Success of New Imperialism

Authors Avatar

Essay Question:

“Political disunity of the indigenous states explained the successful European imperial expansion in Africa between 1870 and 1914” How far do you agree with this view? Explain your answer.

        During the New Imperialism period, by the 1900s, Europe had added almost 9 million square miles — one-fifth of the globe — to its overseas colonial possessions. Europe's formal holdings now included the entire African continent except Ethiopia, Liberia, and Saguia el-Hamra. In many of the states, rulers and leaders were overthrown or had become puppets of the Europeans. Many Africans resented this flood of “White men” into their countries and resistance was often carried out. However, by the early 1900s, it was obvious to the world that the European colonisation of Africa was, on the whole, very successful. The reasons for this success are numerous and have, and continue to, puzzle historians. Thus, I agree with the statement “Political disunity of the indigenous states explained the successful European imperial expansion in Africa between 1870 and 1914” to a small extent.


        Political disunity of the indigenous states did indeed play an important role in causing the successful European imperial expansion in Africa. States in Africa before the European expansion were often ruled by small groups of aristocratic elites. Succession crises and rotating leaderships often created political fractions amongst the people. Different groups of people, often with different ethnic or religious ties, were loyal to different leaders. This caused the Africans themselves to be unable to unite and resist the invaders. An example of this is conquest of Western Sudan by the French. The empires of Tukulor, Mandinka and Lamine were the largest in this area and would have been a dangerous enemy for the French had they been able to cooperate and unite against France. However, each was too busy settling internal differences (especially political and ethnical) and local enemies seemed a greater threat than the French. As S.B. Cook wrote, “distrust and resentment precluded any enduring coordinated effort”. It therefore can be argued that despite a common hatred of the Europeans, this disunity amongst the African people resulted in them being unable to collaborate together which otherwise might have prevented the often rapid European conquest and colonization of African states.

Join now!

        Of course, another factor not to be neglected in explaining the successful European imperial expansion in Africa is the role of European diplomacy or specifically, the West African Conference. This conference was held between November 1884 and February 1885 in Berlin. Attended by delegates from 14 nations like France and Germany, its aim was to, as put by S.B. Cook, “alleviate or at least address the problems raised by this initial round of activity.” To this Cook is referring to the Scramble of Africa by European countries in the mid to late 1800s which resulted in heightened discord and tension amongst ...

This is a preview of the whole essay