(AFRICA, EMPIRES and SLAVERY – continued)

home | 18-19th centuries index


previous | next

Imperialism in Algeria and Morocco, to 1860

France's most extensive trading with Africa had been its importations of food from the coastal region of Algeria, a wheat-producing area with a population of only around 50,000. The French had bought wheat from Algeria during the French Revolution, and in the 1820s they were still refusing to pay for it. In 1827, a French envoy in Algiers told the governor of Algeria that France still had no intention of honoring its debt to Algeria, and, it is said, the governor struck the envoy with a fly swatter and threatened to end permission for France to continue trading in Algeria. France's monarch, Charles X, in June 1830 sent an invasion force of 36,000 troops to Algeria, claiming that he was responding to the insult to his ambassador. The invasion was also described as a civilizing mission and a mission to abolish slavery and piracy – a response to Algeria's reputation in France for having attacked the ships of Christian nations during past centuries and for an estimated 25,000 European slaves in Algeria, including women in harems.

The French force landed twenty-seven kilometers west of Algiers, and soon they raped, looted, and were desecrating Mosques. The commander of the invasion force, General Bugeaud, wrote:

We have burned extensively and destroyed extensively. It may be that I shall be called a barbarian, but as I have the conviction that I have done something useful for my country, I consider myself above the reproaches of the press.

Algiers capitulated on July 5, but the glory of conquest failed to help King Charles. By the end of the month he was fleeing into exile to England.

In 1840, 115,000 more French soldiers arrived in Algeria. France's Minister of War, General Gérard, announced that Algeria was necessary to France as an "outlet for our surplus population" and for selling manufactured products in exchange for agricultural products needed in France. And with the hard times in Europe in the 1840s the trickle of French settlers into Algeria increased.


Bordering Algeria to the west was Morocco. For centuries the Moroccans had succeeded in fighting off foreign rule, including that of the Ottoman Turks, but in the1800s the shift in military might to the favor of Europeans gave the Moroccan sultan a sense of vulnerability. The sultan, Moulay Abderramane, wanted modernization for his realm, and he wanted peace and trade with Europe as a part of that modernization. But the sultan also had public opinion in Morocco to consider, and an occasional tribal uprising to suppress. The Muslims of Morocco were supporting their Muslims brothers in Algeria, who were fighting a jihad against the French, and the Sultan could not refrain from at least looking like he was supporting the Muslims of Algeria.

The French drove an Algerian resistance leader, Abd al-Qadir, into Morocco, and the sultan there gave public support to this Islamic hero. War broke out between France and Morocco in August 1844. The French bombarded Tangier and Essaouira. That bombardment was accompanied by the withdrawal of Moroccan troops and was followed by pillaging by the Haha and Chiadma tribes. Near Oujda, the French routed the Moroccan army, led by the Sultan's son. Then in September came the Treaty of Tangier. The French were having enough trouble in Algeria and wanted peace with Morocco. They gave Oujda back to Morocco's sultan in exchange for agreement of a definite border between Morocco and Algeria.

Sensing the new weakness of Morocco, Spain declared war against Morocco in 1859. The Spanish occupied Tétouan and made peace, and in the settlement they won an expansion of territory in Morocco, including another enclave, at Ifni on the Atlantic coast. It was more of an onion-like peeling away of Moroccan territory by European powers.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.