This unit is about the uncoordinated rush by Europeans to acquire territories in East Africa.


Scramble means an unorganized rush for something. The scramble of East Africa means an uncoordinated rush by Europeans to acquire territories in East Africa. This disorganized rush took place mainly between 1880 and 1884. This brought ill feelings among the European powers.

In order to avoid wars / fighting among European powers for the accusation of territories in East Africa, the Berlin conference was called by Bismarck between November 1884 and February 1885 to divide the territories among European powers without fighting.

The conference led to the partition of East Africa and this was a systematic division on paper of the East African territories between Britain and Germany.


There are several reasons why European powers rushed for colonies in East Africa. these are divided into political, economic strategies and humanitarian factors.


The reports of the travellers, missionaries and other European groups before 18180 had made the Europeans aware of the possibilities of exploiting East Africa for their economic advantage. After 1880, the Europeans rushed to acquire territories to fulfill these objectives.

To obtain raw materials for their industries at home, France and Germany were industrializing behind Britain which had been in the lead in industrialization for a long time. Germany and France didn’t want to depend on Britain for supply of tropical products like cotton, minerals, and palm oil to use in their industries. The Europeans from there came to acquire their own areas from which they could get their raw materials. Britain being that she would be excluded from such areas also joined the race for colonization of East Africa and the result was the scramble.

To find market for their abundant manufactured goods like cloth, saucepan, steel products etc. the system of protected tariffs in Europeans and even shrinking market forced European industrialist and merchant to look for new market overseas e.g. East Africa.

To find new areas or investment of accumulated capital. Industrialization had led to accumulation of capital but the returns on investment in Europe were very low because of economic depression which occurred in Europe between 1875 and 1900 due to many investors. So many Europeans came to East Africa to invest their money in mining, plantation agriculture for higher returns.

To find employment for the unemployed Europeans because of increased population, due to the growth of industrialization and wealth. There were high standards of living which led to high population and increase in unemployment. Thus East Africa looked at as an outlet to settle the unemployed for example Administrators, police etc.

The discovery of minerals; when Europeans discovered minerals in South Africa they believed that Africa was full of minerals in all countries and so they came to East Africa to get new mineral deposits which could be used as raw materials in their countries.

The traders in East Africa wanted protection from their home governments.


Nationalism means having strong desire and feeling of love for one`s nation and to have it being on top of the others. This became strong in Europe after 1870

In 1870-71, the Germany nation had been created from a loose federation of 39 German principalities created by a prince who had been under the rule of Austria since 1815.

After a war with France, Germany formally an insignificant political power, felt political competence to acquire colonies to prove it a worthy nation.

German nationalist felt that German culture was superior so it was there duty to spread their culture to other parts of the world.

German nationalist wanted a place in the “Sun” to enhance prestige. After the mid-19th century, the country`s prestige was measured by the number of colonies she possessed. This meant that if Germany moved out to acquire colonies she would most likely encroach on other people`s colonies and this would lead to the scramble.

The British got involved in the scramble for East Africa in order to safe guard her position as an important political power in Europe. She also wanted to prove that she was still strong.

The defeat of the French by the upcoming German nation caused humiliation to France as a leading land power in Europe. France therefore decided to go and look for compensation in Africa by acquiring colonies there so that she could maintain her position as one of the leading power.

Darwinism, White race was thought to be superior and so it had a right to colonize other races as in the theory of evolution.

Public opinion pushed governments to engage in favor to acquire colonies to enhance their stand in international affairs.



Strategic means importance in terms of location. The strategic factors contributed to scramble of South Africa in different ways e.g. the East African coast was very important to the Europeans in the following ways;-

The European would be able to control the Indian Ocean trade by obtaining raw materials as well as revenue in form of taxes.

The presence of good harbors at the East African coast would enable the Europeans to anchor their ships there.

The coast of East Africa was there for valuable, naval and commercial bases useful in times of war as well as links to the Far East.

Strategic consideration also made the British determined to takeover Uganda as the source of the Nile as well as take over British East Africa (Kenya) which provided Uganda with a gate way to the coast since they were already in Egypt.


The objectives of the humanitarian were to preserve human dignity and freedom of the people of East Africa.

The need to stop barbaric customs and practices among the Africans e.g. human sacrifice, twin murder, women circumcision etc

There was need to spread Christianity and halt the spread of Islam.

Europeans also desired to spread European civilization e.g. teach Africans how to read and write, how to protect themselves from preventable diseases, to spread European`s languages, their way of dressing etc.

The scramble of East Africa was enhanced by the need to protect the missionaries and converts who were being persecuted e.g. murder of Bishop Hannington in Busoga, it became necessary to ensure security if missionary work was to continue.

The scramble was also encouraged by the inter- State wars among the Africans as a result of greed for power, desire to expand their influence etc. the Europeans therefore wanted to come and help put to an end these conflicts.


King Leopold II of Belgium developed interest in acquiring colonies. In order to disguise his ambition, he formed the international African Association (IAA).

This organisation claimed to want to do the following;

  • To stop slave trade
  • To spread Christianity
  • To promote legitimate trade for the benefit of the Africans

This move aroused suspicious among other power such as France, Portugal, Britain who already had their representative in the Congo. This crated conflicts among European powers which almost resulted into a war.

However, Bismarck decided to call the Berlin conference so that they could discuss their conflicts instead of going to war. This indeed accelerated the partition of East Africa.

King Leopold
His Majesty King Leopold II

In the Berlin conference, it was agreed that a country called officially claim an area as its protectorate by using proof of signed treaties and these treaties, they had to show proof that the African chiefs had accepted protection by the imperial power. As a result Carl Peters signed in Tanganyika with African chiefs hence the area were officially given to Germany.

They were also to abolish Slave trade and administrate, law and orders in their territories country wanted to claim a territory they had to efficient occupy it by having the representative there and by carrying out social, political and economic development in the areas e.g. build schools, construct roads, establish forts etc.

From the above analysis, it is very clear that the Berlin conference led to the scramble of East Africa and thus leading to the partition of East Africa.

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