A map of Africa Before the Scramble for Africa

Africa Before the Scramble For Africa

Little of Africa had been mapped before the 19th Century, excluding the Islamic kingdoms in the north. If you tried to explore the vast continent 200 years ago, you would find it would be difficult to travel across, due to both natural and human obstacles. Scorching deserts, dense jungles, rivers, and mountains and other natural barriers made it difficult to traverse, even without any human interference. You would encounter tribes and kingdoms, some peaceful, others not.

Before the Scramble for Africa, most of Africa was still not in the grasp of foreign powers, although some regions were.

  • The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire, originally from modern-day Turkey, spread out of Asia and into Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and parts of Sudan.

  • Morocco

The Kingdom of Morocco controlled much of northwest Africa, just south of mainland Spain.

  • Spain

Spain had control of the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, both of which were surrounded by Morocco and the Mediterranean Sea. Spain still owns Ceuta and Melilla today.

  • France

France conquered Algeria in 1830, half a century the Scramble for Africa. Throughout the mid-1800s, France began to travel up the Senegal River, constructing forts and subjugating kingdoms. They also began to establish control of the Ivory Coast.

  • Portugal

Portugal first discovered their future colonies of Angola and Mozambique in 1482 and 1498, respectively. Trading posts were first formed in Mozambique immediately after it was discovered. Angola wasn’t settled by the Portuguese for another 75 years, until 1575.

  • Great Britain

Great Britain had begun to colonize many regions across the African continent, including the Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana), Lagos (now the capital of Nigeria), and they had set up many trading outposts and forts in other parts of Africa. But their largest colonies before the Scramble were South Africa. The British conquered the Cape Colony of South Africa from the Dutch during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars to prevent it from falling into French hands. They held on to it after the wars ceased, and it grew larger as colonists moved to the Cape Colony from Europe.


A map of Africa Before the Scramble for Africa
A map of Africa Before the Scramble for Africa

By 1870, Africa was still relatively uncharted. But wait another decade and the Scramble for Africa would begin.





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