Great-Power Competition Is Coming to Africa
The United States Needs to Think Regionally to Win
AS Chancellor Hitler, Dr. Schacht, General Goering and other high German officials have plainly stated in recent months, Germany is resolved to resume her rôle as a colonial power. The Nazis profess to prefer the return of Germany's prewar colonies: Togoland, Cameroons, Southwest Africa and German East Africa. These territories are now held as mandates by France and Britain, and the latter countries do not seem at all disposed to surrender them. However, speaking before the League Assembly in September 1935 concerning the possibility of making better use of the world's economic resources, Sir Samuel Hoare stated that: "The view of His Majesty's Government is that the problem is economic rather than political and territorial. It is the fear of monopoly -- of the withholding of essential colonial raw materials -- that is causing alarm. It is the desire for a guarantee that the distribution of raw materials will not be unfairly impeded that is stimulating the demand for further inquiry. So far as His Majesty's Government is concerned, I feel sure that we should be ready to take our share in an investigation of these matters."
Some Germans have expressed wonder that the possessor of the most extensive colonial empire on earth does not lead the way in making some of her colonies available to nations less fortunately provided. They inquire, and others with them, what other colonial domains might be considered ripe for transfer. Among those which make the inquiry most anxiously are smaller Powers like the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. The acquisition of the colonial empires of either the Netherlands or Belgium would be satisfactory, we may be sure, to the German imperialists. However, the line of least resistance does not lead to the Dutch or Belgian possessions but to those of Spain and Portugal. In the case of Spain, the few and unimportant areas still held by her would in no way satisfy Germany's colonial demands. On the other hand, the abundant natural resources of the Portuguese colonial domain offer a very real temptation.
One of the anomalies of modern history is the survival of Portugal as an important colonial Power. True, her present overseas holdings are but a shadow of their former glory. Nevertheless, the possession of an empire containing over 800,000 square miles and 9,000,000 inhabitants represents quite an achievement for a nation which is neither large nor rich. Of course, at the time she laid the foundation for her empire Portugal was not a poor nation, judged by the standards of the times; in the fifteenth century she was one of the leading maritime states in Europe. Inspired by such men as Henry the Navigator, Portuguese sailors in the latter part of that century gradually pushed south along the coast of Africa, until in 1486 Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope and in 1498 Vasco da Gama reached Calicut in India. In 1500 King Emanuel assumed the title "Lord of the Conquest, Navigation and Commerce of India, Ethiopia, Arabia and Persia." Within the next few decades great adventurers like Albuquerque had established Portuguese fortified settlements as far east as China. By holding these key ports, the Portuguese gained control of the Indian Ocean and were thus free to monopolize the sea-borne trade between the Orient and Europe. So immensely lucrative was this commerce that other peoples naturally sought to intrude. Fortunately for Portugal, she had made an agreement in 1494 with her most dangerous rival, Spain. In their division of the new world between them, Portugal obtained everything east of the forty-sixth meridian of west longitude. This arrangement the other nations felt under no obligation to respect. The consequence was that when Portugal's power began to decay after her union with Spain in 1580, the Dutch conquered one after another of her colonies in Brazil, Africa, India and the East Indies. Whatever places the Dutch failed to take were soon captured by the Arabs, the Indian princes or the British, until by the middle of the eighteenth century little remained of Portugal's once magnificent empire. Except for a few unimportant stations in the East, all that she still held were certain undefined stretches of the east and west coasts of Africa, used chiefly as hunting grounds for slaves to be sent to Brazil.
The mother country made no serious effort to develop these colonies until the scramble for a place in the sun that marked the last two decades of the nineteenth century obliged her to defend her centuries-old claims against the encroachments of the stronger Powers. In the end, Portugal managed to preserve a considerable portion of her African patrimony. Even then, she would not have been able to retain her best colonies had the 1898 agreement between Britain and Germany for the eventual partition of Angola and Mozambique been put into effect. The British probably had no intention of carrying out this agreement, for in the very next year they signed a Secret Declaration with Portugal renewing the ancient treaty of 1661 by which England obligated herself "to protect the conquests and colonies . . . of Portugal against all enemies, as well future as present." The outbreak of the World War found the Germans again seeking to enter an agreement with the British for the dismemberment of Portugal's African empire.
