Causes of Imperialism in Africa

It would be impossible to identify one concrete answer to the question, "Why the Scramble?"  In the past century, numerous prominent thinkers have formulated opinions, hoping to conjure up a satisfactory response to the age-old query: economist John A. Hobson said that, "In most parts of the world a purely or distinctively commercial motive and conduct have furnished the nucleus out of which Imperialism has grown... other interests, political and religious, enter in more largely," (Hobson 20). Acclaimed sociologist Joseph A. Schumpter noted in his 1918 work The Sociology of Imperialism that, "Imperialism is an atavism... of social structure and an atavism of emotional habits." As one regards the "Scramble for Africa," strategy, politics, economics, superiority, nationalism, and religion were all important motivations that engendered European imperialism in 19th century Africa.
Strategic Motivations
In geographic terms, Africa's placement with respect to the rest of the world is prime: by acquiring various territories in the continent, Europeans gained valuable trading ports as well as military advantages. Historian and author Trevor Rowell explains that, "France's interest in Tunisia arose partly because of its commanding position in 'her sea', the Mediterranean. And it was the Suez Canal route to India which dictated Britain's interest in Egypt," (Rowell 6). The construction of the Canal, write Bentley and Ziegler, "facilitated the building and maintenance of empires by enabling naval vessels to travel rapidly between the world's seas and oceans. They also lowered the costs of trade, " (B&Z 734). In his Letter to the Minister Beernaert about the Congo Free State, July 3, 1890, King Leopold II of Belgium stated that, "The vast Congo River system would open  up for our efforts lines of rapid communication and economics that would allow us to directly penetrate up to central Africa."
At this time... a warship cannot carry more than fourteen days' worth of coal... Thence the necessity of having on the oceans provision stations, shelters, ports for defense and revictualling. And it is for this that we needed Tunisia" -Jules Ferry, "Speech Before the French National Assembly" (Andrea and Overfield 295).

Economic Motives
At the very core of imperialism was the desire for empires to exploit the natural resources of subject lands, thus facilitating the prosperity of their own economies. In short, African conquests were usually a product of Westerners' national economic self-interest. Celebrated economist John A. Hobson analyzed the mentality of imperial nations in Economic Bases of Imperialism, concluding "It is open for Imperialists to argue thus: 'We must have markets for our growing manufactures, we must have new outlets for the investment of our surplus capital and for the energies of the adventurous surplus of our population... Thus we reach the conclusion that Imperialism is the endeavor of the great controllers of industry to broaden the channel for the flow of their surplus wealth by seeking foreign markets and foreign investments." In his own work, Imperialism, the Highest Form of Capitalism, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin argued similar viewpoints: "Imperialism emerged as the development and direct continuation of the fundamental characteristics of capitalism in general. But capitalism only became capitalist imperialism at a definite and very high stage of its development, when certain of its fundamental characteristics began to change into their opposites, when the features of the epoch of transition from capitalism to a higher social and economic system had taken shape and revealed themselves in all spheres...imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism." 

An excerpt from Captain F. D. Lugard: The Rise of our East African Empire, 1893

The Zanzibar Gazette, which is in a good position to judge, since the imports and exports from German East Africa can be fairly assessed there, speaking of "the comparatively large sums from the national resources" invested in this country, says, "We think it is only a question of time for such investments, with a careful management of the territory, to show highly profitable returns." Such a view from those on the spot and possessing local knowledge, should be a strong testimony in favor of the far richer British sphere...

Cecil Rhodes reclining in a South Africa diamond field, c. 1897. "His dominating economic, cultural, and political infulence on southern African territories for personal and British gain," write Bentley and Ziegler, "was a model of European and imperialist values," (B&Z 733). 

Economic motivations were integral to the colonization of South Africa: On a trip to South Africa, British author Anthony Trollope wrote of his encounters: "In 1870... various white men set themselves seriously to work in searching the banks of the Vaal up and down between Hebron and Klipdrift,---or Barkly as it is now called,---and many small parcels of stones were bought from natives who had been instigated to search by what they had already heard...The commencement of diamond-digging as a settled industry was in 1872." The diamond industry held great appeal for many Westerners, with Cecil Rhodes at the helm. Rhodes declared that his motivation was "Philanthropy- plus 5%" (Rowell 5), and "By 1889, at age thirty-five, he had almost completely monopolized diamond mining in South Africa," (B&Z 731). 

In a region to the north, King Leopold II of Belgium commissioned explorer Henry Morgan Stanley, of whom the British had denied support, to "explore the Congo (Zaire) in the hope of riches," (Rowell 6). Eventually, Leopold "carved out a personal colony and filled it with lucrative rubber plantations run by forced labor," (B&Z 740). 

European superiority not only translated as the notion of being greater than Africans, but also as the desire to promote patriotism within individual imperial powers: for example, Italy sought out colonies because "They were something to show your neighbor," (Rowell 6). In the words of historian Giuliano Procacci, King Umberto I desired

" convince the Italians that Italy too was a great power, and so to surround with a halo of prestige a state that would otherwise have had little" (6).

