Exploration and Colonization


By the end of the 18th century a strong feeling for the abolition of slavery was developing in many Western nations, especially Great Britain. The abolitionists were fervently religious and wanted to Christianize Africa. The first Christian missions were established in West Africa in the 1790's, and missionaries later moved into the interior, furthering exploration there. Exploration of the interior was also undertaken for political, commercial, and scientific reasons.

Mungo Park led an expedition into the western Sudan in 1795–97 for a British association (later called the Royal Geographical Society). His second journey in 1805–06 was sponsored by the British government. The government also sent the Denham-Clapperton-Oudney expedition from Tripoli across the Sahara in 1823–25; Richard and John Lander to the Niger River in 1830–31; and Heinrich Barth across the Sahara to the Sudan in 1850–55. A Frenchman, René Caillié, in 1827–29 was the first European to visit Timbuktu and return. The German missionaries Johann Krapf and Johannes Rebmann discovered Mount Kilimanjaro in 1848. Between 1862 and 1869 Gerhardt Rohlfs crossed North Africa from Agadir to Cairo.

Outstanding among the explorers was the Scottish missionary David Livingstone, who during his residence in Africa, 1841–73, traveled extensively in the southern area. Henry M. Stanley gained fame by locating Livingstone in the interior in 1871, and went on to make important explorations of his own. In the meantime John Hanning Speke discovered Lake Victoria in 1858 and in 1862 proved it to be the source of the Nile.

During the 19th century the western slave trade was gradually abolished. The Arab slave trade in the east, however, lingered on into the 20th century.


Except for the Dutch colony at Cape Town, for more than two centuries the Europeans had no territorial ambitions in Africa. Two native states were founded on the west coast by antislavery groups—Sierra Leone by the British in 1788 and Liberia by Americans in 1821. The Cape Colony passed to Britain in 1814.

The first move toward building a colonial empire in Africa was the French occupation of Algeria in 1830. The Danes and the Dutch, having given up the slave trade, relinquished their Guinea stations to the British in mid-century, and in 1874 Britain declared the Gold Coast a colony. France established a protectorate over Tunisia in 1881, and Britain began occupying Egypt in 1882, while Belgium took control of the Congo basin.

The rivalry among European powers for possession of African territory became so intense that the Berlin Conference (1884–85) was called to settle the claims. Free trade was established in the Congo basin, but most of the rest of the continent was divided into European spheres of influence.

The Germans established themselves in what are now Togo, Cameroon, Namibia, and mainland Tanzania. North Africa was gradually occupied by the French. The Spanish held the coast southwest of Morocco, and the Italians were in Somaliland and Eritrea.

Under the urging of Cecil Rhodes, Great Britain annexed Bechuanaland, and Rhodes himself took over Zambezia. Great Britain increased its African holdings further by crushing the Dutch colonists of South Africa in the Boer War of 1899–1902 and annexing the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. In 1910 these two states became part of the Union of South Africa. Two years earlier Belgium had taken possession of the Congo Free State.

The Turkish-Italian War of 1911–12 resulted in victorious Italy acquiring Tripoli and Cyrenaica and forming them into Libya. At the start of World War I in 1914, only Liberia and Ethiopia remained independent. After the war the German colonies were mandated to France, Great Britain, Belgium, and Portugal. Ethiopia was seized by Italy in 1935.

Colonialism: Africa.Colonialism: Africa. In 1914, Africa was almost entirely controlled by European colonial powers, which had raced one another to acquire territory in the so-called “Scramble for Africa.” This map shows the Belgian, British, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish colonies in Africa. Only Ethiopia and Liberia remained independent countries.