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The Scramble for Africa at the end of the
nineteenth century, and going into the beginning of the twentieth century,
involved the European world powers colonising African countries. This was with
the intention to secure resources as a way of pursuing their ongoing
international rivalries with one another.1
This scramble was one of rapidness and determination and was very much inspired
by the economic, social and military evolution that Europe was going through. This
essay will explore into further detail behind the main reasons behind the
Scramble for Africa, and the impact this had on the world as a definitive


One of the main reasons behind the
Scramble for Africa was the balance of power between countries and the battle
to be one of the ‘great powers.’ The idea of colonising countries would lead to
a country being able to expand its global colony – an idea that the European
lead countries believed would be the best way to become the greatest of the
‘great powers.’ The scramble for Africa upset the current balance of power that
had previously existed in Europe, and in turn, created a chain reaction of the
European powers competing for new colonies. The bigger the colony, the more
expansion of power the leaders could achieve. It was at the Berlin Conference
in 1944 that the decision to divide up Africa was made, and it was here that
the set of rules was conducted. The river Niger and Congo were to be free for
all to use, but protectorates could be claimed elsewhere. Each country had
different reasons to be interested in the continent of Africa, ranging from
economic to strategic conditions. European countries, such as Britain, France
and Germany were competing for global trade. Having control over certain parts
of Africa would enable them to gain advantages over one another. For instance,
Britain wanted to have control over the Suez Canal as a means of transporting
goods as part of the trade route to India.2 Doing
this would allow for it to have more power in comparison to other European
countries, who were also expanding into Africa. Being as industrialised as she
was, British shipping had a major benefit of the canal being opened. Between
1868 and 1874, the amount of tonnage entering British ports from Asia increased
by 178 percent, and by 1874, three-quarters
of the tons worth of produce passing through the canal was British.3 Having
shares in the Suez Canal made the trading route to India much easier, and
allowed for Britain to be able to control which trading ships could pass
through the canal and which ones could not – resulting in Britain’s grip on
power becoming stronger in this way.


Other European countries, such as Germany, were determined to make their
new unified country an expanding empire as well, and through the leadership of
Bismarck, Germany began to expand out into the African continent and take
control. The Berlin Conference could be seen as a manoeuvre in European
diplomacy, with Bismarck purely using the Congo question as a pawn in his game
for colonial expansion.4 Germany’s
main reasoning behind her expansion into Africa was to regain its status as a
‘great power’ and to do this meant to
expand its global colony. South West Africa became one part of Africa that
Germany annexed, although it was seen to have no economic or strategic value;
but it was destined for German factories to be built upon. Germany as a country
was divided – some believed that she was not destined for overseas adventures,
whilst others believed that the next step was to establish Germany as a world
power.5 It
was here that the scramble for Africa became an important role in Germany’s
search for dominance.

1 Getachew
Mengistie, ‘Geographical Indications and the Scramble for Africa’, African journal of international and
comparative law, vol. 25 (2017).

‘Scramble for Africa: How the African continent
became divided’,

3 Nikki
Christie, Brendan Christie and Adam Kidson, Britain:
losing and gaining an empire, 1763-1914, (Pearson Education: 2016).

4 M. E. Chamberlain, The Scramble for Africa, (Taylor and
Francis: 2010).

5 M. E. Chamberlain, The Scramble for Africa, (Taylor and
Francis: 2010).

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