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Meaning of capitalism

Capitalism is the social, political and economic system based on private ownership of the major means of production.

Capitalism is an economic system in which the major means of production was privately owned. 

Within capitalism system there are two major groups of people which are employers and workers. Employers own the means of production and pay wages to the workers. Workers are paid to produce goods using means of production owned by the employers. In Europe, capitalism developed after the decline feudalism

It first developed in Europe during the fifteenth century when feudalism collapsed.
Under the capitalism system companies and individuals own and direct most of the resources used in production of goods and services. Capitalism underwent different stages before reaching its maturity. 

Under the capitalism system companies and individuals own and direct most of the resources used in production of goods and services. Capitalism underwent different stages before reaching its maturity. These stages included:
- Commercial or mercantile capitalism
- Industrial capitalism
- Monopoly capitalism

The commercial or mercantile capitalism took place between the year 1500 and 1750 this was capitalism based on trade. The merchants obtained wealth through trade activities. A lot of wealth was accumulated during this period and therefore increased new demands that resulted into development of another stage of capitalism known as industrial capitalism.

The next stage was industrial capitalism; this was the period when machines begun to be used for production in industries. The transition to industrial capitalism was the period when mercantile capitalism was giving way to industrial capitalism..

More explanations on the three stages of capitalism;

1. Commercial or Mercantile capitalism 
This was based on trade activities and it took place mostly between 16th and mid-18th century. Merchants were the key during this period

2. Industrial capitalism
This was based on Industrial activities, it took place when machines started to be used to along extent for production activities in Industries. Big traders called the bourgeois owned the means of production such as factories and machinery. Industrial capitalism was greatly associated with the industrial revolution which took place between 1750 and 1850. In Europe it dominated by Britain, it was the first country in European nation to be industrialized.
Steam Plow
 3. Monopoly Capitalism
This was based on large companies that dominated the production of commodities. This was the large scale production which involved centralized of capital and lack of open competition.



The transition to industrial capitalism began during the period of mercantile Capitalism when the European nations such as Spain, Holland, Portugal and Britain sold goods from local small industries to Africa and Asia.  European merchants got enough capital for discovery of industries during the mid – 18th century. Industrial capitalism firstly started in Britain in 1750.

Factors that Stimulated Industrialization in Europe

1. Presence of Coal and Iron, Iron was used in building factories, bridges and railways and Coal was used as fuel for Industrial machines and Engines and all these led to the improvement of Agriculture.

2. Industrial revolution encouraged proper and use of soil and this increased soil fertility and better animal husbandly hence increased the production and ensured availability of raw materials for the industries.

3. Advancement of Science and Technology for example presence of spinning machines replaced the use of human hands for weaving clothes. This led to an increase in the production for textile factories.

4. Trade activities also stimulated Industrial Capitalism, European Traders accumulated wealth from Asia and Far East and all these were invested in Industries.

5. Political stability in Europe also influenced the Industrial revolution.

6. Availability of skilled and unskilled labor needed in Industries also influenced the Industrial revolution.

7. Improvement of roads, railways and water transport made it easy to transport Industrial workers, materials and finished goods.

8. European Government supported industrialization process.

Printing Press

The Demands of Industrial Capitalism

1. Areas to invest capital. Due to unreliable markets and high concentration of capital in Europe, profit marginalization occurred. As a solution new areas for investment were needed among other areas, Africa provided the best areas for investment of such capital. In Africa the tropical crops could do better compared to other countries it was also a good source for non agricultural raw materials such as minerals and forest products.

2. Need areas of Market. Due to the investment of capital in production, industrial goods flooded the European markets. Overproduction and under consumption became a critical problem among the industrial capitalists hence they were forced to look for markets outside Europe

3. Needs for raw materials. The increasing production due to expansion of industries needed large quantities of raw materials supply. These materials included cotton, coffee, tea, iron ore, palm oil, sisal, sugar cane, tobacco and rubber. The available raw materials could not meet the demand needed by industries.This resulted into the search and control of the sources of raw materials.

4. Demand of Cheap labours. Due to labour consciousness caused by working class in Europe and Britain in particular, the need to search for cheap labour become important. This was a measure taken to compete in production for profit maximisation.

