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Missionaries were Christian explorers and evangelists who saw it as their duty to spread the word of God to the indigenous people of Africa. This is just one of many reasons for British interest in Africa during the late nineteenth century. Other factors include: Economics, strategic, european rivalries and the intrinsic need to further explore Africa.
Missionaries wanted to explore Africa in order to spread the Christian teachings amongst the indigenous people. They not only saw this as their duty “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” but they also believed it was possible amongst the ‘heathen’ people.
A letter from British Foreign Office had stated that the indigenous people of East Africa were the most corporate of all Africans and wanted to learn ‘British values’. Explorer and missionary David Livingstone had been traveling through West Africa with the help of traders. From this, we could assume that many missionaries had wanted to explore Africa due to philanthropic principle but British traders for their own sake of finding new trade markets.
Although missionary activity was a strong factor in the growth of British interest in Africa, economics was the most important.
During the late 1800’s, Britain was suffering a trade slump that influenced explorers to further conquest the East. East Africa seemed to have promising economic value due to it’s possible mineral wealth, fertile lands, good climate, and ‘unlimited capacity for production of cattle’ as stated in a letter from British foreign office in 1884.
It must be recognised that although the development of wealth was important to the British traders, there was also fear amongst the rapid industrialisation of rivals such as Germany.
The Franco-Prussian war of 1871 had united Germany, making Britain a rivalry due to its rapid economic growth. Further exploration of Africa could prove a good move if it means finding economical support in new trade posts and wealthy minerals to fund British military.
Economics is thus the most important factor when discussing British interest in Africa.
Strategy was also a very prominent factor. In 1875, British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli had purchased £4,000,000 worth of shares in the Suez to ensure that the French and British had shared control in Egypt. This would allow easier access to India, saving traders 6,000 miles in travelling expenses. India was illustrated as the “jewel in the crown of empire” and Britain had been dependent on 80% of India’s exports. North Africa allowed a faster trade route and thus strategy and economics go hand in hand, further supporting the idea that British interest in Africa was due to it’s potential wealth and economic attributes.
Rivalries such as Germany and America were industrialising rapidly. In order to survive, Britain had to grow at an equal rate. Historian Dane Kennedy argued that the growth of other powers lead to a renewed interest in Africa during the late nineteenth century. Britain was facing an economic crisis known as the long depression in 1873 after the American civil war. Africa had the trade markets and perfect land for agriculture that could help defeat British deficit. For this reason, British interest in Africa could be a reflection of the metropolitan theory as opposed to international relations.
The motivation to explore Africa could have been simply fueled by imperialists such as Cecil Rhodes who found fame and fortune in the South. Others would view this as a successful way to be rich and powerful while at the same time winning the respect and admiration of those at home. In conclusion, there are many factors for British interest in Africa during the late nineteenth century. However, the long depression meant that Britain had to focus on selling and competing with other products such as New Zealand butter and North American grain in order to survive. The only way to survive was to reach an economic equilibrium, the easiest way to do this was to expand in Africa.
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