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On 7 January 1876, The Times was delivered to the breakfast table of King Leopold II of Belgium. In it, he read the report of a Lieutenant Cameron, who had just finished an arduous three-year journey across the largely uncharted African interior, nearly dying in the process. At the time Africa was widely assumed to be barren and inhospitable, but Cameron described a ‘magnificent and healthy country of unspeakable richness’ ripe for some ‘enterprising capitalist that might take the matter in hand’. Leopold had been seeking a suitable colony for Belgium for over a decade, and saw his opportunity. The Scramble for Africa had begun. Within half a generation all 10 million square miles of the African ‘cake’, along with 110 million bewildered new subjects, had been sliced up between five powers – Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Portugal – and one individual, Leopold himself. He created the Belgian colony of Congo by stealth, under the guise of an ‘international association’, and treated the country, with its lucrative rubber industry, as his private property and its population as his slaves.
First published in 1991, and ten years in the writing, The Scramble for Africa is considered the definitive history of this extraordinary episode. Thomas Pakenham reveals the varied motivations of the European countries, many of which were initially reluctant to engage in this expensive and uncertain enterprise, but were determined not to lose ground to their rivals. He brings alive the individuals involved, from General Gordon, who attempted to suppress the Arab slave trade in the Sudan, to King Cetshwayo of Zululand, who astutely manipulated the British into standing as a buffer between himself and the Boers. By the time the Scramble ended with the First World War, the passions it engendered had brought Britain and France to the brink of open conflict. It had also caused the Boer War – Britain’s longest and costliest since 1815 and a humiliation for British military prestige. Countless African lives had been lost. Moreover, the continent had been divided into artificial states bordered by straight lines with a total disregard for ethnic boundaries, laying the ground for terrible bloodshed once the colonists had withdrawn.
This two-volume edition contains 48 pages of illustrations including paintings, photographs, caricatures and cartoons. In a new introduction, broadcaster and author Saul David, who has written several books on Britain’s colonial wars, brings the story of Africa up to date and shows that the legacy of the Scramble is still with us today.
Review by wjcarter on 6th Sep 2012
"These volumes are very readable, and give a fascinating insight into why modern Africa is the way it is. The details about King Leopold's personal feifdom of the Congo (Zaire) are particularly enlig..." [read more]