A History of Africa
Chapter 7: THE DARK CONTINENT PARTITIONED, PART II
1795 to 1914
This chapter is divided into two parts, which cover the following topics:
The Quest for the Source of the Nile
Meanwhile to the north, other Europeans were trying to complete the charting of the Nile. The Blue Nile had been explored in the eighteenth century by James Bruce (1768-73, see footnote #9), but because the White Nile was longer and more challenging, the place where it began would be seen as the real source of the river system. We already saw how Mohammed Ali's troops led the way in exploring the White Nile; their expeditions had gone up the river to within a few hundred miles of where Ptolemy had placed the source--the East African lakes. In 1848 a German missionary, Johannes Rebmann, ventured inland from the port of Mombasa and discovered Mt. Kilimanjaro. A year later, another Mombasa-based missionary, Johann Ludwig Krapf, discovered Mt. Kenya. Both mountains had white peaks, and when these two explorers reported their find to the Royal Geographical Society in London, nobody believed them, for how could snow exist this close to the equator? Krapf also learned from Arab caravans that if he had continued west, he would have seen an inland sea and a mountain range. Could the source of the Nile be here?
To find out, the Royal Geographical Society sent two more explorers, Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke. Both were veterans of the British army in India. A talented writer and linguist, Burton spoke forty languages and dialects, and had made the first translations into English of such Oriental classics as The Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra. He also wrote travel accounts about several places supposedly off-limits to outsiders, like Kandahar, Mecca, Dahomey and Salt Lake City--and disturbed Victorian England by "going native" in all of them. By contrast, Speke, an experienced hunter who had seen adventure in Tibet, had a one-track mind: finding the source of the Nile was the only thing that interested him.
Their first attempt to explore the lakes started from Somalia in 1854. Burton became the first European to visit Harar, another city that non-Moslems were not permitted to enter. But right after Harar, the expedition came to a quick end, when Somali tribesmen attacked and seriously wounded both of them; Burton suffered a spear wound to the jaw that left him scarred for life. Neither was willing to give up, though. After recovering and serving in the Crimean War, they returned to Africa for another expedition (1857). This time they followed the slavers' route from Zanzibar to Ujiji, becoming the first Europeans to see Lake Tanganyika. However, they couldn't find any outlet to the lake, and its elevation was a bit too low to make it a credible candidate for the Nile's source. After inspecting the eastern shore, they headed north to check out rumors that another major lake existed, Lake Ukerewe. Halfway there Burton fell ill with a fever, and his legs swelled to the point that he couldn't walk. While he recuperated, Speke continued without him, found Ukerewe, and was instantly convinced that this was the source of the Nile. He stayed by the lake for three days, named it Lake Victoria in honor of Britain's queen, and rushed back to tell Burton. Burton, however, was not impressed; he still favored Lake Tanganyika as the source, and argued that Speke had not seen the Nile; in fact, he hadn't proven anything except that Lake Victoria was larger than expected. They quarreled about this all the way back to Zanzibar, and never got along well after that.
In England, Lake Victoria generated more excitement than Lake Tanganyika, so Speke was put in charge of a follow-up expedition. This time, instead of taking Burton, he brought another British army officer, James Augustus Grant. Returning to Africa in 1860, they explored the western shore of Lake Victoria, and ended up getting detained for four and a half months at the court of Buganda's King Mutesa. The young king admired Speke, loved to see him shoot, and made Speke teach him how to use firearms. Later Speke gave Mutesa a gun for a present, and the king responded with a shocking act of cruelty; first he tested it by shooting some cows, and then, as Speke described it in his journal: "The king now loaded one of the carbines I had given him with his own hands, and giving it full-cock to a page, told him to go out and shoot a man in the outer court." When not involved in demonstrations of marksmanship, Speke tried to convince Mutesa that he was not a full-blooded African but a descendant of King David through the royal family of Abyssinia, hoping that this would make Mutesa invite some missionaries to answer the spiritual questions this idea would generate.
Finally Speke and Grant left, and upon returning to Lake Victoria, they discovered an outlet to the lake, Ripon Falls. Speke was delighted; Lake Victoria was as big as he said it was, and he had no doubt that the river formed by the waterfall was the world's most famous river. All he had to do was follow the river north to a part of the Nile other Europeans had already seen, and he would be vindicated. Unfortunately he didn't keep good records as he did this--his sloppy numerical calculations suggested that the river actually flowed uphill--and he took a shortcut overland for several miles before returning to the Nile, leaving question marks around one part of the river's course. He hadn't even explored enough of Lake Victoria to be sure that the Nile didn't flow into it as well as out of it.
He reached known territory at Gondokoro, where he met Samuel and Henrietta Baker, two other explorers who had been tracing the White Nile by going upstream from Khartoum. He told the Bakers what he had seen, continued on to Cairo, and sent home a telegram that simply said, "The Nile is settled." Since it looked like Speke had taken care of the Nile for them, the Bakers explored the area west of Lake Victoria, where Speke had heard of another lake, Luta Ngize. They found this lake in 1864, renamed it Lake Albert, and found that Speke's Nile went through it, entering the lake from the northeast and leaving from the lake's northern tip. The Bakers didn't see the opposite shore of the lake, so if it ran farther south than Lake Victoria, and if other rivers flowed into it, Lake Albert would have a better claim as the source of the Nile. Too bad for Speke; his dispute with Burton wasn't over, and not long after that, he died in a hunting accident.
At Quelimane in the south, Livingstone showed up in 1858 with steamships and half a dozen British assistants, and this time he explored Lake Nyasa, until he concluded that it had nothing to do with other East African lakes, and that it was the same lake the Portuguese called Lake Maravi. He also went up the Zambezi to call on his Kololo friends again, and explored two small rivers near Lake Nyasa, the Shire and Ruvuma, only to find they were useless for transportation. The expedition ended when the British government recalled him in 1864, due to a lack of useful discoveries.
Back in England, however, the debates by Burton and Speke over the merits of Lakes Tanganyika and Victoria had raised the public's interest in Africa to an all-time high, so all Livingstone had to do to fund another expedition was announce that his goal would be to finish mapping the sources of the Nile. Arriving at Lake Nyasa in 1866, he had another look at that area before turning north to go to Lake Tanganyika. At Ujiji he found that the supplies left for him there had been stolen, so he went to the area west of the lake and inspected a northward-flowing river, the Lualaba, which he thought could be the uppermost stretch of the White Nile on its way to Lake Albert. In doing so he lost contact with civilization, and nothing was heard from him for years. Had Africa claimed him, or had he solved the continent's oldest mystery? The newspapers had to know.
The New York Herald met this challenge by sending a reporter, Henry Morton Stanley. At the head of 2,000 men, he set out from Zanzibar toward Livingstone's suspected whereabouts in March 1871. On the way Stanley ruthlessly crushed all opposition from the natives; he believed this was critical to his success, but the practice also tainted his reputation. After eight months he found Livingstone at Ujiji, resting from the cumulative effect of years of hardship and illness, and Stanley greeted him with one of history's most famous one-liners: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
Together, Stanley and Livingstone explored Lake Tanganyika and found that it only had one outlet, a seasonal river called the Lukuga, which flowed west to join the Lualaba. After that Stanley was ready to go home, and returned to Zanzibar; Livingstone wouldn't go with him, because that meant leaving his beloved Africa. Instead, he headed to the upper reaches of the Lualaba basin; he now believed that the Lualaba was the Congo, not the Nile, but he still wanted to find the source of it. It was among the small lakes southwest of Lake Tanganyika, at a spot not far from the present-day Congo-Zambia border, where he died (May 1, 1873). His African servants cut out his heart and buried it under a tree, and later sent the rest of his body to England, where it was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Stanley didn't feel the same way about Africa as Livingstone did; once he wrote, "I detest the land most heartily." Still, he had made a career of exploring it, and Livingstone was his hero, so he committed himself to finish what Livingstone had started. One year after Livingstone's death, Stanley returned with the organization, resources and determination to solve all problems. Starting with 359 men, he circumnavigated Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika, finding no other outlets to those lakes besides Ripon Falls and the Lukuga, and discovering the Kagera River and Lake Edward in the process. Again Stanley employed brutal methods of dealing with African resistance, killing or wounding many natives with modern firepower. However, he was better behaved when he visited Buganda's King Mutesa. Mutesa was just as friendly to Stanley as he had been to Speke--but for different reasons. The Egyptians were getting closer (see the next section), and he feared that their ultimate goal was to come to Buganda and "eat the country." Mutesa wisely guessed that the only way he could stop the Baturki (his name for the Egyptians, meaning "Turks") was to increase the presence of non-Egyptians in his kingdom, and play the foreigners off against each other. For that reason, he told Stanley that he would like to see Christian missionaries settle in the country. Accordingly, Britain sent missionaries from the Church of England in 1877, and France sent Catholic missionaries in 1879; this was how the West got its foot in the door in the Interlacustrine region.
