Black and White in Southern Zambia: The Tonga Plateau Economy and British Imperialism, 1890-1939

By Kenneth P. Vickery | Go to book overview

2
The Imperial Economy in South Central Africa, 1890-1925: An Overview

After 1890 the expansion of British imperialism increasingly overshadowed other external factors of importance to Plateau Tonga economic life. Ties with other African peoples tended to dissolve while relationships with Europeans became crucial. On the Plateau and around it, European expansion created new pressures on and new opportunities for Tonga people. Both they and the whites who came to live on the Plateau played their many roles in the milieu of an evolving imperial economy in south central Africa. The following overview of that economy will provide a context for the local history described in the next three chapters.


BACKGROUND

Three closely interrelated processes propelled the imperial system toward the Plateau in the late nineteenth century. First was the surge of global expansion and colonial conquest by the major Western European powers. Second was the transformation of the southern African subcontinent into a vast mining complex. Third was the northward movement of the frontier of European settler communities (see Map 3).

The scramble for Africa was the centerpiece of the sudden race for colonies between Britain, France, Germany, and other powers between about 1870 and 1900. There are good reasons to see this outburst as a culmination of a much older process, the creation of a capitalist world economy or "world-system," marked by an international division of labor and by the transfer of wealth from the periphery to the European center. 1 The fact that the expansive powers were industrial capitalist nations has, of course, spawned a vast literature which debates the relationship between capitalism, industrialism, and imperialism (or more specifically colonial conquest). As Frederick Cooper has noted, the debate is somewhat calmer now than it has often been. 2 Both political and economic factors were obviously important, though I will emphasize here the economic--the Rhodesias were, after all, colonized by a commercial firm, the British South Africa Company.

Britain's position in the world economy had changed in two significant ways since the early Victorian years. First, it was no longer

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