Divide and Rule
The partition of Africa 1880-1914
The partition of Africa at the end of the nineteenth century was one of the most dramatic episodes in modern history. For Europeans, Africa was still an unknown continent in 1880; thirty years later almost the entire land mass was under European control. The race for colonies involved countless thrilling exploits and spectacular conflicts, of which Stanley’s exploration of the Congo and Gordon’s death in Khartoum are just two examples.
Henk Wesseling emphasizes the role of individuals and of concrete rather than abstract factors in his description of the partition of Africa. He describes how Africa was divided by sometimes very young European states. The way diplomats drew lines on maps without knowing the realities of the continent is quite bizarre; in a sense they were setting out hunting territory.
Wesseling refers to those African rulers who had political influence at the time, but generally speaking he pays little attention to the African point of view. Africa is seen primarily as an object of European interest, ‘a magnificent cake’ as King Leopold ii of Belgium put it – a king who managed to outwit all the others in taking the Congo.