The Impact of European Imperialism in Africa

From the late 19th century through the early 20th century, European imperialism grew substantially, leading to changes in Africa. These changes included colonialism, exploitation of resources and an increase in trade.

European Imperialism Imperialism happens when one country uses its resources to extend political or economic control over another country or region of the world. After decades of trade with many African countries, several European countries adopted imperial policies and began to encroach on the nations through manipulation and military force. The needs driving these changes were political, economic and social. The major powers of the time, including England, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Belgium, were in competition to be the most powerful nation in Europe. With Africa, each nation saw a way to gain power, spread its religious ideologies and receive new riches without having to overtax its own citizens.

The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 At the height of imperialism in Africa, European nations held the Berlin Conference of 1884 to 1885 to negotiate and map out each country’s claims in the Western portion of the continent. Also known as the Berlin West Africa Conference, the heads of states formalized their control, passed trade agreements between colonies and drafted the terms for any future colonization efforts by European powers. African national leaders and native populations were excluded from these negotiations that decided their future. Following the meetings, agents from these European states signed treaties with African leaders. These leaders saw the contracts involving their land and natural resources as mutual trade agreements. By the time they understood the full implications of the treaties they had signed, it was too late.

European Imperialism in Africa: Colonization One of the biggest effects of imperialism in Africa was colonization. In the 15 years after the Berlin Conference, most of the continent was colonized by the seven major European nations. Countries with overcrowding and limited resources for their citizens moved large numbers of them to Africa, spreading their religion, education, social norms and cultures to that continent. African lands were divided into bureaucratic systems run through indirect rule. While this led to more structure, it left Europeans dictating all aspects of Africans’ lives and left very little to their control.

Exploitation of resources had a huge effect during the colonization period and after Africa’s various nations eventually became independent. For instance, after diamonds were found in the southern part of the continent, Cecil Rhodes, a British businessman and mining magnate, created the De Beers Mining Company in South Africa. This company controlled more than half the world’s market in rough diamonds until the early 1980s.

Africa After European Imperialism Most of the continent gained independence from Europe by the 1960s. South Africa’s black majority took power after nonracial, democratic elections in 1994. After fighting for decades to overcome imperialism, the continent was left with an economic system still dependent on Europe, including the factories for processing raw materials and importing goods. Another problem was currency. Under European rule, African nations could convert to European money. Without that help, the nations went through a transition period where currency was useless for foreign transactions.