Assess the significance of strategic factors in bringing about change in relation to expansion and dismantling of the British Empire in Africa in the period c1870 – c1981
The British expansion into the Dark Continent rose as fast as it declined, although there were many contributing factors to expansion, those same factors then contributed to the decolonisation of the continent. Historian Bernard Porter argues that formal imperialism for Britain was a symptom and an effect of its relative decline in the world, and not of strength. Therefore it was strategic policy that influenced Britain’s expansion in Africa, more so than economic or moral aims. Strategic policy, in definition, is the foreign policy of Britain changing due to internal and external pressures. However, I believe the dismantling of the Empire was also due to the economic difficulties Britain was faced in the 20th century.
A strategic factor that began expansion is the Suez Canal. Disraeli bought the Egyptian ruler Ismail’s shareholding in the Suez Canal to secure control of this strategic waterway. During this time Britain was under intense political pressure from colonies within the empire. This is displayed with the Indian Mutiny in 1857, where the British wanted to secure this waterway to gain quick access to India and can therefore stop rebellion in India if necessary. Thus, securing the waterway between East and West Africa was crucial to deter encroaching rivals and secure important trade between continents. This is displayed in 1882, not only was 80% of Suez traffic British, but 13% of Britain’s entire trade passing through the Canal. Therefore Robinson and Gallagher suggest British military intervention into Egypt was due to ‘crucial changes that took place in Africa itself’ this signaled the end of Anglo-French financial control over Egypt that had once existed and ended in outright British occupation as British Military seized control over the country to ensure it’s trading security. This was displayed in 1881 where Ismail Pasha led the army revolt against the Khedive. This is an example of indigenous authority facing crises, which therefore required the British to intervene to protect interest in Egypt. Other strategic factors that led to the purchase were the overgrowing influence of Russia and the growing rivalry between the two nations. Reasons for the purchase by British was to ensure they maintained democratic rule over colonies, therefore securing the waterway allowed the British to maintain this over both African and Asian nations. Russia, at this time was a communist threat and seen as the ‘octopus’ of Europe which was slow but powerful and when captured colonies did not release its grip and also deployed communist tactics on these nations. Therefore Britain found that securing the waterway and having formal rule over Egypt allowed them to deter rivals from this area. Therefore I believe strategic factors played a large part in the expansion of the British Empire into Africa, as strategically it was the correct decision to expand into Egypt to protect the waterway that was vital to the British in maintaining their superiority.
Another strategic factor that holds great weight is the ‘Scramble’ for Africa. Historians Robinson and Gallagher argue that Salisbury’s decision in 1889 that Britain would remain in Egypt for the foreseeable future, which led to the European ‘Scramble’ for Africa, in which Britain wanted to protect its interests in Egypt by “…extending British influence over Uganda and Sudan to control the headwaters of the River Nile because Egypt’s prosperity depended on the Nile” Robinson and Gallagher believed that the main trigger for the Scramble for Africa was the establishment of Egypt as a protectorate. However we can induce that the reason Egypt became a protectorate was due to the increased involvement of the British due to the Suez Canal purchase. To conclude the Purchase was strategically significant as it...
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