The Scramble for Africa, also known as the Race for Africa or Partition of Africa was a process of invasion, occupation, colonization and annexation of African territory by European powers during the New Imperialism period, between 1881 and World War I in 1914. As a result of the heightened tension between European states in the last quarter of the 19th century, the partitioning of Africa may be seen as a way for the Europeans to eliminate the threat of a Europe-wide war over Africa. The last 59 years of the 19th century saw transition from 'informal imperialism' of control through military influence and economic dominance to that of direct rule.
Attempts to mediate imperial competition, such as the Berlin Conference (1884–1885), failed to establish definitively the competing powers' claims. Many African polities, states and rulers (such as the Ashanti, the Abyssinians, the Moroccans, the Somalis, the Benin Empire and the Zulus) sought to resist this wave of European aggression. However, the industrial revolution had provided the European armies with advanced weapons such as machine guns, which African armies found difficult to resist (with the exception of the Abyssinians, who were indeed successful). Also, unlike their European counterparts, African rulers, states and people did not at first form a continental united front although within a few years, a Pan-African movement did emerge.
During the Scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century, European powers divided Africa and its resources into political partitions at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. By 1905, African soil was almost completely controlled by European governments, with the only exceptions being Liberia (which had been settled by African-American former slaves) and Ethiopia (which had successfully resisted colonization by Italy). Britain and France had the largest holdings, but Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Portugal also had colonies. As a result of colonialism and imperialism, Africa suffered long term effects, such as the loss of important natural resources like gold and rubber, economic devastation, cultural confusion, geopolitical division, and political subjugation.
1. Chimurenga Resistance (Zimbabwe) Zimbabwe was colonized in the early 1890s by the British South African Company. The Company used a combination of deceit and violence to gain control of Zimbabwe and to take away the best land from the Shona and Ndebele peoples. In 1896/1897 in separate acts, both of these groups staged armed uprising against the European colonialists. Traditional religious leaders played an important part in leading these resistance movements. Chimurenga is the Shona word for uprising. The BSAC used brutal force to put down the Chimurenga.
2. Battle of Isandhlawana. South Africa was colonized by the Dutch and the British much earlier than other parts of Africa were colonized. From the beginning of Dutch colonialism in the 17th century, African peoples resisted European penetration and control. However, there were parts of South Africa that resisted European control until the end of the 19th century. In spite of colonial efforts, Zululand remained free of colonial control until 1880. In 1879 in a strong show of resistance, a Zulu army under the leadership of King Cetshwayo at Isandhlawana defeated a force of 8,000 European soldiers, killing 1,600. This was the single greatest defeat suffered by the British in their colonial endeavors in Africa and Asia!
3. Maji-Maji Uprising (Tanganyika). The Maji-Maji uprising of 1905 took place in south-eastern Tanganyika and was the most serious challenge to early colonial rule in East Africa. The uprising was led by a religious prophet, Kinjikitile Ngwale, who called upon the people to resist the oppressive forced labor and tax policies imposed by the German colonists. He promised his followers that if they applied holy water (maji in the local language) that he provided to their bodies, they would be able to resist bullets from German guns. The uprising gained considerable local support before it was brutally put down by German soldiers.
4. Battle of Adowa (Ethiopia) As you have already learned, Ethiopia along with Liberia, were the only African countries that were not colonized by Europeans. It was not that European powers were not interested in colonizing Ethiopia-they were! Ethiopia was able to resist attempts of colonization by the British and particularly by the Italians. Indeed, Italy was able to colonize a part of ancient Ethiopia, the area along the Red Sea. This was the colony, and now independent country, of Eritrea. Under the leadership of Emperor Menelik, Ethiopia resisted European attempts to colonize all of Ethiopia. Ethiopia won a decisive victory over Italy at the Battle of Adowa, December 1895. During the battle, approximately 4,000 Italian soldiers were killed.
5. Asante Resistance (Ghana) Nowhere in West Africa was there a longer tradition of confrontation between African and European powers than in the Gold Coast (present day Ghana) between the Asante kingdom and the British. From before the end of the slave trade in 1807, the British were interested in extending their economic and political influence into the interior of the Gold Coast. These efforts were met with stiff resistance on the part of the Asante kingdom. The Asante were able to defend their interests and freedom through a series of victories in battles with the British. However, in 1874 after a half century of defeats, the British defeated the Asante at the Battle of Amoafo. This victory paved the way for British colonial rule in the Gold Coast.
6. Samori Ture. In their attempt to colonize the vast interior of the West African Soudan, the French attempted to make treaties with powerful leaders of African kingdoms. Some leaders were willing to negotiate with the French. Others were not. Samori Ture, who governed an area almost as large of France in what is today Guinea, Mali, and Cote D'Ivoire strongly resisted French colonial expansion. Samori's first contact with the French was in 1882. Over the next two decades, Samori battled against the French, at times defeating French forces, at times moving his people, government, and army in order to evade French control. It was not until 1900 that the French finally captured Samori. The French exiled Samori to Gabon in Central Africa.
7. Libyan Resistance. Probably nowhere was the African-European confrontation so long and bloody as it was in Libya. In 1911 without warning, Italy invaded the Libyan coastal cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, Homs, and Tubruk. While the Italians captured these cities, they were unable to capture the areas surrounding them. Italy's attempt to conquer and colonize Libya was interrupted by World War I (1914-1918). After the war in a series of brutal military attacks, Italy tried to bring Libya under its control. However, Libyans successfully defended themselves for many years. It was not until 1932, twenty-one years after Italy's first invasions, that Libya was fully colonized.
There were a variety of responses on the part of African peoples to colonial rule. Supporters of colonialism in Europe claimed that the average African person welcomed colonialism. Colonialism, they argued, brought the end of slavery in East and Central Africa and brought a stop to inter-kingdom warfare in parts of West Africa. While there is some truth to the claim that colonialism brought peace to a few areas in Africa, and that there were some peoples who were initially thankful for an end to violence in their areas, the historical evidence does not support the claim that there was widespread support for colonial rule. Indeed, there is also considerable evidence of strong resistance to colonial rule.
By the beginning of World War I in 1914, all of Africa, with the exception of Liberia and Ethiopia, had been colonized, and initial African resistance had been overcome by the colonial powers. Over the next decades as colonial rule became institutionalized, African resistance to colonialism became more focused and intense. By the 1950s, there were organized nationalist parties that demanded political independence in almost every colony in Africa.
Britain's occupations of Egypt and the Cape Colony contributed to a preoccupation over securing the source of the Nile River. Egypt was occupied by British forces in 1882 (although not formally declared a protectorate until 1914, and never an actual colony); Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda were subjugated in the 1890s and early 20th century; and in the south, the Cape Colony (first acquired in 1795) provided a base for the subjugation of neighbouring African states and the Dutch Afrikaner settlers who had left the Cape to avoid the British and then founded their own republics. In 1877, Theophilus Shepstone annexed the South African Republic (or Transvaal – independent from 1857 to 1877) for the British. The UK consolidated its power over most of the colonies of South Africa in 1879 after the Anglo-Zulu War. The Boers protested and in December 1880 they revolted, leading to the First Boer War (1880–1881). British Prime Minister William Gladstone signed a peace treaty on March 23, 1881, giving self-government to the Boers in the Transvaal. The Jameson Raid of 1895 was a failed attempt by the British South Africa Company and the Johannesburg Reform Committee to overthrow the Boer government in the Transvaal. The Second Boer War was about control of the gold and diamond industries and was fought between 1899 and 1902; the independent Boer republics of the Orange Free State and of the South African Republic (Transvaal) were this time defeated and absorbed into the British Empire.