5. Area to settlement surplus labours. Also they demanded the area for surplus unemployed personal population in their countries.


There were about four groups of agents of industrial capitalism in Africa namely:
1. Explorers
2. Missionaries
3. Traders
4. Companies and Association


During the nineteenth century the major aim of European powers was the exploration of Africa.
East Africa
In east Africa, exploration was done by the prominent explores such as Speke, Burton, Grant, Samuel Baker, Henry M. Stanley and Dr. Livingstone,

Central Africa
In central Africa and parts of Congo the prominent explorers were Dr. Livingstone and later Henry M. Stanley.

West Africa
In West Africa the prominent explorers included Richard Lander, Dr. Barth Mungo Park, Clapperton, Dr. Baikie, Gaspard Mollien and Cailie.

The journey of exploration was financed and supported by European capitalists. The main aim was to gather information about Africa because they needed a wider knowledge of the continent. They also wanted to know about the raw materials which African had to sell and the location of the main centers of population.

Moreover, they were interested in the knowledge of transport potentialities of African great river systems. For example the British explorer, Mungo Park in 1780s, followed by Clapperton and Richard Lander explored the Niger and gathered important information about the economy and politics of West Africa.

Sir Henry M. Stanley & Dr. David Livingstone

The Role of Explorers in the Colonisation of Africa

1. They reported back about the potentialities of the African resources: Clapperton reported about the river Niger to the British government while Speke reported about the potentiality of Lake Victoria and named it Victoria to honor Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.

2. They provided important information about the nature of African societies: They reported about the hostility, calmness and hospitality of the African people. This information played a central role for the European colonialists during the decision making process regarding the colonisation of Africa.

3. They explored important mountains and researched the geology, climatic conditions, topography, lakes and animal species in Africa:This knowledge later attracted European powers to colonise Africa.

4. They provided messages to their government about the existing evils of slave trade and the areas where slave trade was still conducted: Dr. Livingstone's third journey through Lake Tanganyika and Regions of central Africa was targeted for that as a result he informed the English that the Yao's land was still characterised by slave raids and the effects of slave trade such as sufferings, insecurity. The information provided by explorers to their government was later used by humanitarians in the struggle against the colonisation of Africa.


By the 19th century missionary activities had started in Africa. The pioneers were the protestant churches of Europe and America. It was only later that Roman arrived especially from France. The domination of missionaries were the London missionary society, the church missionary society, Roman Catholic missionary society and the universities mission to central Africa (UMCA). Few Christian missionaries were directly active agents of imperialism.

The earliest Missionaries in East Africa were those of the church Missionary society and examples were Johann Ludwig Krapf, John Rebman, Dr David Livingstone and others. They were essential ingredients of the increasingly assertive European access to Africa. However In most cases European Christian played an important role in promoting and shaping the advent of European capitalism.

Johann Ludwig Krapf, Johan Rebman, and Dr David Livingstone

The Roles played by Missionaries in the Colonisation of Africa

1. They acted as interpreters and propagandists at the time of treaty making: Mofat stayed among the Ndebele for about 30 years serving the British South African company (BSAC) for treaty making between the companies (BSAC) and King Lobengula.

2. They acted as advisors to African chiefs: The British missionaries of the church missionary society convinced Kabaka to accept protectorate.

3. They introduced Western civilisation to the interior through education and schools: This aimed to prepare people of low ranks to serving colonial masters at the time of colonisation.

4. Missionaries softened the minds and the hearts of Africans: Their activities were influenced by European imperialists' interests by preaching and emphasizing the spiritual beliefs such as “give to God what which belongs to God," and "give to Ceaser what belongs to Ceaser”. In the long run this preaching weakened African opposition and shaped the regions for future colonial administration.

5. They converted Africans to the new faith (Christianity): They were easily employed as puppets to extend colonial rule. Typical examples are the converts of Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana who were able to protect the British economic interests and paved the way for future colonisation by the British.

Converting into Christianity
6. Missionaries reduced resistance among African societies: This was done by converting some societies and preaching obedience to administrators.

