Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, February 9, 2015

Prewar Colonization of Africa

While searching for some maps for an unrelated article, I stumbled across this interesting map showing the European colonization of Africa on the eve of the Great War. I had not realized before how comprehensive the effort was. Only Liberia and Abyssinia (Ethiopia) were unclaimed at the time.

Source:  History of the World War,  March and Beamish
This, of course, raises the issue for us in the 21st century: What in the world was this fascination that Africa held for Europeans? I only had time for a little research on this matter, but I did find this interesting discussion at the Saylor Foundation website.  (PDF article — Why Did Europe Colonize Africa?)


  1. European settlement was certainly a factor in some places: South Africa, Rhodesia and Kenya come to mind..

  2. "Mittelafrica" was a major German war aim in 1914, it would consist of all the ex British and French colonies combined with the existing German African colonies.

    Fritz Fischers book, "Germany's Aims in the First World War" deals with this in great (and sometimes difficult!) detail.

  3. The great game of Colonization among the powers of the world. They provided an area to gather raw materials (gold, diamonds, wood, metals, ivory, oil) and sell produced goods. It was an age where the world saw its role as 'civilizing' the aboriginal populations of the earth. Even the US got caught in the web after we decimated our aboriginals and took their land. We reached out to Hawaii, the Philippines, Cuba, Guatemala and the Caribbean. But along with the trappings of Colonies, came medicine, missionaries, schools, government, industries, opportunities for the elite, husbandry, agriculture, and modernization. But also plunder, exploitation, unregulated capitalism, foreign domination, dictatorships, torture and murder. But today in modern 'enlightened times', we have come to see the most progress and advancement in areas that were colonized as opposed to areas where there was little interest and so they pursued their own route of arrested development. It is a pattern of conquest of the strong and organized against the others as old as man.