Scramble for Africa

From New World Encyclopedia

Caricature in Punch of Cecil Rhodes after he announced Cape-Cairo railway project. Founder of the De Beers Mining Company, one of the first diamond companies, Rhodes was also the owner of the British South Africa Company, which carved out Rhodesia for itself. He wanted to "paint the map [British] red," and once famously declared: "all of these stars… these vast worlds that remain out of reach. If I could, I would annex other planets."[1]

The Scramble for Africa (or the Race for Africa) was the proliferation of conflicting European claims to African territory during the New Imperialism period, between the 1880s and the start of World War I.

The latter half of the nineteenth century saw the transition from the "informal" imperialism of control through military influence and economic dominance to that of direct rule. Attempts to mediate imperial competition, such as the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 among the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the French Third Republic and the German Empire, failed to establish definitively the competing powers' claims. These disputes over Africa were among the central factors precipitating the First World War.

European nations saw Africa as ripe for the taking. Some Europeans argued that by colonizing Africa, they were also exporting civilization to a continent which they regarded as evolutionary backward and undeveloped. It was a European responsibility to act as trustees of Africa until Africans were mature enough to govern themselves. However, colonization was in reality driven by commercial interests. Europe would benefit enormously from its exploitation of Africa. The de-colonization process would reveal the one-sidedness of colonial rule. The departing colonial powers left behind economies that were designed to benefit themselves. Crops grown, for example, required processing in Europe. The departing powers left behind few Africans equipped to lead their newly independent nations. Others argue that for all the injustices of colonialism, Africans have become members of a single global civilization characterized by "institutions and principles such as representative democracy, judiciary, banking" and "factories" and "Africans and other non-westerners have to master the new civilization to strengthen themselves and benefit from the advantages".[2]

Opening of the continent

David Livingstone, early explorer of the interior of Africa who discovered in 1855 the Mosi-oa-Tunya waterfall, which he renamed Victoria Falls. He failed however in locating the source of the Nile.

The opening of Africa to Western exploration and exploitation had begun in earnest at the end of the eighteenth century. By 1835, Europeans had mapped most of northwestern Africa. Among the most famous of the European explorers was David Livingstone, who charted the vast interior and Serpa Pinto, who crossed both Southern Africa and Central Africa on a difficult expedition, mapping much of the interior of the continent. Arduous expeditions in the 1850s and 1860s by Richard Burton, John Speke and James Grant located the great central lakes and the source of the Nile. By the end of the century, Europeans had charted the Nile from its source, the courses of the Niger, Congo and Zambezi Rivers had been traced, and the world now realized the vast resources of Africa.

However, on the eve of the scramble for Africa, only ten percent of the continent was under the control of Western nations. In 1875, the most important holdings were Algeria, whose conquest by France had started in the 1830s — despite Abd al-Qadir's strong resistance and the Kabyles' rebellion in the 1870s; the Cape Colony, held by the United Kingdom, and Angola, held by Portugal.

Technological advancement facilitated overseas expansionism. Industrialization brought about rapid advancements in transportation and communication, especially in the forms of steam navigation, railroads, and telegraphs. Medical advances also were important, especially medicines for tropical diseases. The development of quinine, an effective treatment for malaria, enabled vast expanses of the tropics to be penetrated.

Causes of the scramble

Africa and global markets

European claims in Africa, 1914

Sub-Saharan Africa, one of the last regions of the world largely untouched by "informal imperialism" and "civilization," was also attractive to Europe's ruling elites for economic and racial reasons. During a time when Britain's balance of trade showed a growing deficit, with shrinking and increasingly protectionist continental markets due to the Long Depression (1873-1896), Africa offered Britain, Germany, France, and other countries an open market that would garner it a trade surplus: a market that bought more from the metropole than it sold overall. Britain, like most other industrial countries, had long since begun to run an unfavorable balance of trade (which was increasingly offset, however, by the income from overseas investments).

As Britain developed into the world's first post-industrial nation, financial services became an increasingly important sector of its economy. Invisible financial exports, as mentioned, kept Britain out of the red, especially capital investments outside Europe, particularly to the developing and open markets in Africa, predominantly white settler colonies, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania.

In addition, surplus capital was often more profitably invested overseas, where cheap labor, limited competition, and abundant raw materials made a greater premium possible. Another inducement to imperialism, of course, arose from the demand for raw materials unavailable in Europe, especially copper, cotton, rubber, tea, and tin, to which European consumers had grown accustomed and upon which European industry had grown dependent.

