Intervention and Colonization in Africa

Intervention and Colonization in Africa

Bibliographic Details

Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914

Book Review

This study of European expansion and world politics is volume one of a proposed two-volume work on “World Diplomacy.” It traces in detail the origin and development of the larger colonial expansion movements of European nations seeking territory and economic concessions in Africa, the efforts to secure strategic positions, the heroic work in the conquest of natural obstacles, the penetration of the wilds to stop slave hunting and the slave trade and to establish peace and security, the enterprises and blunderings which furnish lessons of statecraft, and the evolution of adjustments in administration based on scientific study of peoples and conditions.

Introduction to Intervention and Colonization in Africa

Following a general chapter on European expansion and world politics, the author in six chapters successively treats the Founding of the Congo Independent State, Transition to the Belgian Congo, German Colonization in Southwest Africa, British and German East Africa (and Uganda), French Colonial Expansion in West Africa (and the Sudan and Sahara), Nigerian Enterprise, and South African Expansion and Union. The remaining six chapters treat the Reoccupation of Northern Africa: Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Tripolitania, Egypt and the Sudan. The book is illustrated by sixteen convenient maps, including one double-page colored map of Africa in 1914. It has a good bibliography of secondary sources, appendices giving a summary and statistics of finances and trade, and a good index.

Context of Intervention and Colonization in Africa

It presents the various phases of a vast world movement which none of the great European Powers had seriously considered in 1870-a movement which received its incentive in the remarkable economic and political changes after 1870 and which had hardly begun before 1880. Into this movement to push domain beyond the seas and to found great colonial states in Africa the author shows that the great European Powers entered with much timidity, which was partly over-come by humanitarian motives of the call of duty to penetrate the wilds to stop the slave trade and establish peace and security. Although French colonial enterprises in Africa began in 1636 and were extended and consolidated between 1854 and 1865, France really did not dream of a great Mediterranean-Congo colonial empire until the early eighties when the Senegal colonists reached the Niger, and she began it in the following decade by the consolidation of holdings in West Africa and on the Congo.

Thesis Statement

Although she occupied Algiers in 1830, she exercised a mere military protectorate there, failed to study problems scientifically, and had no enlightened and progressive colonial policy until about 1880. She evolved a more progressive policy after the acquisition of Tunis (1881) to which she applied a good administration based on lessons learned by blunders in Algeria. England, with the spirit of conservatism, and without any preconceived policy of expansion, was led to extension of territory by unexpected or serious developments. In 1877, when she had an opportunity to secure control of all East Africa, she was not ready to consider seriously any general policy of colonial expansion. In 1884, although forced by circumstances of 1882 to interfere in Egypt, she was still undecided on a policy of colonial expansion until forced to act by new conditions. Under Gladstone's leadership she would never have consented to turn Egypt into a British protectorate. Until 1884 she had been in no haste to enter upon a race for territory in West Africa, but under pressure of French and German activities she realized the necessity of formulating a definite policy of expansion there, and in June 1885 to protect British interests on the Niger she proclaimed a British protectorate over the region-the beginning of a policy which by 1914 resulted in the amalgamation of all Nigeria into a single united protectorate.

More about Intervention and Colonization in Africa

Her period of indecision and undertainty was not fully ended until about 1885 after the fall of the Gladstone ministry. Both in South Africa and Egypt she showed a lack of acuteness and promptness in seizing opportunity and in accepting duty. The interest of both England and France in African colonization was stimulated by the organization and activities of the independent Congo Association, the formation of the Congo Free State in 1884, the work of the resulting Conference of Berlin of 1884-85 at a time when Great Britain was taking over the administration of Egypt, and by the entrance of Germany into Southwest Africa in 1884 and into East Africa in 1884-85. Although Germany was under strong pressure after 1878 to enter the field of international politics, Bismarck postponed action until he had firmly secured the position of Germany in Europe through a tariff program and by the formation of the Triple Alliance of 1882. Alarmed at conditions resulting from the industrial revolution and increase of population at home, and partly influenced by the delay of the British government to establish a protectorate over Atlantic coast territory (north of Cape Colony) in which German missions had been established, Bismarck in 1884 determined upon colonization. He sent a warship to take possession of territory in Southwest Africa, in which England promptly recognized German rights; and, in 1885, he officially proclaimed in East Africa a German protectorate, which through the influence of England was recognized by the Sultan of Zanzibar.

Analysis of the Text

Aroused by the entrance of Germany into Southwest Africa, and the expansion of the Boers westward, England took under her protection Basutoland in 1884 and Bechuanaland in 1885-the latter in order to keep the way open to the north of the native districts of Matabeleland and Mashonaland whose possibilities attracted the attention of Cecil Rhodes (and John Hays Hammond) by 1888. The later attempt (after 1890) of Germany to secure the Uganda region by treaties with the natives was frustrated by the prompt action of the British East African Company, which from 1890 to 1892 obtained a control that made permanent the British protectorate in East Africa and won the key to the Nile. By new treaties (after 1895) the British Government secured the Nile as the frontier of Uganda and proceeded to safeguard her interests in that region by a railroad which was begun in 1895 and which reached Lake Victoria at the close of 1901.

