Independence is defined as being free of external control and direct influence. As a result, independence must have been preceded by a state of dependency. Independence is achieved when the dependent no longer requires an external body for normal coexistence. Nonetheless, when the word independence is mentioned in politics or government, the default preceding thought or conjured picture is that there must have been a subjugation or imperialist activity in place. Subjugation is simply the use of force to suppress, whereas an imperialist is a person or people who use imperialism as a tool. Thus, imperialism is simply the subjugation of a people’s cultural and political system. An imperialist forces his ideas and policies on others. So, what exactly does “journey to independence” mean in this context? It refers to the African struggle for independence, as well as how that need became a need in the first place.
Around the 16th century, the African continent first experienced European colonialism. The European colonisation of Africa started with the colonisation of the Zanzibar colony by Portugal. Although their initial intention when entering Africa was purely for trading purposes, colonisation became a necessary tool they used along the way. During these times, the Portuguese dominated world trade and, at times, used colonialism against Africans. Colonialism emerged as a result of increased commerce and industrialisation in Europe.
In Europe, the industrial age was approaching its golden age, and each country began the search for new worlds to expand their markets, while they also had unlimited access to raw materials and natural resources. These countries ventured down to Africa in pursuit of this goal. When the Europeans arrived Africa, they tried diplomacy with the locals, but it failed. The failure of this strategy gave way to the use of force. It is worth noting that Great Britain colonised approximately one-third of the world. They may even be considered one of the world’s most powerful colonial masters. Britain had about 30% of Africa’s population under its colony, making it the country with the largest colony in Africa.
Until 1884, the occupation of Africa by these European countries was based solely on “who got there first,” or on who could exert the greatest military threat, or on mere deception. Germany and Italy had completed their unification by 1871. Prior to the unification, most of these European countries were city-states (scattered kingdoms) with a separate kind of republican government, similar to that of Ancient Greece. As a result of the unification in Italy and Germany, there was purported political power imbalance as there was no room for other countries to grow their territory. This put sovereign political states like Britain and France in a tight political tussle for political dominance, and Africa became the next field for them to assert their dominance and expand their territories.
France looked to Africa for territorial expansion; places like South Africa were on the French radar. Britain eyed Egypt and wanted to control the waters, which they eventually did (Britain was known as the “Mistress of the Sea”). Otto von Bismarck, the first German Chancellor, felt that the issue of Africa’s division or distribution should not cause an unhealthy unrest among them in Europe. So he proposed, more amicably, partitioning Africa among themselves. This arrangement is known as the Berlin Conference, which began on November 15, 1884 and ended on February 26, 1885.
The battle to colonise Africa among European countries took an interesting turn when the trick and actions of King Leopold II of Belgium, who was jealous of his cousin, Queen Victoria of Great Britain’s control over more territories, were met with some unwholesome countermeasures that nearly drove European countries to war. The following sequel will focus on the impact of King Leopold II of Belgium on African politics.
To be continued…