However, in Africa — exclusive of what would become the Union of South Africa in 1909 — the amount of capital investment by Europeans was relatively small, compared to other continents, before and after the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference. Consequently, the companies involved in tropical African commerce were relatively small, apart from Cecil Rhodes' De Beers Mining Company, who had carved out Rhodesia for himself, as Léopold II would exploit the Congo Free State. These observations might detract from the pro-imperialist arguments of colonial lobbies such as the Alldeutscher Verband, Francesco Crispi or Jules Ferry, who argued that sheltered overseas markets in Africa would solve the problems of low prices and over-production caused by shrinking continental markets. However, according to the classic thesis of John A. Hobson, exposed in Imperialism (1902), which would influence authors such as Lenin (1916), Trotsky or Hannah Arendt(1951), this shrinking of continental markets was a main factor of the global New Imperialism period. Later historians have noted that such statistics only obscured the fact that formal control of tropical Africa had great strategic value in an era of imperial rivalry, while the Suez Canal has remained a strategic location. The 1886 Witwatersrand Gold Rush, which lead to the foundation of Johannesburg and was a major factor of the Second Boer War in 1899, accounted for the "conjunction of the superfluous money and of the superfluous manpower, which gave themselves their hand to quit together the country," which is in itself, according to Hannah Arendt, the new element of the imperialist era.

Strategic rivalry

Poster for the 1906 Colonial Exhibition in Marseilles (France).

While tropical Africa was not a large zone of investment, other regions overseas were. The vast interior — between the gold- and diamond-rich Southern Africa and Egypt, had, however, key strategic value in securing the flow of overseas trade. Britain was thus under intense political pressure, especially among supporters of the Conservative Party, to secure lucrative markets such as British Raj India, Qing Dynasty China, and Latin America from encroaching rivals. Thus, securing the key waterway between East and West — the Suez Canal— was crucial. The rivalry between the UK, France, Germany and the other European powers account for a large part of the colonization. Thus, while Germany, which had been unified under Prussia's rule only after the 1866 Battle of Sadowa and the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, was hardly a colonial power before the New Imperialism period, it would eagerly participate in the race. A rising industrial power close on the heels of Great Britain, it hadn't yet had the chance to control oversea territories, mainly due to its late unification, its fragmentation in various states, and its absence of experience in modern navigation. This would change under Bismarck's leadership, who implemented the Weltpolitik (World Policy) and, after putting in place the bases of France's isolation with the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary and then the 1882 Triple Alliance with Italy, called for the 1884-85 Berlin Conference which set the rules of effective control of a foreign territory. Germany's expansionism would lead to the Tirpitz Plan, implemented by Admiral von Tirpitz, who would also champion the various Fleet Acts starting in 1898, thus engaging in an arms race with Great Britain. By 1914, they had given Germany the second largest naval force in the world (roughly 40% smaller than the Royal Navy). According to von Tirpitz, this aggressive naval policy was supported by the National Liberal Party rather than by the conservatives, thus demonstrating that the main supports of the European nation states' imperialism were the rising bourgeoisie classes.[3]

Bismarck's Weltpolitik

Germany began its world expansion in the 1880s under Bismarck's leadership, encouraged by the national bourgeoisie. Some of them, claiming themselves of Friedrich List's thought, advocated expansion in the Philippines and in Timor, other proposed to set themselves in Formosa (modern Taiwan), etc. In the end of the 1870s, these isolated voices began to be relayed by a real imperialist policy, known as the Weltpolitik ("World Policy"), which was backed by mercantilist thesis. Pan-germanism was thus linked to the young nation's imperialist drives. In the beginning of the 1880s, the Deutscher Kolonialverein was created, and got its own magazine in 1884, the Kolonialzeitung. This colonial lobby was also relayed by the nationalist Alldeutscher Verband.

Germany thus became the third largest colonial power in Africa, acquiring an overall empire of 2.6 million square kilometers and 14 million colonial subjects, mostly in its African possessions (Southwest Africa, Togoland, the Cameroons, and Tanganyika). The scramble for Africa led Bismarck to propose the 1884-85 Berlin Conference. Following the 1904 Entente cordiale between France and the UK, Germany tried to test the alliance in 1905, with the First Moroccan Crisis. This led to the 1905 Algeciras Conference, in which France's influence on Morocco was compensated by the exchange of others territories, and then to the 1911 Agadir Crisis. Along with the 1898 Fashoda Incident between France and the UK, this succession of international crisis proves the bitterness of the struggle between the various imperialisms, which ultimately led to World War I.

The clash of rival imperialisms

Francesco Crispi, Italian prime minister (1887-1891;1893-96). Crispi opposed himself to Radical Felice Cavallotti over the Triple Alliance and the abandon of the Eritrean colony. He resigned after the 1896 defeat at Adowa during the First Italo-Abyssinian War.

