Colonialism in 10 Minutes: The Scramble For Africa (and before)

A man is worked on by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well [my italics].
—Frederick Douglass, escaped African-American slave, and great leader of emancipation

When trying to comprehend Africa today, one aspect, regardless of one’s confusion, should be obvious. For this I will use an analogy: If Person X was to continually beat Person Y (or an animal), only a moron would ask why Person Y struggles to move forward in their life, suffers from uncertainty, confusion, violent outbursts etc.

Even “Africa” as defined as something collective is absurd, except perhaps, in its uber-decimation by slavery and then colonialism, and the confusion and despair (and, of course, greatness and hope) that abounds today.

In short, no matter how many ways I try to look at it, it seems undeniably clear to me that Africa, by a number of external and internal forces, has been willfully and relentlessly gutted and anihilated for over a millenia—a fragmentation of the everyday people, the culture, the essence, the spirit, mostly for resources, with racism as a justification.

This point is mentioned but not pushed in Darfur in Ten Minutes: An Overview of the Conflict in Sudan. And the point matters for myriad reasons and I wanted to point it out.

From an “all-of-humanity” point of view, Africa is a crime scene, and by not being as clear about that as, say, the holocaust, the crime continues.

The fact that the “Scramble for Africa” can continue so remorselessly—whether by outside players (even “Free World” players), or outside players working with inside players—is mind-bafflingly hideous, and would be criminal if justice had any real relationship to mutlinational business interests and profits.

Or, as Shirley Chisholm once put it:

When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.

I posted this exceprt from Uganda Rising to offer a brief overview of what happened in Africa during the European colonial period, when vast areas of the continent were literally and systemically looted at will. Below the piece is a further damning description of the so-called Arab slave trade, which was equally hideous.


This description from David Lamb’s “The Africans,” of how the “Scramble for Africa” began legislatively, is illuminating—with a virtually complete disregard that people on the continent of Africa have meaning.

If Africa’s quest for unity has failed so far, if Africa’s presidents get along no better than the European powers did with one another during the colonial period, no one, least of all historians, should be surprised.

Let’s step back a century [the book was written in 1983] to the time when Africa was Balkanized and brought under European domination. It happened in Germany at a conference that not a single African attended…

The acrimonious disputes [between the European powers], though all were solved peacefully, caused much apprehension in Europe, and it was finally decided the world’s powers had better sit down to determine some game rules for Africa.

Delegates from fourteen countries assembled for the Conference of Great Powers in Berlin in October 1884.

Four months later, on February 26, 1885, they signed the general Act of the Berlin Conference, which provided that any power that effectively occupied African territory and duly notified the other powers could thereby establish possession of it. The Berlin treaty, along with other accords signed during the next fifteen years, defined “spheres of influence,” which partitioned the continent among European governments and reduced their rivalry for domination.

The disease of cruelty and violence, by its force and inhumanity, spreads the disease of cruelty and violence.

Here’s an excerpt from an article in Le Monde Diplomatique called The Impact of the Slave Trade on Africa, April 1998, by Elikia M’bokolo. The statistics are staggering.

The African continent was bled of its human resources via all possible routes. Across the Sahara, through the Red Sea, from the Indian Ocean ports and across the Atlantic. At least ten centuries of slavery for the benefit of the Muslim countries (from the ninth to the nineteenth).

Then more than four centuries (from the end of the fifteenth to the nineteenth) of a regular slave trade to build the Americas and the prosperity of the Christian states of Europe. The figures, even where hotly disputed, make your head spin.

Four million slaves exported via the Red Sea, another four million through the Swahili ports of the Indian Ocean, perhaps as many as nine million along the trans-Saharan caravan route, and eleven to twenty million (depending on the author) across the Atlantic Ocean.

Of all these slave routes, the “slave trade” in its purest form, i.e. the European Atlantic trade, attracts most attention and gives rise to most debate.

The Atlantic trade is the least poorly documented to date, but this is not the only reason.

More significantly, it was directed at Africans only, whereas the Muslim countries enslaved both Blacks and Whites [equal opportunity]. And it was the form of slavery that indisputably contributed most to the present situation of Africa. It permanently weakened the continent, led to its colonisation by the Europeans in the nineteenth century, and engendered the racism and contempt from which Africans still suffer.

Noam Chomsky, to end, with a quote I like to use from an interview with him:

[A] look at history and perception of what we see, does, I think, lend some credibility to a traditional view coming out of the Enlightenment—it is at the core of liberalism, the ideals we are supposed to honour but disregard—which says that fundamental to human nature is a kind of instinct for freedom, which shows up in creative activities.

This is actually the core of Cartesian philosophy, the core of enlightenment political thought. And I think we see plenty of examples of it: people struggling all over the world for freedom.

They don’t like to be oppressed.

Be as free as you can be, without causing harm, and love more—and stand up for that whenever you can, however you can. What else can a person do?



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