20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
In to Africa,
This review is from: The Scramble For Africa (Paperback)
Perhaps The Scramble for Africa is not what most people would want to read about, but having read a decent amount about post colonial Africa, I thought I'd find out just how the Imperialists got their dirty little mitts on it in the first place.
Packenham's book is majestic. Some of the subject matter in the hands of someone less skilled would become unbearable. Inter-department shenanigans of various French governments? With Packenham it's fascinating!
The book covers a huge subject, from the early explorations of Livingstone through to a time where all but Ethiopia and Liberia remained unconquered. This includes the European government machinations, the 'scientific' explorations, the missions, the wars, the capitalist exploitation and everything in between.
Startlingly, Packenham brings hundreds, if not thousands, of the central characters to life in such a small space (albeit nearly 700 pages of fineprint). Not only the well-known major players like Stanley, Leopold and Rhodes of whom we'd all heard, but people like Tippu Tip, Lugard, George Goldie and King Mwanga are all leant such an incredible depth of character.
The story is fascinating, if at times farcicle, gruesome and ditressing.
I found two factors shocking. The first is the complete lack of plan the European powers had when entering into the scramble, made worse by the frivolous tit-for-tat nature of much of the division of Africa between France and Britain. I had naively thought that a reasonably serious analysis of the continent had been undertaken prior to a systematic division largely based on resources.
The second was the shocking atrocities the Imperial governments were willing to sweep under the carpet to get what they wanted. How could governments such as Salisbury's allow events such as Rhodes' massacre of Lobengula's people in Matabeleland?
This is no anti-colonial rant, I completely understand the complicity of the African Kings in in the slave trade and the terrible actions of the Arab slave traders long after the Europeans tried to stop it. But irrelevant of this, how the powers, purportedly expanding on the back of the so-called three C's (Christianity, Civilisation and Capatalism) allowed such -let's err towards understatment- ungentlemanly actions is beyond me.
In summary, Packenham takes an broad subject and brings it to life. It's so good even the boring bits are interesting!