15.2 European Colonies in Africa

Between 1870 and 1914, Britain, France, Germany, and other European powers scrambled to carve up the African continent. They set up dozens of colonies and ruled over the lives of millions of people. Although people in Africa resisted, they could not hold back the tide of European conquest.

Illustration of a tropical coastline, where European ships are landing to greet natives.

Europeans began trading along the African coast in the 1500s. Centuries later, they began moving into the continent's interior.


  • Describe the forces that shaped Africa in the early 1800s.
  • Explain why European contact with Africa increased.
  • Analyze how European nations carved up Africa.
  • Describe African resistance to imperialism.

Key Terms

  • Usman dan Fodio
  • Shaka
  • paternalistic
  • David Livingstone
  • Henry Stanley
  • Leopold II
  • Boer War
  • Samori Touré
  • Yaa Asantewaa
  • Nehanda
  • Menelik II
  • elite

Africa Before Imperialism

Africa is a huge continent, nearly three times the size of Europe, with diverse regions and cultures. Before the scramble for Africa, people living on the continent spoke hundreds of languages and had developed varied governments. Some people lived in large centralized states, while others lived in village communities. Many still lived in nomadic societies.

North Africa

North Africa includes the fertile land along the Mediterranean and the enormous Sahara. For centuries before 1800, the region had been part of the Muslim world. In the early 1800s, much of North Africa, including Egypt, was still ruled by the weakening Ottoman empire.

Islamic Conquest in West Africa

In the great savanna region of West Africa, an Islamic reform movement brought change. It began among the Fulani people in what is today northern Nigeria. There, the scholar and preacher Usman dan Fodio (oo SMAHN dahn foh DEE oh) denounced the corruption of the local Hausa rulers. He called for social and religious reforms to purify and revive Islam. Under Usman and other leaders, several new Muslim states arose, built on trade, farming, and herding.

End ofPage 598

Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments