IMPERIALISM AND INTERNATIONAL
RELATIONS: THE ‘SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA’
European governments had quarrelled with one another outside
Europe at least since the sixteenth century. The later nineteenth century
brought extra-European issues even more visibly and frequently into
play. 1901 is not a significant date within this process. Yet though
European nations in the nineteenth century often bickered about their
interests overseas, and though the United States went to war with one
of them in 1898, the partitioning of much of the non-European world
was carried out in an amazingly peaceful manner. One reason was
the lingering Pax Britannica imposed by British naval supremacy,
which for the whole nineteenth century presented an obstacle to the
European powers fighting one another for mastery of the nonEuropean world just when the greatest extension ever of direct colonial
rule was going on. There were no repeat performances of the colonial
wars of earlier times. The final outcome, indeed, when a Great War
at last broke out in 1914, was that Great Britain, Russia and France,
the three nations which had quarrelled most over imperial difficulties
in the previous thirty years, found themselves on the same side.
Overseas colonial rivalry cannot explain that conflict, though it contributed to it psychologically. Quarrels over non-European affairs
before 1914 were in fact often positive distractions from the more
dangerous rivalries of Europe itself: perhaps they even helped to
preserve European peace.
This had been most strikingly shown in the historical process
remembered as the ‘Scramble for Africa’: a spreading of European
power into the non-European world unrivalled in extent and pace
since the sixteenth-century Spanish conquests in the Americas. Outside
Algeria or South Africa, for most of the nineteenth century only a
THE WHITE MAN’S WORLD
little of Africa beyond a few coastal enclaves had been in European
hands. In 1879 the arrival of a British army in Egypt registered yet
another setback for the Ottoman empire, of which that country
remained formally a part, and also a change in the continent’s fate;
to the south, even before the century ended, Anglo-Egyptian rule
had been pushed deep into the Sudan. Elsewhere, southwards from
Morocco round to the Cape of Good Hope, the African coastline was
by the beginning of the twentieth century entirely divided between
Europeans (British, French, Germans, Spanish, Portuguese and Belgians) with the exception of the isolated black republic of Liberia.
The empty wastes of the Sahara and Sahel became nominally French,
as was the basin of the Senegal River and much of the northern Congo;
Tunisia was a French protectorate. The Belgian king enjoyed as a
personal estate (and his agents governed atrociously) most of the
rest of the Congo, which was soon to prove some of the richest
mineral-bearing land in Africa; the Belgian state was to take over
responsibility from him for what was called the ‘Congo Free State’ in
1906. Further east, apart from the Boer republics of Transvaal and
Orange Free State over which the British government claimed suzerainty, British territories ran almost continuously from the Cape of
Good Hope up to the Rhodesias, which were hemmed in by the
Belgian Congo and German and Portuguese East Africa (Tanganyika
and Mozambique). The last two cut them off from the sea, but
further north, from Mombasa, Kenya’s port, a belt of British territory
stretched throughout Uganda to the borders of the Sudan and the
headwaters of the Nile. Somalia (divided between the British, Italian
and French) and Italian Eritrea isolated Ethiopia, the only African
country other than Liberia still to escape European domination. This
ancient Christian polity was ruled by the only African monarch of
the nineteenth century to avert the European threat by a military
success, the annihilation of an Italian army at Adowa in 1896. Other
Africans could not prevail, as the Anglo-Egyptian conquest of the
Sudan in 1898, and, in the next century, the Portuguese mastery
(with some difficulty) of insurrection in Angola in 1902, the British
destruction of the Zulu and Matabele in 1907, and, most bloodily,
the German quelling of Tanganyika in 1907 and massacre of the
Herrero of south-west Africa in the same year, were to show
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