Next, in November 1876, Stanley began an adventure that boggles the imagination: he marched to the Lualaba River, launched his steel boat, the Lady Alice, and toiled and fought his way downstream, through nearly 2,000 miles of jungle and uncharted waters. On the way they had to deal with disease, desertions, a shortage of food, and attacks from unfriendly Africans, including an ambush by a tribe of cannibals. Twice they found their course interrupted by rapids. The first was a series of seven cataracts in Tippu Tib's territory, which Stanley named Stanley Falls. Then the river widened to form a lake called Stanley Pool, before meeting the second interruption, a string of thirty-two cataracts that Stanley named Livingstone Falls. They had to make a laborious portage around each obstacle. Finally, Stanley and 108 survivors reached the Atlantic in August 1877. This proved to all skeptics that Speke had been right about Lake Victoria, and Livingstone had been right about the Lualaba being part of the Congo.
The idea of digging a canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea had been bouncing around at least since Napoleon's day; Mohammed Ali refused to allow it because he correctly guessed that if such a canal was dug, a European power with a strong navy would try to take control of it. The job of digging it took ten years (1859-69), and was one of the greatest engineering achievements of the nineteenth century. For more details on the project, see Chapter 14 of my Near Eastern history.
By the time the Suez Canal was finished, Ismail, a son of the late Ibrahim Pasha, had succeeded Sa'id as khedive. Ismail had Mohammed Ali's vision but not his discipline or judgment. He wanted Egypt to catch up with the West, and had all kinds of ideas on how to do that: schools, telegraph lines, factories, etc. For example, he let the British build the first railway in Africa, from Cairo to Alexandria.
The building of the Suez Canal greatly increased European interest in the Red Sea, a part of the world they had not given much attention to since 1500. For a start, now that Western ships would be regularly sailing here, they would need places to refuel. The British built a coaling station for this purpose when they occupied Aden in 1839; now the other European powers needed them too, so the French built one at Obok, near the southern entrance to the Red Sea (1862), and the Italians built one at Aseb, in Eritrea (1869). What the West didn't realize was that the canal also speeded up the development of Asian nationalism, from India to the Philippines, now that it became feasible for well-to-do families in Asian colonies to send their sons to Europe to complete their education.
Thousands of Europeans came to Egypt in the wake of the Suez Canal's opening. Most were looking for opportunities to open businesses, while Thomas Cook, the owner of luxury steamers, launched Egypt's modern tourist industry by taking Westerners up the Nile to places like Luxor. In fact, the canal was such a success that Ismail proudly declared, "My country is no longer in Africa; we are now part of Europe."
Ismail's most ambitious plan was to resume the expansion into equatorial Africa. With a fleet of steamships in the Nile, and railroad tracks to carry cargoes around the cataracts, he reasoned, all the ivory currently going to Zanzibar would be sent to Cairo instead, because transport in that direction would be faster and cheaper. The land beyond the Sudd (southern Sudan and northern Uganda) was organized into a new province called Equatoria, and Samuel Baker, the explorer, was hired to be its first governor in 1869. In the Red Sea, he annexed the Turkish ports at Suakin on the Sudanese coast, and Massawa in Eritrea (1865).(18) Five years later the Egyptian flag went up at Bulhar and Berbera, on the Somali side of the Gulf of Aden; in 1875 Ismail established garrisons at Zeila and Harar. To the west, Ismail made a deal with Zubayr Rahama Pasha, an Egyptian slaver who had just conquered Darfur with a private army, allowing him to add Darfur to the Egyptian empire (1874). Then in 1875 and 1876 Ismail launched three invasions of Abyssinia, two from Sudan and one from Somalia, the goal being to conquer the rest of the Horn of Africa. Instead, to his surprise, Abyssinia's King John IV defeated all of them, and Egypt's winning streak, now seventy years old, came to a sudden, crashing end.
Africa before the "scramble" (see below). The purple area includes Mohammed Ali's Egypt-based empire.
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What happened? Ismail had been an irresponsible spender, driving into the ground a government that had been running on deficit spending since Mohammed Ali's day. He seemed to think that you could solve any problem by throwing enough money at it; this may work if you're a rich man and the problems involve your family and friends, but it's no way to run a country (that's why governments have budgets). Whenever he got a new idea, which as we saw happened very often, he spent ridiculous sums on it; for example, he paid Baker a salary of £10,000 a year, more than half of what the president of the United States was earning at that time. To make the payments on his debts in 1875, he had to sell his controlling share of stock in the company controlling his best moneymaking idea, the Suez Canal, just as the canal was beginning to bring in a profit. Benjamin Disraeli, the British prime minister, was the one who bought the stock, so in one stroke Britain got control of the canal.
Selling out only proved to be a short-term solution to the problem. By 1879 the Egyptian treasury was bankrupt, to the point that the Europeans felt that they had to get involved if they were ever going to get back the money they lent. At their suggestion, the Ottoman sultan, Abdul Hamid II, intervened to remove Ismail and replace him with his son, Tewfik; a European-run committee was set up to run Egypt's finances, and European financial experts took seats in Tewfik's cabinet.
The measures introduced by the advisors to straighten out the economy forced Tewfik to tighten his belt, but the group most affected was the army; many officers saw their pay cut in half. They joined forces with liberal politicians to form a nationalist movement, and forced the khedive to set up a new government, which made the nationalist leader, Colonel Ahmed Arabi, war minister and concentrated political power in his hands. In 1882 Britain and France sent warships to protect European interests (which mainly involved fears that Arabi would stop making payments on the national debt); a violent anti-European riot broke out in Alexandria, and Britain responded with an invasion that quickly defeated the nationalists and occupied both Alexandria and Cairo. France was supposed to send troops as well, but at the moment when they needed to be in Egypt, the French were busy dealing with crises in Tunisia and Vietnam. Thus, the British became the sole occupying power, and ended up staying in Egypt for more than seventy years, to keep the Suez Canal out of the hands of the nationalists. The family of Mohammed Ali continued to sit on a throne in Cairo, but they saw the queen of England replace the Turkish sultan as their ultimate overlord. Of course the French, who had expected Egypt to eventually become part of France, were furious, but since the British were no longer their enemies, there wasn't really anything they could do about it.
Charles "Chinese" Gordon, a British general who served in China before coming to Africa, had replaced Baker as governor of Equatoria in 1873. Four years later the khedive had promoted him to manage all of the Sudan, and he used this position to mend relations between Egypt and Abyssinia, improve communications and exploitation of natural resources, and to do what he could to stop the slave trade. However, the population did not appreciate having a European in charge; many, in fact, saw Gordon as a latter-day Crusader, trying to use good works to convert them to Christianity. Of course the Mahdi's followers played on this resentment. Realizing that most of the northern Sudan had gone over to the Mahdi, London ordered Gordon to first fall back on Khartoum, and then evacuate the Sudan completely. Instead, Khartoum came under siege; Gordon requested permission to use the forces of Zubayr Rahama Pasha, but the British government refused, seeing the ex-slaver's involvement as too controversial. Finally an expeditionary force was sent to rescue Gordon, but it arrived too late; two days before it reached Khartoum, the Mahdi captured the city and killed all the defenders, including Gordon (January 26, 1885).(19) In June the Mahdi himself died of typhus, and was succeeded by his general, Abdullah ibn Muhammad (Abdallahi for short). Abdallahi ruled for thirteen years, called himself the khalifa (caliph, from the Arabic word for successor), and set up a secular government, rather than create the spiritual society the Mahdi had in mind. The British stayed away at this stage, because they felt they must first put Egypt's financial house in order, and while they defeated an invasion from the south in 1889, they didn't want to overextend themselves by going into the Sudan without the Egyptians.
