Colonisation of Africa

Initially the African coastal regions were largely in the hands of the old trading nations:

  1. Portuguese
  2. Dutch
  3. British
  4. French

They had set up forts in those coastal regions.

There were only two places where the European rule extended deep into the interior.

  • Northern Africa -French occupied Algeria
  • Southern Africa- The British occupied Cape Colony to safeguard trade routes with India

Within a few years, however, a scramble for colonies begat and almost the entire continent had been cut up and divided among European powers. (Just like the ‘cutting’ of the Chinese watermelon).

Explorers, Traders and Missionaries

All of them played significant respective roles in the conquest of Africa.

  1. The explorers aroused the Europeans’ interest in Africa.
  2. Merchants saw profit in the trade of gold, ivory and timber.
  3. The missionaries saw the continent as a place for spreading Christianity.
  4. And European governments supported all these interests by sending troops. And thus the stage was set for conquest.

Three noteworthy explorers/adventurers were:

  • Cecil Rhodes- Rhodesia.
  • De Brazza- French Congo.
  • Sir HM Stanley- Congo Free State.
  • Karl Peters- East Africa

Africa was easily acquired:

Late part of 15th Century, Europeans start exploring Africa. Established commercial relations with some parts of Africa + started slave trade. Until the middle of 19th Century Interior of Africa was almost unknown to the Europeans. last quarter of the nineteenth century European control over Africa extended over about one-fifth of the territory of the continent.

However, within a few years almost the entire continent was partitioned among various European imperialist countries. The Europeans occupied Africa at a much faster speed than they did in Asia due to certain reasons.


  1. Economic might of the imperialist powers was much greater than the economic resources of the African states.
  2. African chief/kings did not have the financial resources to fight a long war.


  1. In terms of military strength, the imperialist countries were far more powerful than the African states.
  2. Most of the time, Africans fought with axes, bows and knives, while Europeans used a fast firing gun known as Maxiam Gun. 
  3. Even when African chiefs wanted to buy firearms, European traders only sold them rusted, junk, outdated rifles. They were no match for the new rifles and guns used by Europeans armies.

Internal Rivalries

  • The African states were not political united. (Just like Indian princely states of 18th century.)
  • There were conflicts between states and within states
  • Often these African chiefs/kings sought the support of the Europeans against their rivals. (Then Europeans will force them to sign treaty and take away the land).
  • But on the other hand, the imperialist countries participating in the scramble for Africa were united. (In the sense that they never waged war against each other but settled territorial claims in conference rooms).
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