Examine the Economic Arguments Used to Explain the Partition of West Africa

Topics: Imperialism, Africa, Scramble for Africa Pages: 7 (2222 words) Published: March 8, 2011
Examine the economic arguments used to explain the partition of West Africa.

In the late 1880s, only limited areas of Africa were subjected to the direct rule of Europeans. However, the next 20 years saw an increase in the confiscation of African colonies by the Europeans and by 1914 the partition of Africa had been consolidated. By 1914, with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia, the whole of Africa had been partitioned and occupied by the imperial powers of France, Britain, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Spain and Italy, and colonialism was implemented. However, by 1918 Germany lost its African colonies and they were distributed among the other European powers. Lenin and Hobson both argue that the partition of west Africa was highly economically motivated. These two scholars economic motives are somewhat similar to each other but Lenin argues more firmly that the crisis was one of finance capital and the development of "monopoly capitalism / oligopoly capitalism". In addition, it may be interpreted that though the partition of West Africa can be seen as largely for economic motives, it is acknowledge that there were other factors, which led to the partitioning of West Africa.

The French conquered most of the territory of West Africa. They established control over the interior Savanna, the Sahara, and three new coastal colonies: Guinea, Ivory Cast, and Dahomey. Britain settled on the Gambia Sierra Leon, and the Gold Coast. (Freun, 84). Goldie's company received the Royal Charter and proclaimed a protectorate over much of the Niger Delta while the British states assumed control over the remainder. The company treaties gave a legal cover to further penetration within the Sokoto Caliphate and the French agreed to accept a demarcation line, which granted the British what became known as Northern Nigeria (Freun, 84).

There were several reasons which led to the scramble of African territory by the Europeans. The scramble was on one part, the consequence of European rivalries after the rise of Germany. German people were split up into numerous small states, which were dominated by France and Austria prior to 1870. Bismarck united the German states in a series of war in which France and Austria were defeated. Bismarck dictated terms to the French whereby two French provinces, rich in coal and iron formed part of the new German nation (Boahen, & Webster, 167). There was the fear by Bismarck that France would attempt to win back its lost provinces from Germany, and make an alliance with England against Germany. Consequently, Bismarck's pursued a policy in which he sought friendship with Britain and France and encouraged the disagreement between those two countries in Africa so that they could not co-operate together in Europe. Bismarck saw this opportunity for this policy in Egypt (Boahen & Webster, 168).

In 1882, Egypt encountered bankruptcy because of debts owning to a combination of French, German, and English bankers. French bankers maintained the largest bloc of Egyptian debts. French teachers, technicians, merchants and military officers far outnumbered the other Europeans in Egypt thus Egypt was viewed as France's sphere of influence. However, Britain moved first and occupied Egypt in 1882. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869 it became a vital link in Britain's trading connections with British India. Britain was satisfied as long as the Suez was under Egyptian control and not under French control. Bismarck was able to exploit this situation as Germany supported the British occupation thus leading to France anger towards Britain. British occupation of Egypt was another factor, which led to the scramble and partition of Africa because Germany encouraged the French to make up for their two lost provinces in Europe and for Egypt, by seeking an empire elsewhere in Africa (Boahen & Webster, 168).

In addition, Bismarck and King Leopold of Belgium demonstrated their...

Cited: Boahen, A. Adu. General History Of Africa VII: Africa under Colonial Domination 1880-1935.
London: James Currey Ltd., 1990.
Boahen, A Adu., and J. Webster. Revolutionary Years. West Africa Since 1800. 2nd ed.
London: Longman Group Ltd., 1980.
Freun, Bill. The Making of Contemporary Africa. 2nd ed.
U.S.A: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 1998.
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