Colonisation of Africa
Ancient Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Malays all established colonies on the African continent, some which endured centuries. In popular parlance, discussions of colonialism in Africa usually focus on the European conquests of the New Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa (1884-1914) era, followed by gradual decolonisation after WW2. The principal powers involved in the modern colonisation of Africa are Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Italy. In nearly all African countries today, the language used in government and media is the one imposed by a recent colonial power, though most people speak their native African languages.
History of Africa
- In ancient times, people from Southern Europe and Western Asia colonised North Africa, while people from Southeast Asia colonised Madagascar.
- In the Middle Ages, North and East Africa was further colonised by people from Western Asia.
- In the Modern Era, Western Europeans colonised all parts of the continent, culminating in the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century.
Ancient and Medieval colonisation
Under Egypt's Pharaoh Amasis (570–526 BC) a Greek mercantile colony was established at Naucratis, some 50 miles from the later Alexandria. Greeks also colonised Cyrenaica around the same time. There was also an attempt in 513 BC to establish a Greek colony between Cyrene and Carthage, which resulted in the combined local and Carthaginian expulsion two years later of the Greek colonists.
Alexander the Great (356–323 BC) founded Alexandria during his conquest of Egypt. This became one of the major cities of Hellenistic and Roman times, a trading and cultural centre as well as a military headquarters and communications hub.
Phoenicians established a number of colonies along the coast of North Africa. Some of these were founded relatively early. Utica, for example, was founded c. 1100 BC. Carthage, which means New City, has a traditional foundation date of 814 BC. It was established in what is now Tunisia and became a major power in the Mediterranean by the 4th century BC. The Carthaginians themselves sent out expeditions to explore and establish colonies along Africa's Atlantic coast. A surviving account of such is that of Hanno, which Harden who quotes it places at c. 425 BC.
Carthage encountered and struggled with the Romans. After the third and final war between them, the Third Punic War (150–146 BC), Rome completely destroyed Carthage. Scullard mentions plans by such as Gaius Gracchus in the late 2nd century BC, Julius Caesar and Augustus in the mid- and late 1st century BC to establish a new Roman colony near the same site. This was established and under Augustus served as the capital city of African continent Roman province of Africa.
Gothic Vandals briefly established a kingdom there in the 5th century, which shortly thereafter fell to the Romans again, this time the Byzantines. The whole of Roman/Byzantine North Africa eventually fell to the Arabs in the 7th century.
The oldest modern European founded city on the African continent is Cape Town, which was founded by the Dutch East India Company in 1652, as a halfway stop for passing European ships sailing to the east.
Early modern period
Early European expeditions by the Portuguese concentrated on colonising previously uninhabited islands such as the Cape Verde Islands and São Tomé Island, or establishing coastal forts as a base for trade. The Spanish also established possessions of the Canary Islands off the West African Coast, and Equatorial Guinea, Ceuta and Melilla on the African mainland before 1830.
Scramble for Africa
Established empires, notably Britain, France, Spain and Portugal had already claimed coastal areas but had not penetrated deeply inland. Europeans controlled one tenth of Africa, primarily along the Mediterranean and in the far South. A significant early proponent of colonising inland was King Leopold of Belgium, who oppressed the Congo as his own private domain until 1908. The 1885 Berlin Conference, initiated by Otto von Bismarck to establish international guidelines and avoiding violent disputes among European Powers, formalized the "New Imperialism". This allowed the imperialists to move inland, with relatively few disputes among themselves. The only serious threat of inter-Imperial violence came in the Fashoda Incident of 1898 between Britain and France; It was settled without significant military violence between the colonising countries. Between 1870 and 1914 Europe acquired almost 9 million square miles (23,000,000 km2)—one-fifth of the land area of the globe—to its overseas colonial possessions.
In terms of administrative styles, "[t]he French, the Portuguese, the Germans and the Belgians exercised a highly centralised type of administration called 'direct rule.'" The British by contrast sought to rule by identifying local power holders and encouraging or forcing them to administer for the British Empire. This was indirect rule.
France ruled from Paris, appointing chiefs individually without considering traditional criteria, but rather loyalty to France. France established two large colonial federations in Africa, French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa. France appointed the state officials, passed laws and had to approve any measures passed by colonial assemblies.
Local groups in German East Africa resisted German enforced labour and taxation. In the Abushiri revolt, the Germans were almost driven out of the area in 1888. A decade later the colony seemed conquered, though, "It had been a long-drawn-out struggle and inland administration centres were in reality little more than a series of small military fortresses." In 1905, the Germans were astonished by the widely supported Maji Maji Rebellion. This resistance was at first successful. However, within a year, the insurrection was suppressed by reinforcing troops armed with machine guns. German attempts to seize control in Southwest Africa also produced ardent resistance, which was very forcefully repressed leading to the Herero and Namaqua Genocide.
