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The Cambridge History of Africa
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Book description

Volume VI of The Cambridge History of Africa covers the period 1870–1905, when the European powers (Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and Italy) divided the continent into colonial territories and vied with each other for control over vast tracts of land and valuable mineral resources. At the same time, it was a period during which much of Africa still had a history of its own. Colonial governments were very weak and could exist only by playing a large part both in opening up the continent to outside influences and in building larger political unities. The volume begins with a survey of the whole of Africa on the eve of the paper partition, and continues with nine regional surveys of events as they occured on the ground. Only in northern and southern Africa did these develop into classical colonial forms, with basis of outright conquest. Elsewhere, compromises emerged and most Africans were able to pursue the politics of survival. Partition was a process, not an event. The process was essentially one of modernisation in the face of outside challenge.

Reviews

‘Volume six … shows that Africans continued to make their own history even during the troubled years between 1870 and 1905 when much of the continent fell under colonial domination … [It] attempts to be a history of Africa between 1870 and 1905 and not just a history of colonialism.’

Source: The Times Literary Supplement

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Contents

  • 1 - Africa on the Eve of Partition
    pp 10-95
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter reviews the state of the Africa on the eve of partition, roughly over the decade of the 1870s. The situation of Egypt and the Maghrib countries and their response to European influence and interference, and to modernisation in general, varied considerably at the beginning of the period. In the remarkably uniform ecological zones of West Africa the patterns of economic production and trade on the one hand, and political development on the other, had by the 1870s undergone a century or more of rapid change. South of the equator farming populations only started to build up their numbers within the Iron Age. In the 186os the boundaries of the Portuguese colony of Angola were receding and its economy was passing through a deep recession. Widespread ideological and cultural changes had taken place as a result of African experiences of the Muslim Near East and Christian Europe.
  • 2 - The European Partition of Africa: Origins and Dynamics
    pp 96-158
  • View abstract

    Summary

    In 1879 the French launched in the Senegal hinterland the first deliberate European attempt to create a large territorial empire in tropical Africa. Until the 1870s, 'Africa as a whole' had been a purely geographical concept, of no practical relevance to the European politicians and merchants concerned with the continent. Advances or acquisitions in Africa undertaken primarily to secure a diplomatic advantage in Europe are not however quite unknown. The most striking is the Anglo-Egyptian advance into the Sudan in March 1896. For the French, the one redeeming feature of British informal empire was its purely de facto existence, devoid of legal warrant and therefore instantly vulnerable should the power-balance ever tilt in favour of France. Until the mid-1890s the European scramble had surprisingly little effect upon Anglo-Afrikaner rivalries in South Africa. After the collapse of the Anglo-Congolese Agreement, Rosebery attempted to negotiate an upper Nile settlement directly with Paris.
  • 3 - North Africa
    pp 159-207
  • View abstract

    Summary

    When the Second Empire succumbed to the Prussian onslaught the French had already been established in North Africa for forty years. The fall of the Second Empire was greeted with joy by the French in Algeria. The naturalisation of Algerian-born Jews, the setting up of assize juries and the extension of the area under civilian rule were proclaimed one after another. The conquest of Algeria caused a rapprochement between France and Tunisia, and increased the latter's separation from the Porte. The 1896 agreements gave the Italians in Tunisia the means to create a state within a state. In the closing years of the nineteenth century, Morocco was the only country in Africa, apart from Ethiopia, to preserve its independence. The disaggregation of the Moroccan empire made it an easy prey for the foreigner. In France, as in Algeria, it awakened long-standing ambitions aimed at the southern Sahara.
  • 4 - Western Africa, 1870–1886
    pp 208-256
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Indigenous African history, which still dominated most of the arena, moved at a slower rhythm than the history of the colonial advance. This chapter discusses the zone of acculturation, stretching around the coast from Senegambia to the Bay of Biafra. The cautious policies imposed from London had lost for the British the priority which was theirs as a result of the powerful colony of Sierra Leone at the southern end of the Rivières du Sud. To the east of the Bagoe and the Bandama, the Senufo, who spoke the most westerly of the Voltaic languages, were solid villagers with a truly stateless tradition. It explains the immediate hinterland which, from the upper Niger to the Volta, was open to influences from both the coast and the Sudan. The chapter focusses on the great belt of the Sudan itself, from the Senegal to Wadai, where events still seemed to move at the traditional pace.
  • 5 - Western Africa, 1886–1905
    pp 257-297
  • View abstract

