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Identify major developments of African history in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.


Topics on this page

Africa’s interaction with imperialism

  • The Berlin Conference (1884-1885)
    • Ethiopia and the Battle of Adwa (1896)
      • Taytu Betul

Agricultural changes and new patterns of employment

Origins of African nationalism

Women in 19th Century and Early 20th Century Africa

  • Yaa Asantewana
  • The Women's War of 1929 in Nigeria
  • 1956 Women's March in South Africa

The Berlin Conference on partition of Africa, 1884
The Berlin Conference on partition of Africa, 1884

Focus Questions: How did imperialism affect Africa? What aspects of life in Africa were destroyed or damaged? How did Africans resist imperialist powers and oppression?


Map icon.pngCheck out these interactive maps of Africa throughout colonial and postcolonial history.

Barghash bin Said, Sultan of Zanzibar 1870-1888
Barghash bin Said, Sultan of Zanzibar 1870-1888

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Rotating_globe-small.gifBehind Africa's Explorers, Muslim Empires on the Make, Dane Kennedy, The Boston Globe (February 24, 2013) discusses how Tripoli, Egypt, and Zanzibar contributed to, profited from, and then were displaced by 19th century European expeditions leading to the Scramble for Africa.

See The Colonization of Africa from The New York Public Library that includes historical information and an powerful image gallery.

primary_sources.PNGThe Scramble for Africa is a map from a 1917 atlas that shows how the European countries had divided the continent.

Imperialism in Africa



The Scramble for Africa
1. Africa is an enormous continent with hundreds of different cultural and linguistic groups. It is three times larger than Europe.
2. Europeans consistently asserted their control of Africans through construction of racist mentalities and practices, severely damaging the traditions and political structures of the African people.
3. Whenever possible, Africans resisted European oppression, culminating in the Nationalist movements of the late 20th century.

In the mid to late 19th century, Europe colonized Africa in what was known as “The Scramble for Africa”—a big competitive scramble for wealth, power, and natural resources.


al_conf_berlin_99_1 (1).jpg
A political cartoon of European's dividing up Africa as if it were a cake.

  • While colonization in Africa was new, the European nations had engaged in the slave trade and other exploitative practices for a long time.

  • Europeans had, therefore, already established the idea that Africans were inferior and they already had a long history of associating Africans with labor.

  • Therefore, as the slave trade declined, Europeans made the transition into coercing Africans into forced labor on their own land.



Berlin Conference 1884-85
1. The Berlin Conference was a meeting among European nations to create the rules on how to peacefully divide Africa for colonization
2.The meeting was convened by Otto Von Bismarck, the German Chancellor.

Resolutions at the Conference
1. Any European nations wishing to possess any African territory had to inform other European countries so that the claim could be ratified.
2. Any nation claiming such territories had to demonstrate effective occupation
3. The occupying powers were obligated to develop transport systems in their territories
4. It was agreed that the rivers, Congo, Niger and the Zambezi as well as tributaries were to be open for use by all European powers
5.The occupier nation had to agree to abolish slave trade, promote trade and missionaries.

Methods Used by Europeans to Acquire Colonies in Africa
a. The signing of treaties between African leaders and European powers and also between European powers themselves over spheres of influence.
b. The use of diplomacy among Europeans, in some cases 'gunboat' diplomacy for uncooperating African leaders
c. The use of force and military conquest
d. Bribing African chiefs
e. Europeans used divide and rule
f. The use of missionaries
h.The use of unilateral declarations

Impact of Africa's Partition
1. The boundaries during the partition to mark the extent of European colonies in Africa formed the basis of modern African States.
2. The boundaries have been constant sources of conflict because they were drawn arbitrarily dividing communities and placing them under different states
3.Once boundaries were drawn up European nations embarked on exploitation of the colonies for their benefit
4.European nations introduced a new economic order in Africa through large scale agriculture, new cash crops, mining and the need for cheap labor from Africans for the benefit of European markets
5.This led to the exploitation and marginalization of Africans
6. Partition underdeveloped Africa

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 12.30.24 PM.pngLInk here for a power point lesson on imperialism.

Guided Questions on Imperialism:
1. What led to the "Scramble for Africa"?
2. Which European Countries controlled the most land in Africa?
3. Who led the British Imperialism in Africa?
4 Which African countries were left independent at the time of World War 1?

Key dates and points:

  • Two main ideas Europeans used to justify their treatment of Africans:
    1. Belief that Africans were inferior
    2. Christian idea that Africans needed to be “civilized” (Africans were, of course, already living with religions and civil customs of their own.) Also called the "White Man's Burden."
primary_sources.PNG Rudyard Kipling's 1889 poem, "The White Man's Burden" offers insight into this mindset.

The Berlin Conference (1884-1885)

European claims in 1900
European claims in 1900

primary_sources.PNG1884-1885 Berlin Conference: leaders of 14 European nations and the United States came together to “carve up” Africa.
  • Now that competition was getting intense, they held this conference to negotiate boundaries and they chose areas of Africa without regard to existing ethnic or linguistic groups.
  • For more, see AP World History Key Concept 5.2

map_icon.jpeg For a map of European land claims in 1914, click here.

Multimedia.pngFor an overview of Imperialism in Africa, watch this video by Crash Course.

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  • For a lesson plan on a simulation of the Berlin Conference, click here.
    • For a lengthy lesson plan on Effects of Imperialism click here.

multicultural.pngCase Study in Resisting Imperialism: Ethiopia and the Battle of Adwa

Image of the Battle of Adwa by A. Davey
Image of the Battle of Adwa by A. Davey

Ethiopia is one of the two countries in Africa that remained independent during European colonization, the other being Liberia.
  • The Italians had been attempting for many years to colonize the land but met heavy resistance.
    • King Menelik II ruled Ethiopia and was one of the only successful resisting forces across the continent.
      • The conflict reached a boiling point and culminated in the Battle of Adwa where the Ethiopian forces overwhelmed the Italians and claimed independence.

