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Europe Divides Africa

British involvement in trade along the coast of western Africa continued through the 1860s. During the 1870s economic depression arrived in Europe, and the British became more concerned about their ability to trade internationally. Along West Africa's Gold Coast they bought out the last of the Dutch and Danish trading forts. And by 1874, with their trading monopoly they took control of an area about a 100 kilometers deep and 400 kilometers wide that became their colony, to be called Ghana.

Interested also in Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean, in 1875 the British government bought shares in the enterprise that was building the Suez Canal, shares that belonged to the Ottoman's viceroy to Egypt, Ismail Pasha. Pasha had borrowed from international bankers and had exhausted his credit, and in 1876 he declared Egypt as bankrupt. In response, Britain and France set up a Joint Control Board to regulate Egypt's economy, creating cost-saving measures for Egypt such as reducing the size of its army. Many Egyptian army officers lost their jobs – creating resentment among them toward the British and French.

Also 1875, the southeast of Africa was becoming the largest diamond producing area in the world. Company-owned mines were replacing individual diggers, and the companies were employing black migrant labor. These miners were coming from surrounding kingdoms and earning enough money to buy guns, which they took with them back to their tribal areas. They were becoming better armed their perennial conflicts with their Boer neighbors.

Financial mismanagement bankrupted the Boer government in the Transvaal (in existence since 1852). A tribe that had become better-armed drove the Boers out of their territory. Another tribe that had become better-armed — the Xhosa — were eager to regain lost lands, and they joined the attacks against the whites.

For the Boers, the Zulu kingdom was also a threat. The British promised the Boers to rid them of the Zulu menace and to put their territory back on a sound financial footing. Assuming the Boers would accept it, Britain went ahead and annexed the Boer republic, in 1877. The British asked the king of the Zulus to disband his army. This didn't happen and the British advanced into Zulu territory where they were defeated. In the Anglo-Zulu War from January to July 1879 British firepower won. This was followed in 1881 by the Boers fighting the British in a three-month war, the First Anglo-Boer War, A British force of less than 2,000 suffered more than 700 casualties, including 408 killed, and Britain decided to leave the Boers with their independent republic.

British Troops into Egypt

Meanwhile, the British had to deal with Egyptian hostility. In Alexandria, people rioted and killed approximately 50 Europeans. British ships came and bombarded coastal Alexandria's forts. Gladstone believed in peace and was unenthusiastic about empire, but he felt compelled to quell the disorder. The British supported Ottoman rule in Egypt and sent a force of 24,000 against the nationalist rebels, defeating them in September at the Battle of Tell al-Kabir. Britain was concerned about the Suez Canal and stationed troops there. And Queen Victoria wanted to protect Christians in Egypt. Exercising her power to consult with and advise her government, she favored keeping troops in Egypt. The British re-established the power of Ottoman viceroy to Egypt and they made themselves responsible for Egypt's external relations. As Egyptians saw it, their country had become an economic colony, totally dependent upon the import of British manufactured goods and the export of its raw cotton.

The Sudan was nominally a part of Egypt, and there, at Khartoum, Muhammad Ahmad led a pan-Islamic rebellion amid cries for war against infidels. He proclaimed himself the Mahdi (Messiah) – a person who was to rid the world of evil. Gladstone ordered Egyptian forces in the Sudan to withdraw, and he sent a British force to supervise the evacuation. Gordon arrived at Khartoum in February 1884 and took charge of 2,500 women and children and the sick and wounded, but before he could evacuate them, Ahmad's force surrounded the city. After ten months, Gladstone's government sent a relief column, but it arrived 48 hours after Ahmad's forces had overrun Gordon's position, leaving Gordon dead and the British public angry and humiliated.

South of Sudan (today Uganda), the King Mutesa of Baganda had feared attacks, and wanting British military assistance he agreed to a British proposal to allow Christian missionaries. The missionaries from Britain were followed in 1879 by French Roman Catholic missionaries. 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 Partitioning of Africa

Belgium's Leopold II (r. 1865-1909), a constitutional monarch, is quoted by John P. McKay as saying in 1861:
Steam and electricity have annihilated distance, and all the non-appropriated lands on the surface of the glove can become the field of our operations and of our success.

