The “scramble for Africa”, the time of rapid British expansion, was the time that powers of Europe were carving up the continent, and Britain wanted – needed – a share. The British Empire was magnificent, spanning a third of the globe in its prime, so that the sun would “never set” upon it. From 1868, but primarily in the 1880s, there was a shift from informal to formal empire and humanitarian motives are merely one reason behind this change, with others being economic, strategic and political. Involved in this shift was aggression, territorial control and a colonial reliance on Britain.
Economic1882 saw the British occupation of Egypt. The second half of Palmerston’s statement (1860) was, “We wish to trade with Egypt.” As well as protecting the financial investment in the Canal, trade in Egypt was vital to the British economy, specifically, the high quality and highly sought after cotton which was produced. In West Africa, particularly in Nigeria, trade was crucial.
The goods purchased included the much sought after palm oil which was used as an industrial lubricant (which would fuel production back home in the “workshop of the world”) and it was a base for soap and candles. Britain had to protect Nigeria against France, Germany and Belgium’s expansionism in the region. France had a base in Senegal and wanted to develop a West African Empire dominating inland trade. This threatened important trade along the river Niger. In 1885, Belgium set up the Congo Free State which was the key to the rubber trade and in 1884 Germany conquered Togoland and the Cameroons. Although in 1885 at the Berlin conference, free trade was declared in Congo basin, maintaining economic supremacy remained o the British agenda. East Africa held similar economic potential for development.
Zanzibar imported from Britain and India and its export trade was worth ï¿½2 million, including ivory, leather, textiles, brass and steel.StrategicEgypt in North Africa, along with Cape Colony in South Africa, was the main factor in Britain’s strategic motivation behind expansion. As Palmerston said in 1860, “what we wish about Egypt is that it should be attached to the Turkish Empire, which is security against it belonging to another European power”. In June 1882 there were Nationalist riots, and Britain invaded Egypt and crushed the revolts leaving the Turkish Empire as merely a figurehead. Britain wanted to protect the Turkish Empire in order to stop Egypt falling to other European powers, as an alliance with a country such as France (who held strong influence in Egypt upon the construction of the Canal) would threaten Britain, especially towards the end of the century when tensions were on the rise in Europe.
In 1869 the French constructed the Suez Canal, which halved the route to India, and the potential in this could not be denied. India was the jewel in the crown of the Empire.It is arguably the starting point for the formal colonisation in Africa, as Britain was opened up to the potential. Britain invested in Egypt and the Canal, so as not to be controlled by France – another important point in strategic motivation. In East Africa, Britain needed to resist the imbalance resulting from Germany’s expanding influence. Lord Salisbury was reluctant to establish formal British control and preferred diplomatic approach.
But there was interest from the French too, and in conjunction they threatened trade and placing naval bases on the coast which might threaten the routes to India & Far East. Otto von Bismarck announced the creation of German protectorate in E. Africa, intensifying British fear which was not resolved in 1886 despite the “East Africa for Britain and Germany”, which favoured German economic opportunities.PoliticalFrom 1880 until the turn of the century, 90% of Africa was taken under European control.
Britain had the largest share, 5 million square miles and they were followed by France (3.5 million square miles) with Germany, Italy, Belgium, Portugal and Spain portioning up the rest. With interest from countries spanning one continent in countries spanning another, the strong political motivation is clear. Gladstone, not openly anti-imperialist, favoured a policy of colonial self-defence.
Especially in the case of West Africa, it was an issue of international rivalry. In East Africa, 1888, Sir William MacKinnon launched the “Imperial British East Africa Company” which was backed by James Hutton (representing Machester’s cotton industry), Henry Younger (in breweries) and George Mackenzie (shipping). Pressure from this company established British presence in East Africa and resulted in expansion into Uganda, Kenya, Zanzibar and Somaliland. It was the strong feeling of the government that it was not their role to provide capital investment in economic enterprise, and there was reluctance in British political leaders to commit to formal occupation until initial stages were backed by economic aid from private groups.
In this way, political motivation was not the strongest factor in British expansion in Africa.Humanitarian ; MissionaryMissionary societies, closely linked with the church which was the centre of Victorian life, were partly responsible for British expansion into Africa. An example of a society is the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the London Missionary Society (established 1795), as the name suggests, their aim was to spread the Gospel of the Christian religion. An example of a missionary is Mary Slessor (1848ï¿½1915), who was keen to end tribal customs which she regarded as unchristian which included human sacrifice, slavery and brutality. When she died in 1915 she was given a magnificent funeral in London.
This was unusual for a working-class, otherwise ordinary woman (the typical status of a missionary), so her work was clearly influential and supported by the British and can be exemplified to prove missionary motives were key in why Britain expanded. A case in point is David Livingstone, and despite being the most famous missionary of the Great Century, eventually his charitable efforts became secondary to exploration.This example taints the idea that missionary motives were the most important reason, whilst still acknowledging that they were fairly importance, as Livingstone’s goal was to open up Africa through “Christianity, trade and civilization.” Contemporary evidence reveals an emphasis on humanitarian motives.
An example is Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “The White Man’s Burden” (1899), told of the moral obligation of the rich to help the poor. The poem also suggested that the black Africans were culturally and racially inferior to the white British whose moral duty or “burden” it was to instill Western culture and religion. This sense of European ascendancy, “cultural imperialism”, proves philanthropic motives were a very important reason, but were they the most important? When men like the 1890 Prime Minister of Cape Colony, founder of South Rhodesia and overall ruthless imperialist Cecil Rhodes believed in “bringing the whole uncivilized world under British rule” (1876) it is easy to believe so.ConclusionMissionary motives were undeniably a key factor in British Expansion in Africa, but they were not the most important reason. In many cases, missionaries in Africa sought not only to Christianize natives, but to Europeanize them through dress and culture ï¿½ a political statement of power