The Race for Africa

Chookie

Ad Honorem
Nov 2007
7,628
Alba
The term “Race for Africa” is normally used to refer to a period between 1881 and World War I. I disagree (mainly over the time-scale used). This “Race” has also been referred to as the “Scramble for Africa” - probably from the book of the same name by Thomas Pakenham (which I read, lo these many years ago) – was a time of invasion, occupation, colonisation and annexation of African territory by European powers during the New Imperialism period.


At this time, Africa was still known as “the Dark Continent”, principally because Europeans had been more invested in exploiting the New World and Asia. Africa had been not much more than a stopping place on the way to India and the Eastern lands. There had been Dutch, British, French, Spanish and Portuguese factories (essentially trading posts, one of the most profitable trades being in slaves) on the African coast for generations. I'm only going to mention the Arab involvement in this in passing as the Europeans had by this time largely driven the Arabs out of the trade.


This race for Africa was for the most part confined to sub-Saharan Africa as North Africa had been known to and exploited by Europeans from at least the time of the ancient Greeks and the coasts had been used by slavers and passers-by for centuries. So what changed?


As I said, I disagree with the accepted version as I believe the race started much earlier. I would trace the beginnings to the beginning of the Vootrekker movement. Wiki sez:-


The Voortrekkers mainly came from the farming community of the Eastern Cape although some (such as Piet Retief) originally came from the Western Cape farming community while others (such as Gerrit Maritz) were successful tradesmen in the frontier towns. Some of them were wealthy men though most were not as they were from the poorer communities of the frontier. Other members of the trekking parties were of Trekboer stock who came from a life of semi-nomadic herding; yet others were employees, many of whom had been slaves only a few years earlier.
The reasons for the mass emigration from the Cape Colony have been much discussed over the years. Afrikaner historiography has emphasised the hardships endured by the frontier farmers which they blamed on British policies of pacifying the Xhosa tribes. Other historians have emphasized the harshness of the life in the Eastern Cape (which suffered one of its regular periods of drought in the early 1830s) compared to the attractions of the fertile country of Natal, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Growing land shortages have also been cited as a contributing factor. The true reasons were obviously very complex and certainly consisted of both "push" factors (including the general dissatisfaction of life under British rule) and "pull" factors (including the desire for a better life in better country.)
With which I tend to agree, yet this was also the time of the Mfecane when the Mthethwa led by Dingiswayo were developing into the Zulu and the Khumalo were developing into the AmaNdbelele (Matabele in English) – much to detriment of the original inhabitants of the land they fought over. In fact, between them, they depopulated large tracts of Africa. Zulu practice was to kill all the men and the women over child-bearing age and take the rest captive, the Matabele also followed this practice, largely because the were a breakaway group led by the Zulu general Mzilikazi.
While both the Zulu and the nDbele were competitors in the race for Africa, they were starting from a Nonetheless the “scramble” was principally between the various European powers. So, who were these Europeans powers? France had interests in the coastal areas such as Cameroon and French Equatorial Guinea, Italy was interfering in Eritrea and Abyssinia, Belgium was involved in “civilising” the inhabitants of the Congo, Germany was present in Togoland, Tanganyika and German South West Africa (now Namibia). Portugal was interested in Angola and Mozambique, and, as always, there were the British...

The Voortrekkers obviously had many reasons to leave the Cape Colony, but these reasons were not acceptable to the Zulu Empire under Dingaane, as at his orders, after signing a treaty with Pieter Retief on 6th February 1838, Dingaane ordered his soldiers to capture Retief's party and their coloured servants.
Retief, his son, men, and servants, approximately 90-100 people in total, were taken to kwaMatiwane Hill, a site where Dingaane had thousands of other enemies executed. The Zulus killed the entire party by clubbing them and killed Retief last, so as to witness the deaths of his comrades. Their bodies were left on the hillside to be eaten by wild animals, as was Dingaane's custom with his enemies.

