The 1800s saw a rush for African territories by European superpowers historically recognized as the Scramble for Africa, or the Conquest of Africa. The continent was occupied, colonized and divided into territories by European powers: Belgium, Italy, Britain, Portugal, France, Spain, and Germany.
With each of the above-mentioned countries trying to get as much territory as possible, the Berlin conference of 1884 was held to regulate their activities on the continent and to establish some ground rules to guide them in their dealings.
Some of the rules were that for a country to claim any territory, they had to inform all the other countries before they made any move. They also established that no territory could be claimed without being significantly and effectively occupied by the country that wants to claim it.
Some reasons that fueled this craze for new territory were the need for new markets for products, as the Africans bought and consumed more than they sold, which was more than good for business.
There was also the need for raw materials like copper, cotton, rubber, palm oil, cocoa, diamonds, tea, and tin, which were the essentials of the European industry.
In the 20th century, a wave of conflicts and uprisings in European-ruled African territories for independence and self-rule took place. This ended in the return of the European rulers to their countries and the institution of African-led governments.
Now, the continent is largely sovereign save a number of islands and cities belonging on the African plate that are either overseas territories or incorporated as parts of non-African states. Here is a list of them:
Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha (Great Britain)
The volcanic islands of Saint Helena, Ascension Island, and Tristan da Cunha were all separately discovered by several Portuguese explorers between 1502 and 1504. Considered as one of the most remote islands in the world, Saint Helena lies 4,000 kilometres east of Rio de Janeiro and 1,950 kilometres west of the mouth of the Cunene River, on the border between Namibia and Angola. The islands were inhabitable, with an abundance of trees and freshwater but reportedly had no inhabitants. The Portuguese settlers imported livestock, fruit trees and vegetables and put up a few structures which made the island crucially important for homebound voyages from Asia. In 1657, the English East India Company was granted a charter to colonize the island with planters and the first governor, Captain John Dutton, arrived in 1659. The territory has various climates; Ascension has a warm and dry climate, with temperatures around 20°C all year long. St Helena is more moderate but dry around the coasts. Tristan da Cunha, which is closer to the Antarctic Circle, is much cooler and a lot wetter. As of May 2018, Britain had expressed the intention of applying to the UN to extend its territorial rights around Ascension Island on the grounds that the island’s landmass actually reaches much further underwater. This would give Britain more extensive rights over any oil or gas reserves in the areas, according to BBC.
The Canary Islands (Spain)
According to the historian Pliny the Elder, the Mauretanian king, Juba II, named the island Canaria because it contained “vast multitudes of dogs of very large size”. King Juba II is credited with discovering the islands for the Western world, finding them uninhabited, but with “a small temple of stone” and “some traces of buildings”. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the original inhabitants of the Canaries were the Guanches. Now assimilated into the general population, they were a Berber people who were conquered by the Spanish in the 15th century. Between 1478 and 1496, a conquest carried out directly by the Crown of Castile during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs came to an end with the dominion of the island of Tenerife, bringing the entire Canarian Archipelago under the control of the Crown of Castile, which later united with the Crown of Aragon to form the kingdom of Spain in the 18th century. The seven main islands that make up the Canary Islands are Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro. There are many smaller islands and islets like La Graciosa, Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, and others. Today, the group of islands collectively houses a population of over two million and is a very popular destination for tourists and vacationers across the world.
Spanish North Africa
Literally translating to “sovereign territories” and referred to in English as Spanish North Africa or simply Spanish Africa, the Plazas de Soberanía are the current Spanish territories in North Africa bordering Morocco. These territories have been a part of Spain since the formation of the modern country in the 15th century and include the Islas Alhucemas, Islas Chafarinas, Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, Isla Pereji and Isla de Alboran. Each of these territories is either used as a military post by Spain or is uninhabited. Morocco claims sovereignty over the Spanish North African territories and has continuously requested that Spain relinquishes them to no avail.
Ceuta and Melilla (Spain)
Ceuta and Melilla are the two permanently inhabited Spanish cities on mainland Africa. On August 21, 1415, King John I of Portugal led his sons and their army on the Conquest of Ceuta and captured it. Over 200 years later, on January 1, 1668, King Afonso VI of Portugal recognized the formal allegiance of Ceuta to Spain and formally ceded Ceuta to King Carlos II of Spain by the Treaty of Lisbon. In 1497, Pedro Estopiñán attacked and took the city of Melilla on behalf of the 3rd Duke of Medina Sidonia, who was also ordered by Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon.
