Economic Motives for New Imperialism


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The policy of New Imperialism emerged around the period, 1870. It is thus termed because the imperialist nations, usually European powers such as France, Spain, Britain, Russia, Germany and Italy, were exploring and setting up territorial settlements and negotiating on a different part of the globe. New Imperialism continued the policy or action by which one country controls another country or territory. Raymond F. Betts argues that “most such control is achieved by military means to gain economic and political advantage.” Such a policy is also called expansionism; this policy creates an expansionist state that obtains overseas territories following a policy called colonialism. There are many reasons or motives for the sudden greater interest of the European powers in Africa and Asian territories. Furthermore, it could be said that the political and social factors stemmed from economic ones.

Industrialization [which began in the mid-1700 in Britain but spread to other lands] propelled entrepreneurs and capitalists to search for new economic ventures. As a result of this, there was immense competition between the countries for raw materials, investments opportunities, markets and labour for the industries. What the capitalists and entrepreneurs really wanted was a high profit margin. They realized that such profits could be achieved through a greater abundance of raw materials at cheaper price, investment opportunities that would add much to that profit and new markets that would increase their sales. As a result, they targeted Asia and Africa; rich in resources both  raw materials and of people were ideal places for these capitalists and entrepreneurs. The tropical rainforest, the temperate savannahs and other lands of plains each provided their own resources ranging from rubber, silk, tea, and cotton, indigo to diamonds. Rich lands such as Algeria, Morocco and the Ivory Coast are examples of African lands that attracted these European people. India, was also important to Britain because of its supply of tea which demand drastically increased within the English Channel. China also had its share of wealth with the raw material silk.

Many times the European nations came into conflict with each other for these African and Asian territories. Morocco boasted a rich country with many resources and it served as an access route to the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean  Sea; France, Spain and Britain fought for control of her wealth. In 1911, Italy and the Ottoman Empire fought over Tripoli. There was also conflict over Sudan between Britain and France. India also had local wars between the Sepoy, the French and the British. L. H. Gann posits the view that “European bankers and industrialists made profits by investing in the factories, mines, plantations, and railroads being created in so-called “backward” regions.” Colonies established in these regions by European nations, partly to protect such as investments.

Raymond. F. Betts further asserts the view that these industrialized nations produced more manufactured goods than their people needed or could afford to buy. Consequently, the African and Asian colonies served as markets for these unsold products. In addition, the large population of these colonies, especially India and China produced a cheap and abundant force for the factories, mines and industries. Furthermore, the colonies in Africa and Asia allowed European powers to create bases for naval and merchant ships. They could be repaired and loaded with supplies at these ports, thereby creating buffer zones to aid and protect the mother countries during times of war.

I strongly believe that the main reason for conquering lands during the Age of Imperialism is the want for economic gain. Germany and Italy were less advanced in the “imperialist race” because they were busy reuniting their country.  Germany was a very aggressive and strong, it had the largest army and was the second largest naval power thus it could easily and eagerly acquire rich lands.  Germany had less economically valuable territories in Africa than the other European powers. The Germans believed that the greatness of their country depended on the size of their land. However, German did have a wealthy colony-Togo. This clearly shows that the economic gain in the scramble for Africa was just as important as the political.

It is also important to prove that it was after the European powers dominated the colonies through economic policies that the social aspects of culture originated. With economic powers nations such as Britain believed that it was their right and duty to help the uncivilized lands by spreading their [Britain] way of life. It was similar to America’s Manifest Destiny.

The economic reasons for European imperialism in the latter half of the 19th century are more convincing than the political and social. The territories in Asia and Africa expanded the empire of some European nations.  One should note  that in the quest of expansion meant the need to make the mother country more powerful and increase its dominance in international affairs. This meant respect and recognition in and outside Europe. Furthermore, expanding empires did not only mean annexing  land for prestige but the increase in the trading and manufacturing sectors. Thus, I believe that the economic profits rank as a more convincing argument for Euopean imperialism during the late 19th century.


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