British Imperialism In Africa


British Imperialism In Africa Essay, Research Paper

The motives of Britain’s imperialist activities

in Africa from 1869 to 1912 were strategic and defensive. While other motives

did exist, such as to colonize, to search for new markets and materials,

to attain revenge and world prestige, to convert natives to Christianity,

and to spread the English style of orderly government, the main motives

evident in many events of the period showed attempts to safeguard the country

and protect former land holdings. As its free trade and influential relationship

with Africa was threatened, Britain began to turn trade agreements into

stronger and more formal protectorates and even colonies. Britain acted

to protect the route east and its connection with the Indian Empire. Rather

than to expand the British Empire, Britain fought battles over territory

to prevent French or German control in Africa.

Britain’s imperialist involvement in the

scramble for Africa occurred in response to the actions of the French and

even German. Britain had a history of African trade agreements and, compared

to its European counterparts, the highest degree of control in Africa.

France and Britain began an earnest race for the Niger in 1883, agreeing

then to divide the territory–Lagos to Britain and Timbuktu for France.

This did not neutralize the competition, however. Britain had to act in

Nigeria (1885) and Nyasaland (1891) to protect existing spheres of commercial

and missionary activities. France’s strategy to declare its “right of occupation”

and then seek negotiation further urged Britain’s aggressive maintenance

of territory. The British annexed Bechuanaland (1885) partly to guard against

the Germans; partly to prevent its absorption by the Transvaal, which would

have increased the power of the Boers. (Faber 57-58) Later, in 1888, the

French threatened the Britain dominated Nile Valley, hinting they might

divert the water of the Nile to render the area useless.

In East Africa the British had strategic

motives to protect the Suez Canal and the route to the east. As the scramble

exploded in the 1880s, Britain was suddenly challenged for her right to

trade and conduct financial and military business. “The prime object was

defensive [in the eighties], as it had been under Disraeli: the prevention

of serious inroads on British power; the anticipation of other powers,

when strategically necessary, in the ‘Scramble for Africa’; the protection

of the route to India and the East. The safety of the Suez Canal had already

become a cardinal point of British policy.” (Faber 57)

The first showdown over the route to the

east between Britain and France occurred in Egypt. French pride over a

new Egyptian canal, built in 1869, was soaring. It was abruptly grounded

in 1875, however, by a surreptitious British purchase of the majority share

in the Suez Canal. A dubious balance of power was achieved through duel

Anglo-French control of Egypt. Britain was able to prevail over France

during the Egyptian Crisis, as the French government did not allow French

involvement in smothering the rebellion.

This afforded the British a chance to

re-establish their role in world military dominance. These conflicts were

clearly not for the purpose of monetary gain on Britain’s part. The Economist

observed in 1892 that East Africa was ‘probably an unprofitable possession’;

it was primarily for strategic reasons that the government held on to it.

By 1893, France was still not reconciled

to Britain’s role in the Nile Valley. They tried to follow through on earlier

threats to divert the headwaters of the Nile to devastate the valley. An

expedition headed by Jean-Baptiste Marchand finally departed in 1896 and

marched from the west coast to Fashoda, a city on the upper Nile. Britain

responded to rumors of this expedition by ordering that an army lead by

Herbert Horatio Kitchener conquest the Sudan in order to protect the Nile

from the French. Kitchener crushed the politically separatist Sudanese,

winning the famous Battle of Omdurman in 1898. He took Khartoum and moved

on to Fashoda by September, where Marchand had been camped out since April.

Britain and France teetered on the brink of war, which was finally averted

by careful handling by both Marchand and Kitchener.

Britain’s action in South Africa helped

to protect their connection to the Indian Empire. They officially annexed

South Africa in 1877, recognizing this might lead to a reduction of British

responsibilities South Africa. It was also important that they maintain

their control to keep other powers from getting a foothold. The Boer War

ended in 1902, while the Transvaal was given self-rule by Britain 1906.

Britain was not an instigator in the scramble

for Africa, but rather a reactionary nation who responded to the actions

of other forces. As French and German forces threatened loose trade deals,

Britain set up protectorates and colonies. As British holdings in Egypt

and in East Africa were threatened, Britain fought to maintain its power.

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