Kaiser Wilhelm II viewed Germany as the greatest nation, sharing his views in "A Place in the Sun:"

The Scramble was in part prompted by the fact that Europeans were propelled into taking subject lands to prove that their own nationality was superior to others, and thus Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, and others attempted to acquire the largest, most profitable section of Africa to simply out-conquest other governing bodies and glorify their own nation.


Religion, too, shaped the course of events that took place in 19th century Africa, as Christian missionaries ventured to "The Dark Continent" to share their beliefs with unenlightened individuals. 
The best known missionary was David Livingstone, who spread the Christian message throughout Central Africa. Historian R.R. Palmer wrote that "He gave himself to humanitarian and religious work, with a little occasional trading and much travel and exploration, but without political or true economic aims." 

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" asked Henry Morton Stanley ,who "found Livingstone" in 1871 after the latter had gone unheard from for several years.

Political Motivations In his work, Imperialism, A Study, John A. Hobson wrote, "Imperialism, and the military, diplomatic, and financial resources which feed it, have become so far the paramount considerations of recent Governments that they mould and direct the entire policy... At elections the electorate is no longer invited to exercise a free, conscious, rational choice between the representatives of different intelligible policies; it is invited to endorse, or to refuse endorsement, to a difficult, intricate, and hazardous imperial and foreign policy, commonly couched in a few well-sounding general phrases, and supported by an appeal to the necessity of solidarity and continuity of national conduct – virtually a blind vote of confidence." Indeed, German Chancellor Otto van Bismarck, "having declared himself, 'no man for colonies' then took five in 1884-5," (Rowell 5). Bismarck, though he may not have initially agreed with the practice of taking empires, ascertained that the majority of the German people supported expanding the empire, and he later contradicted his original proclamation: "My map of Africa lies in Europe. Here is Russia, and here lies France, and we are in the middle. That is my map of Africa," (6).

A political cartoon of Otto von Bismarck, dubbed "The Irrepressible Tourist" for his conquests in Africa.

Partially as a result of Western industrialization, Europeans regarded Africans as primitive in the 19th century, and thus, wrote Leonard Gadzekpo, "European colonialism in Africa meant rejection of political, economic, and cultural compromises with Africans based on the conviction of European superiority and a belief in a divine mandate to rule and to civilize Africa," (Gadzekpo 264). As proven by Hilaire Belloc's assertion in "The Modern Traveller" that "Whatever happens, we have got the Maxim gun, and they have not," Europeans believed that their superior weaponry and technology entitled them to stake claims in the underdeveloped African regions (Rowell 8). Social Darwinism, too, was a vital motivation and justification for white imperialists. In his The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin made note that:
"There is, however, no doubt that the various races, when carefully compared and measured, differ much from each other... Their mental characteristics are likewise very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotional, but partly in their intellectual faculties."

Thus, the first scientific racists took Darwin's ideas and expanded upon them, claiming that various racial groups were weaker morally and mentally than others. Count Joseph Arthur de Gobineau "characterized Africans as unintelligent and lazy...and Europeans as intelligent, noble, and morally superior to others" in his Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (B&Z 752). Imperialists used scientific racism to justify their African expeditions.

Stages of evolution, taken from Indigenous Races of the Earth by Josiah Clark Nott and G.R. Glidden (B&Z 752).

"...and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. I contend that every acre added to our territory means the birth of more of the English race who otherwise would not be brought into existence... The furtherance of the British Empire, for the bringing of the whole uncivilised world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States, for the making the Anglo-Saxon race but one Empire. What a dream! but yet it is probable. It is possible," - Cecil Rhodes, 1891 (Rowell 42). 

Link to Wilfred Scawen Blunt's Britain's Imperial Destiny, 1896-1899:

European superiority and arrogance is an easily identifiable characteristic in many documents of the epoch: In 1901 Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany spoke of his

...innermost belief that the moral and spiritual salvation of mankind is bound to a powerful Germany stretching far across the earth... Today God relies on the Germans," (Rowell 6).

 One of the most influential writers of the time, Rudyard Kipling, published his renowned poem "The White Man's Burden," which encouraged "civilized" men to:

Take up the White Man's burden--
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.

Indeed, "The European ideological stance of the period equated colonial expansion with prestige and status... European intellectuals found moral and philosophical justification for colonialism in ethnocentric arguments that Africans were physiologically, intellectually, and culturally inferior," (Gadzekpo 265). In his Control of the Tropics, Benjamin Kidd noted:

"If we look to the native social systems of...the primitive savagery of Central Africa... the lesson seems everywhere the same; it is that there will be no development of the resources of the tropics under native government," (Hobson 4).

In his critique of imperialism, John A. Hobson drew conclusions on the European mindset:

"Unless we are prepared to reaffirm in the case of nations, as the all-sufficient guide of conduct, that doctrine of "enlightened selfishness" which has been almost universally abandoned in the case of individuals... is the best guarantee of the general progress of humanity," (8). 
"The moral defence of Imperialism is generally based upon the assertion that...the political and economic control forcibly assumed -- by 'higher' over 'lower races' does promote at once the civilization of the world and the special good of the subject races," (10).

 Hobson pointed out that Europeans felt obligated to impose their own political and economic structures on the Africans. They used the excuse of "enlightened selfishness;" although Westerners were acting out of self-interest, they held that their conquests would benefit the African people in the long run.