Africa: 1830-1990

Africa: 1830-1990

As European private interest in Africa grew, the involvement of their governments multiplied. The French began the conquest of Algeria and Senegal in the 1830s, but the systematic occupation of tropical Africa did not occur until the second half of the century. As European citizens and administrators penetrated inland, they encountered resistance from dominant peoples and welcome from subordinated peoples seeking allies or protectors. From about 1880 to 1905, most of Africa was partitioned among Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Portugal. In 1876 King Leopold II of the Belgians established the International Association of the Congo, a private company, for the exploration and colonization of the region. His principal agent for this task was Sir Henry M. Stanley. By 1884 the intense rivalry of the European powers for additional African territory, and the ill-defined boundaries of their various holdings, threatened their international relations. A conference was then called at Berlin, to which the nations of Europe, together with the United States, sent delegates.

At the Berlin conference (1884-1885) the powers defined their spheres of influence and laid down rules for future occupation on the coasts of Africa and for navigation of the Congo and Niger rivers. Among the important provisions of the General Act of Berlin was the rule that when a power acquired new territory in Africa or assumed a protectorate over any part of the continent, it must notify the other powers signatory to the conference. During the next 15 years, numerous treaties were negotiated between the European nations, implementing and modifying the provisions of the conference. Two such treaties were concluded in 1890 by Great Britain. The first, with Germany, demarcated the spheres of influence of the two powers in Africa. The second treaty, with France, recognized British interests in the region between Lake Chad and the Niger River and acknowledged French influence in the Sahara. Other agreements, notably those between Great Britain and Italy in 1891, between France and Germany in 1894, and between Great Britain and France in 1899, further clarified the boundaries of the various European holdings in Africa.

African Resistance

No African states had been invited to the Berlin conference, and none signed these agreements. Whenever possible, the decisions made in Europe were resisted when applied on African soil. The French faced a revolt in Algeria in 1870 and resistance (1881-1905) to their efforts to control the Sahara. In the western Sudan the Mandinka ruler Samory Touré and Ahmadu, the son and successor of al-Hajj Umar of the Tukolor state, attempted to maintain their independence. Both were defeated by the French, however-Ahmadu in 1893 and Samory five years later. Dahomey was occupied by French forces in 1892, and the Wadai region was the last area to fall to the French, in 1900. British administrators encountered similar resistance from the Boers in South Africa during the periods 1880 and 1881 and 1899 to 1902. British and Boer settlers conquered Matabeleland in 1893, and three years later both the Matabele (Ndebele) and their subordinates, the Shona, revolted. Revolts broke out in Ashantiland in 1893 and 1894, 1895 and 1896, and 1900 and in Sierra Leone in 1897. The British conquest of the Fulani Hausa states was resisted (1901-1903). Sokoto revolted in 1906. The Germans faced (1904-1908) the Herero insurrection in South-West Africa and Maji Maji revolt (1905-1907) in Tanganyika. Only the Ethiopians under Emperor Menelik II were successful in resisting European conquest, annihilating an Italian force at the Battle of Adwa (Aduwa) in 1896.

Increasing Development

Once the territories were conquered and pacified, the European administrations began to develop transportation systems so that raw materials could be shipped more easily to ports for export, and to institute tax systems that would force subsistence farmers either to raise cash crops or to engage in migrant labor. Both policies were well under way when World War I (1914-1918) disrupted these efforts. During the course of the war, the German territories in West and South-West Africa were conquered and later were mandated by the League of Nations to the various Allied powers. Thousands of Africans either fought in the war or served as porters for the Allied armies. Resistance to the war was limited to the short-lived 1915 rebellion of John Chilembwe, an African clergyman, in Nyasaland (now Malawi).

After World War I, efforts for the exploitation of the colonies were tempered, and greater attention was paid to providing education, health services, and development assistance and to safeguarding African land rights. Nevertheless, the white settler colonies, such as Algeria, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and Kenya were given considerable internal self-government. Southern Rhodesia was made an internally self-governing crown colony in 1923 with virtually no provision for African voting. During the interwar years, various types of African-organized protest and nationalist movements began to emerge. On the whole, however, membership was limited to Western-educated African groups. Mass parties developed only in Egypt and Algeria, where large numbers of Africans had abandoned their traditional way of life and were developing new identities and allegiances. Ethiopia, which had earlier successfully resisted European colonization, fell to an Italian invasion in 1936 and did not regain its independence until World War II (1939-1945). With the coming of the war, Africans served in the Allied armies in even greater numbers than before, and the colonies generally supported the Allied cause. Fighting on the continent, which was limited to North Africa and northeast Africa, ended in May 1943.