He (Dingaane) then ordered his impis to attack the Boer laagers. This led directly to the Battle of Blood River, and eventually to his death 2 years later at the hands of some of his half-brothers. One of these half-brothers was Mpande kaSenzangakhona who was the longest reigning of the Zulu kings and father of Cetshwayo.
This takes us up to 1840 and the real start of the Great Trek. The Boer and the Zulu are about to collide in their expansions and there is a real problem here as the Zulu are semi-nomadic cattle-herding pastoralists while the Boers are settled farmers. This is somewhat analogous to events in the USA. One could build an argument on the treatment of Native Americans, but I think a closer analogy would be the “Range wars” between ranchers and farmers (but they were a bit later).

At any rate, at this time we have Boers and Zulus wandering about all over the place being nasty to the locals and the British in Cape Colony running around like headless chickens trying to make sense of everything and impose civilisation at the point of a Bible (or a gun if that doesn't work). This civilisation naturally included the taking of “tea” and the playing of “cricket” (which, I am informed, is a game of some sort – probably derived from rounders). Now, myself being one of those barbarous Scots, I prefer coffee in all it's heavenly incarnations, and have no use for a game which lasts for about a week and involves people imitating statues for hours on end.

This thread (at least it started out that way) is dedicated to the premise that the Race for Africa began earlier than is normally thought. So, getting back on topic, why do I disagree with the accepted time-scale? Basically because it's too late in the process – while the Germans and Belgians came late into the game, the Portuguese, French and British had been carving up Africa for centuries – albeit in a desultory fashion – the process received an impetus with the discovery of the Kimberly diamond fields in Griqaland West in 1867. but seems to have been set of in earnest by the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Both the winners and losers in this conflict had something to prove to the rest of the world, Asia was too far away for anything but a ceremonial presence such as the Germans in Tsingtao, but Africa was handy and no other European nation had put its brand on very large chunks of it.

So Belgium grabbed what is now the Republic of the Congo in 1877, Germany took over Togoland, German East Africa and what is now Namibia in the 1880's. But, as I said the French, Portuguese, British and Dutch (and I shouldn't forget the Arabs either) had been exploiting the resources of Africa for centuries.

Africa, however only hits the world headlines as anything but “The Dark Continent” after a British military disaster and an extremely handy defensive action.

Thoughts? Dissensions? Agreements? Any and all are welcome.
 

okamido

Forum Staff
Jun 2009
29,885
land of Califia
What was the prime economic factor driving the scramble? I know what Rhodes was after, but what else was going on? Was the rubber trade in full swing yet and what possible agricultural resources were being funneled out, ala the grain export from India to the UK?
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,374
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Africa, however only hits the world headlines as anything but “The Dark Continent” after a British military disaster and an extremely handy defensive action.
Would you not say that north Africa was considerably more in the minds of the Europeans much earlier - particularly the British, for whom it represented access to India. Even during the Napoleonic era, the wee man himself invaded, and it was during that period that the French essentially founded modern Egyptology.

I was under the impression that most of the African colonies were actually financial burdens on the British government, rather than being sources of wealth. Is this correct?
 
Dec 2010
1,946
Newfoundland
I think some territories, that may not have been very wealthy, were taken merely because European powers feared that other European powers would grab it if they didn't.
 
Sep 2011
162
Enjoyed the little narrative. Very interesting.
The scramble could be seen as the specific rush for African territory in the late 1800's. Maybe what you have typed is the precursor, and not part of the scramble itself?

and have no use for a game which lasts for about a week and involves people imitating statues for hours on end.
Patience is a virtue...
 

