The European Colonization of Africa

In 1880, less than five percent of Africa was ruled by European nations. The majority of European nations were satisfied with the trading colonies they had around the coast of Africa, while the British and the Boers in South Africa were the only ones who moved inland to set up new settlements.

Soon, seven European nations took control of the whole continent of Africa except for Liberia and Ethiopia. The Europeans were helped by three factors: the opening of the Suez Canal, improvements in transportation, and advancements in medicine. The Suez Canal linked the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. This cut off many miles of the journey from the east coast of Africa to India. Transportation improved with steamships since they were more reliable than old sailing ships, and with medicine, Europeans would be able to survive some diseases encountered in Africa.

By the year 1884, the nations of Belgium, Britain, France, Portugal, and Spain had started to claim new colonies in Africa or expand the ones they had. Germany and Italy, two newly unified countries, also wanted their share of Africa. To prevent serious conflicts between each other, the nations attended an international conference about Africa held in Berlin, Germany, that year.

The Conference of Berlin allowed the nations to divide Africa among each other without considering the African people, their cultures, or any other natural boundary. Many Africans were forced to work as slaves in mines and plantations, growing crops that included cotton, tea, coffee, and cocoa to export to Europe. Big areas of rain forests were cut down for timber, and many wild animal species were hunted almost to extinction by the white settlers who hunted as a hobby to pass time.

In British and German colonies, schools and medical centers were set up for local people. Some of them were run by the government and others by missionaries who expected the Africans to become Christians. In other colonies, Africans were treated a bit better than slaves but there was no place where they could vote or say how their countries were led. Any disagreement by the African people was crushed by big and well-equipped armies that came from Europe. This resulted in thousands of people dying in fighting, and others suffering difficult situations and hunger as their life traditions were destroyed.

[Source: World History Encyclopedia]