Home HISTORY Explain the Reasons for the Scramble for and Partition of Africa

Explain the Reasons for the Scramble for and Partition of Africa


Explain the Reasons for the Scramble for and Partition of Africa

Colonialism refers  to  the   situation  whereby  one  powerful  nation  extend  its  influence  over  the  weaker  nation politically, economically  and  ideologically. Colonialism in Africa started from the 19th century.

Colonization of the African continent by the European capitalist power is the stage in the development of capitalism which was contributed by the transformation from commercial/mercantile capitalism through industrial capitalism to monopole capitalism.


Mercantile capitalism – the capitalist stage that based on overseas trade. It developed between 1400 and 1750. During this period, Africa exported products of higher value to Europe while Europe exported goods of lower value to Africa. Also it was the time of the development of slave trade.

Competitive Capitalism – the capitalist system that based on industrial production. It developed between 1750s and 1870s. It was also based on free trade. Free trade became necessary in order to expand markets and control of raw materials abroad. Industrial capitalism based on the need of raw materials, markets, areas for investment, areas for surplus settlements and the need of cheap labour.

Monopoly capitalism (imperialism/colonialism) – the highest level in the development of capitalism that based on the control of overseas provinces/areas. It developed between 1870s and 1960s.

Monopoly capitalism characterized by the following features:

1. Concentration and centralization of capital – put capital in hands of few people to maximize profit.

2. Emergence/development of banks – profit was accumulated through banking system.

3. Export of capital – the capitalist exported capital instead of products.

4. The formation of international monopolistic companies – such companies included GEACO, IBEACO and BSACO which divided the world among themselves.

5. Division of the world among the great capitalist powers – the world was divided and archived through the partitioning of Africa.



Literally the word “Scramble” means fighting, scuffle or struggling for something between two people or sides.

Scramble for Africa refers to the sudden rush or struggle to acquire different parts in Africa by the European imperialist powers.


Scramble for Africa refers to the struggle or competition among European nations in Africa in order to acquire areas of economic influences.


Scramble for Africa refers to the fighting for colonies or spheres of influence among European imperialist powers in Africa.

The process of scramble for Africa had two major stages which were: –

Phase/ stage one (From 1830‘s – 1880’s)

During this stage, the major participants were Britain, France and Belgium.

Britain  had  colonized South  Africa  since  1795  as  a  colony  for  settlement  which  she  took  it  after  intensive  scramble  against  the  Boers. She  had  also  occupied  Sierra  Leone  as  a   colony  for  the  ex-slaves  in  America  since  1810.

France had monopolized Senegal, Gambia and  Ivory  Coast  as  the  major  sources  of  their  industrial  development. The  two  powers  were  also  scrambling  to  monopolize  and  control  River Niger  in  West  Africa.

Belgium in other hand struggled to monopolize and control Congo River and the basin in Central Africa. This was done under the leadership of King Leopold II.

Phase/ stage two (From 1880’s – 1890’s)

This stage was characterized by intervention of  the  late  comers  who  were  Germany  and  Italy  in  process  of  scramble  for  Africa.


Partition simply means “divide” or “to slice, to divide or to break” something into pieces.

Partition of Africa refers to the process whereby African continent was divided into pieces among European


Partition of Africa refers to the process of dividing African continent among European nations who were scrambling each other.

The  partition  process  of  Africa  was  done  so  as  to  avoid  the  scrambling  or  struggle  of  the  imperialist  nations  in  Africa  which  could  result  into  fighting  or  wars. This  process of dividing the African continent was  done  during  the  Berlin  conference  of  1884  to  1885 which was  held  in  Berlin, Germany  under  Otto  Von  Bismarck as the chairman of the conference.


The  scramble  for  Africa  reached  its zenith towards  the  last  quarter  of  19th century. There  are  two  perspectives/ views  or  approaches  which  explain  the  causes  of  scramble  for  Africa. These are:

  1. Eurocentric views/ perspectives
  2. Afro centric views/ perspectives


These were explanations propounded by capitalist scholars in Europe. According  to  Eurocentric  historians, scramble  for  and  partition of  Africa  was  due  to  the  humanitarian reasons. The following are the reasons for scramble for and partition of Africa:

European Nationalism.

This was union of various small European states which were ruled by princes into bigger empires. In Germany the unification was made under Otto Von Bismarck. This unification made their countries to praise their culture and declared a mission to civilize other cultures hence Germany and Italy rushed to scramble for colonies in Africa.

European Balance of Power.

The balance of power was disrupted by Franco-Prussian war of 1870 -1871 [The wart between France and Germany]. Germany rose to power after defeating France and seizing her two provinces that is Alsace for production of coal and Lorraine for iron. There after France began to scramble for colonies in order to regain its power and compensate for the lost provinces.

Strategic Reasons/ Consideration.