7. Introduction of new crops: Horner grew coffee at Bagamoyo around 1870 the church missionaries society grew cotton in Uganda. This prepared people to acquire the skills which were important for future cash crop production during the colonial era.

8. They helped in the abolition of slave trade: They planned for successful Christianisation of the freed slaves as they preached the word of God. They wanted to create the conducive and peaceful environment for the development of legitimate trade which was exploitative in nature and was after capitalists interests.

Freed Slaves with Missionaries
9. Missionaries had closer links with rulers and interfered even in political matters:They allied European imperialism while they were working in the interior of Africa. This situation provoked the hostility from African rulers. In this case missionaries appealed strongly for the protection from their home governments, which later led to effective colonisation.


Traders were among the first Europeans to visit the interior and coastal areas of Africa. They came under the influence of capitalists who also supported missionaries and explorers. Their main aim was to exploit the new sources of raw materials, markets and new areas in which industrial capitalists had to invest their capital. Examples of traders are William Mackinnon, James Stevenson, Harry Johnston and Carl Peters.

William Mackinnon & Carl Peters

The Role played by Traders in the Colonisation of Africa

1. They opened a new a exploitative system: Therefore, Africa became the target for European interests. This resulted in stiff rivalries and competition among European industrial nations.

2. Introduction of circuit through legitimate trade: This involved the importation of European manufactured goods. Thus, the chain of dependence was created and the African local industries and the arts were destroyed.

3. Traders exposed Africa to the world capitalist system of economy: The use of currency, banking and credit facilities began to be witnessed by Africans. This resulted into exploitation of African resources. The fair and quick turns obtained by traders attracted European colonialists to come into Africa.

4. They opened communication systems such as roads:This laid the foundation for future colonial infrastructure. For example, the road from Lake Nyasa to Tanganyika known as Livingstone road was opened by traders and was used during the colonial administration.


Companies and association were among the most important agents of colonisation of Africa. Agents organised themselves into companies and associations. They received finance from their home government so as to operate effectively and differently in those areas, where the governing powers had their economic interests. They aimed at financing the exploration that showed the interest of coming to Africa.

Examples of the association included the Royal British Geographical society, financed by John Speke to explore the river Nile. Another was the African Association of British, which in 1788 financed Mungo Park. Its major aim was to explore and identify the areas suitable for agriculture, which could produce enough materials for export.

Another concern of that association was to identify the navigable rivers, mineral deposits and assessing the market available for industrial goods. In the abolition of slave trade, merchant companies became increasingly involved in the interior of Africa.

The major aim of these companies was to establish the so called “legitimate trade”.
This was trade in commodities and other resources that industrial capitalist required as raw materials or as food for the urban working classes. The legitimate trade did not involve the selling and buying human

Examples of the Companies

Several companies in Africa were established at strategic points for the purpose of collecting important commodities for export and supplying manufactured goods from Europe.

East Africa
In East Africa examples of these companies were the Imperial British East African Company (I.B.E.A.C) founded in 1886 by William Mackinnon. It was also known as the British East Africa Association. Another company was the Germany East African Company (G.E.A.C) founded in 1884 by Carl Peters.

West Africa
In West Africa examples of companies formed included the Royal Niger Company (R.N.C) which was formed by George Turban Goldie in 1884. The association was concerned with commercial activities. King Leopold expected that the company could improve the lives of native as well as civilizing them, exploiting natural resources and abolishing slave trade and slavery in the region.

Central Africa
In central Africa the company prevailed was the Livingstone central Africa Company (L.C.A.C). It was formed by Scottish capitalists James Steven in 1878.

South Africa
In south Africa there was the British south Africa company (B.S.A.C) formed by Cecil Rhodes as a private company and operated in south and central Africa by the year 1889, the company was given a royal charter that included the full powers to administer the company.

The Role played by Companies in the Colonisation of Africa

1. Monopolisation and exploitation of African resources: These resources were highly needed by the European capitalists in their industries. In all parts of Africa Company played a crucial role of collecting raw materials and carried out trade activities.

2. Elimination of local middlemen and creation of custom duties and tariffs: These was carried out by the companies which attracted the imperialists powers to control Africa.

