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The ‘Scramble for Africa’

The ‘Scramble for Africa’

The ‘Scramble for Africa’

Part 1 of a six part series marking the bicentennial of David Livingstone’s birthday in 2013. A thumbnail sketch of the times which divided and continue to define a continent.

The story of the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone has made its way into our history books for good reason; his visit to what he named as the Victoria Falls in 1855 is a watershed event in Africa’s history. Visiting this part of the world today you can still see the Victoria Falls bridge, which was constructed within 50 years of his visit!

The bridge stands as testament to the fact that this place went from terra incognita to part of the British Empire in just 50 years, and this same startling change was happening all over the continent. For many years prior to Livingstone’s journey the great powers in Europe had harboured plans to divide Africa between them, but their ambition had been tempered by the hostile environment. Thanks to diseases like malaria, the life expectancy of a European in the interior of Africa was just six months - under these circumstances, no-one was volunteering to go and survey this potential new territory.

The Victoria Falls didn’t just launch David Livingstone’s career, but also those of Speke, Burton, Stanley, Baker and Cameroon, so our story of his life unfolds against the backdrop of the ‘Golden Era’ of African exploration, which began with his journey in 1855. During the next 30 years these men would crisscross the continent in a series of audacious journeys, mapping its geography as they went.

These maps would have a profound impact on the history of Africa since they would provide the tools, long awaited by the European powers, to divide the continent between them. They gathered at the Conference of Berlin in 1885 and within three months, seven European nations carved up 30 million square kilometers between them.

It is deeply disturbing to contemplate that at this, the most important meeting in Africa’s history, there was not a single representative of the people of Africa invited to attend; their wishes were deemed irrelevant. The topic remains highly emotive for the people of Africa, and so it should be, for that meeting has defined the last 150 years of Africa’s history and will continue to influence events for many years to come.

To think that this all came about because of the birth of one baby in a Glasgow slum called Blantyre almost 200 years ago; a child who would rise up from his humble birth to be eulogized at his death as “the greatest man of his generation.” To be continued.

The Livingstone Bicentennial Celebrations will run from March to November 2013 in the town of  Livingstone, to mark the 200th anniversary of the great explorer’s birthday. Russell Gammon, resident authority on David Livingstone, will author a six part serial on the great explorer, exclusive to Zambezi Traveller. Questions and contributions are welcomed.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 09, June 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:

Read more on David Livingstone from the Zambezi Traveller:
The Life of David Livingstone - Part VI: David Livingstone – the final journey (ZT14, Sept 2013)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part V: Dr Livingstone, I presume? (ZT13, July 2013)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part IV: The dream to open up Africa (ZT12, March 2013)
Slavery – the scourge of Africa (ZT12, March 2013)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part III: David Livingstone’s early missionary years and first expedition (ZT11, Dec 2012)
The ‘discovery’ of Victoria Falls (ZT11, Dec 2012)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part II: David Livingstone – the training (ZT10, Sept 2012)
The life and times of David Livingstone – the Sunday schoolboy (ZT10, Sept 2012)
The Life of David Livingstone - Part I: The ‘Scramble for Africa’ (ZT09, July 2012)
The story of quinine (ZT09, July 2012)