Non-Africans: Europeans

Non-Africans: Europeans

Europeans who are citizens of African countries make up a small number in the overall population statistics, but many hold significant positions in the economies of countries such as Namibia and South Africa. In Zambia and South Africa, they hold large commercial farms, and confisca-tions of white farmlands in Zimbabwe have left the economy in shambles.

In 2003 alone, some 200 white commercial farmers relocated in Zambia from Zimbabwe. Gen-erally speaking, Europeans make up only around 1 percent of the populations in most African countries, but in South Africa they number nearly 10 percent, and in Namibia, they represent 6–8 percent of the total.

The main European populations in Africa are Portuguese, French, Belgian, Dutch, and British, though in South Africa they also include Greeks and others who immigrated there after World War II. The earliest Europeans to establish a permanent post in Africa were the Portuguese, who began exploring the Atlantic coast in the early 1400s under the patronage of Prince Henry the Navigator.

By 1460, they had reached as far south as Sierra Leone. In 1471, they reached the “Gold Coast” of Ghana and built their fort/trading station Elmina, from the Arabic word al-Mina’ meaning a harbor. They also established another trading post in Benin and were greatly impressed by the highly centralized Benin state. In 1482, the Portuguese made it to the Kingdom of Kongo,wherein 1505, the converted Catholic son of the king succeeded his father to the throne as King Alfonso.

The Portuguese pushed south, and in 1487, they reached the Cape of Good Hope. Rounding the Cape, the Portuguese encountered Arab, Persian, Indian, and Swahili trading communities on the East African coast in 1498. The Portuguese were able to successfully com-pete with the Arab traders, and it was not until the rise of a renewed, strong Omani state in the 17th century that the Portuguese were pushed out of most of their East African holdings. .

The French, like the Portuguese, were interested in trade with West African states, and in 1659, the French established a trade station at Saint Louis at the mouth of the Senegal River. The island of Goree, located just off the coast of Dakar, was originally a Portuguese trade station which wasfirstoccupiedin1444,butitbecame Dutch in 1588, and after a brief period of English control, it became French in 1677. The French were concentrated in West Africa and did not establish many trade posts further south along the Atlantic coast, nor did they have a strong presence along the East African coast.

The Dutch were among the more active commercial traders in the 16th and 17th centuries along the Atlantic coast, but were far more interested in developing strong trade relations with the East Indies (Indonesia) than in Africa. The Dutch decided their main interest in Africa was to have weigh stations for provisions for their fleets going on to and from the Indies, and in 1652, they founded the colony at Cape of Good Hope for this very purpose.

The Cape Colony was allowed to expand when in 1657, the Dutch East Indies Company released farmers from their company contracts to develop farms outside of the lands owned by the com-pany. The small group of Dutch settlers was further strengthened when, in 1685, French Protestants, the Huguenots, fleeing persecution in France were sent to the colony by the Dutch government. In 1658, slaves from Dahomey and Angola were brought into the colony, and slave labor on agricultural production became an important part of the colony’s economy.

While the company did allow for manu-mission of slaves, it was not that common, and the number of “free blacks” was never large. Nonetheless, they did become part of the growing Colored (Creole) commu-nity of mixed racial ancestry. Along with settled agricultural production, a pastoral group of Dutch emerged in the 18th cen-tury called the trekboers.

The British established a trading center at the mouth of the Gambia River in 1618, which confirmed a previous treaty between Portugal and England’s Queen Elizabeth I that granted the English rights to trade in the Gambia and the Gold Coast, modern-day Ghana. The English, along with the other main European powers, were inter-ested in developing the slave trade with African kingdoms and did little other than man coastal trading centers.

Great Britain was the first European country to try to abolish slavery in 1807, and in 1811 slave trading was made a felony. In 1817, the European victors of the Napoleonic Wars all agreed to abolish slavery. In 1833, the British Parliament banned slavery in the British Empire, but it was not until1845 that a fleet of British warships were assigned the duty of suppressing the slave trade, particularly the trans-Atlantic trade.Strong British antislavery laws brought them into difficulties with the Dutch inhabitants of the Cape Colony, which became British during the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1807, the British banned importa-tion of new slaves into the colony, and in 1823, the British tried to impose a mini-mum standard of living for slaves similar to what had been imposed on Trinidad. Britain began sending British settlers to the Cape in 1815, and a much larger group that was to arrive in 1820. The increasing British presence in the Cape along with the antislavery attitude of the new immi-grants provoked the Great Trek in 1830, with many of the Dutch leaving the colony to found new states in the interior.

