Partition of Africa


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Partition of Africa is Number 89 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The study covers the process by which, by the end of the 19th century, almost the whole of the African continent had been divided up and colonized by the European powers. The bulk of the study is a general history that begins with an introduction to the early European colonial efforts in Africa, starting with the Portuguese in the late 15th century and the subsequent involvement of the Dutch and the British. The introduction also contains a brief discussion of colonial thought in Europe in the 19th century. This is followed by sections devoted to the colonial histories and current activities in Africa of the Portuguese, French, British, Belgians, Germans, Italians, and Spanish. The section devoted to the British is much the longest, and is divided into subsections dealing with West Africa, South Africa, East Africa, and Egypt and the Sudan. The study concludes with a brief set of general observations, including a prediction that change would come following the war, possibly in the form of a “new partition,” or through the involvement of the planned League of Nations. There is no discussion, however, of national independence, even as a theoretical or long-term possibility. The appendix includes the texts of important agreements among the European powers delimiting frontiers and spheres of influence on the continent.

Last updated: March 24, 2015