SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA OVERVIEW
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. 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: European interest in the Suez Canal, Berlin Conference, First Moroccan Crisis, Second Moroccan Crisis, European colonization in South Africa, and the brutal rule of Leopold II in the Congo.
CAUSES OF THE SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA
There are several main causes to the Scramble for Africa, including: European competition, ethnocentrism, the spread of Christianity and new innovations. The section below provides a brief summary of these main causes. Click here to read a more detailed article on the main causes of the Scramble for Africa.
European nations were seeking large sections of territory to increase their access to resources and people. In fact, due to the rise of the factory system, the European nations were in search of territory in order to gain access to more resources, which could be used to develop products in their resources. As such, this led to the ‘scramble’ in Africa as the European nations competed for different regions of the African continent.
Another cause of the Scramble for Africa was the view of racial superiority that Europeans expressed throughout the 19th century. More specifically, as Europeans travelled the globe and colonized different regions, they came into contact with all sorts of different indigenous people. As such, European beliefs about their own supposed racial superiority helped inform their interactions with the people they encountered, including native Africans. Similar to the belief in their own racial superiority, Europeans also promoted Christianity as superior to the religious beliefs of the indigenous peoples that they encountered, including those in Africa. In fact, Christian missionaries often accompanied early explorers to the African interior, and the spread of Christianity was a key feature of European imperialism in Africa. For example, the missionary expeditions of David Livingstone were important to increasing European interest in Africa.
The next cause of the Scramble for Africa is the new technologies and innovations that helped the European nations to overpower the different African societies. For example, the steam engine was an important invention that led to other advancements such as the steamboat, steam train and railroad construction. These allowed the European powers the ability to trek further and faster into the African interior and were major aspects of the Scramble for Africa. However, likely the most significant European advantage came in the form of the Maxim gun, which played a vitally important role in Europe’s success in Africa. In short, the Maxim gun was a machine gun that was invented by Hiram Maxim and could fire up to 600 rounds per minute.
The final cause of the Scramble for Africa was the competitive nature and rivalries that existed between the major European nations in the late 19th century and early 20th century. In fact, nationalism became a central motivating factor among the European nations in the 19th century and pushed them to expand their empires of control across the world. This sense of rivalry was so intense that it eventually led to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. As such, historians considered the rivalries that existed between the European nations in the 19th century as a major factor in the Scramble for Africa.
MAJOR EVENTS OF THE SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA
As stated above, the Scramble for Africa unfolded as a series of main events that included: European interest in the Suez Canal, European colonization in South Africa, Berlin Conference, First Moroccan Crisis, Second Moroccan Crisis, and the brutal rule of Leopold II in the Congo.
The first major event of the Scramble for Africa was the Berlin Conference of 1884. The Berlin Conference of 1884 was called by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and lasted from November 15th, 1884, until February 26th, 1885. At the time, Germany was emerging as a colonial power in Africa, which caused tensions with the other major powers, such as: Britain, France, and Belgium. As a result, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck called for the Berlin Conference as a means of reducing tensions between the European powers and determining how to divide the African continent between each other.
More specifically, the Berlin Conference was made up of 14 nations in total, including: Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Ottoman Empire, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden and the United States. The goal of the Berlin Conference was to create a set of boundary lines and create defined territory for the nations involved. What resulted was a mix of approximately 50 African states with irregular borders. African societies were not consulted in this process and sometimes it forced African groups together that had a history of conflict. As such, while the Berlin Conference was a positive experience for the European and other nations and resulted in a temporary reduction of tensions, it was ultimately a negative experience for the African societies. One such negative experience was the rule of Leopold II in the Congo.
Leopold II served as the King of Belgium from 1865 until 1909 and oversaw the Belgian role in the Age of Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa. Leopold II gained access to the territory of the Congo due to several key events. First, in 1878 he hired famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley to carry out expeditions into the Congo River basin of west central Africa. The second event that led to Leopold II gaining control of the Congo was the Berlin Conference of 1884. In fact, Leopold II officially formed the Congo Free State in 1885 and ruled over it as his own private possession. He used his control over the region to as a way of amassing a fortune for himself.