In the first half of the century, the Abyssinian monarchs tried to keep up with the West, buying firearms and permitting trade when they weren't busy fighting rivals. Reunification began under Kassa Haylu, a usurper from a northwestern tribe who became ruler of Tigre in 1853, defeated Amhara, Shoa and the Galla, captured Gonder, and persuaded the Church to crown him emperor at Axum, the ancient capital, in 1855. From that time onward he called himself Tewoderos (Theodore) II, in order to fulfill a prophecy that a ruler by that name would start a golden age. Being both ruthless and pious, he devoted his reign to restoring the Abyssinian nation; he invited European craftsmen to help modernize the country, and did much to reduce the power of the local barons, but he was also subject to fits of madness, and that eventually led to his undoing. In 1867 he sent a letter to Queen Victoria, asking for a military alliance. The letter went unanswered, and when the local British consul, Captain Charles Cameron, returned from a trip to Egypt, the enraged Theodore locked him up in the fortress at Magdala, his capital, and declared: "Your queen can give you orders to visit my enemies, and then to return to Massawa, but she cannot return a civil answer to my letter to her. You shall not leave till that answer comes."
Theodore got a reaction, but not the kind he expected. When the British press published Captain Cameron's letters, and reported that women and children were also being held hostage, it caused too much of a sensation to ignore. A force of 13,000 soldiers, plus laborers, camels and even elephants, was dispatched from Bombay, India, and it arrived at Massawa in January 1868. It took two and a half months for them to march across 400 miles of very rugged terrain, building a railway as they went, to reach Magdala. On the approach road to the fortress, Theodore attacked the intruders, and was beaten badly; the British casualties were none killed and only 29 wounded. Then Theodore released the hostages unarmed, and shot himself to avoid surrendering; ironically, the weapon he committed suicide with was a pistol Queen Victoria had sent him as a gift!
Abyssinia descended into chaos as the British returned to India. The next king, Takla Giyorgis (George) II, lasted only three years (1868-71) before he was deposed by another lord of Tigre, Kassai. As King Yohannes (John) IV, he resumed the unification policy of Theodore, just in time to stop the Egyptian invasions mentioned previously. However, Egypt was able to put a blockade on Abyssinia because it still controlled most of the nearby ports, and John faced a tough challenge in the kingdom of Shoa. Two previous kings, Sahle Selassie and Haile Malakot, had likewise armed their soldiers with whatever Western armaments they could get, and started expanding out of the Abyssinian highlands. Haile Malakot was succeeded by his son Menelik in 1855, and he gave John such a hard time that in 1878 they reached an agreement that gave the daughter of Menelik to John's son, and declared Menelik to be John's successor. Still, the two barely got along after that, until 1889, when John defeated the Mahdists at Gallabat, only to die the following night from a stray bullet that hit him in the battle. Menelik proclaimed himself emperor immediately, and this time he didn't have to fight to keep his throne; the other provinces, including Gonder, submitted willingly. The capital of Shoa, Addis Ababa, now became the capital of all Abyssinia.
Menelik II (1889-1913) completed the tasks his predecessors had started, so now we regard him as the founder of modern Ethiopia. When he got done uniting the provinces, he expanded Abyssinia's borders south and east, into lands belonging to the pagan Galla and Moslem Somali.(20) This more than doubled the size of the country, and gave him access to more ivory, allowing him to buy more arms from the West (usually France and Italy at this point). Thus, he not only modernized the country in time to save it from the partition of Africa; he even took part in it.
His reasons for doing this were obvious, for the Italians had picked the Horn of Africa to be their sphere of influence. Not united as a nation in Europe until 1860, the Italians were well behind Britain and France in the race for overseas colonies, so they took care to pick their targets in places where the British and French were not yet active. In the early 1880s they completed the conquest of Eritrea, and threw back a Mahdist invasion from Sudan in 1893; in 1889 the British gave them permission to take the part of Somalia between Cape Gardafui and the Juba river, territory previously claimed by Zanzibar; this became Italian Somaliland, with its capital at Mogadishu. In 1888 an army of 20,000 Italians came into contact with an Abyssinian army, but they chose to negotiate instead of fight. The result was the Treaty of Wichale in 1889, in which Menelik recognized Italy's "special interest" in his country.
By this time the "scramble for Africa" (see below) was underway; the British claimed the part of Somalia facing the Gulf of Aden, since this had been most recently held by Egypt, and the French founded the port of Djibouti, right at the Bab el Mandeb. No longer satisfied with just Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, the Italians decided they wanted the land in-between, too. About this time, Menelik renounced the treaty when he found out there were two differently worded versions of it; the version written in Italian placed Abyssinia under Italian domination, while the version written in Amharic did not. The Italians declared war and invaded Abyssinia in 1896, but only got as far as Adowa before Menelik defeated them. Instead of a backward rabble of warriors with spears, the Italians met the most modern army in Africa. It also was almost three times larger; Menelik was able to mobilize 100,000 men to oppose 17,000 Italians and an equal number of Eritrean auxiliaries. Finally, the Italians tried to gain surprise by attacking early on a Sunday morning, without realizing that their opponents got up to attend a Coptic mass at 4:00 A.M.! As a result, Menelik was ready first, and he attacked at 5:30 A.M.. 70 percent of the Italians were killed, wounded or captured, and Italy was forced to give up its claim to be Abyssinia's protecting power. Finally, the Abyssinians captured 10,000 abandoned Italian rifles, a move which allowed them to bring their army up to date even by European standards. Menelik's astonishing victory meant that Abyssinia would be the only country in Africa besides Liberia to keep its independence in the early twentieth century.
Menelik II was the first African head of state to be photographed.
Before we go on, it is worth remembering that nobody is perfect, and Menelik had two amusing quirks. First, when he heard about the invention of the electric chair in 1890, Menelik decided that he could use it in his modernization program, and ordered three electric chairs from the American manufacturer. When the chairs arrived and were unpacked, Menelik was horrified to learn they wouldn't work, because his country did not yet have electricity. Not one to waste an investment, he converted one of the chairs to use as his throne (and no, his reign didn't end when somebody threw the switch!).
The other idiosyncrasy was that Menelik took an Old Testament verse about eating scriptures literally, and would tear out and eat a page of the Bible whenever he felt sick.(21) One day he choked to death from trying to eat both 1 and 2 Kings in one sitting.
Several factors motivated them to do this. First and foremost was Western confidence. The 99 years between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I (1815-1914) were a time of rapid progress, in industry, science, and just about everything else. Never before--and never again--were Europeans and Americans as optimistic about the future as they were at this time. Achievements like the Suez Canal, the 1851 World's Fair, and the Eiffel Tower convinced many that some day they would learn how to do anything. In the field of medicine, the causes of most infectious and deficiency-related diseases had been discovered (not to mention cures for several), so while Africa's diseases were still dangerous, visitors no longer had to be in mortal fear of them. In addition, the factories of the West needed raw materials that only undeveloped countries could supply, and increasing concern for human rights persuaded enlightened Westerners that abolishing slavery was not enough; they needed to rule the rest of the world long enough to teach its inhabitants how to rule themselves (the so-called "White Man's Burden"). This combination of idealism and imperialism would produce very different results from what early humanitarians like David Livingstone had in mind.
Imperialist activity took place in southernmost Africa before it did in the rest of the continent, because there the British found ways to make easy money, and the temptation to change existing borders became irresistible. In 1867 the world's largest source of diamonds was discovered in a volcanic plug at Kimberley, in Griqualand. Since Kimberley was on the border between the Cape Colony and the Orange Free State, the British simply moved in and took it, in 1873. Nearby, King Moshoeshoe's Basutoland had a border dispute with the Orange Free State, and wasn't doing very well, so in 1868 Moshoeshoe submitted to the British to keep from losing the land he had left. Becoming a British protectorate may sound bad, but even here Moshoeshoe lucked out; his people would do better than those Africans who came under direct British rule, escaping the official discrimination that marked South Africa in the twentieth century. In 1878 Britain annexed Walvis Bay, on the otherwise barren coast of Southwest Africa.
In 1877 the Transvaal submitted to British rule as well, because their government was bankrupt and unstable. But by taking the Boers under wing, the British also acquired their feud with the nearest tribes. The Xhosa had recovered enough to stage one more rebellion (the Ninth Kaffir War, 1877-78), but this was put down without too much fuss. Far more threatening, however, were the Zulus. When the current Zulu king, Cetshwayo, rejected a British demand to stop arming, a British expeditionary force marched into northern Natal, in January 1879.
