How the Europeans Divided Africa

Added: 02-27-2018

In this documentary, English historian Basil Davidson, details the overt and nuanced ways in which Europeans conquered and divided the African continent amongst themselves. Africans were frequently abused as slaves to construct infrastructure or extract resources for Europeans. Later, ‘pacification’ efforts and religious missions served as slightly nuanced efforts to control and manipulate Africans.

oppression working conditions savage Rhodesia railroad pacification nuance mission mining and resource extraction massacre Kenya inferior species force conversion construction colonialism civilize Berlin Conference

Type Reading Time Author Date Source
video 54 minutes BASIL DAVIDSON 01-01-1985
Type Reading Time
video 54 minutes
Author Date
basil davidson 2018-02-27 00:00:00 UTC
Key Takeaways
  • Africans frequently died due to horribly working conditions while constructing infrastructure and extracting resources for Europeans. 
  • Public opinion in Europe saw the African conquest as a colonizing of an ‘inferior species’. 
  • Africans were never consulted about the imposition of European rule. Colonialism was imposed on Africans.


In this full length documentary, Basil Davidson explains how colonialism drew arbitrary, self-benefitting borders and enslaved the people within its boundaries. He referenced the British controls of The Gambia, a 30 mile wide by 300 mile long country in western Africa, as a prime example of this selfishness. Europeans took Africans as servants, using them to transport and serve themselves, while abusing others through slave labor. Kings were forced to bow to colonial explorers and women were taken as sex slaves. The film consistently emphasizes the fact that Africans were never consulted about the imposition of European rule. 

Davidson also explains the more nuanced, though not at all subtle, colonial efforts. Sometimes religious missionaries used this excuse to convert ‘savages’ and ‘niggers’ into their faith. ‘Pacification’ efforts in Kenya were more violent. Any Africans that fought back against unwanted colonialism were hunted down, in some cases leading to massacres of several hundred dead Kenyans at a time. 

Public opinion in Europe saw the African conquest as a colonization of an ‘inferior species’. Opposition to colonial expansion in Europe was ignored almost completely. 

European interest in Africa was also heavily driven by resource demand. Construction of infrastructure, such as inland railroads, were built to serve only Europeans and extract resources to ports on the coast. Thousands of Africans died constructing railroads in Uganda, while tens of thousands died from 1904-1934 in Rhodesian mines in southern Africa due to the unlivable working conditions.