In this compelling history of the men and ideas that radically changed the course of world history, Lawrence James investigates and analyses how, within a hundred years, Europeans persuaded and coerced Africa into becoming a subordinate part of the modern world. His narrative is laced with the experiences of participants and onlookers, guides its readers through complex and unfamiliar events and introduces the men and women who, for better or worse, stamped their wills on Africa. The continent was a magnet for the high-minded, the philanthropic, the unscrupulous and the insane. Visionary pro-consuls rub shoulders with missionaries, explorers, soldiers, adventurers, engineers, big-game hunters, entrepreneurs and physicians.
The onset of the imperial era in African history coincided with a widespread arms race. This book narrates how between 1840 and 1945, Britain, France, Germany and Italy exported their languages, laws, culture, religions, scientific and technical knowledge and economic systems to Africa. Each nation encouraged white men and women to settle on the peripheries of the continent where the climate was suitable, gave them land and permitted them to hire cheap labour. European investment was also encouraged to draw African manpower and resources into the global economy.
The colonial powers imposed administrations designed to bring stability and peace to a continent that seemed to lack both. The body of the African would be liberated from slavery, commonplace throughout the continent, and the mind of the African would simultaneously be released from what was seen as universal superstition and ignorance. The justification for emancipation (and occupation) was the common assumption that the late nineteenth-century Europe was the summit of civilization. Some Africans resisted and other collaborated in this process.
By 1945 a transformed continent was preparing to take charge of its own affairs, a process of decolonization that took a mere twenty of so years. Areas remained where European influence was limited (Liberia, Abyssinia) - through inertia and a desire for a quiet time, Africa's new masters left much undisturbed. This magnificent history also pauses to ask: What did not happen and why?