Britain In Africa,
by Josh Brownfield Class of 97
The British had three major areas of interest in Africa that led to their colonization of it ; strategic ports and routes to their Asian colonies, trade interests, and political objectives such as beating the French in the Scramble , and Christianizing the natives . The British had already made significant imperial actions in Africa by 1870, including capturing the Cape of South Africa in 1875, and controlling various ports along the west African coast. It was only after the French completed the Suez Canal in 1869 ;though, that British began to take notice of other parts of the continent, especially Egypt.
Britain immediately realized that the Suez Canal Would make travel to India faster and less expensive. Instead of traveling all the way around the Cape, British merchant ships would only have to cross the Mediterranean and go through the Suez and then go on to India. The only problem the British had with the Suez Canal was that it was controlled by the French , who were not exactly friendly with the British. In 1875 when France offered stock in the Suez Canal on the open Market, Britain seized the opportunity to secretly buy a majority share. France was furious that they had been tricked, but there was nothing they could do about the fact that the canal they had built was now property of the British. This is the beginning of France and Britain's dual control of Egypt.
The British gained complete control in Egypt following the Egyptian Crisis in 1882. Arabi and the Egyptian Nationalists deposed the Khedive and then proceeded to attempted to remove Britain and France from Egypt. The British were furious not only because of the revolt, but because the Khedive owed large sums of money on outstanding loans to the British. The French Government would not allow their troops to fight, so the British had to put down the rebellion alone. After defeating Arabi in the Battle of Tel El Kabir and the Battle of the Nile, the British became the most powerful force in Egypt and France lost their claim for not helping put down the rebellion.
1871 marks the beginning of Britain's politically motivated campaign to end the East African Slave Trade and Christianize the blacks. In 1871 Dr. Livingstone is found in Africa by journalist Harry Stanley. Stanley traveled along with Livingstone, who had been living in Africa for almost 30 years, and begins writing stories about Livingstone's life and aspirations to end slavery and spread Christianity. When Stanley published his stories about Livingstone, it aroused a great deal of support among the British people, and it began Britain's movement to abolish the slave trade. In 1875 with the strong urging of the British Government, Zanzibar ended their Slave Trading Empire.
There were also several financial motivations that led Britain to claim various colonies and protectorates in Africa; the Suez Canal in Egypt, the palm-olive trade in Lagos, the ivory in Sierra Leone, and diamonds in South Africa. Though these all appeared to be profitable enterprises to become involved in, the fact was most of them ended up costing more money to maintain than they were worth. South Africa was an exception to this rule, but even South Africa came at a heavy cost . When gold was discovered in South Africa in 1886, the temptation of a far off place filled with diamonds and gold was too great a temptation for many British fortune seekers. Thousands of British people made the trip to South Africa to work in the gold and diamond fields, and began crossing into the Orange Free State and Transvaal. When the British Government tried to expand and include the two Afrikaner Colonies, the Boers were angry and in 1899 the Boer War began. The Boer War was the most expensive war fought by Great Britain between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. The war was longer and more difficult than the British had anticipated, Black Week brought the defeat of all major British forces in South Africa, and in 1900 the Boers were actually invading British territory. It looked as though Britain might actually lose the War, but by late 1900, the tide was turned with the arrival of British reinforcements. In 1902 the British defeated the Boer's and the Orange Free State and Transvaal officially became a part of British South Africa, but the Afrikaners continued to cause trouble for the British until, in 1907, the Boer Orange River Colony was given self-rule within South Africa.
British companies like the Royal Niger and the East Africa Company also helped Britain acquire territory. The Royal Niger Company claimed Nigeria and Ghana, and the East Africa Company claimed Kenya and Uganda. These companies along with the British Army and Explorers claimed land all across the Eastern half of Africa, and Britain's colonies extend "from Cape to Cairo". Ironically, Great Britain was less than enthusiastic about getting to involved in Africa to begin with. One of the reasons Britain continued to claim areas of no apparent value, was to keep these areas open to future trade with Britain. The fear was that France would claim vast areas of land and then close them off to trade only with themselves. In order to prevent that situation, Britain had to beat them to the land and claim as much as they could before the French gobbled it all up. Along with this reason for claiming territory came British pride. Though not as pronounced as French pride, British people were very proud of their African conquests and there was a strong desire to outdo France and prove British Superiority.
Britain had both significant reasons to become involved in Africa, and strong reservations about getting involved at all. The fact that Britain was already involved in Africa prior to 1870, and the fact that Africa looked as though it might be profitable, led to British to become involved. Factor in that Africa was an excellent opportunity to prevent France from getting too much glory, and you have all the reasons Africa was colonized by Britain. Africa was overall not a profitable endeavor for the British and it certainly gave them a great deal of worry as well.