While de Brazza was exploring the Kongo Kingdom for France, Stanley also explored it in the early 1880s on behalf of Léopold II of Belgium, who would have his personal Congo Free State.

France occupied Tunisia in May 1881 (and Guinea in 1884), which partly convinced Italy to adhere in 1882 to the German-Austrian Dual Alliance, thus forming the Triple Alliance. The same year, Great Britain occupied the nominally Ottoman Egypt, which in turn ruled over the Sudan and parts of Somalia. In 1870 and 1882, Italy took possession of the first parts of Eritrea, while Germany declared Togoland, the Cameroons and South West Africa to be under its protection in 1884. French West Africa (AOF) was founded in 1895, and French Equatorial Africa (AEF) in 1910.

Italy continued its conquest to gain its "place in the sun." Following the defeat of the First Italo-Abyssinian War (1895-96), it acquired Somaliland in 1899-90 and the whole of Eritrea (1899). In 1911, it engaged in a war with the Ottoman Empire, in which it acquired Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (modern Libya). Enrico Corradini, who fully supported the war, and later merged his group in the early fascist party (PNF), developed in 1919 the concept of Proletarian Nationalism, supposed to legitimize Italy's imperialism by a surprising mixture of socialism with nationalism:

We must start by recognizing the fact that there are proletarian nations as well as proletarian classes; that is to say, there are nations whose living conditions are subject… to the way of life of other nations, just as classes are. Once this is realized, nationalism must insist firmly on this truth: Italy is, materially and morally, a proletarian nation.[4]

The Second Italo-Abyssinian War (1935-1936), ordered by Mussolini, would actually be one of the last colonial wars (that is, intended to colonize a foreign country, opposed to wars of national liberation), occupying Ethiopia for five years, which had remained the last African independent territory. The Spanish Civil War, marking for some the beginning of the European Civil War, would begin in 1936.

On the other hand, the British abandoned their splendid isolation in 1902 with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, which would enable the Empire of Japan to be victorious during the war against Russia (1904-1905). The UK then signed the Entente cordiale with France in 1904, and, in 1907, the Triple Entente which included Russia, thus pitted against the Triple Alliance which Bismarck had patiently made up.

The American Colonization Society and the foundation of Liberia

The United States took part, marginally, in this enterprise, through the American Colonization Society (ACS), established in 1816 by Robert Finley. The ACS offered emigration to Liberia ("Land of the Free"), a colony founded in 1820, to free black slaves; emancipated slave Lott Cary actually became the first American Baptist missionary in Africa. This colonization attempt was resisted by the native people.

James Monroe, first president of the American Colonization Society and President of the United States (1817-1825). He formulated the Monroe Doctrine, a policy of the US isolationism during the nineteenth century.

Led by Southerners, the American Colonization Society's first president was James Monroe, from Virginia, who became the fifth president of the United States from 1817 to 1825. Thus, one of the main proponents of American colonization of Africa was the same man who proclaimed, in his 1823 State of the Union address, the opinion that European powers should no longer colonize the Americas or interfere with the affairs of sovereign nations located in the Americas. In return, the US planned to stay neutral in wars between European powers and in wars between a European power and its colonies. However, if these latter type of wars were to occur in the Americas, the U.S. would view such action as hostile toward itself. This famous statement became known as the Monroe Doctrine and was the base of the US' isolationism during the nineteenth century.

Although the Liberia colony never became quite as big as envisaged, it was only the first step in the American colonization of Africa, according to its early proponents. Thus, Jehudi Ashmun, an early leader of the ACS, envisioned an American empire in Africa. Between 1825 and 1826, he took steps to lease, annex, or buy tribal lands along the coast and along major rivers leading inland. Like his predecessor Lt. Robert Stockton, who in 1821 established the site for Monrovia by "persuading" a local chief referred to as "King Peter" to sell Cape Montserado (or Mesurado) by pointing a pistol at his head, Ashmun was prepared to use force to extend the colony's territory. In a May 1825 treaty, King Peter and other native kings agreed to sell land in return for 500 bars of tobacco, three barrels of rum, five casks of powder, five umbrellas, ten iron posts, and ten pairs of shoes, among other items. In March 1825, the ACS began a quarterly, The African Repository and Colonial Journal, edited by Rev. Ralph Randolph Gurley (1797-1872), who headed the Society until 1844. Conceived as the Society's propaganda organ, the Repository promoted both colonization and Liberia.

The Society controlled the colony of Liberia until 1847 when, under the perception that the British might annex the settlement, Liberia was proclaimed a free and independent state, thus becoming the first African decolonised state. By 1867, the Society had sent more than 13,000 emigrants. After the American Civil War (1861-1865), when many blacks wanted to go to Liberia, financial support for colonization had waned. During its later years the society focused on educational and missionary efforts in Liberia rather than further emigration.

Succession of International Crises leading to World War I

Colonization of the Kongo Empire (early 1880s)

Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza in his version of "native" dress, photographed by Paul Nadar.

David Livingstone's explorations, carried on by Henry Morton Stanley, galvanized the European nations into action. But at first, his ideas found little support, except from Léopold II of Belgium, who in 1876 had organized the International African Association. From 1879 to 1884, Stanley was secretly sent by Léopold II to the Congo region, where he made treaties with several African chiefs and by 1882 obtained over 900,000 square miles (2,300,000 km²) of territory, the Congo Free State. Léopold II, who personally owned the colony starting in 1885 and exploited it for ivory and rubber, would impose such a terror regime on the colonized people that Belgium decided to annex it in 1908. Including mass killings and slave labor, the terror had made between 3 to 22 million victims. This prompted Belgium to end Leopold II's rule, under influence from the Congo Reform Association, and to annex the Congo in 1908 as a colony of Belgium, known as the Belgian Congo.

While Stanley was exploring Congo on behalf of Léopold II of Belgium, the French marine officer Pierre de Brazza traveled into the western Congo basin and raised the French flag over the newly founded Brazzaville in 1881, thus occupying today's Republic of the Congo. Portugal, which also claimed the area due to old treaties with the native Kongo Empire, made a treaty with Great Britain on February 26, 1884 to block off the Congo Society's access to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Suez Canal

Nott's and Gliddon's Indigenous races of the earth (1857) used misleading imagery to suggest that "Negroes" ranked between whites and chimpanzees. Note the different angles at which the "white" and "negro" skulls are positioned. Such works were instrumental in the legitimization of colonialism.

As a result, the important developments were taking place in the Nile valley. Ferdinand de Lesseps had obtained concessions from Isma'il Pasha, the ruler of Egypt, in 1854-1856, to build the Suez Canal. During the decade of work, over 1.5 million Egyptians were forced to work on the canal, 125,000 of whom perished due to malnutrition, fatigue and disease, especially cholera. Shortly before its completion in 1869, Isma'il Pasha, the ruler of Egypt, borrowed enormous sums from French and English bankers at high rates of interest. By 1875, he was facing financial difficulties and was forced to sell his block of shares in the Suez Canal. The shares were snapped up by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Benjamin Disraeli, who sought to give his country practical control in the management of this strategic waterway. When Isma'il Pasha repudiated Egypt's foreign debt in 1879, Britain and France assumed joint financial control over the country, forcing the Egyptian ruler to abdicate. The Egyptian ruling classes did not relish foreign intervention. The Urabi Revolt broke out against the Khedive and European influence in 1882, a year after the Mahdist revolt. Muhammad Ahmad, who had proclaimed himself the Mahdi (redeemer of Islam) in 1881, led the rebellion and was defeated only by Kitchener in 1898. Britain then assumed responsibility for the administration of the country.

The 1884-1885 Berlin Conference

The occupation of Egypt and the acquisition of the Congo were the first major moves in what came to be a precipitous scramble for African territory. In 1884, Otto von Bismarck convened the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference to discuss the Africa problem. The diplomats put on a humanitarian façade by condemning the slave trade, prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages and firearms in certain regions, and by expressing concern for missionary activities. More importantly, the diplomats in Berlin laid down the rules of competition by which the great powers were to be guided in seeking colonies. They also agreed that the area along the Congo River was to be administered by Léopold II of Belgium as a neutral area, known as the Congo Free State, in which trade and navigation were to be free. No nation was to stake claims in Africa without notifying other powers of its intentions. No territory could be formally claimed prior to being effectively occupied. However, the competitors ignored the rules when convenient and on several occasions war was only narrowly avoided.

Britain's occupation of Egypt and South Africa

Boer women and children in a concentration camp during the Second Boer War (1899-1902).

Britain's occupations of Egypt and the Cape Colony contributed to a preoccupation over securing the source of the Nile River. Egypt was occupied by British forces in 1882 (although not formally declared a protectorate until 1914, and never a colony proper); Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda were subjugated in the 1890s and early 1900s; and in the south, the Cape Colony (first acquired in 1795) provided a base for the subjugation of neighboring African states and the Dutch Afrikaner settlers who had left the Cape to avoid the British and then founded their own republics. In 1877, Theophilus Shepstone annexed the South African Republic (or Transvaal — independent from 1857 to 1877) for the British. The UK consolidated its power over most of the colonies of South Africa in 1879 after the Anglo-Zulu War. The Boers protested and in December 1880 they revolted, leading to the First Boer War (1880-1881). The head of the British government Gladstone (Liberal) signed a peace treaty on March 23, 1881, giving self-government to the Boers in the Transvaal. The Second Boer War was fought between 1899 to 1902; the independent Boer republics of the Orange Free State and of the South African Republic (Transvaal) were this time defeated and absorbed into the British Empire.

