Millions of Europeans live in communities scattered throughout Africa. Many of these communities date from the early decades of colonialism. In general, the numbers of European settlers in Africa gradually increased during the colonial period and then fell immediately after the colonies became independent nations. The population of SOUTH AFRICA includes more than 5 million Europeans, the largest community of Europeans in Africa.
Europeans first began to explore the coast of sub-Saharan Africa during the 1400s. They were seeking a route around the continent to Asia, where they could obtain spices and other valuable items. In 1482 the Portuguese built a fortress along the Gold Coast in present-day GHANA. Over the next 100 years, they established forts and trading posts all along the west and east coasts of Africa. Meanwhile, in the mid-1500s the English and French explored the west coast of Africa and settled traders there. By 1652 the Dutch had gained control of the Gold Coast and the Cape of Good Hope. Both of these regions became centers for European settlement.
By the 1800s groups of French and British merchants were living in towns on the coast of West Africa to manage their trading operations. At first, tropical diseases such as malaria and sleeping sickness prevented Europeans from settling in the interior. Only after the discovery in 1850 of quinine—a drug that prevents malaria infection—could they move inland.
The scramble for African territories resulted in disputes among the European nations. To resolve these conflicts, various European powers met in Berlin in 1884 and into 1885 and divided Africa among themselves. The colonial era had formally begun.
By the early 1900s, Europeans had lived in Africa, particularly along the coasts, for centuries. In South Africa people of Dutch descent known as Afrikaners had migrated north into the interior and the Portuguese colony of ANGOLA. Angola also attracted poor Portuguese peasants who could make a better living there than at home. MOZAMBIQUE, Portugal's more industrialized colony, welcomed skilled workers from Europe. In East Africa, Germans controlled the region of present-day TANZANIA, and the British held KENYA and UGANDA. Few Europeans lived in FRENCH WEST AFRICA, which stretched all the way from IVORY COAST to ALGERIA.
South Africa's mild climate and stable economy continued to attract European settlers through the mid-1900s. In the 1960s and 1970s, many colonies in other parts of Africa gained their independence, and the new nations offered little security for Europeans. As a result, large numbers of Europeans migrated to southern Africa from the rest of the continent. In North Africa groups of French colonists settled throughout the region, particularly in ALGERIA, TUNISIA, and MOROCCO. Spanish colonists also moved to Morocco, and Italians settled in LIBYA and Tunisia. EGYPT received immigrants from Greece and Britain as well as France and Italy.
The majority of these Europeans lived in cities and towns, although some became involved in agriculture in rural areas. As independence movements spread across the region in the 1950s and 1960s, most of the settlers departed, leaving only small groups of Europeans behind.
Occupations and Lifestyle
Europeans came to Africa in three phases. The first arrivals were traders and missionaries, followed by colonial administrators, and finally by skilled workers, technicians, and farmers. Areas such as the Copperbelt (in present-day ZAMBIA and CONGO, KINSHASA) drew miners, technicians, and engineers. European settlers who came as farmers faced special challenges in Africa. They tended to locate in the highlands of South Africa, ZIMBABWE, Angola, Congo, Kenya, or present-day Tanzania. Although cattle raising was possible in all of these areas, only southern Africa offered fertile soils and sufficient rainfall for large-scale farming. Later, the development of improved crop varieties and hardier livestock made farming more profitable for the settlers. Europeans also settled in the Indian Ocean islands of MADAGASCAR, REUNION, MAURITIUS, and the SEYCHELLES.
Throughout the colonial period, Europeans could obtain education, training, and skilled jobs. They ran the railroads, mines, and factories. They lived in segregated neighborhoods, joined clubs restricted to Europeans, and sent their children to all-white schools. Most Europeans had little social contact with Africans.
Today, individuals of European background who live in Africa fall into two categories: (1) those who cannot leave, either for financial or other reasons, and (2) those who choose to be there. People in the first category tend to follow colonial social patterns, whereas many in the second category have adapted to the culture and society of modern Africa. (See also Colonialism in Africa, Indian Communities, Land Ownership, Missions and Missionaries, West African Trading Settlements.)