What Was the Driving Force Behind European Imperialism in Africa?
Reason #1: Nationalism
Here, you will learn what motivated Europeans to colonize Africa.
Nationalism is another name for national pride. The Europeans had this great competition for power, scrambling for sections of Africa to gain it. They wanted the rest of the world to see their greatness.
In his lecture at Oxford University on Feb 8, 1870, John Ruskin proclaimed, “Make England again a royal throne of kings…seizing every piece of fruitful waste ground she can get her foot on…that their first aim was to…advance the power of England by land and by sea.” He wanted England to be in control and to have power over as much land as they could get their hands (or feet, as he stated it) on. England was prideful and her first target was to increase her power by land and by sea to keep up her reputation. These aspects motivated the English opportunists, who felt that they had the need and right to colonize Africa.
However, England was not the only European country to feel this way. In the book, Does Germany Need Colonies?, Freidrich Fabri wrote that “Germany was the Number One trade and sea power. Should the New German Reich wish to prove and maintain its newly won position of power for a long time, it will have to take up the same culture-mission and delay no longer to acknowledge its colonial task anew.” Germany used to possess the most trade and sea power, and if this country wanted to maintain its position of great power for a longer time, it would be better to join the race for control and ownership of these colonies.
Reason #2: Cultural Reasons
European imperialism in Africa was also caused by cultural reasons. Just like nations were proud of their power, they were also proud of their culture, condescending that of the Africans.
Rudyard Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden,” written in 1899, stated, “Go bind your sons to exile/To serve your captives’ need…” Kipling was directing these two lines toward England, telling them to take care of the Africans as though the Africans’ culture were not efficient enough for survival. Three other lines of the poem allude to a similar idea: “Your new caught, sullen peoples,/ Half-devil and half-child…Fill full the mouth of Famine/And bid the sickness cease…” Like the previous lines, this referred to the Africans, whom the Europeans speak negatively about solely because of their culture. Their ethnocentric thoughts were expressed when England thought that her culture was the greatest and had to be fed to the Africans to improve the African culture. Then, the arrogant country told them, they could say goodbye to hardship and malevolent activity. From these five lines, we can see that as a mere excuse, Europeans attempted to make it seem as though they were helping them out, when they were really just implying negative connotations about them.
Furthermore, according to the essay, “What Was the Driving Force Behind European Imperialism in Africa?”, a conference was held in Berlin to “divide up Africa in a reasonable and peaceful manner,” but then it says that “the Africans, of course, would not be invited.” The Europeans left them out because they felt that the Africans were not qualified to possess such importance and because they believed they were not qualified to meet the rule of occupation. The Europeans’ ethnocentric thoughts were expressed when they took over most of Africa. From this we can see that one of the causes of this tragedy for the Africans was because of their culture.
May 10, 2013
Additionally, Lobengula Khumalo, chief of the South African Ndebele (Matabele) tribe in the early 1890s wrote, “…the chameleon darts out his tongue and the fly disappears. England is the chameleon and I am that fly.” According to this chief, England had power over South Africa like a chameleon had power over a fly. This brought it one step closer to becoming the most powerful country in the world.
Lastly, according to a map detailing the results of the Berlin Conference, seven different European countries received different amounts of Africa, showing that there was much competitive tension present during that time.
They did it for three reasons: nationalism, cultural reasons, and resources and economic reasons.
Reason #3: Resources and Economics
Even though nationalism and culture both played a large part in Europe’s Imperialism over Africa, the most significant cause was their desire for abundant resources.
The map mentioned previously proves that European countries wanted to control as much territory as possible to be able to possess a variety of resources, so that they did not have to trade them for other resources. They tried to seize countries closer to waterways and stations of transportation in order to be able to export these riches back to Europe. Simultaneously, competition arose as rival countries tried to prevent trading of resources, for they wanted the profit for themselves. The result of blocking each other off was the elimination of one route for exporting resources. For example, Britain gained many countries, and was aiming to conquer a chain of countries along the east coast of Africa to build a railroad for shipping goods, but a country owned by Germany stood in its way.
Moreover, a chart describing certain African colonies and their exports showed that there were many resources exported from Africa back to Europe, including cotton, palm oil, gold, diamonds, and sisal from four different colonies. These resources were used to manufacture a variety of items such as fabrics, soap, national currencies, and jewelry. The Europeans were able to find many resources that were valuable to them in Africa and sent them back to their home countries in Europe, in which free trade played an important role. In addition, according to Trevor Owen Lloyd’s The British Empire: 1558-1995, Great Britain’s imports and exports increased greatly from 1854 to 1900, with imports increased by about 4 million British pounds and exports increased by about 18 million. This represents how quickly Great Britain’s economy grew over a period of about 50 years because of the trading of resources. In brief, the motivation of European imperialism in Africa was driven most forcefully by economic reasons. It was clear that Africa had abundant resources that European colonists could use, and they took advantage of it.
Have you ever felt that your country is the best, that your culture is higher than others’, and that because of these “facts”, your country deserves more? This was how the European countries felt, and they wanted to express their superiority. They took away Africa’s pride, culture, land, and resources. Europe’s rising power overcame this developing country; imperialism reigned. But what exactly is imperialism? Is it taking a country’s pride, taking their culture, or capturing their land? To answer this question, it is all of these put together. Imperialism is taking ultimate control of another country. Many people wonder what motivation made this event possible. The truth is that the encouragement of European colonization in Africa was the result of nationalism, culture, and economics.
Although the European exploitation of Africa was said to “help their native people live better lives,” the actual motivation of this historic event was due to national pride, cultural reasons, and most importantly, economic and financial needs. The European colonists did it for the good of themselves, without thinking of the Africans’ real needs; while the Africans suffered, the Europeans benefited greatly from their new wealth and power.
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