The government of Morocco has requested from Spain the sovereignty of the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, Perejil Island, and some other small territories but Spain maintains that both Ceuta and Melilla are integral parts of the Spanish state, not considered colonies and have been since the 15th century and that they were established before the creation of the Kingdom of Morocco. Morocco, however, disputes these claims and insists that the Spanish are continually perpetuating the colonial past by remaining along their borders.
Madeira is an archipelago situated in the North Atlantic Ocean, just under 400 kilometres (250 mi) north of Tenerife, Canary Islands. Madeira was claimed by Portuguese sailors in the name of Prince Henry the Navigator in 1419 and they started building their settlement in 1420. Sugarcane production was the primary engine of the island’s economy, increasing the demand for labor. African slaves were used during portions of the island’s history to cultivate sugar cane, and the proportion of imported slaves reached 10% of the total population of Madeira by the 16th century, according to sources. After the 17th century, as Portuguese sugar production was shifted to Brazil, São Tomé and Príncipe and elsewhere, Madeira’s most important commodity product became its wine and the British first amicably occupied the island in 1801. As of 2019, Madeira has been awarded ‘Europe’s Leading Island Destination’ five times since 2013 – the exception being 2015 – and four times ‘World’s Leading Island Destination’ since 2015 by the World Travel Awards.
Mayotte is an overseas department and region of France officially named the Department of Mayotte which consists of the main island, Grande-Terre, a smaller island, Petite-Terre and several islets around these two. Mayotte is within the Comoros archipelago, located in the northern Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Southeast Africa, between Madagascar and Mozambique. The island was initially populated by natives from East Africa and was later host to Arabs who introduced Islam to the inhabitants, with a sultanate established in 1500. After changing hands severally over the centuries, the island was finally bought by France in 1841. The people of Mayotte voted to remain politically a part of France in a referendum in1974, and they were officially announced as an overseas department on March 31, 2011.
Initially named Île Bourbon, it is an overseas department and region of France and an island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and 175 km southwest of Mauritius. The first European to make contact with the island and the surrounding islets was Portuguese explorer Diogo Fernandes Pereira in 1507 but the details of his expedition are not available. The uninhabited island might have been first sighted by the expedition led by Dom Pedro Mascarenhas, who gave his name to the island group around Réunion, the Mascarenes. The island has been inhabited since the 16th century when people from France and Madagascar settled there. Réunion became an overseas department of France on 19 March 1946. Today, the island houses a multicultural society composed of people originally from France, Mozambique, India, China, Madagascar, and the Comores. It is also one of the very popular tourist destinations on the continent because of its beautiful beaches, coral reefs and exotic flowers and animals.
The Pelagie Islands
They are three small islands – Lampedusa, Linosa, and Lampione – located between Malta and Tunisia, in the Mediterranean Sea south of Sicily. Geographically, Lampedusa and Lampione belong to the African continent but it is now an Italian maritime hub. The administrative matters of the islands fall within one of the provinces of Sicily, which is considered the southernmost part of Italy. The islands are unnaturally barren now even though fifty years ago, much of the landscape was farmland. Now, the local economy is based on fishing and tourism in Lampedusa. Not much is known of the history of the islands, only that they are known for their beautiful views and stunning beaches.
The French Southern and Antarctic Lands
Sometimes referred to as the French Southern Lands, they consist of the Kerguelen Islands, a group of volcanic islands in the southern Indian Ocean, southeast of Africa, approximately equidistant between Africa, Antarctica and Australia; St. Paul and Amsterdam islands, a group to the north of Kerguelen; Crozet Islands, a group in the southern Indian Ocean, south of Madagascar and the Scattered Islands (Îles Éparses), a dispersed group of islands around the coast of Madagascar. They remain under the control of the office of the prefect in charge of Southern Lands and arctic lands.
Approximately 150 to 310 people live in the French Southern and Antarctic Lands but they are only military personnel, officials, scientific researchers and support staff. The territory has legally no permanent civilian population.