The British commander, Lord Chelmsford, had the supreme confidence of Victorian-era England, and obviously had not learned anything from the experiences of other Europeans who had faced the Zulus. The force was split into small units that could be easily isolated, they did not prepare a defensive laager properly when they heard the Zulus were coming, and the men were armed with Martini-Henry rifles. The Martini-Henry had a range of 1,500 yards, and its large caliber bullets did fearful damage (targets that weren't killed were always maimed for life), but it was also a single-shot weapon, no longer appropriate for use against a more numerous opponent. At Isandhlwana a Zulu force of 20,000 enveloped 1,800 British soldiers, using the charging-bull formation that had worked so well for Shaka, and once the defenders ran out of ammunition, the Zulus killed them all. It was the most publicized defeat in British colonial history, but the Zulus had also suffered 2,000 killed and 2,000 wounded, more than they could afford. For the Zulus, Isandhlwana plays the same role as Custer's Last Stand played for the American Indian--a final victory before the downfall.
4,000 men--the "loins" of Cetshwayo's impi--continued on from Isandhlwana to Rorke's Drift, six miles away. Here the British had converted two farmhouses into a hospital and supply station. There were 139 soldiers here, and of the hundred that were able to fight, only eighty were trained riflemen. Logically, they should have been slaughtered like their comrades at Isandhlwana. But because they couldn't run away, they spent the few hours they had building two barricades between the buildings with biscuit boxes and mealie bags. Remarkably, the defenders, led by two inexperienced junior officers, did everything right. When the Zulus showed up, they fired with a discipline and accuracy that kept most of them from scaling the makeshift barriers, and stayed close enough together to prevent any Zulus from sneaking in between them. The siege went on for sixteen hours (2:30 P.M. on January 22 to 7:00 A.M. on January 23) before the exhausted Zulus withdrew. The British had lost fifteen dead and twelve wounded, none of them casualties of Zulu spears (the Zulus had captured plenty of rifles and ammunition at Isandhlwana, but couldn't train themselves to use them effectively in less than one day). Estimates of Zulu casualties were 400 to 800 dead, and that is not counting those who may have died more than a few miles from Rorke's Drift.
After Rorke's Drift everything favored the British. Reinforcements arrived at Durban, and British technology and military training prevailed over native numbers and courage. Apparently Cetshwayo seemed to think that the British were just another tribe, and they would make peace after suffering a defeat on the battlefield. He never realized that Durban (and for that matter Cape Town) were mere outposts of a vast empire that when aroused, could send another army in a few weeks. Lord Chelmsford partially redeemed himself by winning every subsequent battle, the main ones being at Kambula (March 29), Gingindhlovu (April 2), and finally Ulundi (the Zulu capital, July 4).(22) Cetshwayo was captured in August, and the British, not really wanting to rule the Zulu territory directly, broke up his kingdom into thirteen weak ministates. In 1883 a civil war broke out between the Zulu chiefs; Cetshwayo was killed, and his son Dinuzulu only managed to win after the Boers gave him their support, in exchange for the northwestern third of Zululand (the Zulus living in this area immediately became tenant laborers on the new white-run farms). Then in 1887 the British annexed the rest of Zululand, but prohibited white settlement until 1897, when it became part of the Natal colony.
Though the British won the Zulu War, their initial defeat encouraged the Transvaal Boers to make a bid at regaining their independence. In December 1880 they ambushed and defeated the only British battalion in the Transvaal, and two months later, they beat a second British battalion at Majuba Hill, near the border of Natal. London was in a conciliatory mood, and it agreed to give the Boers autonomy; they could run internal affairs, but Britain retained the right to control their dealings with foreigners and African tribes.
Active European involvement in the Congo was started not by a nation but by two individuals, Henry Morton Stanley and King Leopold II of Belgium. Since his journey down the Congo River, Stanley had been arguing that the region he had explored was rich in resources, and the country that exploited those resources would become very rich indeed. He tried to sell his scheme to the British government, but Britain paid little attention, because it had so many opportunities in other places already. Leopold, however, saw the proposal differently. He had never been satisfied to simply rule Belgium ("I am King of a small country, and a small-minded people."), and ever since he became king in 1865, he had been looking for a way to get a piece of the overseas pie. The Belgian government refused to back his ideas, so in 1876 Leopold hosted an international conference in Brussels (August 1876), which he used to form an organization to promote humanitarian activities and scientific research in Africa. As president of this foundation, he could start building an African empire with himself, and not any national government, in charge of it. In Stanley he saw the agent he was looking for, and his charm worked with British indifference to persuade Stanley to accept employment with the Belgian king.
Stanley returned to Africa in August 1879. This time his main objective was to tame the Congo River, which he said "is and will be the grand highway of commerce to west central Africa." He did it by setting up trading stations along the river, and by building a road around Livingstone Falls. Over the next four years, he also negotiated more than 450 treaties with local chiefs, to create a common market that only traded with King Leopold's organization. At first this was called the Confederation of Free Negro Republics, and after 1885 the Congo Free State, but the truth was that Stanley was building a private kingdom for Leopold, not a new independent African state.(23)
Stanley's success prompted France's agent in the area, Count Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, an Italian-born French naval officer, to make a claim of his own. Since 1875 he had been exploring the lands of the Gaboon and Fang tribes, in modern-day Gabon. Then in 1879 he heard about Stanley, marched to the Congo, got Makoko, a chief on the north shore of Stanley Pool, to sign a treaty that put his land and people under French protection, and built a French base on the spot, which would eventually become the city of Brazzaville. He returned to France in 1882, and the French government was at first reluctant to officially claim the territory de Brazza had passed through--until news arrived of the British coup in Egypt. By the end of the year Paris had not only ratified de Brazza's treaty, but also sent him back to explore and claim more of the Congo basin for France.
With Leopold and the French dividing the middle of Africa between themselves, the Portuguese woke up from centuries of slumber, suddenly realizing that others were moving into lands they had claimed long ago, but never settled. Britain, getting jealous at French activity all over Africa's Atlantic coast, announced it would back Portugal's claim to the whole Congo basin in return for the right to trade freely there. And if those three nations and one king weren't enough, now Germany got involved in Africa. The Germans had stayed away in the 1870s because their chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, simply wasn't interested; he had everything he could want in Europe. However, once Britain and France started helping themselves to any piece of the non-Western world that caught their fancy, it became a matter of national honor for every first-rate nation to do the same. Bismarck couldn't ignore this, and he also realized that if he sent German soldiers overseas to blow off excess energy, he could keep them from trying to beat up European neighbors like the French. Thus, in the name of peace, from late 1883 to early 1885 he proclaimed protectorates over the four parts of Africa where German missionaries, scientists and merchants were most active: Togoland (modern Togo), Cameroon (Kamerun in German), Southwest Africa and the part of East Africa claimed by the Sultanate of Zanzibar. However, the boundaries of all four regions were ill-defined, especially East Africa, which included coastal Kenya (the British wanted Kenya because it was the closest maritime territory to the headwaters of the Nile). Because the British and Germans had stumbled into Africa without a clear strategy for conquest, and because spheres of influence were starting to overlap, there was now a real danger that two European armies clashing somewhere on the continent would start a war.
To keep this from happening, Bismarck invited everyone with an interest in Africa to attend a special conference in Berlin. Here in late 1884 and 1885, the nations of Europe reached agreements on who could have what in Africa. In most cases the decision was to give a piece of the hinterland to whoever controlled the nearest coast, since most of Africa's coastline had been claimed by now. However, an exception was made if occupying a territory would harm the interests of a neighboring colony (e.g., Kenya), and occupation of the coast was only recognized if the mother country had an administrative base there, thereby raising the cost to eliminate those who weren't serious about running a colony. The biggest winner was King Leopold; he only got a small bit of the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Congo, sandwiched between two areas claimed by Portugal, but managed to keep the lion's share of the interior for his Congo Free State. If there was a loser, it was the British; France expressed so much outrage over the British occupation of Egypt that Britain had to let the French have their way almost everywhere else, in order to get other nations like Germany to approve a continuation of Britain's "veiled protectorate" in Egypt. Consequently France got a free hand in most of West Africa, keeping the British from uniting their colonies at Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast, and Nigeria; the Congo was divided the way the French and Belgians liked it. Moreover, most of the continent, and not just the Congo basin, became a free trade zone.
