Africa: Nationalism, Modernization & Conflict (1884-2014) Video

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  • 0:01 Europeans in Africa
  • 1:11 Routes to Modernization
  • 4:05 Ethnic and Religious…
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Since Europeans began actively colonizing Africa in the late 19th century, the mark of their influence has been left on the Continent. This lesson looks at the journey of Africa to modernization, but also some of the bloodiest conflicts in Africa's history.

Europeans in Africa

By the 1880s, Europeans had been involved in Africa for more than 400 years. However, it was becoming increasingly clear that Europe's presence there was about to expand dramatically. The industrialization of Europe had led to a greater demand for the raw materials that only African colonies could provide. As such, the great European powers met in Berlin in 1884-1885 at the Berlin Conference to divide up Africa.

Within 30 years, the whole continent, except for Liberia and Ethiopia, was under European rule. However, European rule was focused solely on making money for the European countries that had colonized the region, and did absolutely nothing for the people of the region. Natives were pushed into states of near slavery, despite the fact that the Berlin Conference had largely justified its actions as a way of stopping slavery. In fact, Joseph Conrad, author of 'The Heart of Darkness,' which exposed the lack of humanity in these colonies, mocked it by calling it the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs.

Routes to Modernization

Somewhat fortunately for those Africans being colonized, there were some fringe benefits, though those benefits came at the extremely high price of slavery, torture, and exploitation at the hands of European invaders. African nations under European rule got new technologies, like telegraphs and railroads. The British worked off their model in India, working to bring telegraphs and railroads to the African continent. This meant that distant trade regions were now linked, benefiting everyone. However, Europeans often used these technologies against the native Africans, most famously during the wars with the Zulu in South Africa, where armored trains were used against the native population, and telegraph messages told of impending movements of Zulu forces.

That said, some Africans found a way to benefit even more from the European influence. Most notably, for subjects of French rule who were willing to jump through numerous hoops, a measure of equality could even be found. In fact, the French parliament admitted a select few Africans as full citizens, even letting some of them appear in the government!

For other Africans, the benefits were more mundane. The colonizing European nations had trouble bringing adequate staff to work in Africa, so some Africans were able to get middle management jobs with the colonizing governments. These populations were given opportunities to get a Western-style education. However, these jobs were not necessarily distributed based on merit, and Africans weren't able to work for Europeans without paying a cultural price.

Africans who worked for European colonial governments almost always belonged to their region's minority ethnic groups, most often the second-largest, and the Europeans even occasionally went so far as to create rivalries where none had existed before, in order to create separations within native society. By fragmenting native society, the colonizing power was able to keep the Africans from uniting. By choosing people from smaller groups for cushy jobs, Europeans made sure that the newly educated class would attribute its success to European power.

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