Scramble for and  partition  of  Africa  was  influenced  by  protection  of  commercial  interests  of  the  European  nations  in  Eurocentric  Historians  claims  that, European  powers  scrambled  because  they  wanted  to  protect  her  trade  interests  in  Middle  East  and  Far  East  or Asia.

National Prestige.

The possession of colonies was considered as a symbol of greatness and respect. For example Germany and Italy struggled for colonies with the aim of acquiring national prestige.

Civilization Mission.

European nations claimed that  they  scrambled  in  Africa  because  they  wanted  to  civilize  the  regrettable  They scrambled because they wanted to remove barbaric culture like: Killing twins, believing in many Gods, Women circumcision, Polygamy etc. They  further  claimed  that, it was their  burden  to  civilize the Africans through  education  and  religion, hence  scramble  for  Africa.

Superiority Complex.

European nations scrambled for African colonies because they regarded themselves as superior race. They regarded  Africans  and  Asians  as  an  inferior  race  which  was  to  be  controlled  or  dominated  by  superior  race, this  myth  forced  European  to  rush  in  Africa  so  as  to  prove  their

Social Darwinism.

Charles Darwin was among the prominent theorists in 19th c in Europe. He proposed  a  theory “ Struggle  for  existence  and  survival  of  the  fittest” which  explain  the  natural  selection  for  The  European  nations  used  this  theory  to  Scramble  for   Africa  and  colonization  of  Africa, because  to  have  colonies  was  a  sign  of  fitness.

Humanitarian Factor.

European nations  scrambled  in  Africa  because  they  wanted  to  abolish  slavery  and  slave  trade because it was against human rights. They  claimed  that, Africans  could  not  stop  this  trade  and  mode  of  production,  therefore  they  scrambled  because  each  nation  wanted  to  participate  in  abolishing  this

To spread legitimate trade.

The European claimed that they wanted to spread legitimate trade that deals with raw materials, and other natural goods.


These are views propounded by African scholars. According to  Afro  centric  historians, the  scramble  for  and  partition  of    Africa  was   due  to  the development of imperialism especially during the stage of the Industrial  revolution ( Development  of  Industrial  production)  which  took  place  in  Europe.

The Industrial  revolution  which  took  place  in  Europe  had  a lot  of  problems ( impacts) which  faced  European  nations. In order  to  solve  these  problems, they  decided  to  come  in  Africa, a  thing  which  led  to  scramble  for  and  partition  of  Africa.

The following were the impacts (problems) of Industrial revolution which led to Scramble for and partition of Africa according to Afro-centric historians:

The need of raw materials (Overproduction).

This was due to the use of machines in production that increased production something  which  led  to  the  Shortage of  raw  materials  in  Therefore  in order  to  solve  this  problem, European  nations  decided  to  come  in  African  to  find  raw  materials. This led to scramble for and partition of Africa.

 The need of markets (Under consumption)

After the Industrial revolution, there was failure of the people to purchase the goods produced in industries effectively. This led  to  shortage  of  markets  and  failure  of  business  to  many  European  As  a  result  they  decided  to  come  in Africa  to  search  for  markets  in order  to  sell  their  goods. This  led  to  scramble  for  and  partition  of  African  among  European  nations.

The need of areas for settlements

After the Industrial revolution there was increase of population in different nations. This was due  to  many  reasons  such  as  availability  of  plenty  of  food, improvement  of  health  services  and  This  led  to  shortage  of  settlements  as  houses  in  towns  and  cities  could  not  fit  the  increased  population. Therefore, European nations decided  to  come  in  Africa  to  find  areas  where  they  could  establish  settlements so that to reduce government expenditure.  This led to scramble for and partition of Africa.

The need of cheap labour (The rise of working class movements)

At the last  quarter  of  the  19th  c  there  was  shortage  of  workers ( Cheap  labor) due  to  the  rise  of  working  class  movement like Chartism, Luddism, new model trade unions etc. The  rise  of  working  movements  was  due  to  payments  of  low  wages  by  the  capitalists, poor  working  condition  and  lack  of  insurance  especially  in  Therefore  in  Europe, it  was  difficult  to  get  cheap  labor  who  could  work  in  industries  and  other production  areas, as  a  result  Europeans  decided  to  come  in  Africa  to  find  cheap  labor  that  could  help  the  production  of  raw  materials. This eventually led to the scramble for and partition of Africa

The need of areas for investment (Production of surplus capital)

After industrialization, European nations  increased  the  rate  of  production, a  thing  which  prompted production  of  surplus  capital ( super  profit). This led to the demand (shortage) of investment areas in Europe. European  nations  demanded  opportunities  where  they  could  invest  their  surplus  capital, but  in  Europe, there  were  no  areas  to  Therefore, they decided to come in Africa where they could invest their surplus capital


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