Beside the European Scramble for Africa, what countries historically started taking over parts of Africa—when and why?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One country's "colonization" of Africa predates the "European scramble for Africa." In Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, he speaks to Belgium's "invasion" of Africa by King Leopold II in the later part of the 19th Century. 

The European colonization of Africa was one of the greatest and swiftest conquests in human history. ...The bloodiest single episode in Africa's colonization took place in the center of the continent in the large territory, known as the Congo.

One of many sad elements of this movement was the swift oppression of an enormous portion of an entire continent. While explorers sent around the world by European powers (e.g., England, Spain, etc.) was a long-standing practice, what took place in Africa became a financial "venture" much like what occurred when Cortez, in the name of Spain, discovered the New World and...

...led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire.

Africa had already been exploited for many years with the slave trade. However, Leopold was interested in the other "raw materials" the region had to offer—first and foremost ivory (an extremely lucrative trade), and later the exportation of rubber. 

"British explorer and journalist Henry Morton Stanley" crossed the width of Africa from 1874-1877. Until this time, the recesses of the African interior had been safe from European explorers.

...heat, tropical diseases, and the huge rapids near the mouth of the Congo River on the Atlantic had long kept the Congo's interior a mystery.

Stanley mapped the river, discovering the presence of many smaller, connecting streams that were not only navigable, but covered a distance of over 7,000 miles! When Stanley returned to England, he was approached by Leopold II, who was...

...[a] man of great charm, intelligence, ruthlessness, and greed...

Leopold wanted Belgium to be a colonial power. Stanley was his "ticket" to making this a reality. Ultimately, Stanley would agree to return to the Congo as Leopold's agent. Leopold would create a "presence" in the Congo that would enslave its people, take part in horrific acts of inhumanity against the natives of the region, and strip the land of every valuable resource it could find.

The King convinced the world that this new colony belonged to Belgium. In truth, it belonged to Leopold:

It was the world's only major colony owned by one man.

Leopold also tried to assure the world of his wish to bring Christianity to the natives. Though he presented himself as a "philanthropist"—his motivation was pure greed. There were some missionaries in the Congo—they wrote home about atrocities at the hands of the Belgians.

…they were outraged at the brutal forced labor system…they described what they saw: Africans whipped to death, rivers full of corpses, and piles of severed hands…

These were just a few of the crimes of Leopold's "agents."

Edmund Morel, a self-made investigative journalist, uncovered irrefutable evidence that forced labor was being carried out in the Congo. His articles and books enlightened the world. Roger Casement, of the British consul, found similar evidence. International protests soared. 

The report of these events...

...gave birth to the twentieth century's first great international human rights movement.

Leopold would finally be forced to surrender his hold on the Congo—but by 1908, he had already profited (at a conservative estimate) in the area of "more than $1.1 billion in early twenty-first century terms."