No one can say whether Great Britain will ever be disposed to countenance the disappearance of Portugal as a colonial Power. Historians point out that the alliance between these two countries is the oldest in Europe, dating back to the fourteenth century. We may be sure, however, that more than mere sentiment holds the policies of these nations together. Portugal's colonies are valuable alike for their natural resources and for their location on Britain's oceanic route to the East, and it is to Britain's interest that they remain under the control of a friendly and dependent Power. Portugal's interest, naturally, is to cultivate this British solicitude, though her behavior in the present Spanish revolt leads one to wonder whether she is tied quite as closely to London's apron-strings as we have usually believed.
In the World War, Portugal threw in her lot with the Entente Powers. Victory won, she was rewarded by being permitted to retain her colonies. The Portuguese Government was under no illusions, however, as to the fact that this might be merely a temporary reprieve. In view of the growing competition for colonial territories it behooved Portugal to do her utmost to demonstrate her capacity as a colonial administrator. The Carmona-Salazar dictatorship of recent years has been particularly energetic in this direction. It has extended the principles of the corporative state (the Estado Novo) as set up in the mother country to effect a thorough reorganization of the administrative machinery in the colonies. Laws have also been promulgated making the empire a closer economic unit by raising its tariff walls, by favoring Portuguese shipping, and by other neo-mercantilistic measures. Unfortunately, these attempts to create a Portuguese imperial autarchy have disrupted the economic life of the colonies, with a consequent lowering of the standard of living. Portugal is not an industrial nation and can therefore absorb only a part of her colonies' raw materials and supply them with only a fraction of the manufactured goods they need. If there is indeed an incipient communist movement in the colonies, as reports indicate, this is not surprising in view of the repressive economic and social policies of the dictatorship.
What are the constituent parts of the Portuguese colonial empire? The Azores and the Madeiras are not colonies but integral parts of Portugal. Their separation from that country would therefore represent not the redistribution of colonies, but the dismemberment of Portugal itself. The British would certainly not be pleased to see a strong naval Power ensconsed in either archipelago. And even the United States might conceivably object to the transference of the Azores to more aggressive hands. In any event, since it is tropical regions that Germany professes to want she must seek further to the southward.
The Cape Verde Islands (area, 1,500 square miles; population, 160,000) occupy a strategic location off the coast of Senegal. Since they produce little, their chief value is as a refueling station on the route to South America and the west coast of Africa. Unlike the Madeiras and Azores, which have almost wholly Portuguese populations, the Cape Verde Islands are peopled largely by blacks and mulattoes -- living, it might be added, on a very low scale of life.
On the coast not far to the south of Cape Verde lies Portuguese Guinea (area, 14,000 square miles; population, 375,000), one of the oldest of Portugal's colonies and one of the most neglected. It possesses several good harbors, where German concerns are reported in recent years to have established extensive facilities for their steamship and aviation services. Parts of the interior have never been explored, and in general the colony's very considerable potentialities for the cultivation of sub-tropical and tropical products have lain almost completely untouched. Unfortunately, the altitude is low and the climate consequently unsuitable for Europeans. Nevertheless, an industrial state like Germany could, with the application of considerable capital, find there some of the raw materials for which she now clamors. Such a Power could also use Portuguese Guinea or the Cape Verdes as naval bases, which is one of the reasons why Britain might be expected to oppose their detachment from Portugal.
As we proceed southward down the west coast of Africa, all of which once belonged to Portugal, the next of her colonies encountered is that which consists of the two volcanic islands of São Thomé and Principe, lying in the Gulf of Guinea. In spite of their small size -- 372 square miles -- they contain some 60,000 inhabitants. Only slightly more than a thousand of these are whites; the rest are negroes imported from the mainland to work the plantations under conditions closely approximating slavery. The soil of the islands is extremely fertile, and due to the wide range in altitude there flourish in close proximity such varied products as cacao, coffee and cinchona. The coffee and cinchona, from which quinine is made, have never been important; but up to the time of the World War the cacao plantations were very profitable, both to their owners and to the Portuguese Government. In 1913 these islands produced more than one-sixth of the world's cacao. At present they have been completely outstripped by new competitors, such as the Gold Coast. Still, to a nation desperately desirous of tropical territories they might appear quite valuable, not only for their produce but because their geographic position makes them admirably suited to serve as a starting point for further economic, and perhaps political, expansion in the Bight of Africa. Neither France nor Britain has any motive for rejoicing at this prospect.
