European Presence In Africa History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Although there had been a British and greater European presence in Africa prior to the last two decades of the 19th century it was primarily coastal and revolved around the slave trade. With the abolition of the slave trade within the British Empire in 1803 and a complete abolition of slavery across the empire in 1834 there was little interest in Africa by Britain until the end of the century. This lack of interest in Africa did not include The Cape Colony though, which the British gained at the end of the Napoleonic Wars and which served a key role in outfitting ships on the British trade route to India.
The role and importance of Africa to the British soon changed though do to imperial competition with France and Germany. Germany under the aggressive policies of Bismarck set out to take a leading role in Africa and catch up to other European powers such as Britain and France in terms of empire by gaining new control over territory and expanding their spheres of influence. Other important factors made Africa the hot spot for British and European expansion including the discovery of gold in the Transvaal and diamonds in the Orange Free State, the palm oil industry in Nigeria, scientific discoveries such as the way to treat malaria, and the mapping and exploration of the previously mysterious African interior early in the 19th century.
In order to explore the nature of British expansion in Africa Porter’s The Lion’s Share and T.O. Lloyds The British Empire 1558-1995 are indispensable texts. Using their information on British expansion throughout Africa as a foundation it becomes possible to break down the period of greatest growth between 1880 and 1900 by analyzing British role in Africa prior to 1880, the external roles that competitors such as Germany and France had in forcing England’s imperial hand coupled with the internal economic drives for procuring areas of Africa, and the special case and significance of the Cape Colony and British Afrikaner relations.
Britain’s early presence in Africa was exclusive to Sierra Leone, Gambia, The Gold Coast and The Cape Colony. They gained control of these areas in the late 18th or early 19th centuries. It is not until the 1860’s that Britain and other European powers began to assert themselves in terms of gaining African territory making treaties. The scramble for Africa really has its beginnings in the late 1860’s but does not began to fully take off until the 1880’s when Britain, Germany, France, and to a smaller degree Italy begin to stake their claims. Britain’s previous African expansion had been very different then it would be in Africa during the scramble. The early British territories were either in primarily un-inhabited coastal regions or they had been gained from other European powers that had previously established sound control of territory such as with France in regard to The Cape Colony.
Britain’s attitude toward African expansion doesn’t really change in the last two decades of the 19th century from its long held overall view of keeping Africa on a shoestring. It’s actions change radically though because of newly discovered economic opportunities and a need to respond to the actions other European powers. Although economic influence and foreign pressure created a reason for British expansion in the last two decades it is key to look at the small ways the British built a foundation for expansion starting in the 1850’s and 1860’s. For example David Livingston’s exploration in Africa and the resulting publicity in the Victorian media opened England’s eyes in regards to Africa. He was most effective in creating interest by awakening Victorian morality concerning the still active slave trade occurring in east Africa. David Livingston had caught the public attention with his accounts of his explorations and his reminder that a slave trade on the east coast was still taking a great many slaves across the Indian Ocean to the Arab world. When he said that he was going back to Africa to make an open road for commerce and for Christianity he meant that unless a natural alternative was provided the slave trade was bound to go on (Lloyd, p. 182). Livingston was an icon to remind the British of Africa but his role alone did not fully set the foundation for later British growth in Africa. African expansion hadn’t particularly been considered by because it wasn’t viable do to high mortality rates caused by malaria and other tropical diseases and the lack of geographic knowledge of the African hinterland. These piece of the foundation started to come together though in the 1850’s and 1860’s to combined with Livingston’s publicizing of Africa to build the base that would support the rapid expansion the would develop in the 1880’s and 1890’s.
Advances inland were becoming a little more practicable because of advances in technology; People had known for centuries that quinine was a useful drug for tropical diseases, but it was really not until an expedition up the river Niger in 1854 succeeded in keeping its death rate very low by laying down that everybody must take a regular dose of quinine that the drugs value comprehensive value for preventative purposes was accepted. (Lloyd, p. 182) Careless behavior in exploring or expanding in Africa was not a sound choice even as of Livingston’s death denoting the lack of interest Porter believes present prior to and through the much scramble for Africa in terms of the British governments desire for expansion in Africa. All the same Livingston’s publicity and the work of other explorers and the use of quinine certainly contribute to the availability for British expansion in Africa by the 1880’s.
As the 1880’s arrived and the stage was being set for African expansion. This is when a big impact from Social Darwinism played a huge role in Europe’s imperial ways. Social Darwinism of this period is generally understood as the idea that the strong have the moral right to rule over the weak. This concept is influential in the motivation to expand into Africa. The scramble for Africa primarily starts as French and German policies of expansion become apparent. It is important to make note though that the British government as of 1880 was lead by the anti-expansionist sentiments of Gladstone who came into office trying to deal with the imperial entanglements that the previous conservative government failed to clean up. The need to resolve conflicts in Africa began in Egypt in regards primarily to the Suez Canal. Egyptian mismanagement of the economy and military and a continually more strained relationship with France who had held considerable sway since the Napoleonic era in Egypt created an opportunity for England to become more important in Egyptian affairs which the English desired because of the importance of the Suez Canal as an eastern trade route (Porter, p. 92-93).
