The Race for Natural Resources in the 19th Century Africa Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1579 Words
Date:  2022-05-17

The 19th-century race for natural resources or the scramble for Africa refers to the events of the invasion, occupation, and colonization of the African territory. The Europeans did it during the period of new imperialism, just before world war, I. Africa was rich in natural resources, the European powers saw the need to invade and control these resources. The economic purpose was, therefore, the primary goal of the race even though there was also a social and political purpose for the scramble for Africa. The paper set to bring an elaborative discussion on how Europeans colonized and stole resources in Africa.

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By the beginning of the 20th century, most of the African countries have been colonized. Some however resisted colonization and the seizure of their lands. For fear of inter-imperialist conflicts and wars based on the intensity of the scramble for Africa, the diplomatic Berlin conference was held. In the absence of Africans, a treaty was made to guide the European powers on how to invade partition and colonize the African continent (Hansen & Jonsson, 2014). The provisions of the given treaty would ensure that there is no conflict between the imperialists as they stole and colonized the African resources.

The African politicians and diplomats were later forced to respond to the pressure exerted by the colonialists in the late 19th century. The military resistance then accompanied the response. The European countries had duped the Africans into signing the treaty. The Africans thought that they were signing a diplomatic and friendly commercial agreement as opposed to the European aim of making the Africans sign away their sovereignty. Upon realization that the European countries wanted to exercise authority over their land, the African leaders established a military resistance to object seizure of their lands and domination by the Europeans ( Iliffe, 2017).

The period was accompanied by an intense commercial conflict between Africans and Europeans. During the earlier period of commerce, the traders from the European countries had obtained the surplus African goods such as palm oil and groundnuts through the African the scramble intensified, however, they wanted to by-pass the intermediaries and get the goods directly from the sources (Bulhan, 2015). Africans nevertheless insisted on the maintenance of the system of commerce where there had to be intermediary between the sources of goods and the foreigners. The European traders, however, insisted on free trade and even invited their governors to impose it by force.

The organized military resistance to the European imperialism by Africans was therefore attributed to by the diplomatic, commercial and political factors.The African army resistance took two forms including direct military engagement and the guerrilla warfare. The social, political and military organization of a given society determined the type of resistance applied. Small African societies with no professional armies used the guerrilla warfare. The guerrilla ''hit and run'' tactic were for example used by the Igbo society of Nigeria in resistance against the British colonies. Centralised state systems such as the emperors and the kingdoms applied the direct military engagement (Kirk, 2018). Massed troops of military armies could be used to face the European forces. Ethiopia organized a resisting army and confronted the force of Italy. Under the leadership of Emperor Menelik II, Ethiopia emerged victoriously and was able to keep its independence for a more extended period.

Regardless of the fiercely and relentless fights by the African societies to retain their territories, they eventually lost to the European imperialists. The political and technological issues were the major contributing factors to their losing. It was a period characterized by the loss of the old African kingdoms and empires, leading the rise of new ones based on new ideologies and premises. The African societies were therefore in a state of instability, and they were not able to resist further against the European invaders ( Njoh, 2016). The Europeans were consequently able to establish a colonial state system for the domination, exploitation and the control of the colonized African societies. The systems never emulated a regular government as it was all about forced rule without the consent of the governed.

The British deployed indirect ruling, where they create a beneficial relationship with the colonized state (Hopkins & Cain, 2016). The colonies maintained an excellent diplomatic relation with the colonizing power and they are also able to control their fate. In this way, the British were able to obtain various natural resources from the different African states. Countries like Nigeria and Ghana experienced the indirect colonization, and the colonialists were able to get from them goods such as palm oil and cotton. Countries such as Gabon and Senegal, however, experienced the direct colonization of French. This system, in particular, was a much intrusive direct rule where the French would decide on who to make the government, which countries are to engage in business with the given state as well as the general arrangements in a state. The colonies were therefore enslaved and were not given room to decide on any issue.

