Perspectives on the Scramble for Africa

In the readings, different perspectives were given regarding ‘the scramble for Africa’. Colonial scholars of the period propagated the idea that native Africans were somewhat barbaric and backward, and that they need guidance from a more civilized people. This assessment is not totally untrue, for Africa (then and now) remains technologically backward, although cultural backwardness is a subjective call. But colonial scholarship will have to be viewed with skepticism, for often it tends to be propagandistic. The internal dynamics of Europe during the period lends credence to the theory that Africa was just another theatre for European power politics. The ‘scramble for Africa’ happened at a time when advances in Naval technology enabled Britain, Germany, Netherlands, France, Belgium, Portugal, etc to set imperial sights on far off lands. Hence the view that ‘benevolence’ was the basis of European motivations with respect to Africa is factually and logically feeble. To the contrary, as the phrase ‘scramble for Africa’ easily suggests, the colonial exploration, invasion and occupation of various regions in Africa is purely a quest for power and material wealth.

The perspective given by authors like Joseph Conrad aligns more closely with the truth. In Conrad’s assessment, Africa represented the allegorical ‘other’ for Europeans. The mystical, primitive, wild and eternal nature of African culture and landscape transpired into a primordial urge to conquer these lands. Apart from these psycho-spiritual needs, the usurpation and exploitation of material richness of Africa is the blatant practical motivation. It is fair to say that the interests of native Africans were thus poorly served. Indeed, much of the African continent’s present languishment (poverty, AIDS, malaria, malnutrition, etc) can be partly attributed to the damage caused by European imperialism.