An essay I wrote. Part I

A long while ago, a reader of my blog asked me about how to write an effective essay for the A-Levels. While I may not be the most qualified port of call to answer that question, I however would like to share, based on my own personal experience on writing essays both during my A-Levels days and current academic undergrad life. I will, from time to time upload some of the written essays that I did as part of my coursework assignments. Though I didn't get A+ grades for them, I suppose uploading them will provide a little, if not a clearer idea on writing a paper on an academic level. I realise that I may have, in these papers, some flaws and not so awesome style of writing, but just see it as one's sharing of knowledge to another:)

Here is one of my assessed essays for the Sub-Saharan Africa Unit I took on the previous semester:

How is the ‘New Imperialism’ of the late 19th Century best explained?

The subject of ‘Scramble of Africa’ evolves as an important academic discussion due to the manner and the rate that scramble occurred, which to a large extent was rapid, making it an important field of study. The scramble occurred largely on the role of the ‘New Imperialism’, which played an important part in the development of the whole process of the ‘Scramble of Africa’. This essay will look at the definition of ‘New Imperialism’ in the context of the Scramble of Africa, and distinguish between the ‘Old Imperialism’ and the ‘New Imperialism’. The main argument of this essay is to explain how the economic, more than any other reasons play the important role in the New Imperialism and this can be linked with the role of the economic reasons with both political and social- humanitarian reasons. I will look at the reasons that may contribute to the process of the New Imperialism, politically, socially and economically. I will conclude my arguments by stating that when discussing about the topic of the ‘New Imperialism’ of the late 19th Century, it is best explained in the economic point of view.

The New Imperialism, can be defined as the process whereby the colonial expansion led by the European, and subsequently, the Japanese and the United States, beginning in the late 19th century that was undertook by means of political, economic and cultural domination. The process, particularly in the context of ‘Scramble of Africa’, to a certain extent impacted the colonial powers in a way that those powers competed for acquisition of territories in the Sub Saharan Africa. This inevitably led to numerous conflicts not just in Europe but in the colonised parts of the African continent as well. For Hobson, the New Imperialism ‘differs from the older’ in two ways. Firstly, there was a change in the ambition of the colonial powers from building and controlling trading ports abroad, they moved to acquire territories and taking control of those territories simply as instating their desires to become a dominant hegemonic empire. Secondly, the New Imperialism would brought about a kind of but economic incentives for the colonial powers as in the New Imperialist system, colonial powers were able to exploit the resources and create new investment opportunities in the colonised territories, which in turn allow them to become not just a politically but also commercially successful empires. (Hobson in Macqueen, 30:2007).

The economic explanations are broadly based on the thesis and writings contributed by J.A Hobson and V.I Lenin. The impact of the New Imperialism was ‘thought to postulate the need for foreign investment as the main force propelling colonial expansion’ (Koponen, 118:1993). This idea can be explained from the growing importance of ‘Capitalism’ as a result to the rapid process of Industrial Revolution during the late 19th century and early 20th century respectively which brought about technological means for states to pursue their influence abroad (Macqueen, 26:2007). In his book, Imperialism: a Study, Hobson argued that it was the ‘demands of national economies’ that led to the accumulation of surplus capital as being the main motive of New Imperialism (Hobson in Macqueen, 29:2007). Hobson explained that there were three conditions the contributed to the growth of the New Imperialism. Firstly, he argued that due to the high overproduction of goods, the domestic markets became saturated; this then correlated with the problem of low wages of workers that were ‘too low to permit them to consume the surplus…’(Hobson in Macqueen, 29:2007). In the end, Imperialism was inevitable, as capitalists or industries sought new markets and investments in the colonies based on the surplus that they obtained (Hobson in Macqueen, 29:2007). This without a doubt generated the capitalists with more income not just locally but also from abroad.

Lenin, although offers a similar idea, his writings however were based from a totally different ideological perspective. In ‘Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism’, he agreed with Hobson on his idea that capitalism contributed to the penetration of Imperialist ambitions, although he differed in his prescriptions. As a result to the over-production of goods, capitalists according to Lenin, were provided with the opportunity to spread their monopolies of the economy abroad, and this was achievable through Imperialism. Imperialism was thus a form of proxy for capitalism. Similar to Hobson, he suggested that due to the low profit obtained at home, capitalists looked for market opportunities abroad, in this case the colonies. Consequently, colonies became the avenue to which these capitalists profited in the exportation of their capitals to those colonies as well as a source of raw materials. The profits obtained here became the motivation for colonial powers to surge and control colonies such as those in the African continent, as providing an outlet for them to realise their capitalistic ambitions. (Lenin in Macqueen, 32:2007).

The Hobson-Lenin thesis provided us with ample explanation the role of the Industrial Revolution contributing to the coming of the Imperialists or the colonialists to surge into the Sub Saharan Africa. The vast acres of untouched lands in Africa, with their abundance of minerals, provided the capitalists with unending supply of raw materials to meet the growing demands for Industrialisation. Furthermore, the colonies were also useful for these colonial powers in the sense that they provided the capitalists with large output markets to sell their surplus capital that were saturated in the domestic market, making the colonies profitable mercantile territories.

