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Why did European nations scramble to annex Cameroon in the 19th century's last quarter?

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European nations scrambled to annex Cameroon in the late 19th century for several reasons: access to valuable resources, creation of captive markets, strategic positioning for military bases, and national prestige. Germany's annexation was largely driven by the desire to match Britain's colonial power. The colonization ultimately harmed Cameroon's economy and hindered its post-independence development due to exploitation and lack of investment in local education and democratic institutions.

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The reasons for European annexation of Cameroon were generally the same as the reasons for the Scramble for Africa in general.  Some major reasons:

1.  Resources.  The African continent had many resources, especially mineral and agricultural, that were not available to the various European countries that participated in the Scramble.

2.  Markets.  It was hoped that having colonies would give each "mother country" a captive market for its goods -- one where only it could sell.  This would help the European country's economy.

3.  Strategic positioning.  In these days, warships needed to be refueled relatively often and there were, of course, no airplanes, missiles, etc.  So the only way for a country to be able to use military force in faraway regions was to have bases around the globe.  Having colonies in Africa allowed this.

4.  (And this may be the most important.)  Prestige.  If one country has a lot of colonies, then any country that doesn't have them looks weak (or at least weaker than those that did have them).  As the previous answer indicates, this was a major reason for German annexation of Cameroon.  Historians believe that this psychological need to keep up with the other countries was a huge factor in causing the Scramble.

As far as impacts go the colonization that followed the Scramble:

1.  Hurt the colonies' economies.  That's because their resources were being used to help the European countries rather than themselves.

2.  Made it harder for them to do well once they became independent.  One reason for this is that their economies were set up only for the benefit of the Europeans and this made them poorer than they might otherwise be.  Second, the Europeans weren't interested in educating the Africans or in setting up democratic institutions.  This is part of the reason why most African countries have had a hard time becoming stable and democratic.

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The area that is now Cameroon had been a trading route with Europeans since the 15th century. England had already established several treaties with the Douala chiefs in the 1870s, but had not taken specific action to officially make the area a part of the British empire. German Chancellor Bismark sent a representative to the Sahara in 1884 and treaties were signed with the kings of Douala, Bimbia and Batanga, creating the German protectorate of Kamerun. The move by Germany was primarily a power play to establish colonies in North Africa as a response to Britain's growing worldwide colonization.

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