Until a generation or so ago, the principal use of Angola, as far as the Portuguese were concerned, was to supply São Thomé and Brazil with cheap labor. Indeed, for at least two centuries slaves constituted the principal export of Portugal's West African possessions; no thought was given to utilizing the land's rich resources, or even to its exploration. But values have changed; and today Angola, with its 487,000 square miles and three million inhabitants, is one of Portugal's two most promising colonies. In one respect it is unique among her African possessions: it has an extensive plateau where, it has been hoped, a large number of European colonists might eventually be placed. For this very reason German and Italian colonial experts (inter alia) have turned their eyes in that direction. However, according to Otto Jessen's recent work, "Reisen und Forschungen in Angola," it now seems doubtful whether the Angolan plateau is really adapted to settlement by North Europeans. Colonization by South Europeans would seem less difficult, and since one of Portugal's greatest exports is emigrants, one may well ask why there is not a steady stream of them going to Angola. The obvious answer is that the very poverty which drives these folk from the homeland precludes their going to an undeveloped region where above all else capital is required before colonization can be successful. Americans tend to forget that the conditions which made it possible for their forebears to homestead their way across the continent are wholly lacking in Africa. Statistics show that at present there are in Angola only 60,000 whites, including many half-castes, and that these are concentrated in the larger centers. It is fairly safe to say that Angola's undoubtedly rich potentialities in the production of wheat, sugar, tobacco, cacao, palm oil, rubber, cotton, cattle and many other crops for which its varied climate and soil are well suited, will have to be exploited by European-managed plantations and native labor rather than by small white farmers. If what the Germans want primarily is tropical produce, here they can get it in abundance; they cannot, however, expect to find in Angola any appreciable relief for their population problem.
There are today a number of German ranch and plantation owners in Angola; but, as we would expect, it is the British who have invested most heavily. Indeed the British have a large financial stake in practically all of the Portuguese colonies, their total investments therein have been estimated at no less than £25,000,000. In Angola one of their most valuable properties is the newly completed Benguella Railway which serves as an outlet for landlocked Northern Rhodesia as well as the southern part of the Belgian Congo. It is worthy of note that both of the Rhodesias, Nyasaland, and the Transvaal find their easiest access to the sea through Portuguese colonies.
Angola possesses, so far as is now known, little mineral wealth. But her pastoral and agricultural possibilities are such that she may rightly be considered a rich prize for any colonial Power. That Portugal is unable to develop these riches by her own efforts goes without saying. Yet she imposes all sorts of vexatious regulations to favor her home industries and merchant marine (in which, again, British capital is heavily invested).
In Mozambique we find exemplified in acute form some of the most serious shortcomings of Portuguese colonial policy. Its area (300,000 square miles) is smaller than Angola, but its 4,000,000 inhabitants (of whom 35,000 are classed as whites) make it Portugal's most populous colony. The country is potentially rich in most of the tropical and sub-tropical products, while the altitude of certain regions is high enough to permit the growing of wheat and the raising of cattle. As in other Portuguese colonies, there are no notable mineral resources, though a more thorough exploration might disclose deposits now unsuspected. Mozambique is too large and too distant for Portugal to make any pretense that it can live by its trade with the mother country alone. The presence of Britain's prosperous South African possessions next door has made the slow rate of Mozambique's development all the more evident. Here, then, more than in any of her other colonies has Portugal felt obliged to make vigorous efforts to set up at least a façade of activity.
In view of her own shortage of capital and her lack of talent for exploiting backward regions, Portugal some time ago resorted to the device of the chartered company. Foreign capital and technical supervision were attracted by this means, in spite of the unfavorable political conditions prevailing in Mozambique. At the turn of the century there were three such companies exercising governmental functions there. Whatever progress the colony has made has been largely due to these companies and to the British railways which have developed the ports of Lourenço Marques and Beira as the outlets for the Union of South Africa, the Rhodesias and Nyasaland. At present only one of these companies (the Companhia de Moçambique) continues to exercise governmental powers, and its charter expires in 1941. The colonial reorganization being effected by the present dictatorship will undoubtedly make for greater administrative efficiency. At the same time, its restrictive economic policy seems to be making more pronounced the stagnation of the colony's farming and commerce, and consequently to be lowering still further the standard of living.
Portugal's fear that her hold on Mozambique is becoming more tenuous is, then, not without justification. Britain and the Union of South Africa might consider themselves heirs apparent. In that case, both may be expected to oppose the transfer to any other Power of the ports on which so much of their trade depends. The most that they might concede to Germany -- and this only under severe pressure -- would be a slice along the colony's northern edge.
In the Far East only fragments remain of Portugal's once magnificent empire. On the west coast of India she has retained three small enclaves (Gôa, Damão and Diu), with an area of 1,637 square miles and a population of around 600,000. The economic activity of these districts is derived largely from the transit trade; in themselves they originate very little commerce. Portugal's hold on them naturally rests on Britain's sufferance, and it would be difficult to conceive of the latter's permitting them to pass to a third Power.
