Colonization of Africa: Why Not Earlier?

Jan 2015
505
Large Fields
#1
Imperialism is something that civilizations practiced since their dawn. But, one of the most well known ones are the European colonization of Africa. The question here is, why didn't it occur earlier. You could argue it happened through Roman conquests, but let's not include that since their and our concepts of Africa differ. For me, it is weird that Asian and American colonization occurred earlier. They were more further away, and the Europeans still had the economic and military capability to conquer Africa. Africa had resources including ivory, mineral deposits, and slaves that are very profitable as well as the peoples' lack of technology to counter the European invaders. Indeed Europe occupied some ports in North and West Africa, but it didn't began the large-scale colonization until the French Conquest of Algeria in 1830. What are your thoughts?
 

robto

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,990
Lisbon, Portugal
#2
That requires a very simple answer - diseases.

Europeans lacked the immunity to many African tropical diseases like Malaria, Yellow fever and dengue. They would die like flies if they ever attempted to colonize Tropical Africa as they did in the Americas.

The other reason is the people they would encounter in Africa itself. North, West Africa and also some parts of Central Africa (Kingdom of Congo) had highly organized political entities with the technology, military expertise and familiarity with European warfare. They could form formidable adversaries to the Europeans.

That was not the case if you'r talking about Pre-Colombian civilizations in the Americas. They still used stone-made weapons and were completely unfamiliar with "Old-world" type of warfare. Africans had mastered Iron-working, were physically more fit than a typical Amerindian and their way to do war was closer to the European way.

But Europeans indeed colonized earlier the Southernmost region of Africa - Cape Town colony.
 
Jun 2015
249
London UK
#3
The triangular slave trade linking three continents for the first time in history was long established for three centuries. Europeans were getting millions of humans to work on their new world plantations and a mArket for their manufactured goods, there was no need for colonial expansion and conquest. It should be noted that the scramble for Africa only began after the Atlantic slave trade was finally abolished
 
Jan 2015
505
Large Fields
#4
That requires a very simple answer - diseases.

Europeans lacked the immunity to many African tropical diseases like Malaria, Yellow fever and dengue. They would die like flies if they ever attempted to colonize Tropical Africa as they did in the Americas.
But wouldn't that argument also apply to India and Tropical areas of South America? India had heavily humid and high-temperature areas suitable for diseases. Also, didn't Early American colonists die mainly due to diseases?

The other reason is the people they would encounter in Africa itself. North, West Africa and also some parts of Central Africa (Kingdom of Congo) had highly organized political entities with the technology, military expertise and familiarity with European warfare. They could form formidable adversaries to the Europeans.
In that case, why would Europe attempt to colonize India, a civilization that is older and more well-informed about Europe, all the way back to the 16th century? India at that time was more united under Mughal rule and even had access to better weapons including gunpowder along with sheer manpower. It took Europe centuries to colonize whole India, but that's mostly due to inter-European rivalries, primary focus in America, and Indian edge to technology compared to other non-European powers.

That was not the case if you'r talking about Pre-Colombian civilizations in the Americas. They still used stone-made weapons and were completely unfamiliar with "Old-world" type of warfare. Africans had mastered Iron-working, were physically more fit than a typical Amerindian and their way to do war was closer to the European way.
You're right on the lack of metallurgy and military theory in Pre-Colombian America. But, a lot of Andean and Mesoamerican civilizations used bronze as weapons. Though not used in large scale, I wouldn't say Native Americans completely lagged behind in metallurgy. I would also imagine stone weapons would be strong enough to pierce the lightly armored European armies.

But Europeans indeed colonized earlier the Southernmost region of Africa - Cape Town colony.
Yes Indeed. Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, France, and even the unlikely Prussia, Denmark, and Sweden had ports in West Africa.

The triangular slave trade linking three continents for the first time in history was long established for three centuries. Europeans were getting millions of humans to work on their new world plantations and a mArket for their manufactured goods, there was no need for colonial expansion and conquest. It should be noted that the scramble for Africa only began after the Atlantic slave trade was finally abolished
Why not? Colonization would give direct access to the valuable trade goods I mentioned. But I agree on the cause of Scramble for Africa.
 
Last edited:
Jun 2013
854
Universe
#5
First off what do you mean by "earlier". How early are we speaking?

Also where is proof that Europeans of earlier date had the military might to conquer much of Africa? Two different contexts. For one Europeans of earlier date such as the Romans had trouble conquering Nubia alone. Outside of Egypt and Carthage, most of North Africa(especially the western portion) was sparsely populated. Thus made it easy for conquest.

Prior to colonization you had many African states that could go up against or even beat some of the states from Europe. Prior to colonization the Portuguese had trouble with the Malians and even Somalis(allied with the Ottomans).

And when did Europe have the military and economy to conquer much of Africa before colonization? That is a bold statement. During the medieval period? Definitely not. During the Atlantic slave trade? Not yet.

The thing is the reason Europeans were able to colonize most of Africa is simple; industrialization and discovery of the New World. Prior to that African states had the means to fight off and even beat European states i.e Mali Empire vs Portuguese.

The thread title should be without industrialization/discovery of New World would Europe be able to colonize most of Africa?
 
Last edited:

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
18,069
SoCal
#6
But wouldn't that argument also apply to India and Tropical areas of South America? India had heavily humid and high-temperature areas suitable for diseases. Also, didn't Early American colonists die mainly due to diseases?
Couldn't the Europeans have had more time to develop an immunity to the diseases in India than to the diseases in Africa, though?
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,570
Benin City, Nigeria
#7
Imperialism is something that civilizations practiced since their dawn. But, one of the most well known ones are the European colonization of Africa. The question here is, why didn't it occur earlier. You could argue it happened through Roman conquests, but let's not include that since their and our concepts of Africa differ. For me, it is weird that Asian and American colonization occurred earlier. They were more further away, and the Europeans still had the economic and military capability to conquer Africa. Africa had resources including ivory, mineral deposits, and slaves that are very profitable as well as the peoples' lack of technology to counter the European invaders. Indeed Europe occupied some ports in North and West Africa, but it didn't began the large-scale colonization until the French Conquest of Algeria in 1830. What are your thoughts?
They did try conquering earlier.