The situation in Egypt continued to worsen as France played less of a role because of concerns with Germany and with the debts mounting and the abdication of Khedive Ismail in 1879 something had to be done in order to bail out Egypt and preserve control over the Suez Canal. The British for the economic reasons attached with the canal stepped in and bought out the Egyptian shares in the Canal to help cancel some of the Egyptians debts. The debts were still not able to appropriately managed and rebellion broke out because of the wretched economy and the European presence in Egypt. At this point Britain was un-encumbered as France was with major concerns about Germany decide to go in and occupy Egypt so as to ensure the canal and bring about order.
Along with Egypt, Britain soon came to similar situations in Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya. The British had been present in Nigeria since the middle of the 19th century with many small companies involved in the palm oil and coco industries in 1879 these small companies were merged together through the leadership of George Goldie producing The Royal Niger Company. As other European powers began to encroach in on the area controlled by The Royal Niger Company Goldie requested favors from the imperial government to prevent the loss of Nigeria.
France was moving east from Senegal. Germany gained control of Togoland and The Cameroons just to the south. The Belgians were making claims in the Congo to the southeast leaving Nigeria surrounded by other European powers. The problem primarily arose because Goldie’s company lacked a charter and had no real treaties with the tribes in Nigeria. As the encroachment became more severe Goldie gained a charter in 1886 granting his company the powers of government. Goldie’s administration turned out to be a success following the granting of a charter as The Royal Niger Company promptly went out and procured treaties with the principal rulers of the area-staking claim and effectively limiting the further growth of their neighbors. The situation of the Royal Niger Company once again highlights Gladstone and his anti-expansionist policy being manipulated and circumvented under external pressure. German expansion in eastern Africa prompts British annexation of The Buganda Kingdom, which will become Uganda and Kenya and builds a close relationship with Zanzibar at the same time Goldie is making progress in Nigeria.
The issue of Britain absorbing Uganda and Kenya came from the foreign minister Lord Salisbury who had a sincere yet somewhat implausible belief that the Germans would swallow up Uganda which is the wellspring of the Nile from there new colony of German East Africa and would create a massive water works and cut off the river decimating Egypt and making the Suez Canal worthless (Lloyd, p. 238). Salisbury spent much of his time hyping this idea and in the process found McKinnon and his British East Africa Company. The British East Africa Company seemed like the perfect way to establish a British presence in the regions of Uganda and Kenya. It also helped to solve the crisis occurring in Zanzibar.
In 1888 Salisbury became convinced that the Sultan of Zanzibar was in real danger of having what remained to him of his dominions taken from him by Germany. British interests there had to be safeguarded, and the best way to do this seemed to be to underwrite McKinnon’s arrangement with the Sultan. In addition, there was considerable disquiet in the Foreign Office about what was happening in Uganda in the lakes region. The German explorer Karl Peters was threatening to take it; Bismarck denied that Germany was officially interested in the area, but only a few years back she had not been interested in The Camerooons or Zanzibar either (Porter, p. 109).
At first this seemed sound but the British East Africa Company was poorly managed and was in competition with the east African slave trade. The company was in trouble right from the start but made efforts to get involved with the Buganda Kingdom who were the primary rulers of the hinterland. McKinnon sent missionaries and his military captain a man by the name of Lugard into the Buganda kingdom and they quiet successfully became overlords of the Buganda Kingdom with little bloodshed. The only problem that arose from this was the fact that the British East India Company had neither the money nor the military needed to politically control the region. Lugard’s expenses in the hinterland and the lack of financial growth by the government prompted Salisbury to try to get a rail line built between Mombassa and Lake Victoria. This plan was meet with little support and Lord Rosebery soon replaced Salisbury in 1892 (Lloyd, p. 239).
Rosebery shared Salisbury interest in Uganda and also pushed for the building of the railway and a governmental take over of the Buganda Kingdom when the company failed in 1895. The railway was eventually built when Joseph Chamberlain came into power in 1895 and the region was soon divided into Kenya and Uganda. The annexation of the Buganda Kingdom ends the expansion of the British during the scramble for Africa but then special attention must be paid to southern Africa.
The Cape Colony as was mentioned before was procured in 1795 from the French as a victor prize at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Although the British had gained the colony from France it was really Dutch in origin. The Dutch had begun settling the region as early as the middle 17th century. The Dutch population that represented the majority of the European population up until the middle of the 19th century settled the area so as to escape religious persecution in the Netherlands. The Dutch population that inhabited the cape colony was known as Afrikaners or Boers and they were staunch Calvinists. The Afrikaners were a unique culture that caused a fare degree of conflict when the British took over. They spoke their own version of Dutch known as Afrikaans and they were primarily agricultural and thus relied heavily on slave labor.
