Written by: Newton Mathews
Reasons for Europe’s Interest, Imperialism in Africa, and the “Civilizing Mission”
During the history of Africa, when Europe showed interest and colonized Africa, the whole world expanded. In 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem that would eventually become a musical and become the national anthem of America. In 1857, there was the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. About 30 years later, in 1884, the European powers came together to divide Africa among themselves.
The two European countries that received most of Africa were Great Britain and France, which had 30 percent and 36 percent of the continent. Europe wanted to get Africa for itself for many reasons. Firstly, man’s desire to explore is present in all of us (Phimister, 2018); this may have been the cause of European exploration of Africa. Second, in Christian doctrine, Jesus commands his followers to spread the gospel to everyone in the world. Since most of the British population at that time were Christians, this could be another reason for exploring Africa.
Thirdly, a sense of patriotism in European countries could lead to getting more land for their countries.
The colonization of Africa is deeply rooted in the European consciousness of the European people. In their opinion, anyone who was not British or civilized as they wanted was lower. According to Happy, “Europeans considered it their duty to “civilize” and “exalt” the African people” (104). Although Africans had their societies, their rulers, their laws, and everything, the colonialists believed that they could “improve” it. Just as they drove Native Americans out of their land on a reservation, Europeans captured most of the continent. Before World War I, European countries owned 96% of Africa.
The number decreased after the First World War, but only to 93%. The severe severity of Europeans in Africa is very evident in the educational systems that were created in Africa at that time (Phimister, 2018). When Europe began to take over Africa, Christian missionaries began to develop schools, mainly to “keep Africans in the know” of the colonial administration, which wanted to control not only the land but also people; this arose from the Eurocentric myth that Africans were cattle.
The colonial administration wanted the Africans to be at least semi-educated to carry out the main tasks that would benefit the administration. Missionaries/teachers oversaw the curriculum taught to Africans, but the administration was responsible for the results. As Europeans watched education, Africans received a Eurocentric education. At the preliminary stages of this type of training, it was especially harmful. As Hapoya explains, “missionary schools taught that a European presence in Africa should benefit the African people” (102).
Everything African was discouraged. African traditions, language, heritage, and even names in mission schools. As Europeans continued and expanded the colonization of Africa, African people instilled “religious” values such as humility, patience, and forgiveness (102). Africans endured the difficulties of colonization. Forgive Europeans for the invasion and peacefully greet them on their land (Porter, 2016). It was the Europeans who crossed their borders, and it was they who should have asked for forgiveness from the Africans and had to reverse their actions. Of course, this did not happen. They continued to “civilize” and “improve” the Africans.
Their “improvements” were associated not so much with the actual benefits of the African people as with the benefits of individual country status in Europe. The acquisition of part of Africa would be a great victory for a European country and would enhance people’s moral and ego in a European country. Parts of Africa would also provide soldiers for future wars, although they would not know about them (Porter, 2016). In addition to giving soldiers, specific geographic locations of Africa would serve as military posts during wars.
However, besides these many reasons, economic reasons may have been at the forefront of colonization. Africa was an abundance of natural resources and a source of cheap labor for the industrial revolution. The Europeans justified this exploitation of Africa and the African people since they considered it their “Christian duty” to exalt these “petty, sad, rude” from their “terrible and primitive” life. Even though some countries are turning Africans into black Europeans, they were still concerned about the difference between them and the African people.
Today we should notice these differences between us but not be overloaded with them. These differences make us human beings amazing, and we should not separate ourselves based on something as trivial as skin color. We should see these differences and glorify them and not scold others for them.
Phimister, I. (2018). Empire, Imperialism, and the Partition of Africa. In Gentlemanly capitalism, imperialism, and global history (pp. 65-82). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Porter, A. N. (2016). European Imperialism, 1860-1914. Macmillan International Higher Education.