Borders: The Scramble for Africa

The borders of African countries are imposed by European empires. No attention is paid to ethno-linguistic groups or existing political organization during colonisation. Sometimes they group together people who have never been united before. Sometimes they divide people living together at the time of colonial conquest.

In 1884, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Germany initiates a conference in 1884 for European nations to regulate the rush for African territory. The conference serves several main purposes.

First, European nations are interested in being assured access to various important trade routes, particularly along the Niger and Congo river basins.

Secondly, there is a concern to suppress the internal slave trade that was still going on in some parts of Africa.

Thirdly, a ban is put on importing firearms into Africa, which results in Europeans having a monopoly on guns in Africa.

Finally, occupation of territories in Africa is discussed. The result of this conference is a treaty called the Treaty of Berlin. By 1900, almost 90% of Africa is under European control.

No major nation wishes to be without colonies. The competition is particularly strong between Britain, France, and Germany, the strongest European nation-states in the late 19th century.

Ideologies of racial hierarchy are prevalent in Europe in the 19th century. Many Europeans view themselves as the most advanced civilization in the world, and some see it as their mission to “enlighten” and “civilize” people in the rest of the world. Many inaccurate and racist stereotypes of African peoples, which exist at the time, are used to justify colonialism in Africa.

After colonial rule is firmly established in Africa, the only change in possessions came after World War I. Germany’s four colonies were placed under the League of Nations, which established a mandate system for other colonizers to administer the territories.

Some details 1820-1912:

1820 – The colony of Liberia is founded by the United States.

1854 – The Orange Free State is founded.

1856 – The state of Transvaal is founded.

1877 – Transvaal is dissolved after the First Boer War.

1881 – France creates the colony of Brazzaville. Transvaal is recreated with the agreement at the Pretoria Convention, which gives the local Boer population self-rule.

1882 – Egypt is occupied by the United Kingdom and becomes a colony.

1884 – The colony of British Somaliland is created. Germany creates the colonies of Kamerun and German South-West Africa.

1885 – The colony of German East Africa is created. The Belgian Congo is created (then officially called the Congo Free State).

1889 – 1890 – Italy establishes its first two colonies; the colony of Eritrea in 1889 and the colony of Italian Somaliland is created in 1889 and quickly expands until 1890.

1894 – Dahomey (now named Benin) is annexed by France as a colony.

1899 – 1902 – The Second Boer War occurs in which both the Orange Free State and Transvaal are occupied by the British and become colonies.

1910 – The Orange Free State and Transvaal are annexed by South Africa. French Equatorial Africa is founded, uniting the territories of Gabon, Middle Congo (now the Republic of the Congo), Oubangui-Chari (or Ubangi-Shari, now the Central African Republic)

1911 – France cedes territory to German Cameroon.

1912 – The Ottoman Empire loses the colony of Libya to Italy. Morocco becomes a French colony




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