The story of Africa's colonization is truly one of the most complicated and saddest stories in the world. Africa has been torn apart by colonialism right from the time of the Ottoman Empire, to Empire, to the French, to the Belgians, to the Germans, to the Portuguese, to the Dutch, to the Spanish, and finally to the Italians. The country was also known for its human rights abuses, which saw the exploitation of the continent's indigenous group of people.
In the late 1800s, imperialist European nations gained control over much of Africa. Imperialism is the domination of one country's political economic or cultural life by another. European countries had been establishing colonies and building empires since the late 1400s. Imperialism brought wealth and power to Europeans. But the people living in colonies were often oppressed, abused, and in some cases, even killed. In forty years, Europe virtually gobbled up all of Africa's south of the Sahara happened with tremendous speed and brutality. Like most conquests in history, the purpose of this conquest was to make money for the conquerors and they did so; hand over fist and killed millions of people in the process.
On 15 November 1884, a conference in Berlin, Germany took place to decide the fate of the Africans and their territories. It ended on 31 January 1885. The decisions taken during these months were so momentous, that they forever changed the political geography of the entire African continent. Although it was not motivated by any special concern for the Africans, it sought to achieve a balance of power in Europe and a resolution of the scramble for Africa. It is ironic to note that not a single African representative was present during the conference. This shows that colonialism is repeatedly referred to as a form of exploitation and oppression, precisely because it does not enter into any form of consultation with the people whose resources and labor it uses to sustain its profit-making enterprises. Thus, colonialism always leaves the colonized subjects without a voice.
1885 was the year that saw seven thousand men being held out in Sudan for almost a year. The walls finally got breached and fifty thousand modest soldiers marched through the streets, cutting down defenders and civilians alike. Governor-general Charles Gordon, dressed in his ceremonial uniform, stood on the steps of his palace and patiently waited for his enemy to arrive. Alone, except for a single bodyguard, he knew that this would be his last stand. While his career was illustrious in the eyes of the Empire, decades of hardship left him retired and a broken man who was bitterly aware of how many enemies made due to their persistent expansion across the globe. He knew that he would not be the last man to suffer this fate as long as Empire had commercial interests overseas. Men like him were expected to sacrifice their time, careers, and even their lives in the name of imperialism.
Most Europeans thought colonization was essentially a noble undertaking. After all, they said European had strong economies, well-organized governments, and powerful armies and navies. Meanwhile, African nations were troubled by economic weakness and political divisions. The transatlantic slave trade which did not end until the 1800s â had drastically reduced the populations of African societies. The slave trade also contributed to entering tribal warfare. European power was fuelled by the technology of the Industrial Revolution. New weapons had steam-powered locomotives and ships gave Europeans the ability to move quickly and fight wars with brutal efficiency.
European manufacturers wanted to gain access to natural resources such as rubber and petroleum. African colonies could also serve as vital ports for European merchants and naval ships. European missionaries urged Africans to give up their traditional beliefs and accept Western ways and religion. Missionaries opened hospitals and schools throughout the colonies. Sometimes, they also furthered the political and economic goals of imperialist nations.
Many Europeans exploited and oppressed native Africans. Some of the worst oppression occurred in the Congo. King Leopold and other wealthy Belgians exploited the land and the people of the Congo. African laborers were forced to harvest ivory and rubber. Conditions were so horrible, that the populations of some areas declined drastically. Belgian exploitation of the Congo set off a scramble for colonies. Britain, France, and Germany rushed to make claims in the region. But Joseph Conrad, a seaman witnessed the horrors of imperialism in Africa and was moved to write a novel about the dark side of imperialism.
Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness is a story of a journey of a great river, deep into the Belgian Congo. A businessman named Marlow is sent into the Congo to discover what has happened to a riverboat station chief named Kurtz. When the former finally finds the latter, he is horrified by what he sees Kurtz has gone insane; he has set himself up as a kind of pagan God. He demands total obedience and his reign brings death to the jungle. Although the author's novel brought the horrors of imperialism to life for European readers, it did not manage to end the scramble for colonies. By the early 1900s, only Liberia and Ethiopia had resisted European colonization. Kenya's fertile soil and comfortable climate attracted several thousand Europeans during the 1920s and 1930s. They took over much of the land and used Africans as servants and laborers. By 1934, South Africa became a sovereign independent state and Britain lost authority. For the rest of Africa, there lay ahead a long and difficult struggle for independence.
Africa has had a long history of civilization, particularly in its northern parts. Right from the Pyramids of Egypt to the Great Zimbabwe, to the Great Lakes of East Africa, this second-largest continent is filled to the brim with history, culture, and achievement. Over time, it has given rise to numerous empires and kingdoms which have been influential in world history. Its struggles have made it flourish, beautiful, diverse, and one of the world's most fascinating ecosystems.