King Leopold II of Belgium called his vast private colony the Congo Free State. His barbaric treatment of the Africans sparked a strong international protest and the European powers forced him to relinquish control of the colony to the Belgian Parliament.
Vincent Khapoya notes the significant attention colonial powers paid to the economics of colonisation. This included: acquisition of land, often enforced labour, the introduction of cash crops, sometimes even to the neglect of food crops, changing inter-African trading patterns of pre-colonial times, the introduction of labourers from India, etc. and the continuation of Africa as a source of raw materials for European industry. Colonial powers later focused on abolishing slavery, developing infrastructure, and improving health and education.
Khapoya notes the significant resistance of powers faced to their domination in Africa. Technical superiority enabled conquest and control. Pro-independence Africans recognised the value of European education in dealing with Europeans in Africa. Some Africans established their own churches. Africans also noticed the unequal evidence of gratitude they received for their efforts to support Imperialist countries during the world wars.
Khapoya also notes that while European imposed borders did not correspond to traditional territories, such new territories provided entities to focus efforts by movements for increased political voice up to independence. Among local groups so concerned were professionals such as lawyers and doctors, the petite bourgeoisie (clerks, teachers, small merchants), urban workers, cash crop farmers, peasant farmers, etc. Trade unions and other initially non-political associations evolved into political movements.
Khapoya describes the differences in gaining independence by British and French colonies. Britain sought to follow a process of gradual transfer of power. The French policy of assimilation faced some resentment, especially in North Africa. Shillington describes the granting of independence in March 1956 to Morocco and Tunisia to allow concentration on Algeria where there was a long (1954–62) and bloody armed struggle to achieve independence. Khapoya writes that when President de Gaulle in 1958 held a referendum in its African colonies on the issue, only Guinea voted for outright independence. Nevertheless, in 1959 France amended the constitution to allow other colonies this option.
As Shillington describes farmers in British East Africa were upset by attempts to take their land and to impose agricultural methods against their wishes and experience. In Tanganyika, Julius Nyerere exerted influence not only among Africans, united by the common Swahili language, but also on some white leaders whose disproportionate voice under a racially weighted constitution was significant. He became the leader of an independent Tanganyika in 1961. In Kenya, whites had evicted African tenant farmers in the 1930s; since the '40s there has been conflict, which intensified in 1952. By 1955, Britain had suppressed the revolt, and by 1960 Britain accepted the principle of African majority rule. Kenya became independent three years later.
Shillington vividly portrays Belgium's initial opposition to independence, the demands by some urban Africans, the 1957 & 1958 local elections meant to calm this dissatisfaction, the general unrest that swept the colony, the rapid granting of independence and the civil strife that ensued.
The main period of decolonisation in Africa began after World War II. Growing independence movements, indigenous political parties and trade unions coupled with pressure from within the imperialist powers and from the United States and the Soviet Union ensured the decolonisation of the majority of the continent by 1980. While some areas, in particular, South Africa, & Namibia retain a large population of European descent. Only the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are any part of mainland Africa that is still governed by a European country. While the islands of Réunion and Mayotte, Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan Da Cunha, the Canary Islands and Madeira all remain under either French, British, Spanish, or Portuguese control, the latter two of which were never part of any African polity and have an overwhelmingly European population.
The theory of colonialism addresses the problems and consequences of the colonisation of a country, and there has been much research conducted exploring these concepts.
Guyanese activist, Walter Rodney (1942-1980) proposes in the book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa Africa was pillaged and plundered by the West through economic exploitation. Using a Marxist analysis, He opines that as Europe was being developed, Africa was being underdeveloped via resource extraction. His conclusion is that the structure of present-day Africa and Europe can through a comparative analysis be traced to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and colonialism. He includes a gendered analysis and states the rights of African women were further diminished during colonialism.
Mahmood Mamdani wrote his book Citizen and Subject in 1996. The main point of his argument is that the colonial state in Africa took the form of a bifurcated state, "two forms of power under a single hegemonic authority". The colonial state in Africa was divided into two. One state for the colonial European population and one state for the indigenous population. The colonial power was mainly in urban towns and cities and were served by elected governments. The indigenous power was found in rural villages and were ruled by tribal authority, which seemed to be more in keeping with their history and tradition. Mamdani mentions that in urban areas, native institutions were not recognised. The natives, who were portrayed as uncivilised by the Europeans, were excluded from the rights of citizenship. The division of the colonial state created a racial segregation between the European 'citizen' and African 'subject', and a division between institutions of government.
