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History & West Africa

In 1870-1910, European empires pursued very active expansion in other parts of the world. To a great degree, this expansion in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific, was driven by economic motives. Rapid industrialization in Europe spurred growth in demand for raw materials, among them copper and rubber that were found at a cheap price in the new colonies. Quick development of production began to develop an appetite for new markets.

Political control of new markets secured them as sources of demand and cheap raw materials, pushing European states to aggressive exploration of overseas expansion options. Imperialism was also encouraged by cultural considerations. Belief in the mission of white people to bring knowledge and culture to the uneducated world embodied in Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden” and the drive to spread Christian religion served as ideological justification for expansionary processes. The result of these processes was the dramatic increase in the size of colonized territories.

The French, for example, colonized most of North Africa, expanding their area of control to Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers. The purchase of the Suez Canal gave the British a foothold in North Africa as well, allowing them to rule Egypt de facto for many years. Fight for colonies resulted in occasional standoffs between nations, like the conflict between Britain and France that became known as the Fashoda crisis and ended with the British taking control of Sudan. Similarly, West Africa was split between Britain, France, Portugal, and Spain.

In Asia, Britain established control over India with the help of the British East India Company, taking direct control of the nation when the Indians tried to rebel in 1857. Japan followed the lead of European nations and gained control of Taiwan and Manchuria through the Sino-Japanese War that also shielded Korea from Chinese influence. In Southeast Asia, the British took under control Burma, a nation close to India, and Singapore that became an important naval base for Britain. In the same area, France controlled the modern-day territories of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, and the Dutch gained the East Indies.

Fight for colonies resulted in occasional standoffs between nations, like the conflict between Britain and France that became known as the Fashoda crisis and ended with the British taking control of Sudan. Another example of the conflict over colonial territories is the Spanish-American war declared by the Congress in April 1898. The warfare that ended in December 1898 gave Americans control of the island, ousting Spanish rulers. In this conflict, the Americans took advantage of the dissatisfaction of the local population with their Spanish rulers.

In a similar fashion, the US supported the revolt against Colombia in Panama, leading to the American control of this territory and the construction of the Panama Canal. The Roosevelt Corollary of 1904 communicated to the world the US’s readiness to respond to any threat to the independence of any Latin American nations. This policy resulted in maintaining Latin American as a predominantly American sphere of influence, a stand demonstrated by the US during the Mexican revolution of 1913-1914, during which the US troops were sent to Mexico to take part in the events.

By the beginning of the 20th century, virtually the whole of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific were taken over by the European empires that maintained tight control over political, economic, and cultural life of the subjugated territories. The after-effects of this colonization can still be seen in many parts of the world where European languages and European culture are a significant influence.

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