Other Aspects

One of the most interesting chapters in the book is that on South African expansion and union, treating the British policy after 1814, the consequences of the “Great Trek,” the withdrawal of English responsibility and sovereignty from the Transvaal and Orange river territory in 1852-54, the plans for federal union in 1857, the annexation of the Transvaal in 1877, the disastrous reversal of policy under Gladstone resulting in the revolt of the Transvaal and the recognition of its independence by treaty of 1881, and the new factors which changed completely the situation and forced England after 1884 to adopt a policy of forward movement. Although the author states that the British Government did not grasp the salient features of the situation at the Cape and never evolved a continuous and enlightened policy until the days of the Boer War, he justifies the policy of England in relation to the war and the later liberal views resulting in the formation of the Union in 1910. He optimistically states that the old racial animosity and composition which still exists in the Union will probably not be a serious menace in the future. In the chapter on Morocco, one obtains several glimpses of events which have a bearing upon the present war in Europe: the sudden intrusion of the Kaiser into the field of Morocco diplomacy in 1905 to prevent the consent of Morocco to the Anglo-French treaty of 1904; the Algeciras Congress of 1906 by which Germany intended to test the Anglo-French entente and force the diplomatic isolation of France; the later grave error of intrusion by the Kaiser in Morocco affairs in 1908, contrary to the agreement of 1906; the dispatch of the Panther to Agadir by the German Government at a critical moment in 1911, evidently to prevent the establishment of a French protectorate which had become inevitable; the later attempt of Germany in 1911 to contend for a position of special privilege in Morocco, while claiming that she was “fighting the battle of the world”; and the bitterness of the German press against England after the signing of the Franco-German treaty of November, 1911, by which Germany changed front on the Morocco question.

More on this Book Review

In connection with the narrative of the circumstances by which England was led to intervene in Egypt in 1882 and to undertake the reorganization of the Egyptian Government after 1883, Professor Harris asserts that the British scheme of European extralegal advisers acting with a government of native Egyptian officials has worked admirably, securing a slow but steady progress of reform and affording the people every chance to learn the elements of self-government.

More Aspects of the Book

He says that in Egypt Great Britain has most happily demonstrated how an enlightened European state can free an oppressed and impoverished people from the rule of a corrupt and selfish oligarchy, furnish them with an efficient administration and equal justice and protection for all without taking possession of the land or submitting them to an “irritating tutelage.” In spite of the beneficial work of England in Egypt, however, he states that there has remained a spirit of unrest and suspicion which has manifested itself at the call of the Caliph who sits at Constantinople.


The real hope of Egypt, he thinks, lies in the improvement of the condition of the people, and the increase of native leaders who will reform Moslem institutions and secure political regeneration with the co6peration of Europeans. In considering the perplexing problem of the Sudan which confronted the Egyptian Government, he asserts that England by assumption of control in Egypt was responsible for the conduct of Egyptian foreign affairs, and criticises the Gladstone government for failing properly to support Gen. Gordon with force sufficient to conduct an orderly and successful retreat in 1884, and for “inability to evolve a broad foreign policy and to enforce it with promptitude and decision.”

Last Remarks

He places upon the Gladstone ministry the blame for the ” tragedy ” of 1884, which temporarily shattered the confidence of the Egyptians in the integrity and ability of the British Government, created a grave menace to the future of the Egyptian state, and multiplied the dangers and difficulties of the later reoccupation of the Sudan-an event which was inevitable, and which was finally accomplished by Kitchener in 1898.

The large number of treaties or agreements or international conferences for the adjustment of international problems relating to Africa, or having a bearing upon such adjustments, will impress the average thoughtful reader. Considering the prospective economic benefits of European colonies in Africa, Mr. Harris states that the possessions controlled by France and England are the most fertile and promising; that those of Spain and Italy are of questionable value; and, while some parts of those controlled by Germany and Belgium and Portugal are promising, the colonial activities of the Powers will probably never pay except in a commercial way. Although as a financial proposition Algeria does not pay, he says that its future possibilities are excellent and that its position is assured since the definite and final settlement of the frontier question in 1911 by the acquisition of Morocco, to which France is now applying the general principles of her Tunisian system of administration. Although Italy, adopting French methods in the preservation of local customs, has made a good beginning in orderly government in Turkish ridden Tripoli, he predicts that she will find a long and painful process necessary to secure a self-supporting and prosperous colony. He thinks British East Africa ought soon to become self-sustaining.

He doubts whether the three German protectorates will ever pay, although the almost constant irritation which previously existed between settlers and natives was much improved in 1907 under the leadership of Dernberg, who inaugurated more scientific methods of government. In the German East African protectorate, on which the German government has spent large sums, he says no remarkable progress has been achieved either in colonization or in development of the region.

He asserts that no part of the Dark Continent except South Africa can be regarded as a national asset, as a field for European colonization, although the larger portion of it will continue to furnish an expanding market for European and American products and promising openings for capital. Because of the conditions of climate, soil and large native population he states that only a small part of the continelnt is suitable for the home of the white man-especially emphasizing the impossibility of reconciling the two racial elements or of welding into one harmonious nation a country populated by both blacks and whites. Mr. Harris has contributed a wealth of fact and a breadth of view of the various types of European civillzation in Africa, and of useful achievements in which the people of every important civilized country have a growing interest, and the reader will be pleased to note that he “hopes to complete his study in a second volume treating European intervention and competition in Asia.”

Book Review Details

This legal book review was published in:

The American Journal of International Law,Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1915), pp. 562-568Published

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