Africa (1919)

Africa (1919)

Europe had begun to look with covetous eyes toward Africa as early as 1415 when the Portuguese at the Battle of Ceuta gained a foothold in Morocco. Thereafter Prince Henry of Portugal instituted the series of explorations which resulted not only in the discovery of Cape Verde, the Guinea Coast and the Cape of Good Hope, but by 1487 gave to Portugal the possession of a very fair slice of the African East Coast. This was the beginning of the Portuguese Colonies of Guinea, Angola and East Africa. Other European nations, France, Holland, Spain, England and Denmark, followed and set up trading stations along the African coast whose chief reason for existence was the fostering of the slave trade.

But the partition of Africa as we know it is much more recent and begins with the founding in 1884 of the Congo Free State whose inception was so zealously fostered by Leopold of Belgium and which in 1908 was annexed to Belgium. The “scramble” for African colonies was on and within a quarter of a century Africa was virtually in the hands of Europe.

In this division the British Empire gained a network of possessions extending from the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan down to South Africa with valuable holdings on the East Coast and in Somaliland. France came next with an actually larger area, but with a smaller population. Her spoils reached from Morocco and Algeria, including the Algerian Sahara, to the French Congo, and on the Eastern Coast comprised Madagascar and French Somaliland. Germany, who was late in entering the game of colonization, contrived none the less to become mistress of four very valuable colonies, Togoland, Kamerun, South-West Africa and East Africa. Italy’s and Spain’s possessions were relatively unimportant, embracing for the former, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, and for the latter Rio de Oro and the Muni River settlements.

This was the state of affairs when the war broke out in 1914. In Africa the only independent states were the Republic of Liberia, and the kingdom of Abyssinia which, according to history, has been independent since the days of Menelek, the reputed Son of Solomon, and the Queen of Sheba. The number of souls thus under the rule of aliens is astounding, amounting in the case of England, France, Germany and Belgium to more than 110,000,000. During the course of the war Germany lost all four of her African colonies with a population estimated at 138,420,000. It is the question of the reapportionment of this vast number of human beings which has started the Pan-African movement. Colored America is indeed involved.

“If we do not feel the chain
When it works another’s pain,
Are we not base slaves indeed,
Slaves unworthy to be freed?”

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1919. “Africa.” The Crisis. 17(4):164–165.