It was not until much later in the 19th century that Europeans were able to ven-ture into the African interior; first by explorers, then later by missionaries, and finally settlers. In 1882, a meeting was held in Berlin, and Africa was parceled out between the main powers, including Germany and Italy, who were recent entrants in the “Scramble for Africa.” Germans did not send many colonists, but in 1884, they officially took control of Su¨dwest Afrika (Namibia) and a number of German families moved to the colony.

British colonists moved into the two Rho-desias in the1890s partially to counter moves by the Germans in Tanganyika and Su¨dwestAfrikaaswellasrenewedinter-est in the interior of Angola by the Portu-guese. British interests in Kenya and Uganda were given a push by the Berlin Conference and French moves toward the sources of the Nile. In the early 20th cen-tury, British settlers were encouraged to develop commercial farms in both Kenya and Uganda. Following World War I, most of Germany’s possessions in Africa became British, French, or Belgian.

Europeans brought with them western Christianity. Copts of Egypt and Ethiopia have long histories in the Nile Valley, and many of the peoples in Sudan converted to Islam in recent centuries. Many in West African countries such as Senegal con-verted to Islam following the defeat of tra-ditional states by Europeans, Islam being a means of continued resistance to Euro-pean political control.

The western forms of Christianity introduced by Europeans were adopted and adapted by local peo-ples, and in many places syncretistic ver-sions of Christianity emerged blending local belief systems with European. These syncretic churches, such as the Apostolic/Zionist forms in southern Africa and the Church of the Lord (Aladura), the Celestial Church of Christ, and the Chere-bim and Seraphim Society in Nigeria, blend traditional beliefs in spirits with those of Christian salvation. Priesthoods in these churches follow the names and hierarchies of the Catholic or Anglican churches, and many use the Bible as a means of divination.

European colonial administration intro-duced the use of European languages that continue to be used today, since they allow communication across the numerous lan-guages that may be found in one country. Following the independence of most Afri-can countries in the 1960s, the Organiza-tion of African Unity agreed to keep the colonial borders, and official colonial lan-guages were easier to deal with than to reinstate all precolonial borders and lan-guages.

It has made education easier as well, using a single language, and the Brit-ish, French, and Portuguese had set up postcolonial organizations that help deal with a wide range of issues using English, French, or Portuguese languages. Colonial languages are generally used for education in most of the former colonial territories, and English, French, and Portuguese in particular are languages of education.

European colonial powers invested in infrastructure to exploit the resources of the colonial possessions including roads and railways. Both the British and the French had plans to connect all of their colonial possessions by rail, though neither was brought to light. European settlers built European-styled homes and even cities, and some, such as the British, educated generations of young Africans. Among the Europeans who least prepared their former colonial possessions for independence were the Belgians and the Portuguese.

During the colonial period, Europeans had political power and gave their citizens the right to vote while indigenous peoples were, for the most part, denied. The excep-tions to these policieswereSt.Louisand Goree in Senegal and in the Cape Colony.

In Portuguese Angola and Mozambique, the concept called Lusotropicalism emphasized the lack of racism among the Portuguese, but it has been noted that Lus-cotropicalism developed in Brazil, not in Africa, and should not be seen as a means of understanding Portuguese behavior in their African colonies.

Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique did not encour-age the type of mixing that occurred in Brazil, and generally the numbers of assimilados in Africa were small. In Angola, the discrimination in jobs, etc., suffered by the assimilados helped encourage the growth of independence movements. In general, Europeans were reluctant to give up their special rights, and in places such as Kenya, local resis-tance erupted into violence.

In 1961, Southern Rhodesia broke from the United Kingdom’s negotiations for independence of Nyasaland and Northern and Southern Rhodesia, and declared itself to be Rhode-sia ruled by a white (mainly British) minority. Eventually Rhodesia’s minority government was forced to recognize its days were coming to an end, and in 1979, an interim government was elected. In 1980, white rule was over, and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe.

Namibia gained its independence from South African control in 1990. The South West African People’s Organization was formed in 1960 and had a long struggle for independence and African representa-tion. In 1994, Walvis Bay was reintegrated into Namibia after three years of negotia-tions with the South Africans. Generally, Namibia has been able to effectively inte-grate the Europeans into the nation’s political fabric.

White rule in South Africa ended in 1990 when the government revoked a num-ber of racial laws and the release of Nelson Mandela from jail. Elections were organ-ized and, in 1994, Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa, bringing an end to white minority rule. Afrikaners or Dutch speakers have opted to stay in the new multiracial South Africa, while a number of those of British origin have opted to leave, emigrating to Aus-tralia and other former British colonies.

John A. Shoup

Further Reading

Afolayan, Funso S. Culture and Customs of South Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004.

“Background Note: The Gambia.” (accessed May 28, 2010).

Bender, Gerald. Angola under the Portuguese:TheMythand theReality. Trenton, NJ:Africa World Press, 2004.

Collins, Robert O. Africa: A Short History.Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2008.