    Summary

    In the immediate aftermath the European siege lines were strengthened, but the scale of the impending threat to African independence was still not generally predictable. Around 1890, relations between Europe and West Africa changed their character. Modern breach-loading rifles reached West African markets during the 1870s. The British began to recognise that economic inducements and diplomatic suasion might no longer suffice to protect their interests against European intrusion or African assertiveness. Once the French, British and Germans had acquired their new empires, they had to find methods of governing them. By 1905 most colonies could feel optimistic about the prospects for increasing the type of commercial exchanges already established between African agriculturists and the capitalist world. The northern Nigerian system of 'indirect rule' was a response to local circumstances before it became the basis of colonial dogma. The immediate impact of the conquest upon the lives of ordinary Africans varied enormously.
  • A - French Congo and Gabon 1886–1905
    pp 298-315
  • View abstract

    Summary

    In 1885 the European opening up of Gabon and Congo had only just begun. The intervention of metropolitan France in the archaic and brutal form of the régime concessionnaire copied from the Leopoldian model, soon resulted in the upsetting of the fragile pre-colonial balance. Social and political disintegration took place rapidly following the operations of the conquest, and the rapid proliferation of European commercial enterprises had disrupted the main traditional trade routes. The idea of an economic conquest based on the opening up of great penetration routes with the aim of 'linking the mouth of the Congo to Upper Egypt across Africa' went back to Brazza. Given the dreadful state of the finances of the colony, the apparent success of the Leopoldian system after 1896 made the decision inevitable. The military expeditions to Chad swallowed the entire budget. The development of the colony demanded a considerable investment in men and in capital and every kind of infrastructure.
  • B - King Leopold's Congo, 1886–1908
    pp 315-358
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The Congo Independent State, under the personal government of King Leopold, lasted from 1885 to 1908. In the first years of existence of the Congo State, when only a tiny part of the territory of the state was occupied, Leopold tried to extend his frontiers in all directions. In the early years the prosperity of the administration depended on the relations between the administrator and the local African authorities, including the balance of physical power. Districts in turn were sub-divided into posts, of which there were 183 by 1900. The grass roots organisation was provided by the 1891 decree on chiefs. These were appointed by the administration as an area came under occupation. At first the growth of the Congo State was accompanied by the development of traditional commercial companies. The Congo State was anxious to promote agriculture, but its economic policies in effect prevented this.
  • 7 - Southern Africa, 1867–1886
    pp 359-421
  • View abstract

    Summary

    In 1870, the political economy of Southern Africa was characterised by tremendous regional diversity. The discovery and subsequent mining of diamonds and gold in southern Africa in the 1870s and 1880s was not fortuitous. Africans in southern Africa had prospected for and exploited the gold, copper and iron of the sub-continent since the first millennium AD By the mid-nineteenth century, European explorers were aware that minerals existed in abundance in the Transvaal and adjacent territories. A major justification for confederation and the annexation of the Transvaal had been the danger of a black-white confrontation in South Africa. Both Cetshwayo and Lobengula, king of the Ndebele kingdom north of the Limpopo, feared that Christianity and its new mores would undermine their authority. For people south of the Zambezi, and to some extent even for the Lozi to the north-west, the crucial issue in these years was increasingly what strategy to adopt towards the intruders from the south.
  • 8 - Southern and Central Africa, 1886–1910
    pp 422-492
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Within a decade of the official proclamation of the fields, the economy of southern Africa had been transformed and its political direction sharply changed. Already in 1886, it was well known that gold was to be found in the Transvaal. The Limpopo constituted no barrier to the flood of concession seekers, and the years between 1889 and 1895 saw the dramatic annexation of all the African territories up to the Congo in what has been termed 'a gigantic speculation in mining futures. The BSA Company appointed its own deputy administrator in Northern Rhodesia, as its territory north of the Zambezi came to be called. By the 1900s, for Africans all over the sub-continent forced to seek work, the great magnet was the Witwatersrand. All over southern Africa, the imposition of colonial rule meant the imposition of taxation to raise much-needed revenue for administration and to force people out to work.
  • A - Angola and Mozambique, 1870–1905
    pp 493-521
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The inception of the scramble for Africa obliged Portugal to act on what had been an established ideal for many centuries. Whereas their contemporaries in other European countries had eschewed the acquisition of territory, many Portuguese had envisaged the ultimate conquest and consolidation of the territories in the hinterland of their coastal settlements in Angola and Mozambique. The restructuring of African societies mirrored the economic transformation which Angola had undergone during the nineteenth century. The Berlin Conference had resolved the issue of the Congo mouth, but failed to delimit frontiers between Leopold's Independent State and Angola. The aggressive spirit which emerged from the defeat of Gungunyana was largely responsible for a Portuguese attempt to bring northern Mozambique under control. Events in Mozambique after the financial crisis followed a course similar to that in Angola. The advent of colonial rule in Mozambique did not produce many changes in the colonial social structure.
  • B - Madagascar and France, 1870–1905
    pp 521-538
  • View abstract

