Imperialism in Africa
When the Age of Imperialism began in 1875, it effected Africa in many ways. Nowhere was the competition for colonies more intense than in Africa. Europeans went after North and South Africa splitting up the continent. Egypt and Sudan were taken over by Britain to obtain the Suez Canal. Imperialism helped to develop Africa’s economy and turned it into a continent of colonies.
Until well into the 1800’s Africa was relatively unknown to Europeans. They controlled less than ten percent of the continent. By 1882 Britain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain were all claiming parts of Africa. In 1900, they had divided ninety percent of Africa into colonies. Although European ships had for centuries traded at ports along the coast, they brought back little knowledge of Africa’s interior. Later Europeans started exploring the continent. The best known of these explorers was David Livingstone. This Scottish missionary spent thirty years in central Africa, and gave Europeans their first detailed information about Africa and its people.
In the mid-1800’s Africa south of the Sahara contained more than seven hundred different ethnic groups. Most were organized into communities based on ties of tradition and family. Occasionally, a powerful group formed a state that was strong enough to conquer neighboring groups and form an empire. Europeans had already moved into North Africa. The once-powerful Ottoman Empire had become too weak to prevent local rulers from taking control in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt. These countries were no match for the Europeans bent on conquest.
Egypt has the Suez Canal, which is the fastest route to India and Australia, within it. The Suez was very important to Britain. Guarding the canal became a critical part of Britain’s foreign policy. Therefore, when fighting broke out in 1882, Britain took over the area and turned Egypt into a protectorate. Next the British turned their attention to Sudan. Water from the Nile River was essential to the people of Egypt. The British believed that they had to control the headwaters of the Nile to guard Egypt and the canal. Thus, in 1898 Britain conquered Sudan and made it a condominium.
By 1900, Europeans controlled most of Africa. Only two countries remained free. Europeans established Colonial rule and forced Africans to work for them. At first they did this using weapons, then taxes. The Europeans treated the Africans little better than slaves. The Commercial plantations they worked in produced peanuts, palm oil, cocoa, and rubber. These products, used as cash crops for export, in part displaced the food crops grown for local consumption. Imperialism had now changed Africa, and started industrializing it.
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