Discover more from African History Blog
The Scramble and Partition of Africa
A continuation of Colonialism and it's effects of modern day Africa
I want to remind everyone why I write about these events. I primarily do so because I want readers to dive out of what I call the Victor-Vanquished Theory. You win a war, you write history according to the way it suits you. I place a reminder that I write history from the perspective of Africans who have been on the losing end in history for so long, and our history has been rewritten severally to our own disadvantage that we seldom can find out place in today’s world. It is time someone showed the world how WE lived these atrocious events, not as victims, but as people who are proud of the struggles our ancestors had to go through for us to be enlightened today. We have the solemn duty to not let their struggles and fights enter into oblivion.
In my previous post, I briefly highlighted the chronology of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and concluding by announcing that we will dive into the partition and scramble of Africa. We should note that no era affected the socioeconomic and political life of Africans like this one. Countries, nations and states were redefined massively during this period by the colons, with barely any say by the people who are central to the story: The Africans.
By 1840, businessmen from Europe had established small trading posts along the coast, but they seldom moved inland, preferring to stay near the sea. They primarily traded with locals. Large parts of the continent were essentially uninhabitable for Europeans because of their high mortality rates from tropical diseases such as malaria. The European explorers used their presence along the coast to map out much of East Africa and Central Africa.
Even as late as the 1870s, Europeans controlled only ten percent of the African continent. The most important holdings were Angola and Mozambique, held by Portugal; the Cape Colony, held by Great Britain; and Algeria, held by France. By 1914, only Ethiopia and Liberia remained independent of European control. This will spare them essentially from the appalling reality of colonialism.
The colons gambled on technological advances to facilitate their expansion in Africa. Industrialization brought about rapid advancements in transportation and communication, especially in the forms of steamships, railways and telegraphs. Medical advances also played an important role, especially medicines for tropical diseases, which helped control their adverse effects. The development of quinine, an effective treatment for malaria, made vast expanses of the tropics more accessible for Europeans.
Colonies were also seen as assets in “balance of power” negotiations, useful as items of exchange at times of international bargaining. Colonies with large native populations were also a source of military power; Britain and France used large numbers of British Indian and North African soldiers, respectively, in many of their colonial wars to avoid dirtying their own hands (and would do so again in the coming World Wars). In the age of European nationalism, there was pressure for a nation to acquire an empire as a status symbol; the idea of “greatness” became linked with the “White Man’s Burden”, or sense of duty, underlying many nations’ strategies. A fallacy used to justify the worst nature in humans and the most atrocious acts of inhumanity potrayed by humans to its fellows.
The Congo Free State imposed such a terror regime on the colonized people, including mass killings and forced labour, that Belgium, under pressure from the Congo Reform Association, ended Leopold II’s rule and annexed it on 20 August 1908 as a colony of Belgium, known as the Belgian Congo.
The brutality of King Leopold II of Belgium in his former colony of the Congo Free State, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was well documented; up to 8 million of the estimated 16 million native inhabitants died between 1885 and 1908. According to the former Irish diplomat Roger Casement, this depopulation had four main causes: “indiscriminate war”, starvation, reduction of births and diseases. Sleeping sickness ravaged the country and must also be taken into account for the dramatic decrease in population; it has been estimated that sleeping sickness and smallpox killed nearly half the population in the areas surrounding the lower Congo River. These diseases had almost no prevalence in Africa till the colons arrived.
Our history books won't tell us this, so I will say it myself. Leopold II was the biggest criminal in history. Not Adolf Hitler or other cited names. It is important for Africans and the rest of the world to keep this in mind. His name rarely comes up because of the victor-vanquished theory which I spoke of earlier. This pattern will come up frequently in my next posts for us to practically understand how it has influenced history throughout the ages. This remains one of the biggest weapons of propaganda on earth. Because the crimes of Leopold II and Belgium were committed against Africans, the rest of the world difficultly cares. This is often the case when crimes are committed against people of colour in general. Congo faces the most heinous colonial crimes, but so did many colonies in Africa. The modus operandi used to determine which European country acquired which territory is the beginning of our next topic. The Berlin West African Conference.