Assess the importance of humanitarian and missionary activity in creating a larger African Empire for Great Britain during the period from 1868 to 1902?

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Kastriot Jonuzi

Assess the importance of humanitarian and missionary activity in creating a larger African Empire for Great Britain during the period from 1868 to 1902?


From the period of 1868 to 1902, Britain had few colonies in Africa, before 1880 Cape Colony, Natal and some small coastal colonies in the form of Gambia and Sierra Leone.  When the scramble for Africa was triggered, Britain sought to expand gain as many colonies in Africa as possible. The scramble for Africa was the process of invasion and annexation of sovereign African territories by European powers during the new Imperialism period. The fundamental reasons for Britain being involved in the scramble for Africa were the great power rivalry Africa had created between the Great European powers, in which each power tried to gain as much land as possible so that it is denied to another, economic interests in Africa, Africa’s strategic value, and humanitarian purposes and missionary motives. Britain's aim in the mid-19th century was not to actually gain territory in Africa by means of invasion, but it Britain’s Empire was largely based on an informal or ‘Empire on the cheap’, these Empire were made by private companies and gentleman capitalists, who wanted to trade with Africa. However, great power rivalry caused a scramble in Africa. This led to Britain forming a formal Empire, to ensure Britain’s name as a superpower was maintained. Missionary motives were that of British people who were sent to Africa to persuade people to follow their principles, for example Christianity. Missionary and humanitarian activity which was activity concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare. The British public were commonly informed that missionary and humanitarian motive were the most important motive.

Many people from the period of 1868 to 1902 believed that Britain had an obligation to bring civilization to the people of Africa, the British government claimed its mission in Africa was to civilise the natives there – “the White man’s burden”. Even within the government politicians with high positions including Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain stressed that it was up to Britain to bring civilization to the African people and spread Christianity, these reasons are just some that explain why humanitarianism and missionary motives were of importance to Britain’s involvement in the scramble for Africa. Chamberlains views were also mirrored in that of the public’s who also felt strongly about the civilization of the Africans. Sir David Livingstone captivated public attention when he spread his view of that humanitarianism should be spread throughout Africa under the name of Britain. It was his work that earned the support of the British public on the Empire as his work spread Christianity throughout Africa. Furthermore, 19th century Victorian Britain was very religious and the Church promoted the idea of missionary work in Africa. Furthermore, the British government also started anti-slavery expeditions in the 1850’s, which got the hearts of the British public and gained their support that humanitarianism and missionary motives were important in creating a greater African colony during the scramble for Africa.

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However, humanitarian and missionary motives were of small importance in the expansion of a greater British Empire in Africa, this was shown when Sir David Livingstone was sent home after it was deemed his results were unimpressive despite converting many people into Christianity. Also there was humanitarian work in Africa before the scramble started so this didn’t explain why Britain needed a military presence in these lands. Moreover, the Boer war belied the myth of humanitarianism as the British defeated the Boers mercilessly. So overall humanitarian and missionary motives had little in the decision to expand into Africa but instead ...

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