IMPERIALISM IN AFRICA
Imperialism in Africa is an important topic in world history. It is related to the Age of Imperialism and the expansion of the European empires in the 19th century. In fact, the European powers of the 19th century competed with one another for territory and control over large sections of the African continent. The ‘scramble’ that occurred for Africa in the Age of Imperialism left a legacy on the people and regions of Africa that stills exists today. In order to understand the significance of Imperialism in Africa, its first important to understand imperialism and the history of Africa before the Age of Imperialism.
WHAT IS IMPERIALISM?
Imperialism is a term that relates to when one country extends its political, economic or cultural authority over another country or region. This process involves the dominant country taking over the other through direct invasion and political control or by gaining authority over the economy of the other country. Imperialism, in history, was a foreign policy practiced by many different nations but is most often associated with European countries, the United States, and some Asian countries.
Britain played one of the most significant roles during the Age of Imperialism. As stated above, many European nations were spreading their influence throughout the world in the 18th and 19th centuries and took over control of vast regions of the world. However, Britain was the most important of these European nations, because the British Empire expanded the most at the time and came to be the largest empire in the world. France was second in terms of the size of its empire and played a significant role in the Age of Imperialism. Other significant European nations included Germany, Belgium and Spain. Together, these nations spread across the globe and took control over different regions, including: Africa, India, and China.
EARLY EUROPEAN EXPLORATION IN AFRICA
Europeans expressed an economic interest in Africa for a long period of time before the start of the Age of Imperialism. More specifically, the Age of Exploration saw European explorers travel along the shores of Africa in search of new trading posts and a route to Asia. The Age of Exploration, or Age of Discovery, is one of the most important events in the history of the western world. It began in the early 15th century and continued until the end of the 17th century, and involved European explorers using their navigational skills to travel the world. In general, the European nations that participated the most in the Age of Exploration included Portugal, Spain, France and England. In fact, Portugal was the European nation that made the first and most expansive explorations, including along the coastline of Africa.
Early Portuguese explorers sailed their ships along the western shores of Africa and established trading posts that they used to gain access to the economic resources of the continent. For instance, Portuguese explorer, Bartolomeu Dias, was the first European to sail around the southern tip of Africa. He achieved the feat in 1488 CE. His journey set the stage of later European explorations along Africa, which eventually led Europeans using the route as a way to reach Asia by sea. For example, Vasco da Gama was the first European to sail to India around Africa. Also a Portuguese explorer, da Gama made his voyage in 1498 and opened the way for other Europeans to reach the Far East. This led to a flood of ships sailing around Africa as they sailed for India, China and the surrounding areas.
With that said, these early explorations only explored the coastlines of Africa and did not result in any significant European expansion into the interior of Africa. In fact, European expeditions into Africa’s interior did not become more common until the early 1800s. This was due to the climate, geography and diseases present in Africa. For instance, Europeans struggled with diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. However, new technologies and advancements in medicine allowed European explorers to start expeditions into the interior of Africa. For example, Europeans carried out these expeditions along African rivers and known trading routes as a way of exploring central Africa and learning more about the continent. Some of the most famous of these explorers were David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley. Regardless, European interest in Africa continued to grow and eventually resulted in the Scramble for Africa.
SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA
The ‘Scramble for Africa’ is the term that historians use to refer to the expansion of European empires into Africa. It is referred to as a ‘scramble’ due to the way in which the European nations raced to capture territory to expand to their empires. The Scramble for Africa is considered to have occurred from approximately 1870 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. During these years, almost all of Africa came under the control of the major European powers, including: Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain. There are several main causes to the Scramble for Africa, including: European competition, ethnocentrism, the spread of Christianity and new innovations.
The Scramble for Africa unfolded as a series of major events that eventually saw the African continent colonized and then divided by the major European powers. These events include: the Atlantic Slave Trade, European interest in the Suez Canal, Berlin Conference, First Moroccan Crisis, Second Moroccan Crisis, the Boer War, and the brutal rule of Leopold II in the Congo.
Once the European powers had carved up the continent of Africa amongst themselves they next established procedures and governments to rule over the territory and people. The European powers controlled their territory in Africa in several different ways. Some of these methods involved direct elements of control, while others were indirect. In general, historians have identified three different forms of European rule in Africa, including protectorates, spheres of influence and colonies. Click here to read a more detailed article about the nature of European rule in Africa during the Age of Imperialism.
IMPACTS OF IMPERIALISM IN AFRICA
Historians have identified both positive and negative impacts from the period of European imperialism in Africa. In fact, there were several main positive outcomes from the period. First, the main European powers (Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, etc.) that imperialized Africa established colonies to benefit their own economies in Europe. As such, European imperialism in Africa was beneficial for the European nations in that it helped grow their national economies. This was done by extracting important natural resources out of Africa and using them to benefit European companies and governments. With that said, the European extraction of these resources obviously had devastating impacts on African societies. For instance, Leopold II of Belgium famously exploited the people of the Congo in order to gather and sell as much rubber from the region as possible. This made Leopold II an incredibly wealthy person and benefited Belgium, but had terrible impacts for the people of the Congo. Click here to read a more detailed article on the positive and negative impacts of European imperialism in Africa.
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