The Scramble for Africa: What if?

A few weeks ago I finished reading Thomas Pakenham’s “The Scramble for Africa”, over 600 pages detailing the penultimate years of European exploration, conquest and carving up of the African continent for their own gain. Pakenham’s novelistic style makes his book a must read for anyone slightly interested in one of the darkest periods of European exploration.

The following day I watched Black Panther, a film that plays on the idea of an African country with no colonial meddling able to develop into by far the most advanced country in the world. One of the many thoughts this film provokes is; what if the scramble for Africa had never taken place? What if the European powers had left the continent and its inhabitants alone?

Obviously many would point to Ethiopia and Liberia as two examples of African countries that managed to survive without European colonisation, despite the best efforts of the Italians in the former. Even Liberia, now under the leadership of one of the greatest footballers the world has seen, was created outside of Africa by the American Colonization Society (ACS) as a country for re-settling freed slaves.

That we can only point to two, out of the 54 recognised African countries, as not having a colonial past, shows how widespread the European invasion of Africa was. Yet one of the justifications for European invasion that is still held as valid today is that Africa at the time was uncivilised, had no major cities and lacked any sort of potential for modern state formation. All these ideas have been proven to be false.

Having once held this view myself during my teenage years, I am grateful that I have been able to explore and understand some of the great African civilisations and cities that existed long before Europeans arrived. The BBC released a series of episodes on the ‘Lost Kingdoms of Africa’ which existed before colonial rule, which details African kingdoms such as the Asante Kingdom and Greater Zimbabwe.

Even during colonial rule African kingdoms existed and resisted. One well known kingdom that was partially successful in resisting colonial rule was the Zulu Empire. The Zulu Empire was part of modern day South Africa. Under the rule of King Cetshwayo, the Zulu army was able to defeat the British Empire in the battle of Isandlwana. Ultimately the British were able to colonise the Zulu Empire, as well as the rest of Southern Africa, before creating the country we know today.

What if the British and the Boers (who the British also fought for control of territory in southern Africa) had never attempted to occupy southern Africa? Would we now recognise a sovereign Zulu kingdom within that region? How different would the map of Africa look if the Europeans had never taken it upon themselves to carve up the land for their own gain and allowed states to form organically and naturally?

Unfortunately these are questions which will never be answered.


*** Featured image| scramble for Africa : wikimedia commons 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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