(EMPIRE in AFRICA and the CARIBBEAN – continued)

home | 18-19th centuries index

EMPIRE in AFRICA and the CARIBBEAN (4 of 5)

previous | next

Germans, French and British in Africa to 1900

Trouble in East Africa

A German company was in charge of the administration of German East Africa, and the company's demand for taxes and labor obligations provoked rebellion among local Arabs and from the He and Yea tribes. This was the Obituary revolt. Germans were evicted militarily from the coast except for strongholds at Bagamoyo and Dar es Salaam. They returned with an elite force under the command of General von Wissman, and they captured and hanged the leader of the revolt – the half Arab half African trader, Abushiri.

In Baganda, a kingdom within what today is Uganda, King Mutesa in the 1870s had feared attacks from the Egyptians and had agreed to a British proposal to allow Christian missionaries, Mutesa believing they would provide him with military assistance. The missionaries from Britain were followed in 1879 by French Roman Catholic missionaries – the Protestant and Catholic groups antagonistic toward each other. In 1884, Mutesa died and was succeeded by his son, Mwanga. He had homosexual relations with young boys and men who served him as pages and attendants. The Christians in Mwanga's court resisted what they saw as an abomination, and Mwanga had numerous Christians put to death, some by burning alive – the Catholic Church eventually to elevate most of these victims to sainthood.

The French and British in West Africa

Imperial boundaries in Africa in 1914

Imperial boundaries in Africa, 1914

The French started construction of a railway from Dakar – today the capital of Senegal – hoping to gain control of a protected market across a portion of West Africa. In 1880, France occupied Tunisia, next door to their colony in Algeria. In 1885 in Madagascar the French established a colony on the northern tip of the island, and they claimed the whole of Madagascar as a protectorate.

British palm oil merchants, meanwhile, were established in the Niger River delta area (present day Nigeria) and expanding – palm oil being the major export from West Africa, filling demand among Europeans for oil.

German Expansion

In Germany, the landed aristocrat Bismarck had been unenthusiastic about supporting commercial interests abroad, believing that colonies would be a drain on his nation's treasury. But he changed his mind and put Germany on a course of competing with the British for colonies, and he saw advantage in siding with the French against the British in Africa.

In 1884, Bismarck declared German protectorates over Togoland, Cameroon (Kamerun) and Southwest Africa, claiming that he was protecting the interests of German missionaries and traders. Germans told Africans that German rule meant freedom from taxes and customs duties. British propagandists noted that Germany had military conscription and Britain did not, and the British countered that German rule in Africa would lead to conscription for local people.

In November 1884, Bismarck called a 14-nation conference to settle European rivalry in Africa. Called the Congo Conference, it lasted into 1885. It recognized the rule of Leopold of Belgium in the Congo basin, and Leopold in turn allowed traders and missionaries from other European states access to the area. Britain recognized Germany's position in Southwest Africa and approved of German expansion into the interior of Cameroon. Britain annexed Bechuanaland (now Botswana), which frustrated a Boer move westward. France was recognized as ruler of vast territories. In early 1885 Germany declared a protectorate what they called German East Africa (now Tanzania). In 1886 Britain and Germany settled the boundaries between German East Africa and the British territory to be known as Rhodesia, and Germany recognized Britain's claim to Zanzibar.

British Expansion

In 1886 Gold was discovered in Boer territory – the Transvaal hills – today northeast South Africa. From Britain, other European countries and the United States, engineers and others crowded into the area. Britain's Cecil Rhodes provided finance for the gold mining operations and acquired control over much of the mining. Cecil Rhodes had been a success in diamond mining in southern Africa and was owner of the De Beers Company, which by 1889 dominated all others in the diamond business.

Rhodes believed in the civilizing mission of British colonialism and dreamed of British control from the Cape of Good Hope in the south to Cairo in the north. In central Africa, competition existed between British Missionaries and the Portuguese. European ivory hunters spoke of vast amounts of gold in Matabeleland (today southwest Zimbabwe). With the help of a Reverend Helm, Rhodes tricked the Ndebele chieftain, Lobengula, into allowing Rhodes to take "whatever action" was necessary to exploit the minerals in Lobengula's kingdom. The British government backed the move and granted Rhodes a charter to establish the British South Africa Company, and Britain permitted the company to mine and administer what had been Lobengula's kingdom and beyond.

More Expansion in the 1890s

The year 1890 was another year of agreements. Britain recognized France's attempt to dominate Madagascar in exchange for the French recognizing Britain's domination of Zanzibar and what was becoming Nigeria. And the British and Germans signed a treaty, the British recognizing German East Africa and the Germans recognizing Uganda as "falling within the British sphere."

In 1890 Cecil Rhodes and white settlers started expanding. It was an expensive operation, and gold was not found in quantity enough. Rhodes faced financial disaster. He made war against King Lobengula, defeating him in 1893 and sold herds of cattle and land to white settlers, saving himself financially. The conquered areas were officially named Rhodesia.

