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Examine the Economic Arguments Used to Explain the Partition of West Africa

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    In the late 1880s, only limited areas of Africa were subjected to the direct rule of Europeans. However, the next 20 years saw an increase in the confiscation of African colonies by the Europeans and by 1914 the partition of Africa had been consolidated. By 1914, with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia, the whole of Africa had been partitioned and occupied by the imperial powers of France, Britain, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Spain and Italy, and colonialism was implemented. However, by 1918 Germany lost its African colonies and they were distributed among the other European powers.

    Lenin and Hobson both argue that the partition of west Africa was highly economically motivated. These two scholars economic motives are somewhat similar to each other but Lenin argues more firmly that the crisis was one of finance capital and the development of “monopoly capitalism / oligopoly capitalism”. In addition, it may be interpreted that though the partition of West Africa can be seen as largely for economic motives, it is acknowledge that there were other factors, which led to the partitioning of West Africa. The French conquered most of the territory of West Africa.

    They established control over the interior Savanna, the Sahara, and three new coastal colonies: Guinea, Ivory Cast, and Dahomey. Britain settled on the Gambia Sierra Leon, and the Gold Coast. (Freun, 84). Goldie’s company received the Royal Charter and proclaimed a protectorate over much of the Niger Delta while the British states assumed control over the remainder. The company treaties gave a legal cover to further penetration within the Sokoto Caliphate and the French agreed to accept a demarcation line, which granted the British what became known as Northern Nigeria (Freun, 84).

    There were several reasons which led to the scramble of African territory by the Europeans. The scramble was on one part, the consequence of European rivalries after the rise of Germany. German people were split up into numerous small states, which were dominated by France and Austria prior to 1870. Bismarck united the German states in a series of war in which France and Austria were defeated. Bismarck dictated terms to the French whereby two French provinces, rich in coal and iron formed part of the new German nation (Boahen, & Webster, 167).

    There was the fear by Bismarck that France would attempt to win back its lost provinces from Germany, and make an alliance with England against Germany. Consequently, Bismarck’s pursued a policy in which he sought friendship with Britain and France and encouraged the disagreement between those two countries in Africa so that they could not co-operate together in Europe. Bismarck saw this opportunity for this policy in Egypt (Boahen & Webster, 168). In 1882, Egypt encountered bankruptcy because of debts owning to a combination of French, German, and English bankers.

    French bankers maintained the largest bloc of Egyptian debts. French teachers, technicians, merchants and military officers far outnumbered the other Europeans in Egypt thus Egypt was viewed as France’s sphere of influence. However, Britain moved first and occupied Egypt in 1882. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869 it became a vital link in Britain’s trading connections with British India. Britain was satisfied as long as the Suez was under Egyptian control and not under French control. Bismarck was able to exploit this situation as Germany supported the British occupation thus leading to France anger towards Britain.

    British occupation of Egypt was another factor, which led to the scramble and partition of Africa because Germany encouraged the French to make up for their two lost provinces in Europe and for Egypt, by seeking an empire elsewhere in Africa (Boahen & Webster, 168). In addition, Bismarck and King Leopold of Belgium demonstrated their imperial ambition in Africa. Although Bismarck disapproved of the overseas empire, it was apparent to him that it would be necessary for Germany to possess African territories to use as bargaining purposes if Germany was turn England against France.

    In 1884 Bismarck dispatched warships to declare German sovereignty over the coasts of German Togoland, Cameron, South Wets Africa and Tanganyika. These were the areas of British influence where their missionaries and traders worked. This strategy was designed to make the French feel that Germany was on their side in Africa. Furthermore, King Leopold created an International Association, this was supposed to promote scientific knowledge of Africa but it was actually designed to carry out his secret territorial ambitions in the Congo (Boahen &Webster, 169).

    Additionally, the British occupation of Egypt was vital in starring the scramble elsewhere on the African continent. Prior to British occupation of Egypt, there were many signs in West Africa that a new imperial advance could be expected. This was demonstrated by the British defeat of the Asante in 1874, renewed French activity on the Senegal in the late 1870s, British and French maneuvering on the Niger and French and Belgian activity on the Congo. The rivalry on the Niger-Congo impelled the Berlin Conference (Boahen &Webster, 170).

    In 1884, the European powers convened at the Berlin West Africa Conference when it became apparent that the carving up of Africa was to begin. The Berlin Conference determined that the Niger and Congo would be open to the trade of all nations along with other factors. Some scholars argue that the Berlin Conference was the percipient for the partition of West Africa, while others argue that the conference was a waste of time, as most of the decisions for the conference were not implemented (Boahen & Webster, 171). It may be considered that the partition of West Africa was economically motivated and this economic theory has evolved over time.

    Lenin and John Atkinson Hobson are strong supporters of the economic theory. Hobson argues that Britain in the late 19th century was overproducing manufacturing goods and thus needed overseas outlets for these surplus goods. He states that the overproduction, surplus capital, and under-consumption in industrialized nations inspired them to place larger and larger portions of their economic resources outside the area of their present political domain, and to stimulate a policy of political expansion so as to take in new areas (Boahen, 10).

    However, Hobson notes that it was not a situation for Britain where it could not absorb the products it produced. This separates Hobson view form Lenin as Lenin takes the view of a Marxists position. Hobson suggests that the buying of overseas market was more probable than the cut back in production for Britain as cut back in production may have resulted in the decreasing of profits, unemployment and under-employment (Townshed24-25). Additionally, Hobson postulates that the problem was the manufactures or capitalists were not paying workers efficiently consequently workers were unable to buy goods.

