The Scramble and Partition of Africa refers to the invasion, occupation, division, colonization and annexation of Africa territory by European powers in the period between 1881 and 1914. It is also referred to as the Partition of Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa became attractive to Europe’s ruling elites for economic, political and social reasons.
In 1870, only 10 percent of Africa was under European control, but by 1914 it had increased to 90 percent of the entire continent, with only Ethiopia (Abyssinia), the Dervish state (present-day Somalia) and Liberia still being independent. The process of owning and controlling African territories by Europeans was initially characterized by unhealthy competition among the invading powers.
During a period when Britain’s balance of trade showed a growing deficit, with shrinking and increasing protectionist continental markets due to the Long Depression (1873-1896), Africa offered Britain, Germany, France and other European countries an open market that would provide them a trade surplus: a market that bought more from the colonial powers than it sold to them.
In addition, surplus capital was often more profitably invested overseas, where cheap labour, limited competition and abundant raw materials made a greater profit possible. Another attraction for imperial enterprise was the demand for raw materials unavailable in Europe, especially copper, cotton, rubber, palm oil, cocoa, diamond, tea and tin to which European consumers became accustomed and upon which European industries were dependent.
What accounted for the larger part of the colonization process was attributed to the rivalry between Britain, France, Germany and other European powers. The scramble for Africa territory also reflected concern for the acquisition of military and naval bases, for strategic purposes and the exercise of power. Colonies were seen as assets in “balance of power” negotiations, useful as items of exchange at times of international bargaining.