The British granted administration and exploitation of resources in east-central Africa to a private merchant company, the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA). In Uganda, the company negotiated a treaty with Mwanga and Catholic and Protestant chiefs. The Catholic and Protestant missionaries remained hostile toward each other. The British recruited Sudanese troops, and with Protestant allies they won military skirmishes against the Catholics, establishing Protestant political supremacy. The British and Mwanga signed a treaty, Mwanga accepting British protection and the British declaring Uganda a protectorate. Agricultural land became estates for Baganda chiefs, "with peasants as their tenants," and here in 1903 cotton growing for export was to begin. note96

The British were interested in the area to be called Kenya as a route from the coast to Uganda. On the coast the British faced a rebellion by Swahili Africans and Arabs – the Mazrui rebellion. It began as a dispute over succession within the Mazrui clan, the British intervening against the wishes of the Muslim majority there. The leader of the rebellion, Sheikh Mbaruk (Baraku) bin Rashid flew a German flag and supplied his men with arms provided by Germans. The rebellion took nine months to crush, the British using troops from India. Sheikh Mbaruk died in exile in German East Africa. Britain declared Kenya a protectorate and imported Arabs from Zanzibar and Oman to positions of power along the Kenyan coast.

Belgium was conquering the eastern Congo basin from Arabs, while Italy had been interested in gaining control over the coastal area along the Red Sea known for trade – Eritrea. And Italy laid claim to Somaliland – desert along the Indian Ocean.

The mountainous interior of Ethiopia had been unattractive to the Europeans, the British having come and gone in a conflict there with emperor Tewodros II in the 1850s. The emperor in Ethiopia since 1889 was Menelik II, who was transforming Ethiopia from a collection of semi-independent states to something closer to unity. In 1895 Menelik signed a treaty with the Italians – the Treaty of Wuchale -- granting them control over Eritrea. The Italians interpreted the treaty as giving them control over Ethiopia's foreign relations. Italy invaded Ethiopia to enforce what it believed should be its power there, the Italians believing a force of 35,000 enough to control Ethiopia. On March 1, 1846, a unit of Italians numbering 14,500 met Menelik's force of 100,000 well-armed troops at Adwa (Adowa, Aduwa or Adua). Menelik's force sent the Italians into a retreat. The Italians gave up their designs on Ethiopia, signing a treaty with Menelik, abrogating the Treaty of Wuchale. Italy recognized the independence of Ethiopia and Ethiopia recognized Italy's authority over Eritrea.

In western Africa, the French were expanding inland from Senegal against the Tukolor and Mandinka empires. The Tukolor Empire extended along the Niger River to Timbuktu. It had been expanding since 1835 but by the 1880s it had been suffering from internal divisions, which benefited the French. The Mandinka Empire was to the south of the Tukolor Empire and an old rival of the Tukolor. The Mandinka were ruled by Samoie Touré, who from the 1860s had a well-trained army equipped with European arms, an army that protected the trading interests of his family. The Mandinka and French fought in the 1880s, with the French attempting to create rebellion against Touré. In 1891 the French invaded from the north, Touré force facing French artillery and machine guns. Touré retreated, resorting to a scorched earth policy, and shifting his empire to the east. The French ran out of supplies. They concentrated their forces and returned in 1894, beginning a drive against Touré to last into 1898. Meanwhile, Touré had failed to unite with the Tukolor against the French, and in 1894 the French expanded to the northeastern corner of the Tukolor Empire, taking the city of Timbuktu.

Using Senegalese warriors the French moved also against the Dahomey Empire. They were welcomed as liberators from Dahomey rule by some Yorubu peoples. In 1894 the French proclaimed Dahomey (now Benin) a part of their West Africa empire.

The French also conquered Mauritania, north of Senegal, and they conquered as far east as Chad in north-central Africa. They were headed toward the Sudan, where in 1896 the British waged another war.

Kitchener and the Sudan

From 1892, Britain's Horatio Herbert Kitchener had been in command of Egypt's army. Kitchener's opponent in the Sudan was the caliph (or Khalifa) Abdullah et Taaisha, who had succeeded the Mahdi in 1885. He had been attacking Egypt, and by 1896 the British and Egyptians were alarmed by the spread of French influence in southern Sudan. Kitchener led an army to take control of the Sudan. Battles occurred in 1896, and the major showdown came at Omdurman, near Khartoum, in 1898. The Muslims believed that Allah was with them, but they had only two machine guns against the fifty-five among Kitchener's troops, and many of the Khalifa's troops were armed only with spears. Kitchener killed close to 11,000 of the Kalifa's force and wounded 16,000, while the British forces lost 23 dead and 434 wounded.

Kitchener, meanwhile, had learned that a French force had arrived at Fashoda, 600 km (about 400 mi) south of Khartoum, and with his army Kitchener journeyed upriver to confront the French. The French were claiming possession of the Upper Nile and that Britain had failed to achieve “effective occupation” in the Upper Nile as agreed to at Bismarck's conference back in 1884-85. But France didn't want war with Britain, and in 1899 the French signed an agreement recognizing the Upper Nile as within a British sphere of influence.

Copyright © 2003-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.