the race for africa -- 11/30/21

Today's selection -- from Merchant Kings by Stephen R. Bown. In the late 1800s, the great fear of the English was that other European countries would beat them in conquering and taking African territories and their presumed mineral wealth:
"[In the late 1800s] the race for Africa was on, and the European powers were searching for territories to conquer and exploit, while pre­venting others from doing the same. Most people in Britain, indeed Europe, were increasingly of the belief that they had the right to occupy, develop or exploit any territory in Africa that was not already occupied or fully utilized by African peo­ples. One speaker and writer of the time, Joseph Chamberlain, clearly expressed this view: 'So far as unoccupied territories between our present colonial possessions and the Zambezi are concerned, they are hardly practically to be said to be in the possession of any nation. The tribes and chiefs that exercise dominion in them cannot possibly occupy the land or develop its capacity, and it is as certain as destiny that, sooner or later, these countries will afford an outlet for European enterprise and European colonization.'

"[King] Lobengula's court [in the area of present-day Zimbabwe] thronged with [European] people seeking concessions for mineral claims, though the king remained independent and disdainful of the overtures of mining companies and Euro­pean governments alike. The Portuguese, however, had claimed part of his territory, and the German government sent an envoy. British missionaries sought to operate in his lands as well, while mining company representatives, sometimes affiliated with European governments, angled for permission to oper­ate in Lobengula's realm and with his blessing. The Europeans assumed that the recognition of a claim over African territory was determined by effective occupation. Rhodes feared that if Britain did not quickly expand northward, his dreams of a Brit­ish corridor of political control from the Cape to Cairo would be dashed by the prior claims of some other European power. His greatest fear was that the Boer trekkers of the Transvaal would attempt to seize control. In 1887 they tried this very tactic by tricking Lobengula into placing his royal mark on a document that gave them exclusive trading rights to, and forbidding any­one else from entering, the territory."



Stephen R. Bown


Merchant Kings


Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press


Copyright 2009, Stephen R. Bown


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