The “scramble for Africa,” the process of the invasion, occupation, and domination of the Africanterritory by European powers formally kicked off in 1880. This, however, is not to say that there was no European presence in Africa prior to this era, Africa had been commercially linked to Europe from as early as the 15th century following the Portuguese arrival at theWest African coast.The later stages of the 19th century had witnessed an economic meltdown in Europe, this period of economic hardship was particularly occasioned by the Long depression, which was labelled the Great Depression, which began in 1873 and ran through the spring of 1879. Despite the relative lack of material wealth, European countrieswent ahead to invade the interior of Africa and created colonies. The question that thus forms the argument of this paper is; why did Europe want to get involved in Africa after 1880 given its relative lack of material wealth?
The first European explorations of the African continent began in the 1400’s, a period referred to as the Ageof Exploration and oceannavigation. Most of the European explorers at the time were motivated by basic curiosity and the desire to understand foreign lands, the adventuresome spirit of the age of exploration made possible by sea transport and the desire to discover new and fresh trade routes to India and East Asia markets (Khapoya, 2012). Others, such as the Christian missionaries were driven by the motive of spreading the Christian beliefs, yet others were purely attracted by the legends of great natural resources in the continent. Important to note is the fact that these explorations were limited to the coastal areas that were easily accessible by ship. Interior exploration was hindered by dense rainforests, torrents andfalls, illnesses such as malaria andsleeping sickness.
Increased European interest and presence in Africa in post 1880 resulted in heightened tensions among Europe’s powerhouses and the Berlin meeting in 1884-1885 was convened to subdivide the African continent among the interested parties. Among the reasons for invasion tabled at the meeting was to bring to an end slavery trade. England had put an end to slavery in 1832 followed by France in 1843. Significant success had been achieved in halting trade around the coastal strips of Africa, however, the situation in the interior was different. Explorers such as Livingstone returned to Europe with tales of Muslim merchants from north of the Sahara and the East Coast who still traded in slavery. There were also reports of local chiefs who were reluctant to let go the slave trade and these reports triggered the calls for more action to be done from European abolitionists.
The end of slave trade brought a new dimension for the capitalists; there was a need for commerce between Europe and Africa owing to the abolition of slavery. The end of slavery was depicted as an opportunity for new and legitimate trade (Khapoya, 2012). Through explorers, the capitalists would locate new vast reserves of raw material, plot trade routes, navigate rivers and identify populated regions to serve as markets for their manufactured produce from Europe. The discovery of gold, diamond and precious stones in Africa enticed the setting up of colonies that would make a particular European nation a monopoly. Most European nations were being haunted by the ghosts of the Long depression and thus alternative markets and sources of industrial raw materials had to be sought, coincidentally, Africa provided this alternative.
Racism, racial superiority and regeneration of African peoples also were factors in the European invasion of Africa. Driven by its relative material prosperity and supremacy to Africaand the firm belief in a ‘natural order of things’ an idea postulated by Darwin’s theory On the Origin of Specieswhich sought to confirm the supremacy of the white race (Kidne, Bucu, Mathisen, McKee, & Weeks, 2009), the Europeans felt entitled to rule others. Africa was regarded a dark continent and its people “backward” and thus its conquest by the “superior” race was deemed an inexorable natural process. Africa was also seen as an alternative expansion of European empires since there was no room for expansion in Europe after the unification of Germany and later in Italy (Khapoya, 2012). In order to maintain their political dominance, European powerhouse looked up to Africa to expand their territories.
The European invasion of Africa was also motivated medical and technological advancements; the discovery of quinine as a cure for malaria enabled Europeans to survive malaria, one of the two deadly diseases that had hampered the Whiteman’s survival in the interior of Africa. The development of the steam engines and iron hulled boats made it possible to navigate the non-tidal river sections and thus enabled inland access. Military innovation in terms of powerful and automatic gun machinery gave the Europeans and the upper hand over the locals and enabled them to maintain military superiority in areas conquered (Kidne, Bucu, Mathisen, McKee, & Weeks, 2009). Therefore, although Europe was relatively deprived of material wealth at the beginning of 1880, the invasion of Africa by European nations was not hampered as other factors acted as a motivation, these included; expansion of trade and territory, need to end slavery, medical advances and technological developments.
Khapoya, V. B. (2012). Chapter 4: Colonialism and the African Experience. In V. B. Khapoya, The African Experience / Edition 4 (pp. 99-138). New Jersey: Pearson.
Kidne, F., Bucu, M., Mathisen, R., McKee, S., & Weeks, T. (2009). chapter 24: The Age of Imperialism (1870–1914). In F. Kidne, M. Bucu, R. Mathisen, S. McKee, & T. Weeks, Making Europe: People, Politics, and Culture (pp. 145-161). Cengage Learning Inc.