King Leopold was interested in acquiring a colony for Belgium, describing it, as did the French regarding Algeria, as a civilizing mission. Liberals were in power in Parliament and lacked interest, and Leopold pursued the matter individually. There was the International Congo Society which had economic goals. Leopold bought off its investors portrayed the society as a philanthropic front.

French intelligence discovered Leopold's plan for the Congo, and in 1881 the French raised their flag over the newly founded a Brazzaville, on the Congo River, where a local king had chosen to add to his security by joining the French Empire.

Hoping to squelch conflict, King Leopold of Belgium convinced France and Germany that common trade in Africa was in the interest of all three countries. Supported by the British and Portugal, Germany's chancellor, Bismarck, called on representatives of thirteen European nations as well as the United States to confer in Berlin, and in 1884-85 they discussed the partitioning of Sub-Saharan Africa.

German business interests had expanded into Africa, and Germany took as "protectorates" territory to be known as German East Africa (today Burundi, Rwanda, and the mainland part of Tanzania). The Germans took what became German South West Africa (today Namibia), and claimed control over Togoland and Kamerun, parts of what today are Gabon, the Congo, the Central African Republic, and southwestern parts of Chad). The British expressed their interest in territories in south-central Africa, in the south from what had been Boer territory northward to the Sudan.

In 1888 the British businessman and mining magnate, Cecil Rhodes, tricked a Ndebele (Zulu) chieftain, Lobengula, into allowing him to take "whatever action" was necessary to exploit the minerals in his kingdom. Resisting Ndebele warriors suffered heavy losses in 1893 against British forces and their Maxim gun (the first recoil-operated machine gun), and by 1897 the white colonists were settling successfully in the territory to be known as Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe).

The British saw the area to be called Kenya, on the east coast, as a route inland and north to Uganda. Britain declared Uganda a protectorate in 1894. On the coast the British faced fought the Kikuyu (the largest ethnic group in Kenya) and a rebellion by Swahili Africans and Arabs — the Mazrui rebellion. The rebellion took nine months to crush, the British using troops from India. Britain declared Kenya a protectorate and imported Arabs from Zanzibar and Oman to positions of power along the Kenyan coast.


Britain renounced all claims to Madagascar in favor of France. The French had invaded Madagascar back in 1883. Following the approval of Britain and other powers, France expanded across the island, and in 1897 France's Parliament voted to annex the island as a colony.

Second Boer War

Among the British was interest in a connection of colonies from the cape in the south to north in Egypt (a Cape to Cairo). There was a push for political rights for those British who had entered the Boer territory in search of gold, and this heightened tensions between the British and the Boers. The Boers of the Transvaal were planning to defend themselves by linking with German Southwest Africa, and the British wanted to prevent this. Seeing war coming, the Boers attacked first, with some success, against Britain's colony of Natal and into Cape Colony.

The British sent around 350,000 volunteers to fight the Boers, while the Boers had no more than 40,000 men under arms at any one time. More than 5,400 foreign volunteers were to fight for the Boers. The British public supported their troops, with much singing of "Britannia Rules the Waves." Those distributing leaflets opposing the war found overwhelming hostility.

The British managed to defeat the Boers' regular military units. The Boers resorted to guerrilla warfare. Britain sent General Kitchener from Egypt southward against the Boers. He built defensive block houses to protect rail lines. He strung barbed wire. He removed Boer women and children from their farms, and he began systematic drives against one small section of Boer country at a time. He created concentration camps and rounded up Boer women and children as a way of combating the Boers. Deaths from poor sanitation and disease in the concentration camps killed around 20,000. Indignation arose around the globe.

The Boers surrendered unconditionally in May 1902. The British had lost 5,744 dead from combat, 22,829 wounded, and thousands of British soldiers had died from disease. More than 7,000 Boers are reported to have died in combat.

CONTINUE READING: Range Wars, Gold, and Ameican Indians

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