Bizerta to the Bight: The French in Africa

French expansion, writes Michael Langley, in North and West Africa during the nineteenth century was an impressive colonial achievement.

Most modern empires have initially been acquired by accident, coincidence or expediency and the larger and more unknown the territory, the greater has been the accident. Lugard, an antagonist of the Arab slave-trade and bastion against foreign expansion in Africa, forced Uganda upon the custody of a rather reluctant British Government under Salisbury.

Rhodes, the visionary and commercial exploiter, aroused official attention at home only when he blundered; Kitchener, the strategist, reoccupied the Sudan if only to keep the French out. To call any of these three simply an ‘imperialist’ would be an over-simplification. Even at its most acquisitive, the scramble for Africa was determined more by European rivalry than by the wish to dominate the continent.

So it was with France itself; and when, in order to curb the influence of the Turks and the rapidly expanding power of the British early in the nineteenth century, the French gradually occupied the Algerine coastal strip, they little foresaw the extent of the undertaking to which they were committed.

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