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Empire 05 - Maxim Force

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Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World

Episode Five

Maxim Force

Professor Niall Ferguson returns to the sites of bloody imperial conflicts from the Boer War and in the Sudan as he charts how European powers competed in the so-called scramble for Africa, arguing that it was a combination of global finance, military firepower and the mass media which allowed African territory to be split.

The Dutch East India Company had founded the Cape Colony on the southern tip of Africa in 1652 as a way station for its ships travelling to and from its colonies in the East Indies. Britain formally acquired the colony, and its large Afrikaner (or Boer) population in 1806, having occupied it in 1795 in order to prevent it falling into French hands, following the invasion of the Netherlands by France. British immigration began to rise after 1820, and pushed thousands of Boers, resentful of British rule, northwards to found their own—mostly short-lived—independent republics, during the Great Trek of the late 1830s and early 1840s. In the process the Voortrekkers clashed repeatedly with the British, who had their own agenda with regard to colonial expansion in South Africa and with several African polities, including those of the Sotho and the Zulu nations. Eventually the Boers established two republics which had a longer lifespan: the South African Republic or Transvaal Republic (1852–77; 1881–1902) and the Orange Free State (1854–1902). In 1902 Britain completed its military occupation of the Transvaal and Free State by concluding a treaty with the two Boer Republics following the Second Boer War 1899–1902.

In 1869 the Suez Canal was opened under Napoleon III, linking the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean. The Canal was at first opposed by the British, but once open its strategic value was recognised quickly. In 1875, the Conservative government of Benjamin Disraeli bought the indebted Egyptian ruler Ismail Pasha's 44 percent shareholding in the Suez Canal for £4 million. Although this did not grant outright control of the strategic waterway, it did give Britain leverage. Joint Anglo-French financial control over Egypt ended in outright British occupation in 1882. The French were still majority shareholders and attempted to weaken the British position, but a compromise was reached with the 1888 Convention of Constantinople. This came into force in 1904 and made the Canal neutral territory, but de facto control was exercised by the British whose forces occupied the area until 1954.

As French, Belgian and Portuguese activity in the lower Congo River region threatened to undermine orderly penetration of tropical Africa, the Berlin Conference of 1884–85 sought to regulate the competition between the European powers in what was called the "Scramble for Africa" by defining "effective occupation" as the criterion for international recognition of territorial claims. The scramble continued into the 1890s, and caused Britain to reconsider its decision in 1885 to withdraw from Sudan. A joint force of British and Egyptian troops defeated the Madhist Army in 1896, and rebuffed a French attempted invasion at Fashoda in 1898. Sudan was made an Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, a joint protectorate in name, but a British colony in reality.

The Rhodes Colossus—Cecil Rhodes spanning "Cape to Cairo"

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