The 1898 Fashoda Incident

The 1898 Fashoda Incident was one of the most crucial conflicts on Europe's way of consolidating holdings in the continent. It brought Britain and France to the verge of war but ended in a major strategic victory for Britain, and provided the basis for the 1904 Entente Cordiale between the two rival countries. It stemmed from battles over control of the Nile headwaters, which caused Britain to expand in the Sudan.

Jules Ferry, French Republican who, as prime minister, directed the negotiations which led to the establishment of a protectorate in Tunis (1881), prepared the December 17, 1885 treaty for the occupation of Madagascar; directed the exploration of the Congo and of the Niger region; and organized the conquest of Indochina. He resigned after the 1885 Tonkin incident.

The French thrust into the African interior was mainly from West Africa (modern day Senegal) eastward, through the Sahel along the southern border of the Sahara, a territory covering modern day Senegal, Mali, Niger, and Chad. Their ultimate aim was to have an uninterrupted link between the Niger River and the Nile, thus controlling all trade to and from the Sahel region, by virtue of their existing control over the Caravan routes through the Sahara. The British, on the other hand, wanted to link their possessions in Southern Africa (modern South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zambia), with their territories in East Africa (modern Kenya), and these two areas with the Nile basin. Sudan (which in those days included modern day Uganda) was obviously key to the fulfillment of these ambitions, especially since Egypt was already under British control. This 'red line' through Africa is made most famous by Cecil Rhodes. Along with Lord Milner (the British colonial minister in South Africa), Rhodes advocated such a "Cape to Cairo" empire linking by rail the Suez Canal to the mineral-rich Southern part of the continent. Though hampered by German occupation of Tanganyika until the end of World War I, Rhodes successfully lobbied on behalf of such a sprawling East African empire.

If one draws a line from Cape Town to Cairo (Rhodes' dream), and one from Dakar to the Horn of Africa (now Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia), (the French ambition), these two lines intersect somewhere in eastern Sudan near Fashoda, explaining its strategic importance. In short, Britain had sought to extend its East African empire contiguously from Cairo to the Cape of Good Hope, while France had sought to extend its own holdings from Dakar to the Sudan, which would enable its empire to span the entire continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

A French force under Jean-Baptiste Marchand arrived first at the strategically located fort at Fashoda soon followed by a British force under Lord Kitchener, commander in chief of the British army since 1892. The French withdrew after a standoff, and continued to press claims to other posts in the region. In March 1899 the French and British agreed that the source of the Nile and Congo Rivers should mark the frontier between their spheres of influence.

The Moroccan crisis

Although the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference had set the rules for the scramble for Africa, it hadn't weakened the rival imperialisms. The 1898 Fashoda Incident, which had seen France and the UK on the brink of war, ultimately led to the signature of the 1904 Entente cordiale, which reversed the influence of the various European powers. As a result, the new German power decided to test the solidity of the influence, using the contested territory of Morocco as a battlefield.

Thus, on March 31, 1905, the Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Tangiers and made a speech in favor of Moroccan independence, challenging French influence in Morocco. France's influence in Morocco had been reaffirmed by Britain and Spain in 1904. The Kaiser's speech bolstered French nationalism and with British support the French foreign minister, Théophile Delcassé, took a defiant line. The crisis peaked in mid-June 1905, when Delcassé was forced out of the ministry by the more conciliation minded premier Maurice Rouvier. But by July 1905 Germany was becoming isolated and the French agreed to a conference to solve the crisis. Both France and Germany continued to posture up to the conference, with Germany mobilizing reserve army units in late December and France actually moving troops to the border in January 1906.

The 1906 Algeciras Conference was called to settle the dispute. Of the 13 nations present the German representatives found their only supporter was Austria-Hungary. France had firm support from Britain, Russia, Italy, Spain, and the U.S. The Germans eventually accepted an agreement, signed on May 31, 1906, where France yielded certain domestic changes in Morocco but retained control of key areas.

However, five years later, the second Moroccan crisis (or Agadir Crisis) was sparked by the deployment of the German gunboat Panther, to the port of Agadir on July 1, 1911. Germany had started to attempt to surpass Britain's naval supremacy — the British navy had a policy of remaining larger than the next two naval fleets in the world combined. When the British heard of the Panther's arrival in Morocco, they wrongly believed that the Germans meant to turn Agadir into a naval base on the Atlantic.

