History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2009: Q.5 (b)

Q.5 (b) “In all the long annals of Imperialism, the partition of Africa is a remarkable freak.” Comment.


The “Scramble for Africa”, which led to the partition of Africa, was the invasion and occupation, colonization and annexation of African territory by European powers during the period of New Imperialism, mostly between 1881 and 1914.

Desire of colonies by newly united Germany and Italy, European greed of new market for manufactured goods and source of raw material, new inventions of steam engines and hulled boats, medical advances against sfrican diseases like malaria, explorations by Livingstone and Stanley, the ideas of Charled Darwin evolutionary theory, Eugenics movement and racism etc worked toward a rush among European countries for occupation of more territories.

In all the long annals of imperialism, the partition of Africa is a remarkable freak because of the following reasons:-

(1) According to historians John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, the partition of Africa was freaky as there was no comprehensive cause of purpose behind it. Few events that have thrown an entire continent to revolution have been brought so casually.

Bismarck and Ferry, Glandstone and Salisbury had no solid belief in African Empire.; indeed they sneered at the movement as something of a farce. A gamble in jungles and bush might interest a poor king such as Leopold II of the Belgians but the chief partitioners of the 1880s glimpsed no grand imperial idea behind what they were doing. They felt no need of African colonies and in this they reflected the indifference of all but the lunatic fringe of business and politics.

(2) In any matter of dispute regarding territories, European countries avoided war and solutions were reached through diplomacy, such as Berlin conference of 1884-85 and Alfeciras conference of 1906. In the history, no colonization had happened without war. In this case, war followed partition. Berlin conference ensured that partition is done without war fought among European nations. It was agreed in this conference that no nation was to stake claims in Africa without notifying other powers of its intentions and no territory could be formally claimed prior to being effectively occupied.

(3) Most of treaties signed between African chiefs and Europeans were fraudulent and bogus. The Europeans gave gifts to African chiefs and made them sign their thumbs on any treaties. Even when treaties were genuine, the Europeans misinterpreted the provisions in their favor.

For example, African leader signed agreements with one European powers seeking help against another European power but Europeans interpreted it as leader has accepted ‘protection’ of the country.

These interpretations were accepted by other European countries in the Congress among themselves where Africans had no representative.  Thus African occupation was done without any hindrance. By the end of 19th Century, the partition of Africa was nearly completed in this manner.

This is generally referred to as ‘paper partition’ because the actual partition took much longer time longer time (due to internal rebellions by Africans against the European powers). In the African map, about thirty per cent of all boundaries in Africa are in straight lines, because the continent of Africa was partitioned on paper map, in the conference rooms of Europe.

(4) Colonisation of Africa was probably fasted colonisation seen ever in the history of mankind. Even as late as the 1870s, European states controlled only ten percent of the African continent, all their territories being near the coast and a short distance inland along major rivers such as the Niger and the Congo. By 1914 it was 90 percent of the continent, with only Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Liberia still independent.

(5) Partition of Africa was also freaky in the sense that new popular ideas of the 19th century were given for the justification of colonisation and partition of Africa.

The ideas of Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution, the Eugenics movement, Racism, White man’s burden, all gave justification for European expansionist policy.

The diplomats in Berlin Conference put on a humanitarian façade by condemning the slave trade, prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages and firearms in certain regions, and by expressing concern for missionary activities.These factor also became their justifications.

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