Colonialism in Africa

Between 1880 and 1900, Africa went through a period of very fast colonisation by many of the major European powers. Interestingly, this was not because of Africa’s being a particularly valuable commodity but, rather, because of events in Europe’s social, political and economic environments.

By the late 1800’s, some of the African continent did belong to European countries. France ruled settlements in Senegal (Dakar and St Louis), Cote d’Ivoire (Assinie and Grand Bassam), Benin and some of Algeria, while Spain dominated parts of northwest Africa. The Turks had Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Portugal controlled Angola and Mozambique and Britain had their presence in Sierra Leone, southern Africa, and Lagos.

One of the major influencing factors that pre-empted the colonisation of Africa was the fact that exploration of this “dark continent” had escalated. This actually began towards the end of the 18th century, as explorers set out on their quest to discover Timbuktu and the Niger River. Once these ones discovered that Africa actually had many resources to offer and goods with which to trade, they began to inform the rest of Europe, who quickly made their trek to this abundant land.

The end of the slave trade was another major influencing factor towards colonialism. Although the trade of human beings was legislated against, many of the Africans and Arabs continued the practice, particularly inland, where the European influence was less concentrated. Those Europeans committed to abolishing this practice were forced to settle in these inland locations in order to take direct and immediate action. Of course, slavery was a lucrative business and its abolishment meant that alternative trade and industry needed to be established throughout Africa. So, colonialists also came into the continent to find alternative trading routes, modes of transport and extra resources. They needed to educate the local civilisations about commercial development in order to maximise the output of the nations.

For many decades, Africa’s propensity towards diseases like malaria deterred explorers, who stood little chance of effective treatment if they fell ill on the continent. In fact, only a tenth of European explorers entering Africa survived their trip, presenting a rather doomy outlook for these foreigners. It was only when some of these medical hurdles were overcome that travel into Africa became a more acceptable option.

For Britain to gain world dominance, it had to look outside of Europe (as Germany and Italy had become unified in 1871). The most obvious option was to begin to conquer African areas, leading to the colonising of as much land in as little time as possible.

By 1880, Europe had jumped onto the bandwagon, and flocked into Africa in its droves. Liberia and Ethiopia remained locally governed and independent, but all other regions, states and countries were brought under European colonialism. This was the status quo until the 1940’s, when World War II ended. After years of warfare, Europe’s strength was drained and their power depleted. This gave Africa the chance to regain independence, slowly and steadily and mainly over the course of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Independence was usually granted peacefully, preserving much of the existing African population.