    Hobson sees this method as the exploitation of the working class in Britain. He notes that Britain sees the only way out of this crisis is the formation of overseas empires where it could sell the surplus to the outside world. This is seen in the case of Asia and Africa (Townshed 24-25). Townshend suggests that Hobson viewed monopolies responsible for generating the ‘unproductive surplus which created an imbalance between production and consumption.

    Freun further supports this argument where he states that the imperial conquest of Africa was undertaken in order to tap African resources in order to aid in the resolving of economic problems in Europe (97). In addition, European governments faced extreme pressure by European merchants. For instance, in the late 1870s, and early 1880s German trade with Africa was increasing rapidly and the merchants engaged in it had been clamoring for colonies. Moreover, until the 1870s, Britain, the first industrialized nation, held a virtual monopoly of the manufactured goods of the world.

    However, by the 1880s France and Germany were industrializing and they resented reliance on British sources for their tropical products. They also found difficulty in competing with British merchants in the credit they could offer, in the quality and cheapness of their products or in the price offered for raw materials. Therefore, these merchants desired colonies from which they could exclude British and other traders. These colonies in turn could also provide raw materials for their factories and markers for their goods, thus the partition of West Africa was seen as beneficial.

    Additionally, it was perceived by many Europeans that owning empires could make commercial profits for them. Consequently, traders, travelers and missionaries stressed the value of Africa’s raw materials and markets, and put pressure on politicians, through the press to obtain colonies (Boahen & Webster, 172). Lenin economic argument for the partition of West Africa is quite similar to Hosbon’s, however he argues that the crisis was more so one of finance capital and the development of “monopoly capitalism” / oligopoly capitalism i. e. he control of business by one firm or a small group. Lenin was a Marxist and he believed in “dialectical materialism” this is societies are governed by laws that they can not control and some move in a cycle from one form of development to another. Lenin took the view that the idea was to work according to one’s ability and be paid according to one’s need. He also suggests the Thesis i. e. slavery and antithesis i. e. capitalism. He noted that out of slavery emerged capitalism ad if it reached the higher form of maturity it would destroy slaved.

    Marxists believers argued that slavery was destroyed because of the growth of the Industrial Revolution this is capitalism and thus slavery became outdated. Lenin also notes that as capitalism develops it becomes the thesis of antithesis and socialism appears. He states that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism and after imperialism is over the socialist state would be born. Lenin suggests that the enormous growth of industry and the remarkably rapid process of concentration of production in even-larger enterprises represent one of the most characteristic features of capitalism (Lenin, 16).

    Lenin further suggests that when Marx wrote Capital about 50 years ago, free competition to appeared to most economists to be a ‘natural law’. He notes that free competition gives rise to the concentration of production which in turn, at a certain stage of development, leads to monopoly. He also notes that the rise of monopolies, as a consequence of the concentration of production, is a general and fundamental law of the present stage of capitalism (Lenin, 20). Lenin also argued that World War I was an important stage for the movement towards imperialism and imperialism could be explained by the crisis in the capitalists’ world.

    Thus as imperial powers required money they had to invest in overseas markets to become imperialists. Some scholars oppose the economic arguments for the explanation of the partition of West Africa. They argue that Africa was a poor source of capital investment and that capitalists invested little money thus the partition can not be explained for the need to find overseas markets. The areas that mainly were prone to European investments were South Africa for its mining and Egypt. Secondly, scholars argue that Latin America, certain arts of Asia and Southern parts of the United States were more lucrative for investment and more European capital went there rather than to West Africa. Scholars aso argue that the vast amount of invested were invested into other European countries rather than outside of Europe. Additionally, these scholars postulate that returns or profits derived form Africa were no better than investments elsewhere. Other scholars have accepted this analysis but the demonstrate that even small investment which took place in Wets Africa was important and it was better than no investment at all.

    Townshend provides evidence of how little capital was invested in Africa on pg. 35 where he gives mention to Nurse whom states that evidence demonstrates that insignificant amounts of capital, relatively and absolutely went to the newly acquired tropical and subtropical areas after annexation. He also notes that British investment went mainly to parts of the old empire, Canada and Australia with South Africa the exception. He furthermore states that investment went mainly to those countries with which Britain traded heavily to meet its growing demands for food and raw material (Townshend, 35).

    It can also be viewed that two other arguments used to explain the partition of West Africa are the political and psychological arguments. The political motives can furthermore be divided into three main categories. These were national prestige, balance of power and global strategy. Ajayi and Crowder furthermore note that the scramble for political control in Africa. The psychological theories constitute what may be characterized as the non-human impulses towards imperial expansion and are usually assorted as social Darwinism, evangelical Christianity and social activism (Boahen, 11).

    In conclusion, it is acknowledge that economic arguments used to explain the partition of West Africa and feasible, however one should also note the opponents views of these theories and one should acknowledge that there are other factors which stimulated the partition of West Africa.

    Works Cited.

    Boahen, A. Adu. General History Of Africa VII: Africa under Colonial Domination 1880-1935. London: James Currey Ltd. , 1990. Boahen, A Adu. , and J. Webster. Revolutionary Years. West Africa Since 1800. 2nd ed. London: Longman Group Ltd. , 1980. Freun, Bill. The Making of Contemporary Africa. 2nd ed. U. S. A: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. , 1998.

    Examine the Economic Arguments Used to Explain the Partition of West Africa. (2017, Mar 06). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/examine-the-economic-arguments-used-to-explain-the-partition-of-west-africa/

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