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Main Reason of European Imperialism in Africa

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Main Reason of European Imperialism in Africa

Three causes to a wide spread European effort to imperial domination, specifically in Africa, was:
1) the finding of other areas of land where raw materials were present,              
2) Show case power to the other European countries, because it was the 'theme' of many developing nations and
3) Because of the overwhelming rivalries in Europe between countries.

Not only did the Europeans think they were better than everyone else, but their motives were actually very simple. One was to acquire new territory to gain that territory's natural resources. The second was based off of the get money. Those two reasons were the main motives for the entire history of European Imperialism. An example that depicts these two motives very well is "The Scramble for Africa." Also, England's exportation of opium to China is another good example

Economic based motive was that Britain wanted to create new markets for products and to acquire our sacred raw materials. Britain wanted nothing more than to get their hands on Chinas delicate silk, porcelain, and tea in exchange for gold and silver. Political based motive - Britain imperialized in order to make themselves seem more powerful to other countries and be superior to them.

The Colonization of Africa

Between the 1870s and 1900, Africa faced European imperialist aggression, diplomatic pressures, military invasions, and eventual conquest and colonization. At the same time, African societies put up various forms of resistance against the attempt to colonize their countries and impose foreign domination. By the early twentieth century, however, much of Africa, except Ethiopia and Liberia, had been colonized by European powers.

The European imperialist push into Africa was motivated by three main factors, economic, political, and social. It developed in the nineteenth century following the collapse of the profitability of the slave trade, its abolition and suppression, as well as the expansion of the European capitalist Industrial Revolution. The imperatives of capitalist industrialization—including the demand for assured sources of raw materials, the search for guaranteed markets and profitable investment outlets—spurred the European scramble and the partition and eventual conquest of Africa. Thus the primary motivation for European intrusion was economic.

The Scramble for Africa

Oher factors played an important role in the process. The political impetus derived from the impact of inter-European power struggles and competition for preeminence. Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Spain were competing for power within European power politics. One way to demonstrate national preeminence was through the acquisition of territories around the world, including Africa. The social factor was the third major element. As a result of industrialization, major social problems grew in Europe: unemployment, poverty, homelessness, social displacement from rural areas, and so on. These social problems developed partly because not all people could be absorbed by the new capitalist industries. One way to resolve this problem was to acquire colonies and export this "surplus population." This led to the establishment of settler-colonies in Algeria, Tunisia, South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, and central African areas like Zimbabwe and Zambia. Eventually the overriding economic factors led to the colonization of other parts of Africa.

Thus it was the interplay of these economic, political, and social factors and forces that led to the scramble for Africa and the frenzied attempts by European commercial, military, and political agents to declare and establish a stake in different parts of the continent through inter-imperialist commercial competition, the declaration of exclusive claims to particular territories for trade, the imposition of tariffs against other European traders, and claims to exclusive control of waterways and commercial routes in different parts of Africa.

This scramble was so intense that there were fears that it could lead to inter-imperialist conflicts and even wars. To prevent this, the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck convened a diplomatic summit of European powers in the late nineteenth century. This was the famous Berlin West African conference (more generally known as the Berlin Conference), held from November 1884 to February 1885. The conference produced a treaty known as the Berlin Act, with provisions to guide the conduct of the European inter-imperialist competition in Africa. Some of its major articles were as follows:

The Principle of Notification (Notifying) other powers of a territorial annexation
The Principle of Effective Occupation to validate the annexations
Freedom of Trade in the Congo Basin
Freedom of Navigation on the Niger and Congo Rivers
Freedom of Trade to all nations
Suppression of the Slave Trade by land and sea

This treaty, drawn up without African participation, provided the basis for the subsequent partition, invasion, and colonization of Africa by various European powers.

The African Resistance

The European imperialist designs and pressures of the late nineteenth century provoked African political and diplomatic responses and eventually military resistance. During and after the Berlin Conference various European countries sent out agents to sign so-called treaties of protection with the leaders of African societies, states, kingdoms, decentralized societies, and empires. The differential interpretation of these treaties by the contending forces often led to conflict between both parties and eventually to military encounters. For Europeans, these treaties meant that Africans had signed away their sovereignties to European powers; but for Africans, the treaties were merely diplomatic and commercial friendship treaties. After discovering that they had in effect been defrauded and that the European powers now wanted to impose and exercise political authority in their lands, African rulers organized militarily to resist the seizure of their lands and the imposition of colonial domination.

