The Scramble for Africa

Geopolitics has always occupied governments. Today it’s the Middle East and Central Asia. In the late nineteenth century, European perception was that Africa needed to be partitioned and each country scrambled to increase their area of influence. Like much geopolitics today, this drive was ostensibly motivated by the desire to control natural resources (just as today oil is the basis of our Middle East policy and everyone seemed relieved when huge quantities of rare earth metals were discovered in Afghanistan). In hindsight, most of the scramble for geopolitical influence (in this case colonization) was the economic tail wagging the competitive dog. France did it because Britain did it and Britain did it because France did it. Countries want to keep up with the Jones just as much as people do. (Motives seem so simple when viewed through the lens of a century or two.) The scramble had profound philatelic effects as one of the ways European nations staked their claims in Africa was by setting up post offices and issuing stamps for geopolitical subdivisions that were little more than lines drawn on a map in the Foreign Offices in Paris, London or Lisbon. Nearly 150 different political entities issued stamps in Africa from 1870-1917. Originally many of these stamps were avoided by contemporary collectors who saw them for what they were-a political claim wrapped in the profit motive of philatelic sales. But stamp collectors have no collective memory and as new generations entered the hobby, these stamps are now esteemed and among the most popular in philately.

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