Click here for a detailed description of the Battle of Adwa (1896)

Multimedia.pngClick here for a nationalist video of the events of the battle, including quotes, paintings, and music from the event.

Female_Rose.pngEmpress Taytu Betel, a biography from UNESCO


Agricultural Changes in Africa

Most of the major changes in agriculture that happened in Africa in the 19th and early 20th century occurred because Europe exploited the natural resources and African labor.

Key Points:

  • Europe, especially France, raised their demand for peanuts and peanut oil.
  • Coffee, tea and cocoa also became high demand products.
  • Where Africans had previously been self sustainable, growing the variety of food they needed, Europeans now made them specialize in single crops. This threw traditional ways out of balance and caused problems for Africans.
  • For Europe’s profit, they wanted only raw materials from Africa. This meant that African’s were not profiting highly from their exports.
  • Europeans set up many systems in which African’s had to live far away from their families to do agricultural labor. This caused disruption in African communities.

African Nationalism

John F. Kennedy Meets President of Ghana, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
John F. Kennedy Meets President of Ghana, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah

African Reaction to European Colonization
a. Resistance
Maji Maji- was a widespread revolt against German colonial rule in Tanganyika. It involved many communities in Tanzania including the Zaramo, Mlunga and Bena. It was given the name Maji Maji due to the belief by African warriors that by drinking magic water the bullets fired by the colonizers would turn into water.
b. Early Workers Labor Unions
These were formed during the World War One and were responsible for riots and demonstrations on behalf of the workers. For example, the South African mining and Industrial strikes of the 1930s in Witswatersrand, Johannesburg. c. Nationalist Movements
"Political movement for the unification of Africa (Pan-Africanism) and for national self-determination. African nationalism has its roots among the educated elite (mainly ‘returned’ Americans of African descent and freed slaves or their descendants) in West Africa in the 19th century.
  • By 1939 African nationalist groups existed in nearly every territory of the continent.
  • Africa's direct involvement in World War II, the weakening of the principal colonial powers, increasing anti-colonialism from America (the Atlantic Charter in 1941 encouraged self-government), and Soviet criticism of imperialism inspired African nationalists."

Examples of Nationalist Movements
African National Congress (ANC)- South Africa
Zimbabwe National Peoples Union (ZANU)- Zimbabwe
Convention Peoples Party/United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC)- Ghana
Kenyan African National Union (KANU)- Kenya
National Council of Nigeria
Tanganyika African National Union (TANU)- Tanzania
Biography on Edward Wilmot Blyden
Edward Wilmot Blyden was a Liberian writer and politician, consider by many to be the "Father of African Nationalism"
external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline2_rus.svg.pngTimeline of African history relating to colonialism and nationalism.

The period between the World Wars saw a huge increase in political activity in Africa, much of it led by younger generations.

The Nationalist movements in Africa started in the early 20th century, but gained power after World War II. Several things precipitated the movement:


Key Points

  • After WWI, Britain granted Egypt its independence after many nationalist demonstrations. This inspired other countries under colonial rule to resist.
  • After World War II, European powers struggled to maintain control in Africa and their colonial power weakened.
  • Many Africans fought in World War II. They fought beside white men and saw that white men were vulnerable just like they were. They also saw the hypocrisy that existed as the European nations were fighting for justice within Europe, but continued oppressive practices in Africa.
  • The civil rights movement in the United States had an impact on Nationalist movements in Africa. Specifically, the Black Panther Party had chapters in Africa and worked in solidarity with them to end all oppression.
  • African nations struggling for independence gained empowerment from other recently independent nations.

Female_Rose.pngWomen in 19th & Early 20th Century Africa

  • The arrival of European traders and missionaries brought along cash crops, meaning that women lost their autonomy and were forced to focus on providing for their families at home.
    • As a colonial legal system was established, women were largely ignored and were thus subjected to European patriarchy.
  • Women were vital in nationalist movements as urbanization took place. They played a variety of roles, most notably as spirit mediums. When it came to actual conflict with Europeans, women were vital to the war effort though did not participate as actual combatants.
    • Yaa Asantewana, an Asante queen mother led the Asante in a battle against the British in 1900
  • 1929 a revolt in Nigeria by thousands of igbo market women against settler policies
  • 1956 more than 20 000 South African women marched to Pretoria to end apartheid rule.


Map: Decolonization of Africa

external image z_PlJIXZw3CETmUItk7K_7rkQ0GSPAIqy32Sx_h-1l8.jpg?w=678&s=73e20d63d804fd37af5d9f4547435f48


Sources and Links:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/13chapter4.shtml

http://www.tiscali.co.uk/reference/encyclopaedia/hutchinson/m0029558.html (Link no longer functioning)

http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199846733/obo-9780199846733-0005.xml

Agatucci, Cora (1997). Part IV: Anti-Colonialism & Reconstruction 19th to mid-20th centuries. Retrieved March 8, 2007, from http://web.cocc.edu/cagatucci/classes/hum211/ Web site: http://web.cocc.edu/cagatucci/classes/hum211/timelines/htimeline4.htm

de Blij, H.J. (2003). The Scramble for Africa: Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 to Divide Africa. Retrieved March 8, 2007, from The Scramble for Africa: Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 to Divide Africa Web site (link no longer functioning): http://www.homestead.com/wysinger/berlinconference.html

Pearcy, Ph.D. , Thomas (1996). Imperialism in Africa to the eve of World War I. . Retrieved March 8, 2007, from W.W Norton and Company Web site: http://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/ralph/resource/impafr.htm