In the early to mid-1800s, Europeans had a small presence in Africa, consisting mainly of a scattering of forts, trading posts, and a few colonies. This quickly changed in the mid-1800s.
Exploration of Africa’s interior and the race to dominate trade led to a dramatically increased European presence in Africa. The Berlin Conference was held in 1884 to establish rules for European countries colonizing Africa. Between 1880 and 1910, Africa had become almost entirely claimed by the major European countries of France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Portugal. France controlled much of northern and western Africa. Eastern and southern areas of Africa fell mainly under British rule. By 1914, there were only 2 remaining independent African nations: Liberia and Ethiopia.
The race for colonization and dominion in Africa was fueled by several factors. First, the European countries had an ongoing rivalry for power and position as European superpowers. Also, a wealth of natural resources including diamonds, gold, and materials needed for manufactured goods, were available in Africa. Ports and colonies in Africa were also beneficial as stops for European traders headed to the colonies around India. Controlling Africa as a colonized area also provided European countries an additional marketplace and source of revenue.
Africa fell under European rule through assorted methods. In some cases, European traders convinced African chiefs that the European government could provide protection in trade dealings. There are also examples of African chiefs seeking protection from rival African tribes or other European countries. Offers of protection came in the form of treaties that usually stripped the African chiefs of rights to land and resources. African chiefs, unaware of the implications, signed thousands of these treaties relinquishing their land and resources to the European superpowers.