African History: How Africa Received Its States
Some of you shared with me (thank you!) that you’d like to learn more about Africa’s history and culture. So, every now and then, I’ll share some of Africa’s history and nuances with you. Since this is the first writeup in what will, by default, become a series (given that Africa’s history is rich and complex), let’s start at the very beginning with a little history.
Africa today is a patchwork of diverse and politically developing nation states but these states haven’t always existed as we know them today. You see, it is widely believed that Africa had up to 10,000 different states and autonomous groups with distinct languages and customs all of which co-existed peacefully prior to the continent being colonized.
For 400 years, European countries had limited their involvement with Africa to trading stations on the African coast. Few dared venture inland from the coast and those that did often met defeats and had to retreat to the coast. Their restriction to the African coast was not from a lack of desire to venture inland. Rather, Africa’s germs took numerous European lives and discouraged permanent settlements because diseases such as yellow fever and sleeping sickness made Africa a very inhospitable place for Europeans. The deadliest disease was malaria however in 1854, the discovery of quinine and other medical innovations helped to make conquest and colonization in Africa possible.
Technological innovations also helped to overcome this 400-year pattern – one was the development of repeating rifles, which were easier and quicker to load than muskets. European traders kept these weapons largely among themselves by refusing to sell these weapons to African leaders. Missionaries attempting to spread Christianity also increased European knowledge of Africa.
While all these were taking place, strong motives for the conquest of Africa were at play in Europe: raw materials were needed for European factories (given that Europe was undergoing its Industrial Revolution) and acquiring African colonies would show rival countries that a nation was powerful and significant (bragging rights). These factors heightened Europe’s interest in Africa and the subsequent acquisition of African territories commonly referred to as the “Scramble for Africa” or the “Partition of Africa” (a topic I’ll discuss thoroughly in a future article).
In the mad dash to grab an African territory, on several occasions, war was only narrowly avoided by competitors. This led to a conference, convened in Berlin, to discuss the Africa problem. Attendees (all of which were European countries, of course) laid down the rules of competition and acquisition, clearly drew borders and boundaries, defined who (European country) owned what (African territory) and also discussed rules of trade – for a peer (European country) looking to play in another peer’s sandbox (African territory).
This deliberate partitioning of Africa was how the Europeans avoided warring amongst themselves over Africa. The Berlin Conference, held in 1884-85, therefore regulated European colonization and trade in Africa and as a result, is usually referred to as the starting point of the Conquest of Africa. It also saw the transition from informal imperialism to colonial imperialism.
Therefore, between 1878 and 1898, European states partitioned and conquered most of Africa. The map below and to the right shows the African landmass held by each European country while the map to the left shows what Africa looked like prior to alien visitation and dominance.
Post European Invasion
This partitioning created the African countries as we know them today as the borders and boundaries (as well as the predominant language spoken) of each African country is a legacy of Europe’s invasion of Africa.