Reasons For Colonialisation of West Africa

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European colonization of West Africa, and indeed, the whole continent of Africa, was not accidental as it was motivated by several factors which are:

  • Economic Interest
  • Political control
  • Competition in Europe
  • Establishment of commercialization
  • Need for securities
  • Abolition of slave trade

1 – Promotion Of Colonial Economic Interest

Perhaps the most important reason for colonialism was the desire by the European powers to promote their business and economic interests. The Industrial Revolution which took place in Britain in the 18th century and which later extended to France, Germany etc resulted in mass production of goods which had to be sold, and which the European markets could no longer absorb.

The European countries also needed raw materials such as palm oil, cotton and groundnuts to feed their industries. All these necessitated increased trade with Africa. As a result, European traders and merchants poured into the West African coastal areas to trade and explore other business interests.

Having effectively established their presence in parts of West Africa, the European companies and merchants discovered that their investment would be unsafe and restricted to the coastal areas without the intervention of their home governments. Consequently, the Europeans began to put pressure on their own governments at home to provide political cover for their economic activities and, in no time, the European countries began to show interest in the overseas territories. And this, marked the beginning of colonialism.

2 – Political control

Colonialism is justified on the ground that it is necessary to maintain an economic sphere of influence and trade monopoly. But colonialism was merely a tool of imperialism According to V.I. Lenin, the leader of the October 1917 Revolution in Russia, imperialism is the political and economic philosophy pursued by industrialized European nations after the abolition of slave trade.

3 – Competition among European Powers

Competition among rival European powers, especially between Britain and France and Germany, in late 19th century also contributed to the development of colonialism. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, Britain had enjoyed a monopoly of production and there was no need to create areas of influence since she could outsell all her competitors. But with the rapid industrialization of Germany and France in the 19th century to challenge British monopoly, there was the need by Britain, in particular to protect and expand her markets for manufactured goods, which were being massively produced.

4 – Need for Securities

The desire of the European firms and merchants to expand their business to the hinterland was another cause of colonialism. These European interests needed security on all trade routes so that goods could move freely to the interior. The maintenance of law and order, in all parts of the territory was the responsibility of government.

5 – Establishment of Commercialisation Links

Another reason for colonialism was the need to establish an effective communication system. Without good communication, trade would be hindered. The establishment of the first rail lines and telephone system in Nigeria in the late 19th century by the colonial government was designed to achieve this objective.

6 – Abolition of Slave Trade

The abolition of slave trade was another reason often adduced for the colonization of the African territories. The missionaries and other humanitarian groups came to Africa immediately after the coming of European merchants. The Methodist came between 1825 and 1840, the Anglican in 1843 and the Baptist in 1844.

They were ostensibly concerned with the inhuman slave trade, which had been officially abolished in the early 19th century. Their mission was to preach against the trade and spread European civilization. In order to achieve this objectives, they had to educate the people and this led to the establishment of secondary schools in parts of West Africa.

The missionaries, however, later realized that they could not achieve their objectives without political support especially in stopping the inter-tribal wars in the Yoruba speaking areas, which were essentially save raiding operations. The missionaries therefore had to mount pressure on their home governments to intervene in West Africa to put an end to the fratricidal wars and slave trade.

Not withstanding, there was always a close relationship between the interests of the missionaries and the European traders. The interest of trade or business was predominant in the activities of the missionaries. For example, David Livingstone, one of the early missionaries in Africa emphasized in his book “Missionaries Travels and Researches” the need to open up Africa for Christianity and commerce.

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