Achille Mbembe is a Cameroonian historian, political theorist, and philosopher who has written and theorized extensively on life in the colony and postcolony. His 2000 book, On the Postcolony, critically examines postcolonial life in Africa and is a prolific work within the field of postcolonialism. It is through this examination of the postcolony that Mbembe reveals the modes through which power was exerted in colonial Africa. He reminds the reader that colonial powers demanded use of African bodies in particularly violent ways for the purpose of labor as well as the shaping of subservient colonised identities.
Through a comparison of power in the colony and postcolony, Mbembe demonstrates that violence in the colony was exerted on African bodies largely for the purpose of labor and submission. European colonial powers sought natural resources in African colonies and needed the requisite labor force to extract them and simultaneously build the colonial city around these industries. Because Europeans viewed native bodies as degenerate and in need of taming, violence was necessary to create a submissive laborer.
Colonisers viewed this violence as necessary and good because it shaped the African into a productive worker. They had the simultaneous goals of utilizing the raw labor and shaping the identity and character of the African. By beating into the African a docile nature, colonisers ultimately shaped and enforced the way Africans could move through colonial spaces. The African’s day-to-day life then became a show of submission done through exercises like public works projects and military conscription.
Mbembe contrasts colonial violence with that of the postcolony. Mbembe demonstrates that violence in the postcolony is cruder and more generally for the purpose of demonstrating raw power. Expressions of excess and exaggeration characterize this violence.
Mbembe's theorization of violence in the colony illuminates the unequal relationship between the coloniser and colonised and reminds us of the violence inflicted on African bodies throughout the process of colonisation. It cannot be understood nor should be taught without the context of this violence.
Stephanie Terreni Brown
Stephanie Terreni Brown is an academic in the field of colonialism. In her 2014 paper she examines how sanitation and dirt is used in colonial narratives through the example of Kampala in Uganda. Writing also about Abjection through sanitation planning in the city and how this plays a key role in this narrative of colonisation.
Brown describes Abjection as the process whereby one group others or dehumanizes another. Those who are deemed Abject are often avoided by others, and seen as inferior. Abjectivication is continually used as a mechanism to dominate a group of people, and control them. In the case of colonialism, she argues that it is used by the west to dominate over and control the indigenous population of Africa.
Abjectivication through discourses of dirt and sanitation are used to draw distinctions between the Western governing figures and the local population. Dirt being seen as something out of place, whilst cleanliness being attributed to the “in group”, the colonisers, and dirt being paralleled with the indigenous people. The reactions of disgust and displeasure to dirt and uncleanliness are often linked social norms and the wider cultural context, shaping the way in which Africa is still thought of today.
Brown discusses how the colonial authorities were only concerned with constructing a working sewage system to cater for the colonials themselves, and weren’t concerned with the Ugandan population. This rhetoric of sanitation is important because it is seen as a key part of modernity and being civilised, which the African population are therefore seen as not being. This lack of sanitation and proper sewage systems add to this discourse of the people of Africa and Africa itself being savages and uncivilised, playing a central role in how the west justified the case of the civilising process. Brown refers to this process of abjectification using discourses of dirt as a physical and material legacy of colonialism that is still very much present in Kampala and other African cities today.
Critical theory on the colonisation of Africa is largely unified in a condemnation of imperial activities. Postcolonial theory has been derived from this anti-colonial/anti-imperial concept and writers such as Mbembe, Mamdani and Brown, and many more, have used it as a narrative for their work on the colonisation of Africa.
Post colonialism can be described as a powerful interdisciplinary mood in the social sciences and humanities that is refocusing attention on the imperial/colonial past, and critically revising understanding of the place of the west in the world.
Postcolonial geographers are consistent with the notion that colonialism, although maybe not in such clear-cut forms, is still concurrent today. Both Mbembe, Mamdani and Brown’s theories have a consistent theme of the indigenous Africans having been treated as uncivilised, second class citizens and that in many former colonial cities this has continued into the present day with a switch from race to wealth divide.
Mbembe is one of the most prominent writers within the field and this has led to his work being reviewed by numerous academics. On the Postcolony has faced criticism from academics such as Meredith Terreta for focusing too much on specific African nations such as Cameroon. Echoes of this criticism can also be found when looking at the work of Mamdani with his theories questioned for generalising across an Africa that, in reality, was colonised in very different ways, by fundamentally different European imperial ideologies. In contrast to Mbembe and Mamdani, Brown is a less prominent writer and one whose work is yet to be reviewed by other academics meaning it is currently harder to grasp what academic theoretical critiques could be brought against her work.
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