3. The companies encouraged their home government to colonise Africa: For example, the Royal Niger Company encouraged the British to colonise Nigeria after gaining the control of the different trading areas in the region.

4. Signing treaties: The company played an important role of signing different treaties with African local chiefs. These treaties helped imperial powers to claim and justify the colonisation of particular territories, especially during the Berlin Conference One example was a treaty signed between Harry Johnston and chief Mandara of Uchaga in 1884 to control thirteen square kilometers of land in Kilimanjaro. Also Dr. Carl Peters of the society for German colonisation signed treaties with a number of chief between Pangani and Rufiji. These treaties were later used by the German government to control Tanganyika.

Signing Treaty

5. Creation of infrastructure: These included commercial centers, administrative headquarters, roads, railways and waterways. They were allocated in those areas where they operated where by later on were used by the imperial powers to transport administrators to colonise and impose laws on the land.

6. The companies laid foundations for their home government to colonise African: They suppressed African resistance through a police force used to maintain peace, order and stability within the region. For example in East Africa, the German East African Company recruited Swahili, Sudanese and Buganda soldier to counter the coastal Arab resistance of 1888-1889.

7. They provided important information about economic potentiality of African areas: Africa was exposed to the imperial powers which aimed to colonise the continent.

8. The companies provided rudimentary administration in areas of their operation: Some company leaders such as Sir. George Turban Goldie of the Royal Niger Company, Harry Johnston, the representative of Cecil Rhodes of the British South Africa Company, attended the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. They also notified the conference about areas where they operate on behalf of their mother countries.

9. The company played an important role of marking of the administrative boundaries: Which were later identified as boundaries of the European spheres of influence. They prevented any other rival European imperial power from taking their territories. This was evidenced in East Africa where the German East Africa Company marked the area of the German in the Anglo-German rivalry and achieved the 1886 agreement. While in South Africa the British South Africa Company managed to map the claims of Britain, thus preventing the Portuguese from interfering in the British sphere of influence.

Railway and Train (infrastructures)
Furthermore, the companies used their security organs to abolish slave trade in the areas of their influence. They introduced legitimate trade in Africa.


The British government was the first country to abolish slave trade during the years, 1822-1826.

Factors for the Abolition of Slave Trade

1. Rise of humanitarians in Europe such as Christians and scholars condemned it on moral grounds.  The missionaries wanted it to be stopped because they wanted good conditions for the spread of Christianity. The formation of humanitarian movement in England aimed at stopping all kinds of cruelty including slave trade, flogging of soldiers and child labour.

2. Industrialization in Britain, e.g. Britain industrialists urged its abolition because they wanted Africans to be left in Africa so that Africa can be source of raw materials for their industries, market for European manufactured goods and place for new investment of surplus capital.

3. Formation of the anti slavery movement and the abolitionist movement in 1787, its chairman was Granville Sharp and others like Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce who gathered facts and stories about the brutality of slave trade and slavery to arouse public opinion in Britain.

4. Religious revival in Europe, Anglican preached and condemned slave trade as opposed to laws of God and humanity. Catholic pope also protested against the trade and prohibited it. In 1774, many religious leaders served as examples when they liberated their slaves in England.

5. The French revolution of 1789 and the American revolution of 1776, emphasised liberty, equality and fraternity (brotherhood) of all human beings, as a result people began to question whether anyone had a right to deprive a fellow man of his liberty when he had done wrong.

6. The British desire to protect their national interests: British planters wanted slave trade stopped to avoid competition with other European planters. This is because other planters were producing cheaper sugar hence the need to stop over production

7. The rise of men with new ideas: Prof. Adam Smith (challenged the economic arguments which were the basis of slave trade when he argued convincingly that hired labour is cheaper and more productive than slave labour, Rousseau spread the idea of personal liberty and equality of all men.

8. Slaves had become less profitable: Yet had led to overpopulation in Europe. Influential abolitionists like William Wilberforce (a British member of parliaments) urged the British government to legislate against the slave trade in her colonies.

9. The ship owners stopped transporting slaves from Africa and began raw materials directly from Africa and America to Europe, which led to a decline in slave trade.

