World History 2 139 - 9.3.2 European Powers in Conflict

Although Italy’s expansion in Africa was halted, the other great powers continued to extend their influence, sometimes through their private citizens. Entering South Africa’s diamond trade as a young man, for example, Cecil Rhodes of Britain established a company called De Beers in 1888 that soon monopolized the diamond market. In 1890, Rhodes became prime minister of the Cape Colony.

It was Rhodes’s goal to expand the British Empire in South Africa. In 1889, the British government gave him a charter that enabled a company he had formed, the British South Africa Company, to sign treaties with local rulers, gain mineral concessions from them, and essentially rule their lands. Rhodes and his agents thus extended British influence northward from the Limpopo River in South Africa across the Zambezi River to Central Africa, calling the land Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe) in 1895.

Rhodes’s motives were not only to gain personal wealth and power but also to expand the British presence in Africa and provide room for Anglo-Saxons, whom he considered a superior race, to grow in number. Rhodes was a racist with no respect for Africans. To strengthen British control over Central Africa, where Germany, Belgium, and Portugal also claimed land, he proposed a “Cape to Cairo” railway connecting Britain’s East African colonies (Figure 9.20). This link, he believed, would make it easier to govern the British Empire in Africa and attract more settlers, and the British government agreed.

Part a is a drawing of a man standing over Africa, with one foot in southern Africa and the other in northern Africa. He has a small moustache, wears a military combat uniform, has a rifle at his side, and holds a helmet in his right arm. His arms are outstretched so that his hands are above his feet. A string runs from one of his shoes to his hand, then across to the other hand and then down to the other shoe. A ship is drawn in the background in Northern Africa and clouds surround him. Part b is a map of Africa. A slashed red line runs from Alexandria in the north, passing through the cities of Cairo, Aswan, Wadi Halfa, Khartoum, Wau, and Malaba, ending in Mombasa on the east coast of Africa. Another red slashed line runs from Dar es Salaam on the Africa’s east coast through the cities of Kapiri Mposhi, Livingstone, Bulawayo and ending in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa. A red slashed line also connects the two routes from an area between the cities of Wau and Malabe on the first line and the city of Kapiri Mposhi on the second line.
Figure 9.20 In his caricature of Cecil Rhodes (a), which appeared in the British humor magazine Punch in 1892, artist Edward Linley Sambourne shows him bestriding Africa. Rhodes proposed a railroad connecting Britain’s Cape Colony to Egypt in the 1890s (b). Some lines were not completed until the twentieth century, and some were never built. (credit a: modification of work “The Rhodes Colossus” by Punch/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain; attribution b: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY 4.0 license)

Several hurdles stood in the way, however. First, in 1891 Germany had established the colony of German East Africa (today’s Burundi, Tanzania, and Rwanda), effectively blocking the proposed railway’s path. In addition, Portugal objected that it controlled the land between its colonies of Angola and Mozambique, encompassing much of what Rhodes claimed as part of Rhodesia. Britain rejected Portugal’s claims, but another obstacle was that Britain did not control Sudan; the Mahdist army did.

n 1896, fearing that Sudan might be seized by a competing foreign power, Britain appointed Sir Herbert Kitchener to reclaim it. There was also concern that the Mahdist ruler, Abdullah Ibn-Muhammed Al-Khalifa, might ally with Menelik II to drive Europeans out. That same year, France also dispatched expeditions from both French Somaliland (Djibouti) in East Africa and Senegal in the west to gain control of Sudan. France hoped to lay claim to Sudan in order to build an east-west railway linking its colony of French Somaliland with its West and Central African possessions.

As the French marched steadily across the Sahara, Kitchener, with an Egyptian and Sudanese army, moved south along the Nile, establishing railroad lines and reclaiming towns from Mahdist control as he went. Finally, in September 1898, Kitchener and his forces, augmented by British troops, met the Mahdist ruler Al-Khalifa at Omdurman and defeated him. Before he could reclaim the rest of Sudan, however, Kitchener was dispatched to the town of Fashoda, where the proposed British and French railroad lines crossed (Figure 9.21). The French had arrived from Senegal some months earlier and claimed the town. As the two armies waited through September and October for instructions from their governments, civilians in both countries loudly proclaimed their nation to be in the right. The British Royal Navy prepared for war. The Fashoda Incident, as it is called, ended when France withdrew its claims, realizing it was outgunned, and the two nations agreed upon a boundary line between their spheres in Africa.

A map of Africa is shown. The map is labeled “The Fashoda Incident, 1898.” A blue arrowed indicating “Kitchener’s route” extends from a point along the Nile River south of Cairo, heads north for a small bit then heads south to the city of Fashoda. A purple arrow, indicating “French army’s advance” runs from the city of Dakar on the west coast of Africa, eastward across the continent to the city of Fashoda. Another purple arrow runs from the southwestern city of Brazzaville northeast to the city of Fashoda. A purple line runs between the cities of Fashoda and Djibouti on the Gulf of Aden.
Figure 9.21 France and Britain both sought to build railroad lines connecting their African colonies. They nearly went to war when their military forces encountered one another at Fashoda, where the proposed lines were to cross. (attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY 4.0 license)

Britain’s final effort to exert control over territory in Africa was the Boer War. Tensions between the British Cape Colony and the Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic had increased. In 1877, following Britain’s announcement that it was annexing the Transvaal Republic, fighting broke out between British and Boer forces in the First Boer War. The British were soundly defeated and forced to recognize the independence of the South African Republic (the new name of the Transvaal Republic).

In 1900, following an abortive British raid into the South African Republic, the Boers laid siege to British Cape Colony settlements. In response to Boer guerrilla tactics, the British adopted a scorched-earth policy, destroying Boer homes, farms, and livestock to deny them food and shelter. Boer women and children were forced into concentration camps, where nearly thirty thousand died from disease or starvation. The war ended in 1902, and the Cape Colony annexed the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. In 1910, the two former Boer republics, the Cape Colony, and the British-controlled Natal Colony came together to form the Union of South Africa.

Link to Learning

Use the map and slider bar to trace the development of the British Empire over time. You will also find a list of Britain’s colonies and the years they were acquired.

This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax