An Atlas of African Affairs

By Andrew Boyd; Patrick Van Rensburg | Go to book overview

G. The European 'Scramble'

In the late 1870s European interest in tropical Africa was fanned by journeys of discovery, particularly those of Stanley, who, following up Livingstone from the east, traced the Congo river to the sea in the west. King Leopold of Belgium created a private association to penetrate and exploit what later became the Belgian Congo (22, 23). De Brazza staked French claims north of the river (16, 24). Germany, newly united and strong, made its first bid for colonies. Between the Berlin conference of 1884-5 and the treaties of 1890 most of Africa was parcelled out between Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Italy and Leopold's company.

The peaceful settlement of rival claims averted war between the European powers -- though there were dangerous moments, as in 1898 when a French force reached Fashoda on the Nile in southern Sudan, just as the British were completing the reconquest of the country from the Mahdi (10); and, between 1904 and 1911, owing to German claims in Morocco (2). But the result was an arbitrary partitioning of Africa, in which even commercial ambitions were outdistanced by emotions involving imperial prestige. Each European power, in its haste to stake claims before others did, took on more territory than it could really develop; sharp practice was often used to induce African rulers to grant concessions or accept protection; the hastily drawn frontiers cut through the middle of African peoples (C) and, in places, diverted the natural flow of trade (13).

After Italy's conquest of Libya in 1911, and the French and Spanish partition of Morocco in 1912, the whole of Africa, except for Ethiopia and Liberia, was under European control. But, for most of the continent, the period of European rule was to last for only one life span; the 'scramble' of 1885-90 was to be followed by an equally swift removal of colonial power barely seventy years later (H).

The map of Africa's frontiers today remains, however, essentially a map made by Europeans -- and hastily made. How long some of the border lines so carved out will now endure is another matter.

-26-

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