The New Africa



Following the war, the European colonial powers were physically and psychologically weakened, and the balance of international power shifted to the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), both professed anticolonial nations. In North Africa, French rule was opposed from 1947 onward with sporadic terrorism and rioting. The Algerian revolution began in 1954 and continued until independence in 1962, six years after Morocco and Tunisia had received independence. In French sub-Saharan Africa, an effort had been made to stave off nationalist movements by granting the inhabitants of the overseas territories full status as citizens and by allowing deputies and senators from each territory to sit in the French National Assembly. Nonetheless, the qualified franchise and communal representation given to each territory proved unacceptable.

In the British areas the pace of change also quickened after the war. Mass parties, enrolling as wide a range of social, ethnic, and economic groups as possible, began to appear. In Sudan, disagreements between Egypt and Great Britain over the direction of Sudanese self-government led the British to accelerate the pace, and in 1954 Sudan achieved independence. During the 1950s, the examples of newly independent nations on other continents, the activities of the Mau Mau terrorist movement of Kenya, and the effectiveness of such popular African leaders as Kwame Nkrumah further quickened the pace. The independence of Ghana in 1957 and Guinea in 1958 set off a chain reaction of nationalist demands. In 1960 alone 17 sovereign African nations came into existence.

By the end of the 1970s almost all of Africa was independent. The Portuguese possessions-Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique-became independent in 1974 and 1975 after years of violent struggle. France relinquished the Comoro Islands (except for Mayotte) in 1975, and Djibouti gained independence in 1977. In 1976 Spain yielded Spanish Sahara, which then was divided between Mauritania and Morocco. Here, however, a bitter war for independence ensued. Mauritania gave up its part in 1979, but Morocco, taking over the entire territory, continued the fighting with the local Polisario Front. Zimbabwe gained legal independence in 1980. The last remaining large dependency on the continent, Namibia, attained independence in 1990.

The young African states face a variety of major problems. One of the most important is the creation of a nation-state. Most African countries retained the frontiers arbitrarily drawn by late 19th-century European diplomats and administrators. Ethnic groups may be divided by national boundaries, but loyalties to such groups are often stronger than those to the state. When the African states attained independence, however, the dominant nationalist movements and their leaders installed themselves in virtually permanent power. They called for national unity and urged that multiparty parliamentary systems be discarded in favor of the single-party state. When these governments proved unable or unwilling to fulfill popular expectations, the resort was often military intervention. Leaving day-to-day administration to the permanent civil service, the new military leaders posed as efficient and honest public guardians, but they soon developed the same interest in power that had characterized their civilian predecessors. In many African states, the early 1990s brought renewed interest in multiparty parliamentary democracy.

Economic development has also proved difficult. Although a number of African states have considerable natural resources, few have the finances to develop their economies. Foreign private enterprise has often regarded investment in such underdeveloped areas as too risky, and this view has been justified in many instances. The major alternative sources of financing are national and multinational lending institutions.

Expectations in African nations for a better living standard have increased, and the prices of consumer and other manufactured goods have kept pace, but the prices of most African primary products have lagged behind. A worldwide recession in the early 1980s multiplied difficulties that were initiated by the oil-price increases of the 1970s. Serious foreign-exchange problems and ballooning foreign debt aggravated public discontent. Famine and drought plagued the northern and central regions of the continent in the 1980s, and millions of refugees left their homes in search of food, increasing the problems of the countries to which they fled. Medical resources, already inadequate, were overwhelmed by epidemics of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), cholera, and other diseases. AIDS continues to be a very serious problem in Africa.

In the late 1980s and the first half of the 1990s conflicts in Chad, Somalia, Liberia, the Saharan area, southern Africa, and elsewhere on the continent destabilized governments, halted economic progress, and cost the lives of thousands of Africans. After Ethiopia's civil war came to an end in 1991, a separate government was established in Eritrea, which declared its independence in 1993. In April 1994 fighting erupted between Rwanda's two main ethnic groups, the Hutu and Tutsi, after the presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi were killed in a suspicious plane crash. The Rwandan conflict has created severe refugee problems for the surrounding countries. In neighboring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the DRC), a 1996 local uprising in the far reaches of the country grew into a full-scale rebellion which ended in the overthrow of the government in 1997.

The 1990s saw steps taken toward the resolution of prolonged hostilities in some areas. In Angola, after years of civil war, government and rebel leaders signed a peace accord in 1995 that called for reconciliation and collaboration between the two sides. The end of racial segregation polices in South Africa in the early 1990s led to that country's first multiracial elections in April 1994. The transfer of power to South Africa's black majority pointed toward new power alignments in Africa.


From: Microsoft Encarta 98