The map above shows how the African continent was divided in 1914 just before the outbreak of World War I. By this time, European powers controlled 90% of the continent with only Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Liberia retaining independence.
When war broke out, each of these colonies were not only expected to help their respective European occupier with manpower and raw materials, but many actually became theatres of war in their own right.
The population breakdown by each power was roughly as follows:
- Britain had 30% of the continent’s people in its colonies.
- France had 15%.
- Portugal had 11%.
- Germany had 9%.
- Belgium had 7%.
- Italy had 1%.
Yet, the Scramble for Africa was still a relatively recent phenomenon for Europeans. As late as 1880, 90% of the continent remained free from European colonial rivalries. It was as close to Europeans in 1914 as the events of 1981 are to us today.
The following map gives a very clear idea of how much had changed in just 30 years:
Thus, the start of the “Great War” in 1914, would have tragic consequences not only for European societies but also for the people forced to help the war efforts of the very powers that denied them their freedom.
You can learn more about Africa in World War 1 and the Scramble for Africa from the following books:
- Tip and Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa
- The First World War in Africa
- The Scramble For Africa
- King Leopold’s Ghost: A story of greed, terror and heroism
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