quinine and africa -- 2/25/21

Today's encore selection -- from The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-First Century by Robert B. Marks. The mad scramble for Africa, during which Western European powers took over essentially the entire continent in a 30-year period:

"For centuries, Europeans found penetration of Africa to be almost impossible: various diseases endemic to the tropical parts of the continent, especially malaria, restricted slave-trading Europeans to coastal enclaves free from the disease. By the nineteenth century, steamships may have permitted access to the interior on Africa's various rivers, but malaria still killed most of the explorers. Although the cause of malaria was not discovered until 1880, and the means of transmission by mosquito not uncovered until 1897, a process of trial and error led to the realization by mid-nineteenth century that the bark of the cinchona tree, native to South America, contained quinine, a substance that prevented malaria. British military personnel then successfully planted cinchona seeds in India, and by the 1870s had greatly increased the supply of quinine to their troops.

"The subsequent 'scramble for Africa' may have been initiated in the 1870s by French insecurities arising from their defeat by the Germans in 1871, by the bizarre ... scheming [of] Belgium's King Leopold II, and by British determination to protect their colonial interests in India, but all of those motivations would have been irrelevant had it not been discovered that quinine prevented malaria, or for the development of steamboats ... or for new technology in weapons that killed more efficiently. ...

"The American Civil War and a European arms race in the 1860s and 1870s revolutionized guns. ... The pinnacle of perfection came in the 1880s, with the invention of a reliable machine gun, named after its inventor Hiram Maxim. ... Africans put up a valiant and stiff resistance [to Europeans] but their technology was no match for the Maxim gun. The most famous and perhaps deadly instance was at the 1898 Battle of Obdurman, where British troops confronted the 40,000-man Sudanese Dervish army. As described by Winston Churchill ... 'The charging Dervishes sank down in tangled heaps.' ... After five hours, the British had lost 20 soldiers; 10,000 Sudanese were killed. As a saying had it:

Whatever happens we have got
The Maxim gun and they have not.

"With such a technological advantage, by 1900 most of Africa had been divided up among a handful of European powers, in particular Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, with Portugal hanging onto its seventeenth-century colonial possession in Angola. Only Ethiopia, under the extraordinary leadership of King Menelik, defeated the weakest European power, Italy, and thereby maintained its independence."


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author:

Robert B. Marks

title:

The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-First Century

publisher:

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

date:

Copyright 2007 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

pages:

142-144
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