Reasons why the European governments supported imperialistic policies in Africa during the 19th century

The reasons for European imperialism in the last two decades of the 19th century are complex because they, are in varying degrees, which include



3.and social factors.
4. Not only that, it must also be noted that imperialism was caused by factors in Europe as well as in Africa.

1.Economic interpretation was perhaps the earliest form of reasons to be offered as valid and orthodoxy explanations about the urge to imperialism in the last quarter of the 19th century. According to Historians J.A. Hobson, H.N. Brailsford and V.L. Lenin imperialism was caused by economic factors which could be synthesised into two working groups. That is:

1.a There was the existence of so much surplus capital in European states that businessmen and investors wanted to invest in a new profitable business enterprises in the new colonies,

1.b The second line of argument by these historians was that there was economic competition between the industrialized states of Europe for markets and raw materials which they believed they could find in the colonies.

1.c However, a closer analysis has shown up some of the inconsistencies of the economic arguments. For instance, Germany and Italy, the two countries with great colonial ambitions actually suffered from a shortage of capital and needed it at home. Similarly companies such as the BSAC owned by Cecil John Rhodes, actually failed to pay dividends due to lack of profitability, yet they were in the forefront in the colonies. Paradoxically, Sweden and Norway which had an abundance of capital at home did not take part in colonial acquisitions.

2. Furthermore, Lenin’s argument that Europe in the last quarter of the last century had monopoly capitalists,:

2 a.who in their endless search for higher profits, directed their governments to partition Africa to secure valuable raw materials.

2.b However, views are not altogether accurate. For instance, in Britain and France monopolies were not as powerful as Lenin supposed. Yet colonies were sought by industrially backward countries such as Italy and Portugal.

2.c In addition to that, Lenin’s thesis is in terms of a logical time sequence, is fundamentally flawed. He clearly dates the emergence of ‘monopoly finance capitalism’ at about 1900. Since he asserts that this was the motive force behind imperialism, it cannot logically explain colonial acquisitions which were made before that date.

2.d Nevertheless that is not to say that economic factors were not important in the urge for colonies. They certainly were increasingly as more and more countries introduced protective tariffs, the possessions of a large colonial empire was seen as the only way to guarantee access to vital raw materials needed by modern industrial economies.

2.e In the 1880s the British were experiencing a ‘crisis’ of overproduction “which got worse because while they pursued free trade, France and Germany adopted protective tariffs. Britain’s domestic and colonial markets were open to her rivals but these rivals proceeded to introduce discriminatory duties against British goods. As one British official was quoted in John Lowe et al, Rivalry and accord: international Relations 1870-1914, thus, “we are forced to extend our direct political influence over a large part of Africa to secure a fair field and in favour for our commerce”.

3. Notably, pressure from German merchants was one factor that explains Bismarck’s sudden interest in Africa in the mid-1880s.

The mere prospect of obtaining rich resources of raw materials for the fledging industries, markets for already manufactured goods and possible new trading routes, was a strong inducement to imperialism. Other historians such as Adu Boahen in Topics in West African history, for instance, have indicated that the total market share which colonial powers came to realise in West Africa amounted to about 2%. Be that as it may, it was the potentiality which Africa embodied which acted as a pull factor to imperialism.

4. Humanitarian reasons

Christian missionaries in some parts of Africa had failed to convert African eg in The Ndebele state of Southern Africa and Opobo in the Niger Delta States(West Africa). They were also facing competition from the Islamic religion eg in Buganda(East Africa) and in many West African States. So the solution was just to call their governments especially the French and British who were prepared to promote those wanted to paint their styles to the whole world.

5.Influence of imperialists like Rhodes

People like C.J.Rhodes where highly praised in Britain especially by the media. So in order for the British politicians to win they were left with no choice then to support these men

6. European soldiers wanted wars to get to higher ranks

Ever-since the Franco-Prussian war( 1870-71) the was no major war in Europe which also resulted in army promotions offered less. So the soldiers had a thirst for adventure-to conquer the African who had poor weapons.

7.Europeans gained confidence because they had more advance weapons

Europeans had the maxim gun(one of the most advanced guns) during the 1880s and the Africans had bow and arrows . With this knowledge the Europeans thought they had nothing to lose than to gain

8. Search for minerals eg gold,copper


a.Britain – South Africa , Zimbabwe(Southern Rhodesia), Ghana(Gold coast) and Zambia (Northern Rhodesia)

b.France – French West Africa and Congo

c. German- Togoland and Namibia

d.Portugal- Angola and Mozambique

e. Belgium- Congo


9.Desire to dominate the world

eg Britain and France. Cecil John Rhodes was inspired by the desire to paint the world red. From Cape to Cairo he wanted British influence all over Africa.


10. Balance of power issue

Germany and Italy were still small states after their unifications of 1870-71. Since they had became states they wanted to be recognised on the arena by holding as much land as the other great powers had.


One thought on “Reasons why the European governments supported imperialistic policies in Africa during the 19th century

  1. Pingback: Why did the partition of Africa occur in the last quarter of the 19th century and not before? | World Wide History Online

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