First published in 1991 in Dutch, Divide and Rule: The Partition of Africa, 1880-1914, disputes the belief that Europe engaged in a feeding frenzy to partition the continent for its resources. On the contrary, Wesseling shows that the colonization of Africa was more a by-product of sorting out the affairs in the Balkans after Turkey's defeat to Russia, and that, like most political endeavors, happened haphazardly rather than as a systematic process of occupation. Though he acknowledges damage caused by colonialism, he disputes the popular belief of colonialism as Africa's original sin: "Even under colonialism Africans thus largely remained masters of their fate."
From Publishers Weekly
As Wesseling tells it, Africa turned into a prize for European powers beginning in 1870, when France, defeated by Germany, sought compensation for its diminished continental power by expanding overseas. By 1880, European nations started dividing up the continent at a furious pace. Not to be outdone by France, Britain joined the race, as did Germany, Portugal and Italy. King Leopold of tiny Belgium even managed to outmaneuver the bigger powers for the Belgian Congo, his extra-large share of the pie. Cunning players such as Bismarck and Lord Salisbury engaged in a diplomatic chess game in which one strategic move could mean control or loss of part of Africa. African possessions often translated into increased political power at home as well as economic gain. As time went on, the protection of commercial interests abroad was linked with cheap food for the masses at home and a market for European goods, especially spirits. This most recent effort to synthesize the history of Africa's partition is a lively, accessible account for the interested layperson and for the serious scholar. Wesseling, professor of general history at the University of Leiden in Holland, ends by contrasting the European and African perspectives on the colonial period: "It is... strange and rather sad, to recall that European colonialism in Africa, which Africans nowadays consider to have been so damaging, should have been of such small importance to Europe itself." Art not seen by PW.
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