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Ancient African History

Updated on June 18, 2013

Reasons that caused Colonialsm in Africa

Colonialism is a word used to describe exploiting, establishing, maintaining as well as expanding colonies in one country by people from a different country. The process of colonialism takes place when the colonialists claim sovereignty over the acquired colony, and they change the government, economics and social structure of that colony. This in turn leads to a set of disparate relationships between the colonizers and the colonized indigenous population. In Africa, colonialism was undertaken by European powers including Britain, Portugal, France, Germany, Italy and Belgium, and they enforced colonialism to their respective country or countries with varying degrees of success and failure.

History points out that colonialism in Africa began within the 19th Century, but prior to that, European countries had already infiltrated African civilizations. While Africans and Europeans had established relationships in different areas for centuries, the 19th Century marked a major turning point with regard to European attitudes toward Africa . A combination of factors led Europeans to decide to colonize Africa. Whilst a few factors may have been overriding in their decision, many other factors were used in making the decision.

The Europeans colonized Africa because of the following major reasons. The first one is because of the demand for raw materials. During the 19th Century, European countries experienced the industrial revolution, and the thriving industrial production required a lot of human, financial as well as natural resources. European nations in previous centuries had traded with Asia, Africa (for instance the Atlantic Slave Trade), and traded with the Americas (both North America and South America). The trading activities had brought substantial profits to the European traders, and these profits in turn provided the necessary capital that financed the industrial revolution. Majority of European countries were resource poor, and during that time, European industries were depending on Asia, Africa, and the Americas for raw materials. For instance, the cotton textile industry, which was very crucial in stimulating the industrial revolution, was entirely dependent on imported cotton. As industrialization spread all over Europe, competition for raw materials grew, and as a result of that, European industrialists encouraged governments in Europe to colonize countries in Africa as a method that will guarantee sources of raw materials.

The second reason that led to colonization of African countries was The Scramble for Africa and Partition of Africa. This scramble took place at a time between 1886 and 1914, and during this time European nations carried out colonization throughout Africa, with the exception of Liberia and Ethiopia. At this time, France, Portugal as well as Britain were the chief colonial powers in the African continent, although Germany, Belgium, Spain and Italy also had colonies. In the early years of colonialism, the main objective of these colonizers was to establish sovereignty, or political control over their colonies, and they applied a combination of threat of force, warfare and making treaties with rulers in Africa, in their efforts to gain political control over their African subjects. After realizing political control and putting in place institutions of governance, economics then became the primary concern of the colonial governments. At the end of the 19th Century, Europe went through an economic depression and as a result of that slump, European powers reduced their expenditures on economic development, political administration and social programs in their colonies.

The third reason that caused colonialism in Africa was the European countries’ Need for Markets. During the end of the 19th Century, many European industrieswere manufacturing more goods that what the Europeans themselves could consume. Because of this, many of Europe’s industrialists sought after markets for their manufactured goods around the world. There were very many manufacturing companies at that time, and this led to growing competition between various industries. As the competition among industries for markets increased, European industrialists again encouraged their governments to colonize Africa as a way of protecting markets for their industrial products, and this led to colonization of African countries.

The fourth reason was Civilization and Commerce. Most people in Europe held the view that the development of commerce and trade in Africa was an indispensable element to the restitution of civilization in the African continent, and they believed that Africa was uncivilized. This ethnocentric ideology of civilization in Africa is however, rejected today. Moreover, majority of Europeans during that period believed that commerce and trade were key elements to the development of Africa. The advocates of this position pushed governments in Europe to colonize Africa and by that means, provide an environment that will be supportive for the expansion of trade and commerce. The fifth reason that caused colonization in Africa was to end slavery. Slave trade had thrived in several parts of the continent, from East Africa to West Africa, and with the religious revival that had taken place in Europe, the colonial powers led by Britain sought to abolish slave trade, and they did it through colonialism. For centuries, Arab slave traders had brutalized Africans and this wrecked substantial havoc on the majority of poor Africans. Great Britain, which had outlawed slavery in the year 1834, sent its officials into East Africa, to prevent and stop the Omani Arabs from continuing with slave in that region, and to completely fight slavery in Africa, they pursued colonialism.

The other reason for colonialism was to spread Christianity as Harris points out. Christianity played a big role in causing colonialism in Africa. Europe had experienced a Christian revival in the 1800s and missionaries had successfully brought spiritual salvation to many Europeans, and because of this, the missionaries began to look beyond Europe, and this led to the establishment of missions all over Africa. These missionaries drew European governments further into Africa as they continued to preach Christianity, institute monogamy within African societies and bring western-style education. They also called on their governments to protect them and help in the spread of Christian values and ways of life, and this in turn led to the indigenous Africans being colonized. Europeans were strong believers in the Christian religion, and they used colonialism to force the religion among Africans and convert them into Christianity.

Another reason that caused colonization in Africa was the rush for minerals. The African continent, unlike Europe was very much endowed with natural precious minerals such as gold in South Africa and Ghana, and diamonds in DR Congo. Therefore, the Europeans rushed in Africa to exploit these minerals for their own interests and in doing so, they colonized the local indigenous Africans who they in turn exploited for cheap labor at the mining sites. They also colonized Africa because of other resources such as peanuts, tea, coffee and wood and exploited cheap African labor in the process. Furthermore, advances in technology and medicinal discoveries paved the way for Europeans to colonize Africa and penetrate the continent much more effectively and deeply. For instance, the discovery of quinine significantly lowered the number of Europeans who succumbed to malaria while in Africa, and technological developments complemented such medicinal. For instance, advances in weapons technology and metallurgy provided European powers with advantages that proved critical in European imperial ventures in the continent of Africa. Superior weaponry clearly provided European powers with an edge that helped to facilitate colonialism in Africa. Moreover, the rivalry with Arabs also resulted in colonialism in Africa. The Arabs had been trading with Africa for centuries whereby they obtained slaves and items such as gold, bronze, sugarcane and peanuts from Africa. This Arab-Africa trade thrived mainly at the East Coast of Africa. The Europeans wanted to end the dominance of the Arabs in trading with Africa, and one way of doing that was through colonialism.


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      Silas Nyamweya 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Ok, you can visit The articles here are professionally researched and can be useful for academic or research purposes. For more details you may contact me via my email

      Thanks a lot for your comment

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