The natural resources such as petroleum, forestry and agricultural proceeds of the French colonized countries would directly go to the France imperialists even after the attainment of independence. African natural resources such as gold and other minerals were exploited by the Europeans and are still utilized today in the neo-colonialism era. The primary British interest in South Africa was to access and to have a guard of the available natural resources (Onuoha, 2016). The industrialization and the technological advancements led to the increased demand for more natural resources, and Africa is home to the various natural resources ranging from minerals to other forms of useful resources was, therefore, the best choice for the imperialists.

The European colonisations of Africa made many Africans lose their lands and were forced to work as laborers in lands owned by the whites. Land as a resource was stolen by the imperialists who used it to settle their citizens permanently. Those who retained their lands were forced to plant crops which would only benefit the invaders rather than growing their traditional staple foods. The Portuguese prazo ruling system, for example, gave them the mandate to own the African lands by marrying into the African royal families. The grabbing of the African natural resources, therefore, seems like the most critical effect imposed by the colonial rulers (Serfati,2015).

With the direct, the indirect as well as the other systems of ruling used by the European imperialists, the primary focus was to exploit the Africans as well as their natural resources (Alobo et al., 2018). Africa suffered the misfortune of losing its resources to the foreigners. The colonization of the Congo by Belgium, for example, manifested a real picture of stolen resources. The Belgium authority ordered the men to collect as much rubber as they could, clearly showing how the precious African resources were taken to the west. The resources are up to now used to fuel the economies of the European imperialism countries leaving Africa impoverished and with lesser natural resources than they ought to rightfully have.

In the middle of the resistance by most of the African societies, the Europeans deployed the ''dived and rule'' strategy in ensuring that they achieved their missions. Some of the African communities such as the Maasai of Kenya collaborated and therefore made it easier for the colonialists to rule the different states (Coupland, 2017). The collaborators would act as spies and informers of the foreigners while at the same time assisting them to attain their goals. There were different factors which led to the collaboration of some communities together with their rulers, weakening the strength of their resisting counterparts. The collaborators, therefore, helped in the stealing and exploitation of the African God-given resources.


In conclusion, it is right to note that the scramble for the African resources was intense bearing the fact that Africa was seen as the land of opportunities. Following the industrialization and the advancement in technology in Europe, there was, therefore, an increased need for raw materials. The European imperialists, thus, saw a goldmine opportunity in Africa. Even though some of the Africans collaborated with the invaders, most of the Africans resisted, by all means, ensuring that their territory, as well as the natural resources, were not taken from them. The Africans, however, lost to the Europeans due to lack of advanced weapons as well as the European technological advanced. Several resources were therefore grabbed from Africa and are till date used to fuel the economies of the European states.


Alobo, E. E., Niebebu, M., & Sampson, E. (2018). Uncovering the Bond between Colonialism and Conflict: Perspective of the Causes, Cases, and Consequences of Territorial Disputes in Africa. International Journal of Innovative Research and Development, 7(1).

Bulhan, H. A. (2015). Stages of colonialism in Africa: From occupation of land to occupation of being. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 3(1), 239-256.

Coupland, R. (2017). The exploitation of East Africa, 1856-1890: The slave trade and the scramble. Pickle Partners Publishing.

Hansen, P., & Jonsson, S. (2014). Another colonialism: Africa in the history of European integration. Journal of Historical Sociology, 27(3), 442-461.

Hopkins, A. G., & Cain, P. J. (2016). British Imperialism: 1688-2015. Routledge.

Iliffe, J. (2017). Africans: the history of a continent (Vol. 137). Cambridge University Press.

Kirk, J. F. (2018). Making a voice: African resistance to segregation in South Africa. Routledge.

Njoh, A. J. (2016). Tradition, culture, and development in Africa: Historical lessons for modern development planning. Routledge.

Onuoha, G. (2016). A 'rising Africa'in a resource-rich context: Change, continuity, and implications for development. Current Sociology, 64(2), 277-292.

Serfati, C. (2015). Imperialism in Context. Historical Materialism, 23(2), 52-93.

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