British Imperialismin AfricaThe motives of Britain’s imperialist activitiesin Africa from 1869 to 1912 were strategic and defensive. While other motivesdid exist, such as to colonize, to search for new markets and materials,to attain revenge and world prestige, to convert natives to Christianity,and to spread the English style of orderly government, the main motivesevident in many events of the period showed attempts to safeguard the countryand protect former land holdings. As its free trade and influential relationshipwith Africa was threatened, Britain began to turn trade agreements intostronger and more formal protectorates and even colonies.
Britain actedto protect the route east and its connection with the Indian Empire. Ratherthan to expand the British Empire, Britain fought battles over territoryto prevent French or German control in Africa. Britain’s imperialist involvement in thescramble for Africa occurred in response to the actions of the French andeven German. Britain had a history of African trade agreements and, comparedto its European counterparts, the highest degree of control in Africa. France and Britain began an earnest race for the Niger in 1883, agreeingthen to divide the territory–Lagos to Britain and Timbuktu for France.Order now
This did not neutralize the competition, however. Britain had to act inNigeria (1885) and Nyasaland (1891) to protect existing spheres of commercialand missionary activities. France’s strategy to declare its “right of occupation”and then seek negotiation further urged Britain’s aggressive maintenanceof territory. The British annexed Bechuanaland (1885) partly to guard againstthe Germans; partly to prevent its absorption by the Transvaal, which wouldhave increased the power of the Boers.
(Faber 57-58) Later, in 1888, theFrench threatened the Britain dominated Nile Valley, hinting they mightdivert the water of the Nile to render the area useless. In East Africa the British had strategicmotives to protect the Suez Canal and the route to the east. As the scrambleexploded in the 1880s, Britain was suddenly challenged for her right totrade and conduct financial and military business. “The prime object wasdefensive , as it had been under Disraeli: the preventionof serious inroads on British power; the anticipation of other powers,when strategically necessary, in the ‘Scramble for Africa’; the protectionof the route to India and the East. The safety of the Suez Canal had alreadybecome a cardinal point of British policy.
” (Faber 57)The first showdown over the route to theeast between Britain and France occurred in Egypt. French pride over anew Egyptian canal, built in 1869, was soaring. It was abruptly groundedin 1875, however, by a surreptitious British purchase of the majority sharein the Suez Canal. A dubious balance of power was achieved through duelAnglo-French control of Egypt. Britain was able to prevail over Franceduring the Egyptian Crisis, as the French government did not allow Frenchinvolvement in smothering the rebellion. This afforded the British a chance tore-establish their role in world military dominance.
These conflicts wereclearly not for the purpose of monetary gain on Britain’s part. The Economistobserved in 1892 that East Africa was ‘probably an unprofitable possession’;it was primarily for strategic reasons that the government held on to it. By 1893, France was still not reconciledto Britain’s role in the Nile Valley. They tried to follow through on earlierthreats to divert the headwaters of the Nile to devastate the valley. Anexpedition headed by Jean-Baptiste Marchand finally departed in 1896 andmarched from the west coast to Fashoda, a city on the upper Nile. Britainresponded to rumors of this expedition by ordering that an army lead byHerbert Horatio Kitchener conquest the Sudan in order to protect the Nilefrom the French.
Kitchener crushed the politically separatist Sudanese,winning the famous Battle of Omdurman in 1898. He took Khartoum and movedon to Fashoda by September, where Marchand had been camped out since April. Britain and France teetered on the brink of war, which was finally avertedby careful handling by both Marchand and Kitchener. Britain’s action in South Africa helpedto protect their connection to the Indian Empire. They officially annexedSouth Africa in 1877, recognizing this might lead to a reduction of Britishresponsibilities South Africa.
It was also important that they maintaintheir control to keep other powers from getting a foothold. The Boer Warended in 1902, while the Transvaal was given self-rule by Britain 1906. Britain was not an instigator in the scramblefor Africa, but rather a reactionary nation who responded to the actionsof other forces. As French and German forces threatened loose trade deals,Britain set up protectorates and colonies.
As British holdings in Egyptand in East Africa were threatened, Britain fought to maintain its power.