Africa after the Berlin Congress. By now nearly all of the coast has been occupied by Europe.
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Cecil Rhodes first came to South Africa in 1870, at the age of seventeen, after a doctor treated him for tuberculosis and recommended that he move from England to a warmer climate. Here he stayed with his brother, and because diamonds had just been discovered at Kimberley, he became a diamond prospector. But he didn't just dig for gems; he found other ways to make money. He formed a partnership with another Englishman, Charles Rudd, and they gained control of the market in steam pumps, which were needed to keep mines from flooding. Then he invested in an ice-making machine that allowed the Kimberley saloons to serve cold drinks. Finally, Rhodes and Rudd bought the claims of destitute prospectors who had failed to find their fortunes in the blue rocks of Kimberley. This allowed them to form the De Beers Mining Company in 1880, which eventually took over all its major rivals and gained control of 90 percent of the world's diamond production.(24)
In 1881 Rhodes used his wealth to enter politics, winning a seat in the Cape Colony Parliament that he held for the rest of his life. From there he bought a controlling interest in several Cape newspapers and launched a scare campaign, warning that the Cape Colony would be in danger if the Germans or Boers occupied the lands immediately to the north. This prompted the British government to follow Livingstone's footsteps into Botswana and take the remaining unoccupied land south of the upper Zambezi River, forming the Bechuanaland protectorate in 1885.(25)
Meanwhile, from the Transvaal came a discovery that would change the balance of power. This was the mother lode of South Africa's gold, in the Witwatersrand highlands south of Pretoria. The big find was made in 1886, when a wandering prospector named George Harrison happened to kick a pebble out of the ground and noticed that it glittered. He took it home, washed it in a pan, and sure enough, there was gold in the rock. The local authorities let Harrison stake a claim in what they declared a public goldfield, and a tremendous gold rush began. A year later Johannesburg was founded on the site, and it became home for 10,000 fortune seekers, half of them white immigrants from five continents; by 1889 Johannesburg was the largest city in southern Africa. The Transvaal would now go from being the poorest white-run community in Africa to become the richest, and that gold would be used to finance the white supremacist regime of twentieth-century South Africa. However, Harrison, like so many prospectors, only got lucky once, and did not profit from all the activities which sprang up around him; he sold his claim for £15, and was subsequently eaten by a lion, never realizing how much he had changed everything.
Rhodes didn't wait to see what Paul Kruger, the president of the Transvaal, would do with his newfound wealth. Like many people at that time, he thought that "a second Rand" (an abbreviation of Witwatersrand) would be found north of the Limpopo River. In 1888 he got Lobengula, the chief of the Ndebele, to sign a treaty granting exclusive mining rights to the De Beers company, in return for a small monthly pension, a thousand rifles, and ten thousand rounds of ammunition. A year later he set up the British South Africa Company, and got a royal charter to exploit the lands of the Ndebele and their northern neighbors, the Shona; this included the right to make laws and use a police force in the area. Too late, Lobengula realized he had been ripped off; in 1889 he told a missionary, "Did you ever see a chameleon catch a fly? England is the chameleon and I am the fly."
Rhodes went on to become prime minister of the Cape Colony in 1890, and he sent an armed force to take control of the Zambezi valley. In Shona country they built an outpost named Salisbury (modern Harare), that would someday become the capital of Zimbabwe; then they crossed the Zambezi to occupy everything between that river and Lake Nyasa (modern Zambia and Malawi), except for the territory of Katanga, which was claimed by Leopold's Congo. The Ndebele resisted, and resumed their traditional raids on the Shona; in response, the invaders crushed them in a full-scale war (the Anglo-Matabele War, 1893-94). This whole area, previously called "Zambezia," now became the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. "Rhodesia" was derived from Rhodes, of course; this may be the only case where a corporate CEO got to name a country after himself.
Once it looked like southern Africa was in the bag, Salisbury took the next step in creating a string of British colonies that ran from Cape Town to Cairo. Claims in East Africa were still dangerously vague (a German entrepreneur named Carl Peters was signing treaties with the African chiefs around Lake Victoria at this time), and back in England, Sir Samuel Baker was making a powerful case for British domination of the entire upper Nile valley. If another European country reached the White Nile, Baker argued, it could use modern engineering techniques to divert the course of the river and ruin the lives of everyone downstream, especially in Egypt, and that could threaten the whole British Empire.(26) Accordingly, Salisbury began negotiating with Bismarck in 1886 to draw a clear boundary between what the British and the Germans could have. The treaty they signed in 1890 let the Germans keep the land between Lake Tanganyika and the Indian Ocean, while Germany recognized British claims to Zanzibar, Kenya, Uganda, Rhodesia, Bechuanaland and eastern Nigeria. This agreement worked because Bismarck and his successor, Georg Leo Caprivi, weren't really interested in building an African empire for Germany; what Germany wanted--and got--for all its concessions was the Caprivi strip, a narrow corridor of land connecting Southwest Africa with the Zambezi River (this allowed Germans to travel between Southwest Africa and German East Africa without going around the British-ruled Cape of Good Hope), and Heligoland, a tiny island in the North Sea that the British had held since 1815. Then Salisbury negotiated treaties with the Portuguese that established the present-day borders of Angola and Mozambique. In 1894 the British government formally declared a protectorate over Uganda, and one year later it authorized construction of the Uganda Railway, to connect Mombasa with Lake Victoria (it was completed in 1901). There were some revolts, mostly by the Swahili against the British and German intruders, but each of these was put down within a year. The longest rebellion took place in Uganda, and pitted the largely Christian, pro-European kingdom of Buganda against the pro-Moslem kingdom of Bunyoro; that lasted from 1894 to 1899 before Buganda and the British prevailed.
Meanwhile on the east coast, the sultan of Zanzibar died, and his cousin, Khalid bin Barghash, immediately took charge. However, the British preferred another candidate, Hamud bin Muhammed, and an 1886 treaty required any candidate for sultan to get the permission of the British consul before taking the throne. Khalid hadn't done this, so the British ordered him to leave his palace; instead, Khalid barricaded himself inside with guards loyal to him. Two days later (August 27, 1896), the British showed up with five warships, 150 marines and sailors, and 900 African soldiers, and began to bombard the palace. A royal yacht and two other Zanzibari boats were sunk, and the bombardment quickly took out the palace's gun battery. Either 38 or 45 minutes later, the shelling stopped as the pro-British Africans approached the palace, and it was all over. It doesn't matter which clock was accurate; the Anglo-Zanzibar War was the shortest war in history. An estimated 500 Zanzibaris were killed or wounded; the only British casualty was one seriously injured petty officer, who later recovered. Khalid went into exile, and Hamud was installed as the next sultan; however, he needed to find a new headquarters, because the palace and harem were so badly damaged from the bombardment that they had to be torn down.
From 1890 onward, the British (and soon other Europeans) had a devastating weapon that gave them an overwhelming advantage against all African opponents--the first true machine gun. Invented in 1884 by an American named Hiram Maxim, it used the energy from each bullet's recoil to eject an old cartridge and load the next bullet. Previous automatic-fire weapons fired from more than one barrel at the same time, or required the turning of a crank, like the Gatling gun. Unlike them, the Maxim gun, as it was called for a while, could keep on shooting until it ran out of bullets or jammed.
We saw how in the past Africans eagerly bought European-made guns, but didn't feel too threatened by them. The replacement of the musket with the rifle gave Europeans more of an advantage, but not enough for them to count on defeating a larger force (remember Isandhlwana). With the Maxim gun, however, all that changed. Its firepower was so much greater than all other weapons, that even the stupidest European commander could blast away hordes of natives. The British first used it in the Anglo-Matabele War; in an 1899 battle, 320 French soldiers armed with Maxim guns shredded an army of 12,000 in Chad. Because Western armies were not yet using it against each other, it would take until World War I for everyone to realize how much the machine gun had changed warfare. Still, the Europeans knew that they wouldn't lose any more battles in Africa. In 1898, after Maxim guns won the battle of Omdurman (see below), Hillaire Belloc wrote a couplet to keep up the morale of British soldiers, possibly the most unheroic verse of all time:
"Whatever happens, we have got
At the Berlin Congress, King Leopold II had talked about "civilizing" the Congo Free State, which listeners took to mean sending scientific expeditions, raising the standard of living among the natives, and fighting the Arab slavers that remained in the east. Instead Leopold did what he pleased, squeezing as much as he could from the Congo for his own personal gain. Instead of allowing free trade, he required that the natives trade only with his state agents or with his "concessions" (private companies that paid him 50 percent of their profits). Then he ordered the natives to hunt elephants for their ivory, mine copper or gather latex from rubber trees, hard work which paid a very minimal wage and forced men to be away from their families for up to twenty-five days out of every month. Failure to supply the quotas for rubber was punished with floggings, torture and death. A private army, called the Force Publique (public force), was established to combat slavery, but most of the time it was used as a goon squad, crushing any uprisings among the Congolese. When the level of unrest among natives who refused to work under these conditions got dangerously high, Leopold's regime started paying chiefs to supply "volunteer" workers, and either bought or took slaves from the slavers to use as workers or soldiers.
