The Partition of Africa: Illusion or Necessity?

The Partition of Africa: Illusion or Necessity?

The Partition of Africa: Illusion or Necessity?

The Partition of Africa: Illusion or Necessity?

Excerpt

During their four centuries of contact with Africa, the European powers had been content to restrict their holdings to a handful of scattered trading stations along the coast, the control of which passed from one state to another as its strength in Europe waxed or waned. Finally, in the nineteenth century European explorers penetrated into the interior and opened the enormous hinterland of Africa; yet no European government rushed to follow in their footsteps. Stimulated by the fires of evangelism and the humanitarianism produced by the crusade against the slave trade, missionaries began to work out from the coastal enclaves, but they never regarded themselves as agents of the home governments. In fact, until the European acquisition of Africa the missionaries argued that, with proper training, the Africans themselves were the best equipped to carry Christianity among the peoples of the continent. Even the commercial interests were reluctant to see the extension of European control. All along the coast, but particularly in West Africa, an equilibrium existed between European traders and African middlemen. The more astute merchants on both sides realized that they would not necessarily gain by the intervention, occupation, and rule by any single European power. The others traded freely in practice, as well as spirit, satisfied to derive reasonable gain for the many rather than monopolistic profits for the few. Thus, on the threshold of the partition of Africa a balance of influence existed among the Europeans themselves, on the one hand, just as an equilibrium was maintained, except in South Africa, between the European and African societies on the other. To be sure, the presence of missionaries, merchants, explorers, and soldiers had cleared the way for the expansion of Europe in Africa, but nothing in history is inevitable until it occurs. Yet within less than twenty years, the continent was conquered and divided amidst rising national feeling . . .

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