In the high Victorian era, the Great Powers of Europe were suddenly struck with what initially seemed a inexplicable fever to divide among themselves an entire continent about which they knew remarkably little. Although some of the colonies subsequently formed became very profitable, the initial interest taken in the region was primarily political and diplomatic. Although in hindsight the actions taken appear to be quite transparently in service to European national interests, they were at the time disguised by pretty words about civilizing the natives, stopping the slave trade, and promoting or protecting the work of Christian missionaries. It would not be an exaggeration to say that most of the problems afflicting East Africa today, from AIDS to Genocide and from famine to civil war, have their roots in the failure and disillusion the colonial era left behind.
Although every attempt is made here to focus on the effects of the Scramble for Africa on Sub-Saharan East Africa, it is often difficult to separate events in East Africa from those taking place on the other side of the continent. This is because the principle movers in Europe had a very shaky grasp of African geography and had no qualms about claiming vast, unexplored regions or talking glibly of uniting colonies on opposite sides of the continent by bands of territory that would stretch across unknown thousands of miles of hinterlands. In one example, the rapidly fading influence of Portugal was still powerful enough to suggest not only that the distant East African colony of Mozambique might be connected to West African Angola through the still largely unexplored territory of the Congo, but that entry to the Congo and its entire basin should remain in their hands.
[...] Before the scramble began, there were colonies in Africa. The most venerable were those of the decaying Ottoman Empire, which had inherited suzerainty over North Africa and the Red Sea coast in a more or less direct line back through Byzantium and Rome. The Sultanate of Zanzibar had long standing ties, historic, linguistic, and cultural, to the East African coast. The Portuguese, another declining power, held vast and mainly unsubstantiated claims on both coasts, and had more direct control in Angola and Mozambique, while the relics of Dutch control persisted in the Boer states. [...]
[...] The direct result of the backroom dealings at the Berlin conference was the partition of Africa. It is easy for someone looking at a map of Africa before and after partition to see it as the final step of colonialism, with the white spaces on the map all filled in and claimed. In fact, it was not until each power was sure of the extent of its own claims that the process of colonization could begin in earnest. As Robinson and Gallagher write; “The partition of Africa might seem impressive on the wall maps of the Foreign Office. [...]
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