From 1892 to 1894, the Force Publique went on a campaign to drive all slavers out of the Congo. Tippu Tib, for example, had managed to get himself proclaimed Leopold's "governor" over Stanley Falls in 1887; now this improbable job was terminated, and Tippu Tib retired to Zanzibar. Of course Leopold described the campaign as a great humanitarian act, but his real purpose was to eliminate the competition and get more workers. At the same time, the invention of the inflatable tire caused world demand for rubber to skyrocket. This drove rubber prices upward, and the agents collecting rubber in the Congo reported returns as high as 700%, until the British cut into the market by harvesting their own rubber from trees planted in Malaya. Leopold responded by increasing the rubber "tax" from his subjects, which sparked more revolts, and the Force Publique crushed these by burning villages, cutting off the heads of uncooperative chiefs, and slaughtering the families of men who refused to gather rubber. Sometimes the soldiers were ordered to prove they had killed rebels by cutting off and bringing back their right hands; when the rebels got away, the soldiers might cut off the hands of live civilians, even children, to make sure the number of hands captured matched the number of bullets spent.
Leopold never visited his African domain, and tried to keep away visitors who might give a negative report of his regime. Still, scattered reports of atrocities came from missionaries working in the Congo basin. Then in the late 1890s, Edmund Morel, a young British shipping clerk, was sent to Belgium to supervise the loading and unloading of ships, and he made a terrible discovery; the ships coming from the Congo Free State brought tons of rubber, but the cargoes they carried back were mostly guns and bullets. From this he guessed that the Congolese were being forced at gunpoint to collect the rubber. Morel quit his shipping job in 1901, and as a newspaper reporter, began a campaign of speeches, and pamphlets against the abuses in the Congo. This prompted the British government to send a diplomat, Roger Casement, to the Congo to investigate conditions there. Casement's 1904 report verified the terrible conditions, and he joined Morel in founding the Congo Reform Association, the first major human rights organization of the twentieth century. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, wrote a book criticizing Leopold's regime, The Crime of the Congo, to help the Congo Reform Association. In the United States, Morel met with President Theodore Roosevelt and won the support of two celebrated writers, Booker T. Washington and Mark Twain. Washington wrote an article entitled Cruelty in Congo Country, which declared that "There was never anything in American slavery that could be compared to the barbarous conditions existing today in the Congo Free State." Mark Twain produced a grim satire, King Leopold's Soliloquy: A Defence of His Congo Rule, in which he imagined how the king would explain his actions:
"I have spent other millions on religion and art, and what do I get for it? Nothing. Not a compliment. These generosities are studiedly ignored, in print. In print I get nothing but slanders - and slanders again - and still slanders, and slanders on top of slanders! Grant them true, what of it? They are slanders all the same when uttered against a king."(27)
Most incriminating of all was Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902), a novel he wrote after he traveled in the Congo, to describe the horrors that he saw (the "hearts of darkness" were in those who permitted the killings and mutilations to take place). Leopold responded with a massive propaganda effort of his own, but stories like Heart of Darkness were too much even for the other colonial powers of the day, and public opinion turned against the king. The Belgian government ordered its own investigation, which confirmed the accounts of Casement and the missionaries. In 1908 Leopold was ordered to hand over the Congo Free State to the Belgian government (which renamed it the Belgian Congo), and he received a huge cash payout for "his great sacrifices made for the Congo." When Leopold died in 1909, the American poet Vachel Lindsay wrote an epitaph which recalled the hand-cutting atrocity:
"Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost
It is now estimated that between 5 and 15 million people perished while Leopold ran the Congo. Among colonial-era atrocities, this one was the most appalling, and keep in mind that Leopold had some tough competition; all European nations were guilty of abusing the people in their colonies. It also was the first genocide of the twentieth century. The worst abuses ended when the Belgian government took over, but life didn't get much better for the natives, because the land, along with its resources, remained in the hands of Europeans. Finally, Leopold managed to cover up evidence of the genocide by burning the Congo Free State archives, in both Belgium and the Congo, before he gave up control. Consequently the world forgot this dark episode in colonial history, until Adam Hochschild published a book on it, King Leopold's Ghost, in 1998.
As for the British, they hadn't gone as far because they were in the jungles along the coast, rather than the semiarid plains of the Sahel, and they were facing the most advanced of the "forest kingdoms" we discussed in the last chapter. There had been another war with the Ashanti in 1874, which saw the British retaliate for a previous raid on Elmina by burning Kumasi, but they did not occupy the kingdom. After two more short wars in the early 1890s, they returned, deported the last Ashanti king, Prempeh, and made the kingdom a protectorate; in 1901 they finished the job by turning the protectorate into a colony.(29)
The story of Nigeria's conquest is more complicated. Here, as in India and Rhodesia, merchants led the way. In 1879 a British merchant, George T. Goldie, organized the UAC (United Africa Company), which brought all British traders in Nigeria under one organization, and soon controlled the whole lower Niger River as well. The company was renamed the National African Company in 1882, and the Royal Niger Company in 1886; under the latter name it received a royal charter, meaning it would be defended by the British government and that it had the right to administer territories and make treaties with native chiefs. A matter of timing allowed these treaties to define Nigeria's borders; the Company signed a treaty with Sokoto just a few days before a German agent arrived (1884), and with Borgu, on the frontier of Dahomey, just a few days before a French officer got there (1894).
At the Congress of Berlin, Britain got Germany and France to recognize that the Niger delta was in Britain's sphere of influence; this was now called the Oil Rivers Protectorate (1885). From here and from Lagos, British forces went forth and conquered the native ministates one by one. In 1892 they marched on Ijebu, the only Yoruba state that would not allow missionaries to come in; with its fall, followed by the capture of Oyo in 1895, the Yoruba came under British rule.
The town of Brohimi, 150 miles from Lagos, provided two surprises when the British took it in 1894. Brohimi was surrounded by swamps and creeks, and had several strongpoints armed with well-placed cannon. Together these factors defeated the first force, requiring a second, larger force. When Brohimi was finally captured, the commanding admiral found at least 106 cannon, and reported that Nana, the local chief, had been preparing the defenses for months, maybe even years. In fact, he tried to learn as much as he could from the British before they became his enemies. The admiral also found a stockpile of 8,300 cases of imported European gin, for a total of 99,600 bottles. Chief Nana had not collected all this liquor to throw the world's biggest party--he did it because it was an outstanding growth investment. He had noticed that the price of gin went up every year, so by saving nearly a hundred thousand bottles of it, he showed he was a savvy investor!
Next on Britain's "to do" list was Benin. When he heard what happened to Brohimi, the oba of Benin, Ovonramwen, closed the markets under his control, thereby ending the shipments of palm oil and pepper from his neighborhood. Britain sent an embassy to negotiate a resumption of trade, and to persuade Benin to stop practicing slavery and human sacrifice. The leader of the embassy, a Captain Phillips, sent a letter ahead of him proposing a meeting, but the oba tried to postpone it, saying that he had just undergone the most important ritual of his people; it had left his body scarred, and for the well-being of himself and the kingdom, he must not come in contact with anything foreign for at least two months. But Phillips insisted that he could not wait for the king to heal up, because he had other duties in the Oil Rivers Protectorate, so he began his journey to Benin City anyway. On the way he met three representatives of the king, who requested that he at least wait two days so they could tell the oba to get ready for visitors. Again Phillips refused. When he arrived at the palace, the embassy was ambushed; seven of the nine Europeans, including Phillips, and most of their 200 African helpers were killed. Then the oba, afraid that the British would retaliate, did what kings of Benin had always done in tough times, sacrificing hundreds of human victims to persuade the gods to protect the city.