As England encouraged emigration to the Cape Colony and the slave trade and slavery were abolished throughout the British Empire greater cultural conflict grew between the Afrikaners and the British. The abolition of slavery made the majority of Afrikaners feel that their rights were being impinged upon and so in 1836 under the leadership of Sir Benjamin D’Urban and Piet Retieg a mass exodus of Afrikaners to the north occurred. Nearly 15,000 Afrikaners trekked north past the Orange River into unclaimed territory in the southern portion of the Zulu Nations territory and founded the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
Britain is content to be rid of the Afrikaners for the time being and lets political issues rest in southern Africa until they grant representative government to the cape colony in the 1870’s and there is British interests in unifying all of southern Africa. These desires become more intense when the opportunity arises because of the economic difficulties the Transvaal and the Orange Free State were experiencing and because of a new Zulu threat. Lord Carnarvon was the Colonial secretary under Disreli in the 1870’s and he pushed for unification and in 1877 he was able to convince the Transvaal and the Orange Free State to be annexed in return for aide against the Zulu threat.
When the governments Changed hands in Britain and Gladstone came to power the Afrikaners appealed to him for their independence back as they no longer needed the British as the Zulu had been neutralized. Gladstone was not impressed and it resulted in the rebellion that saw the British embarrassingly routed at Mejuba in 1880. In 1881 at the Convention of Pretoria Gladstone gave the Transvaal and the Orange Free State their independence back in a relationship of suzerainty. This meant that Britain would control native and foreign affairs for the Afrikaner States but that was all. The relationship between Britain and the Transvaal and the Orange Free State is revised once more at the London Convention of 1884 giving the Afrikaners control over native affairs. During this period though a change in economic status in the Afrikaner states economic changed British interests.
Valuable diamond mines were discovered in the Orange Free State and the richest gold strike in the known world was found in the Transvaal. These discoveries resulted in a massive influx of people not only from the Cape Colony and Britain but also from around the world. This mass emigration made the Afrikaners insecure and they didn’t want to grant citizenship to the newly arrived people they called Uitlanders because it would mean that they would lose political control.
This economic growth produced a renewed interest in consolidating the south of Africa but the British were still no closer to a solution. Two methods of achieving this federation, the voluntary and the coercive, had both been tried and failed. The current hope in the 1890’s was that (in Lord Salisbury’s words) by impressing them’, they might ‘be compelled to fall in line and to join the great unconscious federation that is growing up (Porter, p. 100). It soon became clear that impressing the newly wealthy Afrikaner nations were not going to be impressed into unification either.
A new political figure then joins the picture named Cecil Rhodes who eventually pushed the British effort at unification forward in some ways. He became a millionaire because of the diamond mines and rose to control both the British South Africa Company and act as Governor of the Cape Colony. He had British interests a heart but also thought unification would be a positive step forward for the Afrikaners and managed to have some respect with the Afrikaners at least early on in his efforts. Although unification did not happen until the beginning of the 20th century after he had lost his position as governor of the Cape Colony and shamed himself by trying to take the Afrikaner states by force in a failed action called the Jameson Raid he laid the groundwork for the unification that would come at the end of the Boer War.
The unification would consist of the conglomeration of the Cape Colony, Natal to east, and the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State. Rhodes Tried to return to Cape Colony politics after settling tribal disputes in Rhodesia which was also under British control do in many ways to Rhodes role as head of the British South Africa Company but without success. The southern portion of Africa did not fully stabilize until after the end of the scramble for Africa in the first years of the 20th century (Porter, p. 243-44).
British imperial growth in Africa during the last two decades of the 19th century was on the grand scale. This growth was not due to a British expansionist policy. This is made particularly clear under Gladstone’s government but through reactionary response to other European powers imperial conquests, both failed and successful economic reasons were also influential in expansion, and by British imperialists at home and in Africa who were kept on shoestrings and forced expansion such as with the cape colony and to some degree the British East Africa company in the Boganda Kingdom.
African expansion at this time was closely compared to Asian expansion. The first reason was that Africa was not really so valueless by contrast with Asia; South Africa especially was rapidly becoming a treasure-house itself with it diamonds and gold and the prospect of much more to come, and from India’s point of view it, and Suez at the other end of the continent, were as essential as ever for access to Britain. The second reason was that Africa was easier for Britain to defend anyway. None of her rivals there had the natural advantages Russia had in Asia – except perhaps the Afrikaners, and they were underrated; Britain’s naval strength could count for more, and her military weakness need show less in skirmishes with Africans or European expeditionary forces then in wars with standing armies; and there was no India to fall apart at the first sign of trouble (Porter, p.163).
The British role in Africa only began with the scramble for Africa. British influence would continue to grow until the African colonies began to gain their independence in the middle and second half of the 20th century.
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