Chookie

Ad Honorem
Nov 2007
7,628
Alba
What was the prime economic factor driving the scramble? I know what Rhodes was after, but what else was going on? Was the rubber trade in full swing yet and what possible agricultural resources were being funneled out, ala the grain export from India to the UK?
The rubber trade wasn't a factor at the the time and there were virtually no agricultural resources to speak of. There wasn't much of grain surplus at all. I think the prime factors were gold, diamonds and Imperial glory...
I think some territories, that may not have been very wealthy, were taken merely because European powers feared that other European powers would grab it if they didn't.
This was undoubtedly a factor.
Would you not say that north Africa was considerably more in the minds of the Europeans much earlier - particularly the British, for whom it represented access to India. Even during the Napoleonic era, the wee man himself invaded, and it was during that period that the French essentially founded modern Egyptology.

I was under the impression that most of the African colonies were actually financial burdens on the British government, rather than being sources of wealth. Is this correct?
I did specify sub-Saharan Africa, but you're right most of the British colonies were cost-centres, but some were extremely profitable – The Rhodesias and South Africa for example.
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,777
Cornwall
Wasn't the scramble mainly related to Germany trying to muscle in at the last minute? In the period quoted.
 

jehosafats

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
2,088
...
The Arabs were never quite as strong in the Sahel, at least to upstage the Jula's monopoly on the medieval gold trade. There's was definitely a more controlled relationship. Arabs didn't see any success taking Christian Nubia either. They were able to acquire slaves among the Bantu in Zanzibar. For the most part the Arabs had little to no control over any resources beyond the desert terminals where it counted.

The same transpired with Europeans along the Gold Coast. It was more a controlled relationship where merchants were expected to make payments to the king for permission to build forts along the coast. Technically they were subjects of the king. Their posture was anything but aggressive towards the locals. Coastal merchants were insulated with their own internal politics to be sure, but they didn't control the supply of slaves, the mines, or anything beyond their forts, which were littered with half-caste merchants and pols scrambling to gain position over their European competitors. The kings didn't necessarily possess the power to cede them even these coastal territories. The triangle trade was more elicit and costly than exploitative in one direction. Ashanti traders would purchase slaves from other regions from Portuguese merchants. The eternal wars across the Sahel had nothing to do with a European demand for slaves. There were stark exceptions such as the kingdom of Dahomey, but the fall of Songhai and Fulani Jihads were much bigger events than the Portuguese or Dutch vying for a slice of the coast. Europeans made their mark through inflation, by flooding Sahelian markets with cheap imports in exchange for slaves. They devastated local economies but also their own. Being a producer's market which benefited the few, European manufacturers invested heavily in industries designed specifically for African consumers and were thus wholly dependent on African markets. Add costs for shipping, high costs of slaves, and the depression of wages back home, and this wasn't especially lucrative for the colonial powers. Adam Smith lamented these practices in the Wealth of Nations:

"The rulers of Great Britain have, for more than a century past, amused the people with the imagination that they possessed a great empire on the west side of the Atlantic. This empire, however, has hitherto existed in imagination only. It has hitherto been, not an empire, but the project of on empire ; not a gold mine, but the project of a gold mine; a project which has cost, which continues to cost, and which, if pursued in the same way as it has been hitherto, is likely to cost, immense expense, without being likely to bring any profit; for the effects of the monopoly of the colony trade, it has been shewn, are to the great body of the people, mere loss instead of profit ..."


 

larkin

Ad Honorem
Sep 2009
3,698
I think some territories, that may not have been very wealthy, were taken merely because European powers feared that other European powers would grab it if they didn't.
might that explain the Belgium Congo's tiny coast line and massive interior?
 
Dec 2009
11,340
Ozarkistan
What was the prime economic factor driving the scramble? I know what Rhodes was after, but what else was going on? Was the rubber trade in full swing yet and what possible agricultural resources were being funneled out, ala the grain export from India to the UK?
Rhodes arrived in S. Africa thinking to become a cotton farmer. He was fortuitously around when the Kimberley diamond fields were discovered in 1869 (same year Suez Canal was opened), and he made a quick fortune as a claims broker.