It didn't work. A British force of 1,500 men took only three weeks in February 1897 to fight their way to Benin City and sack the capital. When they arrived, they found the city a gory sepulcher, nearly deserted and littered with the bodies of sacrificial victims. The beautiful bronze plaques in the palace were covered with blood, but that didn't stop the soldiers from removing some 2,000 pieces of art, to take back to Britain as war trophies. The oba died in exile in 1914, but later on his son was allowed to return and become the new oba; he put on the coral beads that had been Benin's symbol of royalty, and commissioned new works in bronze and ivory, so that Benin could revive its rituals and not forget its heritage.
All the British had to do after that was take control of northern Nigeria. In 1898 London dissolved the Royal Niger Company, because the company would have been in too much danger if a war broke out with France. Then in 1900 British forces began to move toward Lake Chad. Finally Kano was occupied in 1902, and Sokoto in 1903.
In the Indian Ocean, the French no longer had the British standing in the way of them getting island colonies. We saw they had competed for influence on Madagascar in the early nineteenth century, but Britain had dropped her claim in 1890, in order to keep Zanzibar. France annexed the Comoros in 1886, and started making demands on Madagascar itself. In a situation similar to what Abyssinia faced, Rainilaiarivony, the Malagasy prime minister, insisted that the 1885 treaty did not make Madagascar a French protectorate, while the French insisted that it did. France sent a large military force, war broke out in 1895, and by the end of the year they had entered Antananarivo, removed the prime minister and imposed a new treaty that left the queen a French puppet. New revolts broke out in the countryside; the old Betsileo kingdom tried to regain its independence, now that the Merinas were no longer in charge, and there was a wave of anti-Christian persecutions, as pagans blamed Christianity for the problems they were going through. For a while Antananarivo was the only place under French control, but after a nine-year pacification campaign (1896-1904) the whole island was forced to accept the rule of France. As for the Merina monarchy, it was ended in 1897, as Queen Ranavalona III, along with her prime minister, was exiled first to Reunion, and later to Algeria.
Meanwhile on the mainland, Equatoria had fallen to the Mahdists after Emin Pasha's evacuation. The Belgians made a move against the Mahdists in 1897, invading from the northeast corner of the Congo and occupying the part of Equatoria west of the White Nile. The British wouldn't stand for this; though they currently didn't control any part of the White Nile, they didn't want any other Europeans there either (see footnote #26). They told King Leopold that he could hold onto the territory in question, the Lado enclave, for the time being, but upon his death it must be given back. Accordingly, Lado returned to Sudan--and British control--in 1909.
By this time the British had begun their campaign to avenge General Gordon. General Horatio Herbert Kitchener led 25,800 men, 8,600 of them British, out of Egypt in late 1895, accompanied by a flotilla of gunboats on the Nile. They moved very slowly, because they built a railway as they advanced to secure their supply line; it took them three years to reach Omdurman, near Khartoum. Here on September 2, 1898, Abdallahi attacked with an army of 52,000, and the Anglo-Egyptian force won a total victory: about 11,000 Mahdists were killed and 15,000 wounded, compared with 48 killed and 382 wounded in Kitchener's force. Then they entered Khartoum, where Kitchener destroyed the Mahdi's tomb, dug up his body, and sent the skull to the London College of Surgeons. The khalifa escaped to Kordofan and formed a new army, but was killed in another battle a year later.
After the annihilation of the Mahdists, eighty years would pass before Moslem fundamentalists gave the West any trouble again. However, the French added a new complication that required Kitchener's attention. Six weeks before the battle of Omdurman, Captain Jean-Baptiste Marchand, with six other French officers and 120 Senegalese soldiers, reached the White Nile at Fashoda, about 400 miles south of Khartoum. Marching from Brazzaville, and going through the heart of Africa on a path that paralleled the Congo and Ubanghi Rivers, it had taken them nearly two years to get there. Kitchener rushed to Fashoda to deal with this challenge. He and Marchand liked each other from the start, and they wined and dined while debating their positions, but both were firm. Kitchener argued that Egypt had ruled Sudan before the Madhist revolt, so now it was technically British. Marchand's response was that he was free to claim French possession of the upper Nile, because Britain had failed to effectively occupy this region since 1885 (a requirement of the Berlin Congress, remember), and although Kitchener's force was many times larger than his, he could not withdraw without orders from France to do so. The standoff lasted for two months, with both sides exchanging telegrams with their mother countries, and newspapers in both Britain and France fanned the flames of righteous fury. Finally the French backed down, because they faced tough domestic problems and a lack of international support for their claim; both sides signed a treaty in March 1899 that excluded France from the entire Nile valley. At no other time had two European countries come so close to starting a war over a piece of African land.
The French dream of having everything between Dakar and Djibouti would not come to pass, but the French weren't mad for long; they were having their way in the west, and there was still plenty to do. Much of this was accomplished by a really ambitious invasion of Chad, which involved three French forces, each marching about a thousand miles from a different direction. One force, led by a Major Lamy, left Algeria to cross the Sahara; the second, led by Captains Paul Voulet and Charles Chanoine (two veterans of the recently concluded brutal campaign against the Mandinka) advanced from French West Africa, taking care to go around the Hausa territory claimed by the British; the third, led by Émile Gentil, a naval officer, headed due north from Brazzaville through the Congo.
They all reached Lake Chad in 1900, where they met the local warlord, an Arab soldier named Rabih al-Zubayr. Rabih had served the Egyptian government in the neighborhood of the Sudd, until the Mahdist revolt broke out; instead of submitting to the Mahdi, he headed west with his armed followers. An attack on Wadai failed in 1887, but in 1893 he succeeded in finishing off the kingdom of Bornu in 1893, and conquered Bagirmi in 1894. In their place he set up a slave-raiding state, which terrorized its neighbors and, with the cooperation of the Sanussi Brotherhood, delivered its slaves to the caravans heading north to Benghazi and Tripoli. Rabih fiercely resisted the French columns coming at him from the north, west and south, only to be defeated and killed.
Rabih's son, Fadr Allah, moved to the British-claimed area southwest of Lake Chad, requested British protection, and staged raids on the French. This only lasted until a French column followed him back and killed him (1901). The newly conquered areas became the colony of French Equatorial Africa, formed by merging Chad with Ubanghi-Chari (today's Central African Republic), the French Congo, and Gabon in 1910. As for Wadai, it remained independent until 1909, and resisted French rule until 1913; the French also fought the Sanussi in northern Chad until 1919.
Because so many whites in the Johannesburg area were English-speaking immigrants, Rhodes thought he could use them to stage a coup against the Boer regime, and bring the Transvaal back into the British Empire. To do this he sent his chief agent from the Anglo-Matabele War, Leander Starr Jameson. They expected the uitlanders to launch an uprising on December 28, 1895; when it didn't happen, Jameson decided to start his own, leading 478 members of the British South Africa Company police in a raid on Johannesburg. Instead they were ambushed and captured, and the public outcry against "the Jameson Raid" forced Rhodes to resign from his post as prime minister.(32) Even worse, Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II, an addicted saber-rattler, sent Kruger a telegram congratulating him on his successful defense against the British; this poisoned Anglo-German relations and helped to make World War I inevitable.
Rhodes' successors did nothing to address Boer grievances against the British. In fact, they did everything they could to provoke a war, only this time the new high commissioner for South Africa, Sir Alfred Milner, and the colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, were careful to portray Kruger as an oppressive tyrant, something Rhodes had failed to do. Under pressure, Kruger made one concession after another, but they were never enough; exasperated, he cried out in June 1898, "It is our country you want." Finally, on October 9, 1899, Kruger demanded that the British remove all troops on the Transvaal's borders in forty-eight hours. Milner simply replied that this was "impossible to discuss," so three days later, the Boers attacked, beginning the most futile war in the period covered by this chapter.
The Boers, being familiar with the land and using guerrilla tactics, won the first battles. They besieged the British in Kimberley, Ladysmith and Mafeking; in one week in December 1899, they captured Kimberley and won battles at Magersfontein and Stormberg; Ladysmith was captured in February 1900.(33) And since both sides were European in origin, casualties tended to be heavier than those from battles between Europeans and Africans.(34) However, this was "The Empire On Which the Sun Never Sets" that the Boers were fighting, so the war's outcome was never in doubt. British reinforcements began to arrive in early 1900, led by Field Marshal Lord Frederick Roberts and General Kitchener, the hero of Omdurman. In March they took Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, and invaded the Transvaal to take Johannesburg in May and Pretoria in June. Kruger, being too old to fight, fled to the Netherlands when Pretoria fell, where he tried unsuccessfully to get other European powers to support his republic.