Slave Trade

The Tactics Used during the Abolition of Slave Trade

The movement to abolish slave trade started in Britain with the formation of anti-slavery movements. The British government abolished slave trade through anti slave laws (legislation), treaties and use of force. The anti slavery movement was led by Granville Sharp, other members were Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce and others.

The first step was taken in 1772 when slavery was declared illegal and abolished in Britain. The humanitarians secured judgment against slavery from the British court. In 1807, British parliament outlawed slave trade for British subjects.

1. In 1817 British negotiated the “the reciprocal search treaties” with Spain and Portugal.

2. Equipment treaties signed with Spain 1835, Portugal 1842 and America 1862. In east Africa in 1822 Mores by treaty was signed between captain Moresby and sultan Seyyid Said it forbade the shipping of slaves outside the sultan's territories. British sips were authorised to stop and search suspected Arabs slave carrying dhows.

3. In 1845, Hamerton treaty was signed between Colonel Hamerton and sultan Seyyid Said. It forbade the shipping of slaves outside the sultan's East Africa territories i.e. beyond to the North.

4. In 1871, the British set up the parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate and report on slave trade in East Africa.

5. In 1872, sir. Bartle Frere persuaded sultan Barghash to stop slave trade but not much was achieved.

6. On 5th march 1873, the sultan passed a decree prohibiting the export of slaves from mainland and closed of slave market at Zanzibar. Zanzibar slave market was to be closed within 24 hours

7. In 1876, sultan decreed that no slaves were to be transported overland.
8. In 1897, decree left slaves to claim their freedom themselves

9. In 1907, slavery was abolished entirely in Zanzibar and Pemba.

10. In 1927, slavery ended in Tanganyika w hen British took over from Germany after the Second World War.

Capturing Slaves

Effects of the Abolition of Slave Trade

1. Loss of independence, the suppression of slave trade led to loss of independence that is to say, legitimate trade which provided equally profitable business to both European and African traders. Many ship owners diverted their ships from transporting slaves to transporting raw cotton and raw sugar from Brazil and America.

2. It accelerated the coming of European missionaries to East Africa who emphasised peace and obedience thus the future European colonisation of East Africa.

3. Disintegration of the Sultan Empire: This is because it loosened the economic and political control which the sultan had over the east African nations. His empire in East Africa therefore began to crumble. This gave opportunity to other ambitious leaders like Tippu-Tip to create independent state in Manyema, where he began selling his ivory and slaves to the Belgians in Zaire.

4. Closing of slave trade markets, for example Zanzibar in 1873 following the Frere treaty signed between sultan Barghash and Bantle Frere.

5. Islam became unpopular as many converted to Christianity

6. African societies regained their respect and strength as they were no longer sold off as commodities.

Generally, abolition of slave trade was a catalyst to the partition of East Africa whereby Britain took over Kenya, Zanzibar and Uganda while Germany took over Tanganyika.


Britain took control of the cape during the era of mercantilism in Europe. At the end of 18th century the British became interested in seizing the cape colony from the Dutch. During 1793 France invaded the Netherlands. King William V. sought refuge in Britain and also asked for protection for Dutch colonies and trading interests. During this time, the British already controlled India and the trade between India and Europe.

In 1795 the British occupied the cape twice for a short period of time. From 1806 onwards especially when the Napoleonic wars ended in 1815 the Britain made a formal purchase of the Cape from the Netherlands for six million pounds sterling.  Therefore British started to settle at the Cape in 1806.

The British at the Cape

The Motives for the British Interests at the Cape

1. To increase colonies: The British wanted to increase and expand her spheres of influence following this she decided to occupy the Cape.

2. Industrial revolution in Europe, following this British wanted to increase sources of raw materials, labour, and markets for her industries since the Cape were very productive.

3. Trade interests, Britain did not want another European power to control the Cape because that would interfere the smooth flow of trade between Britain and India.

4. The South African Cape was strategically located. It was an appropriate place for British ships to stop during their voyages to or from India. They could get fresh supplies water for the reminder of their journey.

Tactics Used by British to Occupy the Cape

1. Introduction of land legislation system: They aimed at discouraging pastoralism among Boers and to encourage sedentary farming since the policy limited the size of an individual's land. The Dutch thought that the British introduced the land law to take land from the Boers and redistribute it to the landless Khoikhoi so they opposed the land law.

