Long before the Scramble for Africa, Europeans had long had an interest in the continent, setting up trading posts and establishing settlements mainly in coastal regions since the Portuguese first arrived in the fifteenth century as part of the creation of trade routes to the Far East. With an early form of globalisation taking place across the world, particularly in the Americas, European nations were in need of a strong, free work force and therefore adopted the slavery practices already prevalent in Egypt, Sudan, Zanzibar, Ghana and Mali amongst others.
When the Slave Trade was first abolished by the United Kingdom in 1807, with others following suite through to the 1880s, very little of Africa was actually under European rule, rather the presence in Africa consisted of trading posts and bases. The United Kingdom had Freetown in Sierra Leone, forts in the Gambia and colonies in South Africa. Portugal had bases in Angola and Mozambique whilst Spain held small areas of North West Africa. France's interests included settlements in Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Benin and Algeria, whilst the fading Ottoman Empire controlled most of northern Africa from Tunisia, Libya to Egypt.
As noted above, the Slave Trade had been abolished by the 'west' however slavery was still endemic within Africa itself with local chiefs further inland culturally reluctant to give up their use of slaves. When reports that the practice was still rife filtered back to places like London, abolitionists took it upon themselves to make expeditions to Africa, and along with other explorers, these forays deep into the continent to reach out to these chiefs revealed large population centres but more importantly a mass of raw materials from palm oil, timber, sugar, coffee and rubber amongst others.
To financiers who had lost a major source of income following the end of the slave trade, not only were these newly identified population centres a new market for European goods but an abundant source of raw materials from which to make them. Now, what better way to establish a monopoly than to actually colonise the area and bring it under foreign control for exploitation without negotiation? The seeds had been sewn for what was to be called the Scramble for Africa. The impetus for this scramble was further spurred by the Imperial German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who had recently seen German unification followed a decade later by Italian unification, effectively ending expansion within Europe and creating two new powers who were keen to get in on the Africa 'act' whilst it still could and leaving powers like France in need of new lands after ceding territory to Germany during their unification process.
Two other events also made the Scramble for Africa more attractive during this period. Firstly a solution for Malaria was found meaning that no longer would vast numbers of explorers die in Africa, and secondly the advent of the iron hulled steam boats. This development made the inland rivers of Africa such as the Zambezi not only fully accessible but open to the transport of bulk materials.
Scramble for Africa: Berlin Conference
Scramble for Africa Colonialism in Africa
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