The German move was aimed at reinforcing claims for compensation for acceptance of effective French control of the North African kingdom, where France's pre-eminence had been upheld by the 1906 Algeciras Conference. In November 1911, a convention was signed under which Germany accepted France's position in Morocco in return for territory in the French Equatorial African colony of Middle Congo (now the Republic of the Congo).

France subsequently established a full protectorate over Morocco (March 30, 1912), ending what remained of the country's formal independence. Furthermore, British backing for France during the two Moroccan crises reinforced the Entente between the two countries and added to Anglo-German estrangement, deepening the divisions which would culminate in World War I.

The colonial encounter

The production of cash crops

Capitalism, an economic system in which capital, or wealth, is put to work to produce more capital, revolutionized traditional economies, inducing social changes and political consequences that revolutionized African and Asian societies. Maximizing production and minimizing cost did not necessarily coincide with traditional, seasonal patterns of agricultural production. The ethic of wage productivity was thus, in many respects, a new concept to supposedly 'idle natives' merely accustomed to older patterns of subsistence farming. Balanced, subsistence-based economies shifted to specialization and accumulation of surpluses. Tribal states or empires organized along precarious, unwritten cultural traditions also shifted to a division of labor based on legal protection of land and labor — once inalienable, but now commodities to be bought, sold, or traded.

The colonial consciousness and colonial exhibitions

Pygmies and a European explorer. Some pygmies would be exposed in human zoos, such as Ota Benga displayed by eugenicist Madison Grant in the Bronx Zoo.

The "colonial lobby"

In its early stages, imperialism was mainly the act of individual explorers and some adventurous merchantmen. The metropoles were a long way from approving without any dissent the expensive adventures carried out abroad, and various important political leaders opposed themselves to the colonization in its first years. Thus, William Gladstone (Liberal), British premier between 1868–1874, 1880–1885, 1886 and 1892–1894, opposed it. However, during his second ministry, he could not resist the colonial lobby, and thus did not execute his electoral promise to disengage from Egypt. Although Gladstone was personally opposed to imperialism, the social tensions caused by the Long Depression pushed him to favor jingoism: the imperialists had become the "parasites of patriotism."[5].

In France, then Radical politician Georges Clemenceau also adamantly opposed himself to it: he thought colonization was a diversion from the "blue line of the Vosges" mountains, that is revanchism and the patriotic urge to reclaim the Alsace-Lorraine region which had been annexed by the 1871 Treaty of Frankfurt. Clemenceau actually made Jules Ferry's cabinet fall after the 1885 Tonkin disaster. According to Hannah Arendt's classic The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), this unlimited expansion of national sovereignty on oversea territories contradicted the unity of the nation-state which provided citizenship to its population. Thus, a tension between the universalist will to respect human rights of the colonized people, as they may be considered as "citizens" of the nation-state, and the imperialist drives to cynically exploit populations deemed inferior began to surface. Some rare voices in the metropoles opposed what they saw as unnecessary evils of the colonial administration, left to itself and described in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) — contemporary of Kipling's The White Man's Burden — or in Céline's Journey to the End of the Night (1932).

Thus, colonial lobbies were progressively set up to legitimize the Scramble for Africa and other expensive oversea adventures. In Germany, in France, in Britain, the bourgeoisie began to claim strong oversea policies to insure the market's growth. In 1916, Lenin would publish his famous Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism[6] to explain this phenomenon. Even in lesser powers, voices like Corradini began to claim a "place in the sun" for so-called "proletarian nations," bolstering nationalism and militarism in an early prototype of fascism.

Colonial propaganda and jingoism

However, by the end of World War I, the colonized empires had become very popular almost everywhere: public opinion had been convinced of the needs of a colonial empire, although many of the metropolitans would never see a piece of it. Colonial exhibitions had been instrumental in this change of popular mentalities brought about by the colonial propaganda, supported by the colonial lobby and by various scientific studies. Thus, the conquest of territories were inevitably followed by public displays of the indigenous people for scientific and leisure purposes. Karl Hagenbeck, a German merchant in wild animals and future entrepreneur of most Europeans zoos, thus decided in 1874 to exhibit Samoa and Sami people as "purely natural" populations. In 1876, he sent one of his collaborators to the newly conquered Egyptian Sudan to bring back some wild beasts and Nubians. Presented in Paris, London and Berlin, these Nubians were very successful. Such "human zoos" could be found in Hamburg, Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Milan, New York, Warsaw, etc., with 200,000 to 300,000 visitors attending each exhibition. Tuaregs were exhibited after the French conquest of Timbuktu (discovered by René Caillé, disguised as a Muslim, in 1828, who thus won the prize offered by the French Société de Géographie); Malagasy after the occupation of Madagascar; Amazons of Abomey after Behanzin's mediatic defeat against the French in 1894…. Not used to the climatic conditions, some of the indigenous people died, such as some Galibis in Paris in 1892.[7]

Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire, director of the Parisian Jardin d'acclimatation, decided in 1877 to organize two "ethnological spectacles," presenting Nubians and Inuit. Public attendance of the Jardin d'acclimatation doubled, with a million paying entrance fees that year, a huge success for the times. Between 1877 and 1912, approximately 30 "ethnological exhibitions" were presented at the Jardin zoologique d'acclimatation.[8] "Negro villages" would be presented in Paris' 1878 and 1879 World's Fair; the 1900 World's Fair presented the famous diorama "living" in Madagascar, while the Colonial Exhibitions in Marseilles (1906 and 1922) and in Paris (1907 and 1931) would also display human beings in cages, often nudes or quasi-nudes.[9] Nomadic "Senegalese villages" were also created, thus displaying the power of the colonial empire to all the population.

In the United States, Madison Grant, head of the New York Zoological Society, exhibited pigmy Ota Benga in the Bronx Zoo alongside the apes and others in 1906. At the behest of Madison Grant, a prominent scientific racist and eugenicist, zoo director William Hornaday placed Ota Benga in a cage with an orangutan and labeled him "The Missing Link" in an attempt to illustrate Darwinism, and in particular that Africans like Ota Benga were closer to apes than were Europeans.

Such colonial exhibitions, which include the 1924 British Empire Exhibition and the successful 1931 Paris Exposition coloniale, were doubtlessly a key element of the colonisation project and legitimized the ruthless Scramble for Africa, in the same way that the popular comic-strip The Adventures of Tintin, full of clichés, were obviously carrier of an ethnocentric and racist ideology which was the condition of the masses' consent to the imperialist phenomenon. Hergé's work attained summits with Tintin in the Congo (1930-1931) or The Broken Ear (1935).

A nineteenth century caricature of the "Hottentot Venus." Saartje Baartman, a Khoisan woman, was exhibited naked and in a cage as a sideshow attraction in England, fueling the African Association's indignation. After her death, her genitals were dissected and cast in wax. Nelson Mandela formally requested France to return her remains, which had been kept at the Parisian Musée de l'Homme until 1974.

While comic-strips played the same role as westerns to legitimize the Indian Wars in the United States, colonial exhibitions were both popular and scientific, being an interface between the crowds and serious scientific research. Thus, anthropologists such as Madison Grant or Alexis Carrel built their pseudo-scientific racism, inspired by Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853-1855). "Human zoos" provided both a real-size laboratory for these racial hypothesis and a demonstration of their validity: by labelling Ota Benga as the "missing link" between apes and Europeans, as was done in the Bronx Zoo, social Darwinism and the pseudo-hierarchy of races, grounded in the biologization of the notion of "race," were simultaneously "proved," and the layman could observe this "scientific truth."

Anthropology, the daughter of colonization, participated in this so-called scientific racism based on social Darwinism by supporting, along with social positivism and scientism, the claims of the superiority of the Western civilization over "primitive cultures." However, the discovery of ancient cultures would dialectically lead anthropology to criticize itself and revalue the importance of foreign cultures. Thus, the 1897 Punitive Expedition led by the British Admiral Harry Rawson captured, burned, and looted the city of Benin, incidentally bringing to an end the highly sophisticated West African Kingdom of Benin. However, the sack of Benin distributed the famous Benin bronzes and other works of art into the European art market, as the British Admiralty auctioned off the confiscated patrimony to defray costs of the Expedition. Most of the great Benin bronzes went first to purchasers in Germany, though a sizable group remain in the British Museum. The Benin bronzes then catalyzed the beginnings of a long reassessment of the value of West African culture, which had strong influences on the formation of modernism.

Several contemporary studies have thus focused on the construction of the racist discourse in the nineteenth century and its propaganda as a precondition of the colonization project and of the Scramble of Africa, made with total lack of concern for the local population, as exemplified by Stanley, according to whom "the savage only respects force, power, boldness, and decision." Anthropology, which was related to criminology, thrived on these explorations, as had geography before them and ethnology — which, along with Claude Lévi-Strauss' studies, would theorize the ethnocentric illusion — afterwards. According to several historians, the formulation of this racist discourse and practices would also be a precondition of "state racism" (Michel Foucault) as incarnated by the Holocaust (see also Olivier LeCour Grandmaison's description of the conquest of Algeria and Sven Lindqvist, as well as Hannah Arendt). The invention of concentration camps during the Second Boer War would also be an innovation used by the Third Reich.