2. Abolition of slave trade and slavery in 1807: The British government abolished slave trade in all their colonies and offered compensation for slaves but the money was only paid in London as a result the majority did not get their compensation. However, freeing slaves endangered the economic survival of the Boers as they depended much on slave labour.

3. Imposition of the English language as the as the language of administering the law and justice and the medium of instruction in schools in 1822. Hence English language replaced the Dutch as he official language.

4. Abolition of internal trade restriction imposed by the Dutch company officials on the farmers and other settlers at the cape. This created more trade opportunities as they could now trade freely without strictly control from the administration.

5. Introduction of the pass in 1809 to reduce the exploitation of African labour as the system required African workers to carry passbooks which indicated their residence and employment, and those who did not carry them were regarded as criminals. The pass prevented the Africans from moving from district to district or moving into areas occupied by Europeans.

6. Introduction of contract system, through this the Boers were to sign contracts with their workers. In those contracts they were to mention the wages and other fringe benefits that they gave to their workers. Therefore the Boers regarded the contract system as British interference in the traditional Boer-Africans relationship of master-servant.

7. Introduction of the Black circuit court system in 1811 in order to reduce acts of violence committed by European employers against African employees. The law angered the Boers who considered themselves a superior race and thus natural masters of the Africans.

8. Introduction of English law as the basis of the legal system in South Africa.

9. Provision of financial aid to the British settlers by the British government, this encouraged more of its citizens to immigrate to the Cape as a result in 1820 some 300 British settlers arrived in South Africa increasing the total white population by almost 12% within weeks.


The great trek ( Afrikaans: Die Groot Trek) was an east ward and north ward migration away from British control in the cape colony during the 1830's and 1840's by Boers (Dutch/Afrikaans “farmer”). The migrant were descended from settlers from western mainland Europe, most notably from the Netherlands, northwest Germany and French Huguenots.

The great trek itself led to the founding of numerous Boer republics, the Natalia republic, the Orange Free State republic and the Transvaal being the most notable. From the beginning of the 18th century the cape settlers expanded their territory towards the north and the east.

These settling movements were led by the Trek Boers, white farmers who penetrated the hinterland looking for grazing land for their cattle. The Trek Boers preferred the free and unrestricted life on their ox wagons and in tents to the more protected existence within the realms of town administration.

The Boers and Africans
And from the turn of the century it was the people of the Xhosa living to the east, who stood up against the Trek Boers. Frequent skirmishes occurred, particularly in the Zuurveld in the east of the colony, to the boundary of the great fish river. In 1779, the first of the ferocious Xhosa wars broke out.

In the town communities the danger of a confrontation was also growing. Here the opposing parties were on one hand the citizens, aspiring to political autonomy, and on the other hand a weak, corrupt and almost bankrupt colonial administration. The town's people demanded their independence from the colonial administration. In Swellendam and  Graaff-Reinet, the first republics were proclaimed, although they only existed for a short time. The power struggle between citizens and administration ended with the landing of British ships at the cape and the annexing of the colony to the United Kingdom in 1795.

The Reasons for the Boer Trek

1. British occupation of the cape allowed Boers to penetrate further into the interior.

2. Boers dislike laws imposed by British in the Cape Province which gave greater equality to non-Whites races.

3. Abolition of slavery, the British administration at the cape forced Boers to free their African slaves.

4. Boers dislike the system of land holding which was introduced by British i.e. Boers were to pay higher rent.

5. Misunderstanding between Boers stock farmers and British administration

6. Boers dislike the British government decision of using the English language as the language of the government and in courts.

7. Boers wanted to be outside of the British government authority.

The Effects of the Boer Trek

1. Creating of two Boer republics, that is the Orange Free State and South African republic.

2. Boers defeated black tribes on the way and took over their land and properties.

3. Establishment of apartheid policy.

4. Development of hostility between the Boers and British colonisers.

5. Africans were made property less labourers and squatters on Boers stock farms.

6. African land was alienated i.e. taken by foreigners

7. Intermarriage thus creation of Afrikaners.

Africans and Boers fighting


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