European Nations “Scrambled” to Colonize Africa in the 19th Century

Modern Political Turmoil in Africa Was Started by Events Over One Hundred Years Ago

Between 1880 and 1914, European powers colonized nearly the entire continent of Africa, with the exception of Liberia and Ethiopia.

Historians call the process of African colonization “The Scramble for Africa.” It began with an agreement at the Berlin conference, which lasted from 1884 to 1885. There, representatives from 15 European countries met to decide on the process to colonize the continent.

To prevent European countries from just naming a piece of land, the ‘principle of effect’ was introduced for colonizing countries: they had to fly their flags there, establish treaties with local chiefs, administer and police the colonized territory, and make economic use of it. If a country did not follow this process, another power could take over the territory and claim it as their own. Sometimes, African rulers would help certain European nations so they could enlist them as allies against traditional enemies. For example, in 1903, the Bugandas helped the British conquer land to create Uganda.

Countries Colonizing Africa after benefited greatly. For instance, the British imposed taxes on their African colonies to pay their national debt. To pay taxes, many Africans were forced to do hard labor. Many unskilled laborers were recruited to work on sugar, rubber, and cocoa estates.

Unlike many African countries, Liberia kept most of its land as a sovereign state. Ethiopia, with the help of the military, was the only country in Africa to resist colonization entirely and won the Battle of Adowa against the Italians in 1896. During this war, 7,000 or 8,000 people lost their lives.

After the Scramble for Africa, the continent was separated into 54 countries, with many strong rulers. For example, Shaka— an African ruler of the Zulu in south-eastern Africa— had a large army and conquered many areas.

The modern map of Africa was drawn through colonization. This “Scramble” ultimately led to taxes, hard labor, and many deaths.

[Sources: A Short History of the World;;]