The oldest European outpost in China is that of the Portuguese at Macao. This city is located on a peninsula and several islands at the mouth of the Pearl River opposite Hong Kong; the total area is 11 square miles and the population is 160,000 (of whom all but about 4,000 are Chinese). With its free port, Macao is a local distributing center; its importance, however, has declined proportionately as that of Hong Kong has risen. The Portuguese themselves are very little interested in the conduct of trade, most of which is in the hands of the Chinese. Though Macao was first settled by the Portuguese in 1557, it was not until 1887 that China recognized Portugal's sovereignty; in return the latter has promised not to alienate it without China's consent. Rumors about the possibility of its changing hands usually mention Japan rather than Germany as the beneficiary. The possession of Macao would be very useful in furthering Japanese expansion southward. The British -- as well as the French, the Dutch and the Filipinos -- would naturally much prefer to have the place remain under the control of a relatively weak power like Portugal than to see it fall to Japan.
The only Portuguese colony yet to be mentioned is that consisting of the eastern portion of Timor, an island in the East Indies between Celebes and Australia. Despite having an area of 7,300 square miles and a population of nearly half a million, Portuguese Timor is singularly undeveloped economically, due somewhat to the small amount of cultivable soil. A land-hungry Power might nevertheless find it a partial answer to its prayers for tropical raw materials. It could also serve as a base for commercial, and perhaps political, expansion in Australia. Neither England nor the Netherlands can view with equanimity such a possibility, as was recently demonstrated by the prompt and unfavorable reaction in British and Dutch newspapers to the report that Tokio and Berlin had divided the Netherlands East Indies into prospective spheres of influence.
From this brief survey of the Portuguese colonial empire what conclusions can we draw? In the first place, Portugal lacks the capital, the man power and the energy to develop her colonies. This does not necessarily give other Powers a moral, much less a legal, right to appropriate them. When, however, the time comes to discuss Sir Samuel Hoare's vague suggestions for a wider distribution of access to the world's raw materials, Portugal will find it difficult to prove that she herself needs or is able fully to utilize the resources of her extensive colonial domain.
In the second place, the Portuguese colonies evidently fulfil many of the specifications drawn up by German expansionists for their prospective overseas empire. The agricultural resources of these regions are very extensive; they now appear deficient in minerals, but systematic exploration may uncover riches so far unknown. In German hands they would give rise to a considerable volume of trade, carried largely in German bottoms. But all of these activities, including the building and upkeep of a large navy to protect them, would demand the investment of much capital before they could become profitable. Is Germany in any position to sink large quantities of capital in colonial enterprises? The answer, for the time being at any rate, would seem to be clearly in the negative. Furthermore, is it not evident that for climatic reasons Portugal's colonies can in only very small part serve as an outlet for Germany's surplus population? In this respect they are comparable with Germany's prewar possessions. Officials, overseers, entrepreneurs, technicians, professional men, missionaries, and the like could be absorbed in small numbers -- just as they are in Britain's and France's tropical colonies. But mass emigration to them by workers and peasants is out of the question.
The third general conclusion is that Great Britain has excellent motives for opposing a change in the ownership of the Portuguese colonies. The intensity of the sentiments she might feel varies, depending on what colony is in question. She might, in order to conjure greater perils, go so far as to share some of them with Germany. But such an action would come only as a last resort, for it must be borne in mind that those colonies line the oceanic route to India and Australia. To permit them to pass to a strong naval Power would endanger the safety of that route and might lead to the destruction of Britain's supremacy in the Indian Ocean, the only sea where she is still undisputedly supreme. Having had to share the Atlantic with the United States, the Pacific with both the United States and Japan, the Mediterranean with Italy (always assuming that the French Navy will be at hand, benevolently neutral), Britain may be depended upon to guard all the more jealously her hegemony in the Indian Ocean. This is why she is strengthening her naval stations all the way from Simonstown (Cape of Good Hope) through Mauritius, Aden, and Trincomalee to Rangoon, Singapore, Darwin and King George Sound. Anxiety lest the Italian possession of Ethiopia establish Italy too firmly on the shores of the Indian Ocean was one of the primary motives for British opposition to Mussolini's invasion of that country. Except for this Italian foothold, the only European nations with territories washed by the Indian Ocean are those on whose continued friendship Britain has fair reason to count: France, the Netherlands and Portugal. To prevent other aggressive Powers from encroaching upon that preserve the British and some of the Dominion governments may be expected to go to considerable lengths.