What Was the Scramble for Africa?

The Scramble for Africa was the invasion and annexation of African territory by European colonial powers between 1880 and the beginning of World War I in 1914. Prior to this period, European colonization efforts in Africa were mostly confined to coastal areas and trade routes.

In the 1880s, advances in technology, such as steam engines, railroads, telegraph systems and medicines to combat tropical illnesses, made a more thorough colonization of Africa possible. Declining profits in established colonies pushed the entrenched colonial powers to find new places to invest, and Africa offered attractive opportunities. The continent also had a wealth of raw materials, including coffee, rubber and palm oil, which were very profitable. Further, newer European states, such as Germany and Italy, wanted colonies of their own, because they had missed out on the first wave of colonization of North and South America. Finally, further colonization of Africa would give the European powers strategic benefits, allowing them to build and expand their power bases.

Colonization began haphazardly in the early 1880s, but in 1884, the European powers convened the Berlin Conference, where they essentially carved up the continent into colonies. They kept the Niger and Congo Rivers open for all, while establishing the rules for colonizing new territories. Although they were shut out of this process, the Africans did not always accede to European colonization efforts, and they sometimes fought back in actions such as the Mahdist War and the Herero Wars.