We can also look at how the political reasons for ‘New Imperialism’ can be linked with the economic. Ferguson explained the importance of ‘financial power’ and ‘firepower’ as keys to the territorial expansion. (Ferguson, 222: 2003). Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher in particular argued this argument to justify the reasons why the colonial powers underwent the ‘Scramble of Africa’ in the 19th century. In their book, Africa and the Victorians: the Official Mind of Imperialism, they suggested that the New Imperialism in Africa was more of an extension to the Old Imperialism. They argued that Britain especially was motivated to pursue their territorial acquisition in Africa to protect their trading interest in southern Mediterranean. (Robinson and Gallagher in Macqueen, 41:2007). Suez Canal in Egypt during that time was an important trading route for traders for Europe and was seen as the fastest route to lead these traders to India as well as to the Far East in general. By gaining control of the Suez Canal, Britain could capitalise themselves by gaining control of the strategic trade route through taxation rights (a form of economic income) to traders who used the Suez Canal. Furthermore, according to Robinson and Gallagher, there was a form of ‘Security Dilemma’ during the period of colonialism. They argued that threats occurred when another colonial power had certain interests on a territory close to an already established rival colony. This in turn would create a ‘security dilemma’ for the colonial powers. (Robinson and Gallagher in Macqueen, 41:2007). Significantly though, the importance of maintaining and obtaining rights of trade routes can be viewed as an important economic strategy as this way, the colonial power was able to protect their economic interests as well as their merchants and traders who had gone to and fro Europe, Africa and Asia to export and import goods. Moreover, by acquiring territorial rights Britain was able to keep on checking activities of their colonial rivals and be wary of their influence. This too acted as a form of protecting one colony’s interests against another rival colony, in particular economic interests, through means of monopolising certain trades.

Another important political explanation may link the growth of Nationalism as means to revive and mobilise their political ambitions through New Imperialism. (Koponen, 124:1993). Nationalism, defined as the strong feeling of pride, patriotism and loyalty to their country, during that time was a strong theme in the 19th century politics. Rivalries between countries especially in Europe was strong as a consequence of years of wars. A good example was France, who was mostly content with the German agenda in the late 1800. France, an already established colonial power in Europe was cautious of the ever-growing influence of the emerging power of Germany under Bismarck. This was evident based on the conflicts that the two nations were engaged in such as the Franco-Prussion war 1870-71, culminated with the German’s superiority at the French expense both in politically, military and economically. This compelled the weakened France to compensate the embarrassment of losing out to a new power by switching their attention from Europe to a French empire by acquiring territories especially in Africa. As a result to the War also, France was weakened economically, due to war reconstructions, debts and war indemnities (of about 5 billion francs) to Germany. (Wawro, 305:2003). Thus the growth of the ‘New Imperialism’ was important for the nationalism of states like France. For France, it aimed at restoring their former superiority and position in Europe and acquiring territories in Africa would reinstate that position. (Koponen, 124:1993).

Furthermore, the profits obtained from the commerce and trade dealt in Africa will surely aid the dwindling French economy. This factor clearly played a part in the New Imperialism, as the different colonialists were competing for most territories, for prestige, and also for natural resources, not wanting to miss out on an opportunity for potential wealth, as British explorer Richard Burton, after his scientific expedition to East Africa, stated that East Africa possessed unlimited ‘commercial resources’ and was has commercial potential. (Koponen, 128:1993). As side from that another explanation for the ‘New Imperialism’ in the 19th Century can be adopted from the social and humanitarian explanations. This idea was strongly advocated by Benjamin Disreali, whom in 1852 stated, ‘These wretched colonies will all be independent in a few years and are millstones around our necks.’ referring to role they, the civilised society had to play to help the uncivilised Africa. He viewed that it was more of a form a responsibility that the civilised countries had in what was termed as the ‘White Man’s Burden’. For Macqueen, all of these mindsets of civilising the Dark Continent derived as a result of Industrial Revolution, particularly in the advancement of technology. (Macqueen, 38:2007). The social and humanitarian arguments of New Imperialism too can be traced and linked inextricably with the economic. The first humanitarian expedition in the Sub Saharan African was carried out by Dr. David Livingston, in which he ‘advocated the ‘opening up’ of Africa by ‘commerce and Christianity’. (Brantlinger, 178:1985). In much of his writings and other humanitarian and missionary writers that followed afterwards viewed Africa as a ‘Dark Continent’, which practiced demonic rituals, cannibalism and savage practices. This compelled the need for spreading of Christianity by missionaries and on the outset the spreading of knowledge in commerce and civilisation. For Livingstone, Africa will be civilised if they made contact with the ‘superior races’ through commerce, and without commerce and Christianity the fate of the ‘dark continent’ is not ‘bright’. (Brantlinger, 178:1985).

In conclusion, the discussions above provided great insights on how the ‘New Imperialism’ process was brought about. I have touched upon several factors that contributed to the rise of ‘New Imperialism’; J.A Hobson’s and V.I Lenin’s thesis on the surplus capital definitely provided a clear-cut motivation to why colonial powers like Britain and France came about to the ‘Scramble of Africa’. But the economic explanations do not stop there. Political and social and humanitarian factors without a doubt linked inextricably with the economic factors that definitely play a key role in explaining the ‘New Imperialism’ in the 19th century. Scholars and academia of Sub Saharan Africa may debate and find no definitive or certain reasons to how the process occurred in the first place, but essentially all will acknowledge the importance of economic motives in the ‘New Imperialism’. Kopenen in his concluding paragraphs wrote that the New Imperialism ‘could have hardly happened without the expansionary economic pressures and increased political rivalry created by the breakthrough of industrial capitalism’ (Koponen, 134: 1993), acknowledging the importance of the economical factors.


Brantlinger, P., (1985), ‘Victorians and Africans: The Genealogy of the Myth of the Dark Continent’, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 12, No. 1, Autumn, pp. 166-203;

Ferguson, N., (2003). Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. London: Penguin Books;

Koponen, J., (1993), ‘The Partition of Africa: A Scramble for a Mirage?’, Nordic Journal of African Studies 2(1): pp. 117–135;

Macqueen, N., (2007), Colonialism (London: Longman), pp. 23-53;

Wawro, G ., (2003), The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870-1871. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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