Defending the trade routes.  

Britain in Africa

by Adam Letcher

Africa was merely an Indian trade route loaded with trouble. Britain never wanted to be so heavily involved in colonizing in Africa, but the competitive forces, France and Germany, were becoming too powerful in there. Britain, afraid she would loss control over her vital traded route, was forced to convert informal rule through trade agreements to formal protectorates and full-fledged colonies. Britain preferred being detached from African affairs, so when it came down to it, Britain's only major involvement was related to trade or trade positions.

Britain's involvement scarcely existed in Egypt until 1869 when the Suez Canal was built. The canal provided direct route to India. When the French put shares up for sale the English couldn't help buying them and soon had the majority share in the Suez Canal, stealing it right out from under the French noses. British owned the Suez Canal, but did not control Egypt nor did she plan on doing so. She was perfectly happy paying large sums of money to the Egyptian Khedive and having an Anglo-French Dual Control of Egypt. The deal took the responsibility away, but kept the trade route open. It was perfect for the British until the Arabi deposed the Khedive. The Arabi tried to expel British and French forces from Egypt, cutting off British trade market with India. The British were furious. They struggled to keep there land, but were unsuccessful until the Battles of Tel el Kabir. At the Battles of Tel el Kabir the British Army single handily creamed the Arabi (the French did not get involved, they though Britain would loss). After winning the battle alone, instead of taking control of Egypt, Britain returned the Dual Control. Britain liked the situation it provided, she do not feel the pressure of having a colony, yet use of the Suez Canal was easy and safe.

The English were happy sharing Egypt until France's threat in Fashoda. In 1888 French threaten to steal water from the Nile, directing it to French land in East Africa. This diversion of water will ruin Egypt, ruining the Suez Canal, and in turn ruining England's trade route. Britain frightened by this threat sent Lord Kitchener to retake Khartoum and then go on to Fashoda. Kitchener arrives in Fashoda and meets Marchand, the French military leader. It looks like war until France decides Fashoda is not worth a war, especially a war they most likely won't win. This mix up with France causes the cancellation of Dual Control of Egypt. The 1904 Entente Cordiale makes peace between the countries by separating their control. France is blessed with Morocco, while England is forced to take full responsibility for Egypt. A task she never wanted, but had no choice but to take if she wanted to keep her trade route.

Trade routes like South Africa were too important to be lost. Britain could not let France or German annex it, so Britain annexed it herself. Almost immediately after South Africa's annexation Britain had many problems with the Boers. The problems eventually lead to the Battle of Majuba, where the British were humiliatingly crushed by ill trained Boer farmers. Problems between the Boers and Britain and the Kruger Telegram led to the Boer War. Britain struggles to defeat the Boers regular forces at first, but eventually crushes them. The Boers forces unwilling to give up turn to Guerrilla fighting. When the Boer war ends Transvaal and Boer Orange River Colony, both of which are majority Boer communities, are given self-rule. Britain may have won the war, but the Boer community still refused to be a colony. Britain probably spent as much in casualties as it gained in resources from the Boers. The only purposeful use of South Africa was the trade benefits.

Britain only major interest was to keep trade between India and Britain fluid. England is tangled into the scramble to keep her trade routes, despite never wanting to be very active in Africa. Extreme military tactics were avoided in Africa except for Egypt and South Africa, when trade was threatened. Britain may have had involved in other parts of Africa, such as the eradication of slavery and spread of Christianity by Dr. Livingstone, or the Flag squabbles at the Niger, but the most import land connected the English to India. The British weren't really interested in Africa. She basically used Africa as a middle man for trade. Africa, basically, was Britain's trade route to India.