Assess the significance of economics and finance in influencing Britain’s changing relationship with its African empire in the period c1870-c1981 Essay

Economic and financial concerns have a clear link to Britain’s relationship with her African empire over the period 1870-1980. During different time frames within the period; expansion, colonisation and decolonisation economic and finance hold different amounts of weight due to events which mark turning points in the relationship e.g.

World Wars. Strategic and cultural are also clear concerns which effect the relation which I will evaluate. Trading to make profit was the main reason British business men landed on African soil. This shows economic influences started the relationship between GB and her African empire, highlighting its importance during expansion. Trading in Africa brought high profits back to businessmen and the banks that financed them in England.

Men on the spot such as Sir William Mckinnon and Cecil Rhodes are examples of business men financed by the City who traded and became millionaires. McDonough supports my view he says ‘enormous economic potential became the driving force behind expansion’. This suggests that Britain found greater interest in Africa after the realisation of the high profits that would come with trading within the continent for their own economic benefit. However, Alfred’s statistic ‘Africa resulted in 6% of overseas investment commitment’ would go against McDonough’s point suggesting that economic concerns wasn’t the main reason that GB became closer to Africa. Strategic concerns seem to have held heavier weight during this period. By 1875 competitive rivalry was at its peak. European powers fought for prestige and to protect the power of their empires.

90% of Africa was European owned by 1900. Pakenham supports my view stating ‘the scramble was forced upon Britain by her rivals’.This suggests that Britain was left with no other option but to expand to ensure she upheld her title as the most powerful empire in the world. More importantly, strategically, Africa had become vital to Britain due to the Suez Canal as it was found a quicker trade route to other colonies. Chamberlain agrees with my view stating ‘holding the empire in India, we must of necessity, dominate the Suez Canal’. This suggests that GB had stronger interest in Africa as she took take over countries surrounding Egypt to protect the canal from rivals that would hamper trade movement.

Though this was a strategic concern it links heavily British economic concerns as the trade route was of commercial importance to Britain. It is clear that cultural concerns play a role in the enhancement and the downfall of the relationship of GB and Africa during expansion. The British mindset during the period was that they were the superior race of the world and that it was their ‘white man’s burden’ to rule Africa to bring them into civilisation. Ferguson supports my point saying ‘Victorians aspired to bring light to what they called the Dark Continent.’This suggests that their arrogant mindset would make them feel as though cultural imperialism was the best morally correct action for the empire because Africa, to them was behind.

This brought a jingoistic British attitude towards colonisation as people thought their country was being helpful. An example of how they brought ‘light’ was through converting Africans into Christianity. Ferguson gives a statistic ‘1886 and 1895 the number of Protestants in Africa trebled’. This shows that the British aim to civilise Africa was working which gave them something in common which made it easier for British to settle in Africa during expansion.

However, cultural attitudes brought a strain on the relationship after the Boer War of 1899-1902. The way the empire acted to win the war was seen to the world as well as some British themselves as immoral. McDonough agrees with me saying ‘the word imperialism changed from a positive, before the Boer war to a negative’.The idea of imperialism was being questioned as the Pax Britannica title the empire held was destroyed suggesting that the empire was no longer capable of ruling Africa. It isn’t an ironic fact that the empire stopped colonising more of Africa after the war.

The consolidation period 1902-1955 saw major events changing the relationship. Economic and financial concerns pre-world war were a major factor in the reasons Pre-world war held the great depression due to the Wall Street crash. Overy says the empire economically became ‘a growing liability’1 due to the world-wide collapse in production and mass unemployment. This would suggest the empire should be worrying more about fixing the problems at home instead of the colonies for Britain to remain a great power. However, Ferguson would disagree with Overy as he says ‘consequence of the depression was the intensification of its total export 1910-38’2. He would go against Overy’s point of the empire becoming a ‘liability’ because the colonial trade is securing British trade during a time where trade was halted worldwide.

This shows the significant link between Britain sustaining her good relation with her African empire to continue trade.