The extermination of the Namaqua and the Herero

Prisoners from the Herero and Nama tribes during the 1904-1908 war against Germany

In 1985, the United Nations' Whitaker Report[10] recognized Germany's turn of the century attempt to exterminate the Herero and Namaqua peoples of South-West Africa, now Namibia, as one of the earliest attempts at genocide in the twentieth century. In total, some 65,000 (80 percent of the total Herero population), and 10,000 Namaqua (50 percent of the total Namaqua population) were killed between 1904 and 1907. Characteristic of this genocide was death by starvation and the poisoning of wells for the Herero and Namaqua population who were trapped in the Namib Desert.


During the New Imperialism period, by the end of the century, Europe added almost nine million square miles (23,000,000 km²) — one-fifth of the land area of the globe — to its overseas colonial possessions. Europe's formal holdings then included the entire African continent except Ethiopia, Liberia, and Saguia el-Hamra, the latter of which would be integrated into Spanish Sahara. Between 1885 and 1914 Britain took nearly 30 percent of Africa's population under its control, compared to 15 percent for France, 9 percent for Germany, 7 percent for Belgium and only 1 percent for Italy. Nigeria alone contributed 15 million subjects, more than in the whole of French West Africa or the entire German colonial empire. It was paradoxical that Britain, the staunch advocate of free trade, emerged in 1914 with not only the largest overseas empire thanks to its long-standing presence in India, but also the greatest gains in the "scramble for Africa," reflecting its advantageous position at its inception. In terms of surface area occupied, the French were the marginal victors but much of their territory consisted of the sparsely-populated Sahara.

Political imperialism followed the economic expansion, with the "colonial lobbies" bolstering chauvinism and jingoism at each crisis in order to legitimize the colonial enterprise. Tensions between imperial powers led to a succession of crises, which finally exploded in August 1914, when previous rivalries and alliances created a domino situation that drew the major European nations into the war. Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia to avenge the murder of Austrian crown prince Francis Ferdinand; Russia mobilized to assist its Slav brothers in Serbia; Germany intervened to support Austria-Hungary against Russia. Since Russia had a military alliance with France against Germany, the German General Staff, led by General von Moltke decided to realize the well prepared Schlieffen Plan to invade France and quickly knock her out of the war before turning against Russia in what was expected to be a long campaign. This required an invasion of Belgium which brought Great Britain into the war against Germany, Austria-Hungary and their allies. German U-Boat campaigns against ships bound for Britain eventually drew the United States into what had become the First World War. Moreover, using the Anglo-Japanese Alliance as an excuse, Japan leaped onto this opportunity to conquer German interests in China and the Pacific to become the dominating power in Western Pacific, setting the stage for the Second Sino-Japanese War (starting in 1937) and eventually the Second World War.


  1. S. Gertrude Millin, Rhodes (Chatto & Windus, 1936), 138
  2. Tunde Obadina, The Myth of Neo-Colonialism The Retson Tedheke's Blog, December 8, 2015. Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  3. Alfred von Tirpitz, Erinnerungen (Leipzig: K.F. Koehler, 1919), quoted in Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (Schocken, 2004, ISBN 0805242252).
  4. Enrico Corradini, Proletarian Nations Cambridge Forecast Group, May 26, 2008. Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  5. J. A. Hobson, Imperialism, A Study (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1965), 61.
  6. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  7. Pascal Blanchard, Nicolas Bancel, and Sandrine Lemaire, From human zoos to colonial apotheoses: the era of exhibiting the Other. Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  8. Nicolas Bancel and Pascal Lemaire, Ces zoos humains de la République coloniale (in French),Human zoos (English Translation), Le Monde diplomatique, August 2000. Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  9. The end of an era Entrée to Black Paris, February 2003. Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  10. Benjamin Whitaker, Revised and updated report on the question of the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide United Nations, July 2, 1985. Retrieved April 14, 2022.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Schocken, 2004. ISBN 0805242252
  • Hobsbawm, Eric. The Age of Empire. NY: Pantheon Books, 1987. ISBN 0394563190
  • Hobson, J.A. Imperialism, A Study. Cosimo Classics, 2005. ISBN 978-1596052505
  • Lindqvist, Sven. Exterminate All the Brutes: A Modern Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness. NY: New Press, 1996. ISBN 9781565840027
  • Millin, S. Gertrude. Rhodes. Chatto & Windus, 1936. ASIN B0026WOV5A
  • Pakenham, Thomas. The Scramble for Africa. New York: Random House/Abacus, 1991. ISBN 0349104492.
  • Petringa, Maria. Brazza, A Life for Africa. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2006. ISBN 978-1425911980.
  • Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. African Tree Press, 2014 (original 1972). ISBN 978-1592325948

External links

All links retrieved January 25, 2023.


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