    Summary

    With his power henceforth firmly established, Rainilaiarivony, the Prime Minister and consort of Queen Ranavalona II, could govern the country without too many worries, and was able to turn his attention to reforms. The various European colonial powers had begun the process of dividing up Asia and Africa between them, and in this game of chess, Madagascar was merely a minor pawn. Rainilaiarivony had avoided the term 'protectorate', but the French had the firm intention of imposing one in practice. The minister for the Colonies, André Lebon, called in General Gallieni who, first in the Sudan and then in Tonkin, had acquired a well-earned reputation for his skill in colonial pacification. Gallieni was always prepared to alter his own ideas if he found that they were inadequate or out of date, and his second tour of duty was marked by a number of changes.
  • 10 - East Africa 1870–1905
    pp 539-591
  • View abstract

    Summary

    East Africa in 1870 is best defined as the economic hinterland of the commercial entrepôt of Zanzibar. Through the activities of the Swahili commercial system, East Africa during the early and mid-1870s became a more internally integrated and geographically specific region of the world than it had been before. The commercial system had roots in localised and regional trade. For decades, caravans had been organised and porters recruited on behalf of European travellers, whose comings and goings provided the East African economy with a veritable tourist industry. The active conquest of East Africa took place between 1888 and 1900 through sporadic and sustained military campaigns best called colonial wars. When turning to the ecological crisis as a context of militarism, it must be noted that natural disaster is a constant theme in the history of East Africa from 1870 to 1905.
  • 11 - The Nile Basin and the Eastern Horn, 1870–1908
    pp 592-679
  • View abstract

    Summary

    In the earlier years of Ismā'īl's reign, when the khedive was attempting to reduce his dependence upon his Ottoman suzerain, Egyptians had been appointed as province governors. Muhammad Tawfīq had no alternative but to release and reinstate 'Urābī and his colleagues and to dismiss 'Uthmān Rifqī. The French occupation of Tunis in May 1881 seemed to some officers to foreshadow a British occupation of Egypt. During 1882 there had been Mahdist risings on the west bank of the White Nile and in the Gezira region between the White and Blue Niles. The revolutionary phase of the Mahdiyya ended with the Mahdi's death in June 1885. The Anglo-Egyptian advance of March 1896 was perhaps less of a surprise to the Khalifa 'Abdallāhi than it was to Cromer. In sharp contrast to Shoa, remote from foreign interference, Yohannes's base in Tigre was an exposed salient of the Ethiopian polity. Northern Somalia seems to have prospered under Egyptian administration.
  • 12 - The European Scramble and Conquest in African History
    pp 680-766
  • View abstract

    Summary

    African history has been too much dominated by blanket terms, generalisations which prompt comparisons rather than contrasts. African authorities lost the race for power and, as they did so, became increasingly divided. Europeans accumulated power, but were not much less divided over how to convert it into authority. In the mid-1880s the first scramble for Africa took up a number of threads of African history. Western Africa was divided between two contrasted frontiers of trade and belief. The savanna states of the Sudan, recently revolutionised by Islam, were orientated to internal trade and the northern outlets over the Sahara. An examination of these frontiers of change can help to illuminate the wide variety of the African experience of colonial conquest. Robinson and Gallagher's earlier explanation was continental in scale and attracted attention because they took changes in Europe and in Africa equally seriously. The mass of Africans were still more unwilling to play their part in the scheme of reconstruction.
  • Bibliographical Essays
    pp 767-823
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This bibliography presents a list of titles that help the reader to understand the economic and social history of Africa. African resistance was less the polar opposite of collaboration than the other end of a broad spectrum of strategies adopted by Africans for coping with Europeans. G. N. Sanderson attempts a comprehensive analysis of international competition in the upper Nile basin from its origins in the later 1880s to the Anglo-French settlement of March 1899. The coastal origins of the West African scramble, and its subsequent development and extension down to 1889, have been lucidly set out by J. D. Hargreaves. Historical writings concerning North Africa are mainly the work of French historians, as might be expected. The historiography of Portuguese-speaking Africa is generally poor in comparison to that of other parts of the continent, but this particular period is better documented than any other.

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