Factors that led to scramble for colonies in Africa

European powers scrambled for and partitioned Africa among themselves for various reasons, which include the following:




  • The Industrial Revolution in Europe, which increased the need for raw materials like cotton and palm oil, which could be obtained from the colonies.
  • Colonies provided market for manufactured goods from European industries.
  • Increased/surplus capital, which the Europeans wanted to invest in the colonies.
  • Speculation that Africa was rich in minerals like gold and copper.




  • Unification of Germany after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871. Germany became powerful under Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck as France lost her two mineral-rich provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. France turned her attention to Africa for colonies to compensate for her loss. Germany, not wishing to be left behind, was also out to acquire colonies.
  • National prestige. Germany and Italy joined the race for colonies because of national glory and pride.
  • European military officers encouraged their governments to participate in colonial expansion to give them an opportunity to be recognized and promoted.
  • Public opinion in Europe favoured acquisition of colonies. For example, De Brazza signed a treaty with chief Makoko due to public opinion in France, creating a French colony: Congo.
  • The Egyptian question. Egypt was of strategic importance to the Europeans because of the Suez Canal, built by the British and French, which shortened the route to British colonies in India and the Far East.




  • French activities in West Africa and the Congo alarmed other powers, who joined the race for colonies.
  • King Leopold ii of Belgium, in 1879, sent Henry Morton Stanley to explore the River Congo and, through such activities, Stanley created the Congo Free State, which had become Leopold‟s empire by 1884. Leopold‟s activities alarmed the Portuguese, who claimed River Congo and the French turned their attention to west Africa. Germany and Britain made similar claims for colonies in the region.
  • Missionaries came to spread Christianity, western education and culture and invited their mother-governments to occupy their areas to protect them.
  • Influential people in Europe such as Karl Peters, Harry Johnston, William Mackinnon and David Livingstone encouraged colonialism.
  • Europeans believed they had superior culture as compared to other races. They felt they had a duty to “civilize” the blacks on the African continent.
  • Britain and Germany encouraged their surplus population to settle in Africa.




  • European humanitarians came to abolish slave trade. William Wilberforce and Granville Sharp led in the abolition of slave trade and urged its replacement with legitimate trade.
  • Africa was rich in raw materials and had good harbours.
  • African communities were weakened by war, diseases,, drought and famine. This made the Europeans to easily conquer the Africans