Now that the British held all the cities, Roberts thought the war was over and went home, leaving Kitchener to spend two more years fighting guerrilla forces led by Boer generals like Jan Christian Smuts, Christiaan De Wet, Louis Botha, and Jacobus De La Rey. Eventually the British resorted to extreme measures, burning crops, building blockhouses to divide the country, and putting more than 150,000 women, children, and black servants of the Boers in concentrations camps; one out of every six prisoners died from poor food and sanitation. Finally they wore down Boer morale, and the war ended with the Treaty of Vereeniging on May 31, 1902; on the battlefield Britain had lost some 28,000 men, and the Boers had lost 4,000. It had taken 450,000 British troops to defeat an army of 88,000, one that included teenagers and old men in its ranks.
Even then, it took several concessions from London to get the Boers to lay down their arms. For a start, the treaty promised to pay a £3 million indemnity, and granted amnesty and repatriation to Boer soldiers who pledged their loyalty to the king of England. The Transvaal and the Orange Free State were allowed to have their own constitutions as self-governing colonies, in 1906 and 1907 respectively.
In 1910 London merged the Cape Colony, Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal colonies together, and declared them an independent member of the British Commonwealth, the Union of South Africa. One interesting result of the merger is that the colonies could not agree on which one of them would get the national capital, so they agreed on a unique compromise: there would be three capitals, one for each branch of the government. The executive branch would reside in Pretoria, the legislative branch in Cape Town, and the judicial branch in Bloemfontein (capital of the Orange Free State). That left Natal as the only colony without a capital, and it was bought off with a large sum of cash.
Though blacks had fought and died on both sides in the recent war, they were not allowed to take part in the all-white convention that created the new nation. One black council at the time "noted with regret that the contemplated Union is to be a Union of two races, namely the British and the Afrikaners--the African is to be excluded."
A former enemy of the British, Louis Botha, became South Africa's first prime minister, and while he tried to bridge the differences between Afrikaners and other whites, he also made sure that blacks, coloreds, and Indian immigrants(35) would never have any say in how the country was governed. In fact, only in the former Cape Colony were coloreds and blacks allowed to vote at all. All nonwhites had to carry passbooks, as if they were foreigners who needed to justify their presence; urban blacks had to live in segregated townships and were excluded from many white-collar jobs. One of the first laws passed by the South African parliament was the Natives Land Act of 1913, which prevented blacks, except those living in Cape Province, from buying land outside the so-called reserves. These reserves, which made up 7 percent of South Africa's territory, included the homes of tribes like the Zulus and Xhosa, but they contained no cities or industrial centers, and only poor quality farmland. As a result, the current economic system would continue, with cheap black labor available for the mines and industries. When Soloman Plaatje, a Tswana journalist who had founded the African National Congress in 1912, heard the news, he wrote: "Awakening on Friday morning, June 20th 1913, the South African Native found himself a pariah in the land of his birth." The longest-term result of the Boer War was that it created a colonial regime more aggressive than any of the ones based in Europe.
In 1911 the Italians launched an unprovoked attack to take the last Turkish province in Africa, Libya. They had little trouble grabbing Tripolitania (the Ottoman Empire was on its last legs, having only one more decade to live), and in the following year they grabbed Cyrenaica. The Fezzan was officially theirs as well, but for the time being it was the Sanussi, and not the Italians, who were supreme here.
Spain was motivated to join the "scramble" after she lost the last pieces of her American and Asian empire to the United States, in the Spanish-American War (1898). As was the case with Portugal and Italy, Spanish expansion didn't attract much attention; Germany, France and Britain certainly weren't worried about it. The Berlin Congress awarded to Spain the bit of coastline nearest to Fernando Póo, the Rio Muni enclave, and the borders of it were defined by a treaty with France in 1900. Together, the colonies of Fernando Póo and Rio Muni became Spanish Guinea in 1909. Near Morocco, Spain claimed a sparsely populated, phosphate-rich part of the coast between Cape Bojador and Cape Blanc, calling it Rio de Oro ("River of Gold," 1884). Its borders with French-ruled Mauritania were fixed by treaties in 1900 and 1904. Later, when the Spaniards got a piece of southern Morocco, they would name it Saguia el Hamra, and merge it with the Rio de Oro in 1924 to form the Spanish Sahara.
Speaking of Morocco, it lasted until the early twentieth century, largely because the Europeans couldn't agree on who could have it. When the French moved into Algeria, Sultan 'Abdul Rahman gave aid and refuge to Abd el-Kader. This caused the French to attack and badly defeat the Moroccans in a battle on the River Isly (1844), but Algeria kept them too busy to follow it up. In 1859 Spain declared war, claiming that the Spanish-held ports of Ceuta and Melilla were constantly being raided by Moroccans. Spain won some victories, but the Moroccans were tough opponents, and Spanish troops suffered from cholera, so when Britain put on pressure to make peace, Spain was glad to do so. The peace treaty included a huge indemnity to Spain, which forced the sultan to get a loan from London, thereby opening up Morocco to further European interference, in very much the same way debt had caused trouble for Egypt.
The last great sultan of Morocco before the French took over was Hasan I (1873-94). We noted in Chapter 6 that the sultan only had firm control over part of his country; the parts he didn't control could only be made to cooperate through threats and bribes. Hasan devoted his reign to decreasing the size of the unfriendly country, and was the first sultan in 250 years to have much authority on the desert side of the Atlas mts. By doing this, he prevented future incidents like the ones that caused the war with Spain, because he removed the ungovernable groups that had caused them. He also sent students abroad to get a modern education, but this didn't work as well as it had for Egypt; a fossilized society like Morocco's couldn't be brought up to date in a generation.
Unfortunately for Hasan, time was running out for Morocco, because it was the last African territory up for grabs. The two countries that wanted it the most were France and Spain, by virtue of its location. Others that were interested were Britain, which already had the Rock of Gibraltar, and Italy, which would take anything on the Mediterranean shore (Libya couldn't have looked very appealing, after all). Germany under Bismarck endorsed the French claim, but Kaiser Wilhelm II abruptly changed his mind when he realized that there wasn't much of Africa left for the Germans. In the end France and Spain became partners, agreeing to divide Morocco between them. When they were ready to make their move in 1905, the kaiser provoked a continent-wide crisis in Europe. It didn't work, because by this time Britain was more afraid of the kaiser than of the French. Wilhelm cried foul and threatened war again, when France and Spain made a second attempt to take Morocco in 1911, and was eventually bought off when France ceded a piece of the French Congo to German Cameroon. These crises are covered in more detail in Chapter 13 of this site's European history.
Now that the kaiser was out of the picture, Morocco's fate was sealed. The last independent sultan was forced to sign the treaty of Fez in 1912, which made his country a French protectorate. A second treaty signed with Spain in the same year put 10 percent of Morocco (the Mediterranean coast and the zone along the southern border) under Spanish rule. The sultan couldn't really refuse, not only because the Europeans were much more powerful, but also because eastern Morocco was in revolt, and the sultan needed French troops to regain control. However, Morocco fared far better under the French than neighboring Algeria did. Because Morocco had not been a part of any foreign empire, especially the Ottoman one, since the early days of Islam, it had a stronger culture than any other part of North Africa. In addition, the first French officer in charge of Morocco, Marshal Louis Lyautey, fell in love with the country, and while he remained an unquestioned French patriot, Lyautey also managed to keep French interference in Morocco's way of life to a minimum.
Africa after the "scramble." Only Abyssinia and Liberia remain independent.
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With the annexations of Libya and Morocco in 1912, the growth stage of the age of imperialism ended.(36) Throughout the world, as in Africa, Europe was in command. The only places left that weren't under European control either had modern, Westernized societies of their own (e.g., the United States and Japan), weren't worth the trouble (Antarctica), or had their independence guaranteed by a Western power (e.g., Latin America and China). As a result, the armies and navies of the colonial overlords finally came to a halt.
There was simply no place left for them to go.
This is the End of Chapter 7.
A History of Africa
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