This situation was compounded by commercial conflicts between Europeans and Africans. During the early phase of the rise of primary commodity commerce (erroneously referred to in the literature as "Legitimate Trade or Commerce"), Europeans got their supplies of trade goods like palm oil, cotton, palm kernel, rubber, and groundnut from African intermediaries, but as the scramble intensified, they wanted to bypass the African intermediaries and trade directly with sources of the trade goods. Naturally Africans resisted and insisted on the maintenance of a system of commercial interaction with foreigners which expressed their sovereignties as autonomous political and economic entities and actors. For their part, the European merchants and trading companies called on their home governments to intervene and impose "free trade," by force if necessary. It was these political, diplomatic, and commercial factors and contentions that led to the military conflicts and organized African resistance to European imperialism.

African military resistance took two main forms: guerrilla warfare and direct military engagement. While these were used as needed by African forces, the dominant type used depended on the political, social, and military organizations of the societies concerned. In general, small-scale societies, the decentralized societies (erroneously known as "stateless" societies), used guerrilla warfare because of their size and the absence of standing or professional armies. Instead of professional soldiers, small groups of organized fighters with a mastery of the terrain mounted resistance by using the classical guerrilla tactic of hit-and-run raids against stationary enemy forces. This was the approach used by the Igbo of southeastern Nigeria against the British. Even though the British imperialists swept through Igboland in three years, between 1900 and 1902, and despite the small scale of the societies, the Igbo put up protracted resistance. The resistance was diffuse and piecemeal, and therefore it was difficult to conquer them completely and declare absolute victory. Long after the British formally colonized Igboland, they had not fully mastered the territory.

Direct military engagement was most commonly organized by the centralized state systems, such as chiefdoms, city-states, kingdoms, and empires, which often had standing or professional armies and could therefore tackle the European forces with massed troops. This was the case with the resistance actions of the Ethiopians, the Zulu, the Mandinka leadership, and numerous other centralized states. In the case of Ethiopia, the imperialist intruder was Italy. It confronted a determined and sagacious military leader in the Ethiopian emperor Menelik II. As Italy intensified pressure in the 1890s to impose its rule over Ethiopia, the Ethiopians organized to resist. In the famous battle of Adwa in 1896, one hundred thousand Ethiopian troops confronted the Italians and inflicted a decisive defeat. Thereafter, Ethiopia was able to maintain its independence for much of the colonial period, except for a brief interlude of Italian oversight between 1936 and 1941.

Another example of resistance was the one organized by SamoryTouré of the emergent Mandinkaempire in West Africa. As this new empire spread and Touré attempted to forge a new political order he ran up against the French imperialists who were also trying extend their territories inland from their base in Dakar, Senegal. This brought the parties into conflict. Touré organized military and diplomatic resistance between 1882 and 1898. During this sixteen-year period, he used a variety of strategies, including guerrilla warfare, scorched-earth programs, and direct military engagement. For this last tactic he acquired arms, especially quick-firing rifles, from European merchant and traders in Sierra Leone and Senegal. He also established engineering workshops where weapons were repaired and parts were fabricated. With these resources and his well-trained forces and the motivation of national defense he provided his protracted resistance to the French. Eventually he was captured and, in 1898, exiled to Gabon, where he died in 1900.

A Period of Change

It is quite clear that most African societies fought fiercely and bravely to retain control over their countries and societies against European imperialist designs and military invasions. But the African societies eventually lost out. This was partly for political and technological reasons. The nineteenth century was a period of profound and even revolutionary changes in the political geography of Africa, characterized by the demise of old African kingdoms and empires and their reconfiguration into different political entities. Some of the old societies were reconstructed and new African societies were founded on different ideological and social premises. Consequently, African societies were in a state of flux, and many were organizationally weak and politically unstable. They were therefore unable to put up effective resistance against the European invaders.

The technological factor was expressed in the radical disparity between the technologies of warfare deployed by the contending European and African forces. African forces in general fought with bows, arrows, spears, swords, old rifles, and cavalries; the European forces, beneficiaries of the technical fruits of the Industrial Revolution, fought with more deadly firearms, machines guns, new rifles, and artillery guns. Thus in direct encounters European forces often won the day. But as the length of some resistance struggles amply demonstrates, Africans put up the best resistance with the resources they had.

By 1900 much of Africa had been colonized by seven European powers—Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. After the conquest of African decentralized and centralized states, the European powers set about establishing colonial state systems.

The colonial state was the machinery of administrative domination established to facilitate effective control and exploitation of the colonized societies. Partly as a result of their origins in military conquest and partly because of the racist ideology of the imperialist enterprise, the colonial states were authoritarian, bureaucratic systems. Because they were imposed and maintained by force, without the consent of the governed, the colonial states never had the effective legitimacy of normal governments.

Second, they were bureaucratic because they were administered by military officers and civil servants who were appointees of the colonial power. While they were all authoritarian, bureaucratic state systems, their forms of administration varied, partly due to the different national administrative traditions and specific imperialist ideologies of the colonizers and partly because of the political conditions in the various territories that they conquered.


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