The Market Revolution, Industrialization, and New Technologies

Start Free Trial

How did the 19th-century Industrial Revolution lead to the scramble for Africa?

Quick answer:

The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century led to the scramble for Africa primarily because it generated a growing demand for cheap raw materials that were widely available throughout the continent. The Industrial Revolution also necessitated the discovery of new markets for Western goods, and Africa provided these markets in abundance.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

For European industrialists of the nineteenth century, news about possible colonization attempts in Africa would have been received with great enthusiasm. Many factories that were up and running, going strong, had enough labor, as the poor of the country were moving into cities at alarming rates to take jobs in factories, and for the time, they likely had enough capital. But many factories and industries were lacking in the way of new raw materials and new markets in which to sell their products.

Colonization attempts in Africa would have been seen as the opportunity these factories and industries were looking for. Africa was rich in resources and could supply industrialists with everything from iron to oil, from wood to cotton, from rubber to ivory, and from silver to gold. All of these materials could have been gained for reasonable prices, as the labor in Africa involved Indigenous peoples and was therefore inexpensive to those exploiting them. Obtaining raw materials was even easier if European nations took political control of parts of Africa, as this eliminated the need to deal with foreign governments in the process.

Along with obtaining these raw materials from Africa, industries would be producing even more goods and would have a wider market in which to sell them. Europeans who settled in the colonies would need these products, and the Indigenous populations would want these products as well. Additionally, if a European nation colonized the area, industrialists would be spared all the duties and import taxes they might otherwise have to pay. Thus, colonization was seen as the perfect fuel with which to drive industrialism forward.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Industrial Revolution had created rapid economic growth right throughout the West. Inevitably, however, there was always a limit to how much domestic economic growth could be generated. At some point, Western industrial capitalism would need to expand to other parts of the globe in order to exploit cheap raw materials and find new markets for Western goods and products.

The dynamic of Western industrial capitalism was such that the level of profit determined its growth. As profit levels fell in the West, capitalists began to look for ways to increase them again, and exploitation of what was then known as the Dark Continent seemed just the ticket.

Africa had pretty much everything that the profit-hungry capitalist could want. It was vast, unexplored, and teeming with cheap raw materials and precious metals. Not only that, but it gave capitalists new markets for their goods and services. An added advantage was that it could easily be subdued, thanks to the superiority enjoyed by the Western powers in terms of weaponry.

In due course, virtually the whole of Africa became colonized by Western Europeans. They proceeded to exploit the continent for all it was worth, generating huge profits on the backs of the Indigenous people, who derived little or no benefit from an arrangement designed to enrich imperialists and not the people they ruled over.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

By the late 19th century industrialism had widened the technological gap between Africa and the West. Due to advances in military technology, such as the development of the rapid fire machine gun, the repeating rifle, and lighter-weight artillery, Europeans could control a territory with fewer troops making African conquest more affordable. For example, in 1898, at the Battle of Omdurman the British killed 10,000 Sudanese while losing only a few dozen men. Industrialism also enabled Europeans and the United States to produce more  weapons at a lower cost per weapon which further decreased the cost of combat and occupation.

Industrialism also led to medical advancements including the development of vaccines and medicines that allowed Europeans to survive more easily in tropical climates and protect themselves against tropical diseases. In 1857 industrial developments such as the telegraph and railroads helped the British withstand a rebellion in India thus encouraging both England and other industrialized nations to believe they could successfully both conquer and control rather than simply trade with African nations.

Finally industrialism led for a greater need for a secure and steady supply of raw materials, which Africa had in abundance, and for an increased desire for markets for the abundance of goods supplied. Controlling a country as a colony  provided both a reliable flow of raw materials and captive markets making conquest desirable. 

If you find this all cold-blooded you would be right, but the West also developed an ideology of racial superiority that argued that it was actually an act of kindness as well as the "white man's burden" to bring a supposedly superior Western civilization to Africa.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Industrial Revolution contributed to the "Scramble for Africa," as well as imperialism more broadly, in several different ways. 

First, the Industrial Revolution created an almost insatiable demand for raw materials, including metals, timber, rubber, and many others. Africa is rich in these materials, and European nations, and the industrialists who helped influence foreign policy, clamored for them. In the Congo, for instance, King Leopold of Belgium created his own company to profit from the harvest of rubber and other raw materials. His company treated the natives with shocking brutality that came to represent the worst of European colonialism. 

Second, the Industrial Revolution created a demand for new, secure markets for manufactured goods. Colonization created captive markets in places like Africa, and this helped to fuel the competition for colonies. Many Europeans feared that a lack of new markets would result in overproduction, which in turn would lead to economic depression. This gave urgency to the colonization project. 

Finally, the Industrial Revolution exacerbated the technological gap between the peoples of Africa and Asia and people in Europe. This was probably the single most important factor in facilitating the "Scramble for Africa." Europeans, armed with machine guns and other advanced weapons, were able to conquer African peoples. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How did the industrialization of Europe in the 19th century lead to the Scramble for Africa?

Industrialization brought a seemingly endless need for raw goods. While Britain was the first nation to industrialize, France and Germany would both emergence as industrial powers in the nineteenth century and bring with them their own demands for raw materials to feed production in their factories. Britain had long established colonies in many parts of the world and this ensured a steady supply of raw goods into its factories. Germany and France, who had smaller empires and less control over what colonies the did have, needed places where they could reliably extract raw materials to maintain their industrial development. 

Sub-Saharan Africa was one of the few regions of the world that had not been formally incorporated into a European empire by the nineteenth century. A combination of geography, distance, and disease had long prevented Europeans from colonizing beyond the coast of Africa. This changed with the invention of steam power and the railroad. Europeans now had the means to establish travel through even the most challenging terrain, and in the late 19th century, a scramble for unclaimed parts of Africa began. 

The "Scramble for Africa" was formalized after the Berlin Conference in 1884, at which European powers led by the three big industrial empires--Britain, Germany, and France-divided the continent up to ensure Europeans would not war with one another over the creation of these new colonies. Throughout the remainder of the century, formal colonial governments were established that would last until the middle of the twentieth century when anti-colonial nationalist movements brought an end to European rule in Africa.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on