The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 3

By William Roger Louis; Andrew Porter et al. | Go to book overview

27
Great Britain and the Partition of Africa, 1870-1914

COLIN NEWBURY


Priorities

Africa's resources, of course, had been partitioned for millennia by dispersal, incorporation, and conquest among regional societies; and there were precedents for foreign empire in Algeria and at the Cape. This chapter, however, focuses on the meanings of 'partition' in the variety of techniques used to protect the interests of one power.1 British politicians and officials had no clear territorial agenda for the continent as a whole by the 1870s; when speaking of Africa they used the language of Viscount Palmerston or Thomas Buxton on 'access' and 'reform' in specific regions. These were seen as components of Imperial strategies for the maintenance of a network of overseas markets and defence commitments. Africa was a base for action against the slave trade, an entrepôt for resources, a staging post to India and the East.

Differences between Liberals and Conservatives were matters of emphasis on methods of access and control at public or private cost. Annexations or abandonment were risky and unpopular. Before 1880 the details of regional policies were left to Secretaries of State and their officials, while Prime Ministers Gladstone and Disraeli concentrated on the power politics of Turkey's decline as a buffer against Russia. In Egypt, where Turkey's international weakness had African repercussions, Britain applied the diplomatic techniques used to minimize European conflict over the Ottoman Empire by internationalization of its financial problems.

Elsewhere, Britain applied two other techniques evolved from Imperial experience. One was the plan taken over from Lord Kimberley by Carnarvon, as Secretary of State for the Colonies, to consolidate the fractious colonies, republics, and African societies south of the Zambezi into a 'confederation' ruled from a self-

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1
For general surveys, see Select Bibliography and E. Hertslet, The Map of Africa by Treaty, 3rd edn., 3 vols. ( London, 1909). For other international factors and the politics and xenophobia of late-nineteenth-century British Imperialism, see Introduction and chaps. by Christopher Saunders and lain R. Smith, and Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid-Marsot.

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