The partition and colonization of Africa is one of the most noteworthy, and perhaps misunderstood, events of nineteenth century international history. The so-called 'scramble for Africa' is most commonly identified with the machinations of power politics, the search for imperial glory, and the pursuit of private and national wealth. That European powers pursued all of these things in Africa, and committed misdeeds in doing so, is not in doubt. Greed and vanity, as well as feelings of cultural superiority and racial antipathy, are all part of the story of European mastery in Africa. But it would be an exaggeration of some magnitude to say that Africa's encounter with European international society discloses nothing more than a simple and brutal story of domination and exploitation. For the history of imperialism in Africa also provides ample evidence of a novel claim-that the conditions of life for at least a portion of Africa's population constituted a legitimate subject of international scrutiny. In other words, members of European international society internationalized the idea of trusteeship by establishing in international law obligations that explicitly repudiated relations based on domination and exploitation; and, in doing so, they accorded international legitimacy to the principle that the strong should rule on behalf of the weak. The purpose of this chapter is to examine the internationalization of trusteeship as it arose in the context of British colonial administration in Africa, the Berlin and Brussels Conferences, and the experience of the Congo Free State. It is out of these experiences and events that the idea of trusteeship emerges as a recognized and accepted practice of international society.
British attitudes towards Africa at the turn of the nineteenth century were shaped to a considerable degree by an earnest desire to atone for Britain's role in purchasing and transporting slaves to work in the sugar and indigo plantations of the New World. William Pitt expressed the substance of this sentiment before the House of Commons in 1792: 'how shall we hope to obtain, if it be possible, forgiveness from Heaven for the enormous evils we have committed, if we refuse to make use of those means which the mercy of Providence has still reserved for
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Publication information: Book title: Between Anarchy and Society: Trusteeship and the Obligations of Power. Contributors: William Bain - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 53.