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

The African scramble


A number of states in central and southern Africa collapsed in the 19th century, others flourished. In the 1850s the Imbangla of Kasanje lost their monopoly as long distance traders doing business with Ambaquista and Ovimbundu. Shambaa (in what is now north east of modern Tanzania) broke up in the 1860s, as did the kingdom of Luba (in what is now south east DR Congo). The Lunda empire (now part of DR Congo) was taken over by the Chokwe by the 1880s.

In what is now western Uganda the Bunyoro lost out in 18th and early 19th century to the aggressively expansionist Baganda. Later in the 19th century with new arms at their disposal, the Bunyoro reasserted themselves, while the Baganda fell into factions allied to different Arab and European groups.

The Ethiopian Empire had been in decline and fragmented in the 19th century, but Emperor Menelik changed its fortunes and by 1896 the Ethiopians were strong enough to inflict a crushing defeat on the Italians at Adowa. Kingless, stateless and nomadic, the Masai successfully exercised their territorial ambitions by moving into the Rift Valley and attacking the sedentary farmers. Later their victories came to nothing because of internal disputes.

Other rulers took advantage of trade with Europeans to become rich and powerful, for example, Jaja of Opoba, the palm oil trader in the Niger Delta, and the Swahili slave trader Tippu Tip.

Find out more about Opposition and Resistance

Find out more about Slavery

Changing South Africa

Down in the South of the continent the beginning of the 19th century was marked by tremendous political upheaval with the emergence of the powerful Zulu kingdom under the highly disciplined military leadership of Shaka. The territorial expansion of the Zulus forced neighbouring peoples to move north and establish new kingdoms, displacing others in their wake. Thus the Kololos were driven North, in turn displacing the Lozi. At this point Europeans were still confined mainly to the Cape trading colony, but the discovery of diamonds in the late 1860's and gold in the 1880's inflamed European territorial ambition.

Commercial interest became underpinned by one man's vision of imperial rule in Africa - adventurer and diamond magnate, Cecil Rhodes dreamt of Britain controlling the continent from the Cape to Cairo.

As the century unfolded traditional rulers either learnt new strategies or fell from power. A king or chief stayed in power or was deposed depending on his ability to acquire new technology (and this meant modern guns), and by his ability to communicate efficiently and mobilise his army swiftly. These qualities became more important than ancient genealogy, ritual, inheritance and splendid isolation.

Find out more about Southern Africa.
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