The Congo area had valuable resources, such as: rubber, ivory, copper and other raw materials. Rubber was an incredibly valuable resource at the time, as the newly invented rubber tire was being used in bicycles and early automobiles. It is important to note that he ruled over the Congo as a personal possession. As such, this means that he was responsible for it and not the country of Belgium. In fact, the other European nations granted him control over the Congo on the basis that he would help the Congolese people and carry out humanitarian work in the area. In reality, he ruled over the Congo Free State in a brutal fashion and his actions terrorized the people of the region.
Another important event of the Scramble for Africa was British control over Egypt, which began in 1882. In reality, the British had begun to increase their influence in Egypt in the decade before by taking on a large financial interest in the Suez Canal. Due to the vast British Empire, and its overwhelming naval power, Britain had a keen interest in controlling the Suez Canal. In fact, British imperialism in India was a key reason for British interest in Egypt, since the Suez Canal gave Britain a quicker and more direct route to its colonies in the Far East. For instance, the British began to refer to the Suez Canal as the ‘lifeline of the British Empire’.
European colonization in South Africa was also important to the Scramble for Africa. The first to establish a permanent settlement in South Africa was the Dutch East India Company, which hoped to create a base from which they could support European trading ships that were travelling to Far East of Asia. The Dutch East India Company (also known as ‘VOC’ for ‘Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie’ in Dutch) established the settlement in South Africa in 1652 at the Cape of Good Hope, which is a rocky outcropping on the Southern tip of Africa that is on the side of the Atlantic Ocean. The modern city of Cape Town, South Africa is located at the Cape of Good Hope.
The next significant period of European imperialism in South Africa was carried out by Britain, which colonized South Africa between 1815 and 1910. Similar to the Dutch before them, Britain did not necessarily have a large amount of interest in colonizing South Africa. Rather, they hoped to use the Cape as a settlement from which they service and restock ships that were on their way to India and the Far East. British colonization in South Africa eventually erupted with the major conflict referred to as the Boer War.
Finally, with the start of the 20th century, European imperialism in Africa erupted in two major crises, which historians consider significant to the overall history of the Scramble for Africa. These included the First Moroccan Crisis and the Second Moroccan Crisis.
The event that sparked the First Moroccan Crisis was a visit to Morocco by the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, on March 31st in 1905. Also known as the ‘Tangier Crisis’ it took place from March 1905 until May of 1906 and led to increased tensions between the European powers of France and Germany. In fact, the two European nations disagreed over the status of the African nation of Morocco and who should have influence over the region.
Morocco is a nation located in northwestern Africa. In the early 20th century, this region of Africa was under the influence of French imperialism. As such, France considered Morocco to be within its ‘sphere of influence’. As such, when the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, arrived in Tangier, Morocco in 1905 it caused anger to erupt from France. This situation continued until the Algeciras Conference, which was called to settle the disagreement.
The Second Moroccan Crisis (or the ‘Agadir Crisis’) began in April of 1911 in the midst of a rebellion against the Moroccan Sultan Abdelhafid. The people of Morocco had begun to rebel against the Sultan following accusations of torture and other terrible acts carried out by his government. In fact, the rebels were so successful that they were able to surround Abdelhafid in his palace in the northern Moroccan city of Fez. Since France considered Morocco to fall under their imperialistic influence, they sent in troops in to regain control of the situation. This act by France angered Germany, as they resented French success in Africa.
Historians consider the two crises in Morocco to be significant causes to the eventual outbreak of World War I in 1914. However, they were also some of the last major events in the history of the Scramble for Africa.
In all, the Scramble for Africa had a profound impact on the history of the world. It led to both positive and negative outcomes for the people of Europe and Africa. Click here to read more about the main impacts of European imperialism in Africa.
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