How Germany Scrambled Africa While trying to make themselves an omelet.
by Lisanne Schuller
Germany was a catalyst for the Scramble for Africa, causing chaos by conservative, independent, and thought out imperialism. While France and Britain were timeless rivals, used to competing for land and power, the addition of a unified Germany broke the rules, giving France and Britain something to be scared about and therefore giving them the fear to colonize, or start a scramble. Germany's desire to establish protectorates came from two schools of thought, both of which upset the balance of Europe. Finally, lacking any kind of established tradition, Germany was able to expand her influence how she wanted to.
The sudden arrival of German imperialism in Africa was not something France and Britain, the dominant imperial powers, should have seen coming. After almost no imperialistic activity, in a single year, (1884) Germany established the Cameroons, German South-west Africa, and New Guinea. After Germany made these initial claims, they catalyzed the mass acquisition of protectorates that flourished from other countries. Terrified that Germany was going to take over Africa, and in that sense the rest of Europe, Britain and French nationalist demanded more aggressive imperialism by their mother countries. By careful, conservative imperialism, Bismarck's Germany caused the emotionally driven scramble for Africa.
While Germany's decision to colonize in Africa was not expected, it certainty was not carried out in an irrational or haphazard way. No other country had taken much interest in Cameroon and Togo, the two earliest of German protectorates. Britain and France were obsessed with Egypt and the Congo and Niger River areas. It has been said that the scramble for Africa would not have happened so soon had Egypt not been involved with the conflict between France and Britain. But is was Germany's unexpected imperialism, while Britain and France were haggling over the Egyptian Crisis that caused the scramble, not just Egypt as a separate problem.
While looking at the scramble, and what initially caused the chaos, one must look at it as a whole. A desire to imperialize, and political practices built on years of hatred and tradition were all woven into the mosaic. It is an accepted fact that France and Britain will compete in terms of power and revenge. This timeless equation was not set up for the addition of Germany as a force. Germany, herself, was a product of internal imperialism. So when out of nowhere, a unified Germany starts breaking all the rules of foreign policy and tradition, Europe panicked.
Germany had two main, fairly simple, reasons for imperiling. In a more general sense, Britain and France had only themselves to blame, for many of Germany's ideas of imperialism were inspired by them. All over Europe, the desire of imperialism was flourishing. Wars were costly, Europe was pretty much claimed and divided, there seemed to be few other places to go. Germany was made of imperialism, a new state, devoid of tradition of any kind. There only example of how to be a country came from France and Britain, both of whom had empires in Africa. On the surface, it seemed logical to seem that colonies were a good thing, because these two powers had them, and France and Britain would not was there time, resources, and energy on something that would not be profitable. A simple thought resulted, if Germany has Colonies, it to will be as dominant as France and England.
While this idea of "cause and effect" , might have worked for the general public, but it is unlikely that Bismarck endorsed this argument, that he was just trying to be like France and Britain. Lord Sanderson felt that Bismarck colonized Africa slightly against Bismarck's will.
"Prince Bismarck was personally opposed to German colonization...He therefore encouraged us to make fresh annexations on the west coast of Africa, to which we had been previously indisposed: hoping that the clamor for such annexations by Germany would subside. Suddenly he found the movement was too strong for him, and that his only expedient, in order to avoid a crushing parliamentary defeat, was to make friends with a party that urged the acquisition of colonies."
Bismarck was influenced by the opinions of his party in government, but not necessary of those by the public at large. Free press and the fear of a "crushing parliamentary defeat" were two things commonly associated with France and Britain, not Germany. Germany did not have any traditions with foreign policy. Bismarck might not have been the best at foreign policy, for Kaiser Wilhelm dismissed him due in part to that.
Bismarck's, and Germany's desire for imperialism, was not completely irrational, nor was it designed to upset the whole balance of Europe and turn Africa into a battle ground, with every country larger than a bug wanting in on the action. Germany simply wanted to get ahead. The bonus of being in trouble with England was improved relationship with France. Germany had no real loyalty, they were free agents in the whole scheme of African imperialism. Germany wanted to play the game, and they knew how. Colonization in Africa would prove Germany and force to be reckoned with, and in the eyes of the rest of Europe was terrifying enough to cause massive panic.