Europe’s race for Africa, “the scramble for Africa”, began around 1880. By means of hundreds of agreements, the Europeans defined the borders of their territories on the black continent. Due to inaccurate maps, ignorance of local conditions, raw material deposits and ancestral ethnic settlement areas, and pre-existing indigenous administrations, this became a very uncertain undertaking.
The colonial rulers carried out far-reaching changes on the ground: Colonies, protectorates, special zones or merely free trade zones were governed. To this end, some areas were ruled directly by Europeans, others by privileged ethnic groups who extended their advantage through better health services, European education and networking – while other peoples fell by the wayside as serfs, working class or plain ballast. Investments in roads and railways mainly benefited European settlers who mined and extracted cocoa, tobacco, coffee, tea, palm oil, minerals, ores, gold, rubber, cotton and precious stones for voracious European industry.
The Germans, for example, began to arbitrarily divide the citizens of Rwanda into privileged Tutsis and underprivileged Hutus; the Belgians deepened this difference by indirectly imposing much higher coffee quotas on the Hutus, thus creating a two-tier society – which eventually exploded into ethnic cleansing as part of decolonisation.
Read more in Africa’s Century – Is the Grip on Prosperity Working?