THE SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA: The White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876-1912 by Thomas Pakenham

THE SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA: The White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876-1912

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Like our own century's headlong rush to own the Bomb, European powers in the late-19th century raced to acquire colonies in Africa. Now, in a comprehensive and certain-to-be-standard account of this ""scramble,"" Pakenham (The Boer War, 1979) describes the motives and methods of what Bismarck called ""the colonial whirl."" For Pakenham, the ""scramble"" began with the death of David Livingstone, the great missionary and explorer. Horrified by the new slave trade, organized by the Arabs and their African allies, that was destroying the heart of his beloved continent, the dying Livingstone pleaded for the three ""Cs""--Commerce, Christianity, and Civilization--to join in a worldwide crusade to root out the evil. But a fourth ""C""--Conquest--was added, and though the original ideals were never lost, they were often secondary to realpolitik and greed. Villains, heroes, rogues--each responded to the call in his own fashion, but ""all conceived of it in terms of romantic nationalism."" There was Stanley, the consummate self-promoter; King Leopold II of Belgium, who made the Congo his personal fief; the idiosyncratic General Gordon, sacrificed to the Mahdi; and a large cast of other luminaries. In alternating chapters, Pakenham describes the individual European powers' ventures and misadventures in a continent that, in reality, was incapable of ever fulfilling their grandiose expectations. Indeed, no one except the wily Leopold, who stashed his gains in a hidden bank account, really came out ahead. And what of the Africans themselves, who were to be saved by the three Cs? Pakenham's answer is unfashionably Panglossian: Europe gave a continent in thrall to slave traders and despots ""the aspirations for freedom and human dignity, the humanitarian ideals of Livingstone, even if Europe was seldom able to live up to them."" More anecdotal than analytical, but a spirited and intelligent history of one of the moat seminal events in Africa, whose legacy is not yet spent.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1991
Page count: 768pp
Publisher: Random House