Category: Africa

Italian Colonies In Africa

One of the nations to colonize the continent of Africa during the Scramble for Africa was Italy. There were three Italian colonies in Africa, each of which had an interesting past.

Italy’s colonial story began with Somaliland, modern day Somalia. In the late 1870s and 1880s, expeditions of Somaliliand were organized by influential figures in Italy. By 1888, Italy signed a treaty with the Sultanate of Hobyo, making it an Italian protectorate. The Majerteen Sultanate, the main rival of the the Sultanate of Hobyo, did the same a year later. In these treaties, Italy agreed not to interfere with the sultanates’ governments, in exchange for some economic concessions.


The Hobyo and Majerteen Sultanates

At the same time, Italy was colonizing Eritrea, a strip of land separating Ethiopia from the Red Sea. In the late 1800s, Eritrea was controlled by Egypt, but after a war with the Ethiopian Kingdom, the region was in chaos. Italy first settled the area in 1882, and began annexing more and more land as time went on. In the confusion and fracturing of Ethiopia following the Ethiopian emperor’s death in 1889, Italy formally established the colony of Eritrea. Later that year, Italy signed a treaty with King Menelek of the Ethiopian Kingdom of Shewa, in which he stated he would acknowledge Italy’s control over the region in exchange for access to arms and economic aid. King Menelek was successful in uniting Ethiopia, and Eritirea was firmly under Italian control.



Italy’s final colony was Libya, in Africa’s north. Italy had claims in Libya since the end of the Russo-Turkish War and the Congress of Berlin, in which European powers decided the future of the Balkans and how it would be divided, along with other parts of the dissolving Ottoman Empire. During the congress, there were thoughts of giving control of the Libyan city of Tripoli to Italy, although this never happened. Fast-forward three decades to 1911, and much of the press in Italy begins a campaign to invade Libya, which they describe as plentiful in natural resources and barely defended. Italy was initially split on the idea of an invasion, but in the end of September, the Italian government declared war. After a year of fighting and thousands of deaths on both sides, Italy was victorious and annexed Libya.

Italian attack against the Ottoman Empire

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.