Sir George Goldie and the Making of Nigeria

By John E. Flint; Gerald S. Graham | Go to book overview

2
Trade and Politics on the Niger River

TRADE and politics had always been intimately connected in the regions around the Niger River. Africans had always understood this, Europeans perhaps less so. Goldie was to bring trade and politics together as a unity. Within two years of his visiting the Niger he had created a trading empire on the river, seven years later the British Government gave his company a charter to rule the region. Goldie's desire for political power on the Niger arose directly from his analysis of the difficulties of the Niger trade; without political power there could be no stable commerce with Europe, and no secure profit.

To understand why this should have been so in the 1870's it is necessary to look more closely at the way in which British traders had penetrated Nigeria, and at the attitude which the British Government had adopted towards their activities.

There had been trading contact between Europe and West Africa for many centuries, and as the contact increased so the slave trade had increasingly become preponderant. By the eighteenth century West Africa was an integral part of the British commercial empire of the Atlantic. The West Indies were the vital productive unit in that empire, and the west coast of Africa furnished the slave-labour supply for West Indian sugar plantations, at the same time increasing the profits of colonial trade and strengthening the merchant fleet. But despite the crucial importance of the slave trade, the British Government had found no need to establish a territorial empire in West

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