before a debate appointed to bring the two men and their theories together.

    Across the continent

    Perhaps the most famous British traveller of all was David Livingstone who was the first European, although not first African, to cross the continent from the Zambezi to Luanda on the West Coast. His experiences in Africa were described in sensational terms by the newspaper reporter turned traveller Henry Morton Stanley.

    Livingstone believed that imperialism would ultimately benefit people in Africa, but he could be an observant man with a sense of relative values; he could see the point of view of those who did not want to be converted:

    "The only avowed cause of dislike was expressed by a very influential and sensible man, the uncle of Sechele.

    'We like you as well as if you had been born among us; you are the only white man we can become familiar with; but we wish you to give up that everlasting preaching and praying; we cannot become familiar with that at all. You see we never get rain, while those tribes who never pray as we do obtain abundance.'

    This was a fact; and we often saw it raining on the hills ten miles off, while it would not look at us 'even with one eye.'"
    - Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, by Dr. David Livingstone.

    In another instance, he gave a detailed account of the prejudices of the Afrikaners. His fellow explorer and devoted friend was Chuma. When Livingstone died at Lake Bangweulu, it was Chuma who organised the embalming of his body and made the ten-month journey with his body back to Bagamoyo on the coast and on to Britain.

    Women on the move

    Mary Kingsley was one of the few women travellers of the 19th century. She moved around West Africa, finding out more about animals and plant life. She wrote with an unusual degree of detachment, wit and observance for her generation of Europeans. In the 1890's she visited Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola and Cameroun. She died while nursing soldiers during the Boer war in 1900.
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