The Scramble for Africa

Topics: Africa, Colonialism, British Empire Pages: 6 (2155 words) Published: July 17, 2013
Essay Title: What were the major historical factors explaining ‘the scramble for Africa’? The scramble for Africa has aptly been described as the golden period of European expansionism in the 19th century. It was an age in which the continents of Africa, Asia and Middle Eastern states were brought under the control of European powers following the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. Eric Hobsbawm, one of the leading authorities on European imperialism, described the period as “the Age of Empire not only because it developed a new kind of imperialism, but also a much more old-fashioned reason…” referred to here as the age of “emperors” (1987: 56). It was essentially a period in which a handful of European powers (Great Britain, France, Portugal, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Japan, Germany etc), having emerged economically strong following rapid industrialisation, set out to pursue radical national interests overseas. The scramble for Africa began at a time when the benefit of industrial revolution gave rise to unprecedented expansion in the production of goods and services, which needed to be exported to outlandish markets. For, the partition and the haggling that went it did not come out of the blue. It was orchestrated by a combination of factors and conditions under which European powers faced in their metropolitan countries at the time. Having lost their North and South American colonies, Australasia and the Pacific rim interests at the turn of the century, the European powers turned their searchlight to Africa, Asia and the Middle East for new markets - consolidating previously held trading posts and sea route communications and grabbing new territories along the way – hence the scramble for Africa. The partition has broadly been described as one of the most turning points in the history of the relationships between the “Haves” – industrialised European powers versus the “Have-nots” – tropical Africa and the countries of Asia and the middle East (Padmore, 1972: 7). In his most eloquent work on the subject of partition – Africa and the World Peace (1972: 162), Padmore argues that “… colonial policy is the offspring of industrial policy for rich States in which capital is abundant and is rapidly accumulating, in which the manufacturing system is continually growing and characterising, if not most numerous, at least the most alert and energetic part of the population that works with its hands, in which the countryside is obliged to industrialise itself, in order to maintain itself, in such States exportation is an essential factor of public property …” Still, Jules Ferry, “who can fittingly be described as the father of French Imperialism, whilst addressing the Chamber of Deputies in 1885, summed up the need for colonies as follows: Is it not clear that the great States of modern Europe, the moment their industrial power is found, are confronted with an immense and difficult problem, which is the basis of industrial life, the very condition of existence – the question of markets? … Can we say that this colonial policy is a luxury for modern nations? Not at all … this policy is for all of us, a necessity, the market itself” (p. 161). Ferry’s encapsulation of what the partition of Africa meant for the French and his fellow European powers are quite instructive here. Similarly, continental echoes of the partition policy were heard in ascending order. In the Island of Great Britain, Mr Joseph Chamberlain, “the radical mayor of Birmingham and a great advocate of liberal ideals, who later deserted the Liberals and became one of the most ardent champions of Toryism …”, accepted that “a forward policy of colonial expansion in Africa was now the order of the day”. He stated that: “it is the duty of the State to foster the trade and obtain markets for its manufactures” (p. 164). In Germany, Bismarck, who initially opposed colonial expansion, later became its advocate. Addressing the Reichstag in 1885, he declared that: “The...
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