For central Africa, read this article:

The Art of War in Angola 1575-1680

Also, for some much less detailed background information about African-European conflicts in central Africa:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kombi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mbwila

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mbidizi_River

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kitombo


In northern Africa, Napoleon did invade Egypt later on but that is probably not the sort of thing you have in mind. It is doubtful that they were as capable of colonizing all of north Africa as easily as you might think. Incidents like the "Battle of the Three Kings" suggest that might not have been an easy task in earlier times.

The Portuguese did invade parts of eastern and southern Africa, having some success in some places (militarily weak city-states), and less success in others.

On the question of western Africa, the book Warfare in Atlantic Africa (which also covers parts of central Africa as well) discusses this. Initial Portuguese raids on coastal towns in western Africa were defeated, so they stopped trying to raid and sent officials to trade instead.
 
Jan 2015
505
Large Fields
#8
First off what do you mean by "earlier". How early are we speaking?
I was speaking of the era when the European colonialism of America was at its dawn, when the sailing and gunpowder technologies were getting mastered.

Also where is proof that Europeans of earlier date had the military might to conquer much of Africa? Two different contexts. For one Europeans of earlier date such as the Romans had trouble conquering Nubia alone. Outside of Egypt and Carthage, most of North Africa(especially the western portion) was sparsely populated. Thus made it easy for conquest.
The fact that Europeans were creating a tri-continental, or even quad-continental empires is the proof. Sure it took a long time for Europeans to deeply penetrate into the Americas and India, but at the same time I never talked about rapid conquests. Many European powers at that time had trade ports in Africa that could've been used as a conquest base just as they did in the Americas. For Roman conquest of Nubia, I don't think there has been a major move to do so. I could think of Nero's Praetorian expedition, but that was done for diplomatic mission. I also know Petronius' clash with Meroe, which resulted in Roman victory. I would also imagine Africa in general a difficult place for Romans to control due to frequent Berber raids, yet the Romans still managed to hold onto it.

Prior to colonization you had many African states that could go up against or even beat some of the states from Europe. Prior to colonization the Portuguese had trouble with the Malians and even Somalis(allied with the Ottomans).
True that. I could think think of the humiliating Italian defeat in their first attempted conquest of Ethiopia. But look at the U.S. intervention against the Barbary States and Napoleon's campaign in Egypt. Both of these example show how Western armies could defeat their African counterparts in an overwhelming odds. The Portuguese actually performed pretty impressively in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese had limited resources and manpower, but still managed to pull out some victories against the Ottomans in India.

And when did Europe have the military and economy to conquer much of Africa before colonization? That is a bold statement. During the medieval period? Definitely not. During the Atlantic slave trade? Not yet.
Why? The fact that Europeans were expanding thousands kilometers beyond their shores shows it. Other than China and India, Europe generated the most national incomes just when the colonization of the Americas began.

The thing is the reason Europeans were able to colonize most of Africa is simple; industrialization and discovery of the New World. Prior to that African states had the means to fight off and even beat European states i.e Mali Empire vs Portuguese.
Industrialization and American colonization indeed generated more money and superior military tactics for Europe, but that doesn't mean Europe didn't posses the capacity to conquer Africa, or any part of the world. Spain managed to conquer Tripoli and Tunis for a while, Napoleon was tactically successful in Egypt, and even the unlikely Prussia, Sweden, and Denmark had ports in West Africa.

The thread title should be without industrialization/discovery of New World would Europe be able to colonize most of Africa?
I will admit the thread is a bit vague in terms of era, but you still get the general point.



Couldn't the Europeans have had more time to develop an immunity to the diseases in India than to the diseases in Africa, though?
But, didn't Europe know about Africa better than India? Europe has known Africa for millenia, and I think they got a better chance to adapt themselves to the immunity to African diseases.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,570
Benin City, Nigeria
#9
Yes Indeed. Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, France, and even the unlikely Prussia, Denmark, and Sweden had ports in West Africa.
These trading posts granted to European traders were not acquired through conquest though and in most cases they paid rent or tax to those kingdoms that allowed them to construct trading posts in their territory.
 
Jan 2015
505
Large Fields
#10
They did try conquering earlier.

For central Africa, read this article:

The Art of War in Angola 1575-1680

Also, for some much less detailed background information about African-European conflicts in central Africa:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kombi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mbwila

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mbidizi_River

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kitombo


In northern Africa, Napoleon did invade Egypt later on but that is probably not the sort of thing you have in mind. It is doubtful that they were as capable of colonizing all of north Africa as easily as you might think. Incidents like the "Battle of the Three Kings" suggest that might not have been an easy task in earlier times.

The Portuguese did invade parts of eastern and southern Africa, having some success in some places (militarily weak city-states), and less success in others.

On the question of western Africa, the book Warfare in Atlantic Africa (which also covers parts of central Africa as well) discusses this. Initial Portuguese raids on coastal towns in western Africa were defeated, so they stopped trying to raid and sent officials to trade instead.
You've some nice sources. Thank you!

But I've noticed I was primarily Portugal and the Netherlands that attempted this, but not even a comparison to their colonial efforts in the Americas. I was talking about the level of competition in the Americas, where most of the major European powers fought wars with thousands of their own regular troops to expand and preserve their domains. But still, your sources are making sense to a certain extent.
 

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