Colonialism and Development: Britain and Its Tropical Colonies, 1850-1960

By Michael Havinden; David Meredith | Go to book overview

4

The colonial ‘scramble’ and Joseph Chamberlain’s development plans, 1885-1903

CAUSES AND RESULTS OF THE EUROPEAN ‘SCRAMBLE’ FOR TROPICAL COLONIES

Although the tropical colonies had made some important economic advances prior to 1885, and were beginning to assume a much more important role within the British Empire, they still represented a relatively minor component of the whole in the early 1880s. The next thirty years or so, however, were to see a startling transformation, by which the size of the tropical empire was very substantially increased. Most of this expansion took place in Africa, and not surprisingly it has received the most attention and publicity, but it should not be forgotten that the celebrated colonial ‘scramble’ was not confined to Africa, and that important new British colonies were established—or in some cases greatly extended—in Asia and the Pacific Islands as well as in Africa, as may be seen in Table 4.1, which charts the expansion of British colonial rule by region.

Although very important extensions of British formal rule took place, particularly in eastern and southern Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Nyasaland/Malawi, Northern Rhodesia/Zambia) and also in West Africa (Nigeria and Gold Coast/Ghana) and Malaya, this period of expansion was also, ironically, a period of reduced British influence in the tropics, for Britain was forced to relinquish the informal economic influence it had exercised in many regions to aggressive new colonial powers (especially France and Germany) who carved out extensive new colonies for themselves and thereby separated and confined the British colonies, particularly in West Africa. Thus Nigeria and the Gold Coast were separated by German control of Togo in 1884 and the French seizure of Dahomey/Benin in 1893. 1 More seriously, the British protectorates of Sierra Leone (1896) and Gambia (1894) were severely circumscribed by the expansion of French West Africa, and were reduced to enclaves which were far too small for optimum economic development. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be seen that the British empire, and its successor West African States, have paid a heavy price for the vacillation, irresolution

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