Africa and the Victorians: The Climax of Imperialism in the Dark Continent

By Ronald Robinson; John Gallagher et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
Salisbury's Watch on the Nile, 1890

O nce he had revised his attitude to the Egyptian problem, Salisbury was driven to revise his assessment of east African questions also. In 1885 he had made no bones about yielding German claims in east Africa to win Bismarck's support in Turkey and Egypt. But by the end of the decade, with the Mahdi in possession of the Sudan, the easiest approach to Uganda and the headwaters of the Nile was from the east coast; and German agents seemed likely to get to Lake Victoria Nyanza first. In carrying out his Egyptian strategy therefore, Salisbury's first priority became to block the Germans in east Africa, so as to exclude them from Uganda and the Upper Nile. Not that the Prime Minister had been converted to the traditional Foreign Office view. The trading prospects of the east African hinterlands and the Lakes left him cold. Neither did his new concern with the region derive from the heady talk of Cape to Cairo or of Niger to Nile. The third Marquess of Salisbury was not an enthusiast. But the country was falling into place inside his Egyptian strategy.

By 1889 the Germans were making better speed inland than Mackinnon's ramshackle East Africa Company, while Carl Peters had pushed inland from Witu with a pocket full of treaty forms.1 As early as April the Foreign Office was perturbed by the German interest in the interior.2 But the Foreign Secretary was not. Times had changed, and now when the Russians had floated a loan in Paris, Bismarck needed his good will as much as Britain needed that of Germany. Both Powers had much to gain by collaboration. In January 1889 the Chancellor had offered the British an alliance, and although Salisbury would not push the connection as far as a formal tie, it suited both parties to draw it closer by outward and visible acts of solidarity.3 In Bismarck's eyes, east

____________________
1
For the development of the Scramble locally in east Africavide Perham, op. cit., cap. X; for the aims of Peters, vide C. Peters, New Light on Dark Africa (English translation, 1891), 399.
2
M. P. Hornik, Der Kampf der Grossmächte um den Oberlauf des Nil, ( Vienna, 1951), 85.
3
German ambassador in London to Herbert Bismarck, 12 Dec. 1888, L. Israel, England und der Orientalische Dreibund ( Stuttgart, 1937), 25; same to Prince Bismarck, 16 Jan. 1889, Grosse Politik, IV, no. 944.

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