The most remarkable feature of the partition was the speed with which it was accomplished. In less than ten years the whole of pagan Africa was in the hands of one or other of the European Powers.
Explorers pushed on from village to village armed with
satchels of draft treaties upon which hospitable chiefs were induced to set their mark; native interpreters made gibberish of the legal phraseology; inalienable tribal rights were exchanged for opera hats and musical boxes; some potentates, such as the Sultan of Sokoto, thought they were accepting tribute when they were receiving a subsidy in lieu of their sovereign rights, others that it was the white man’s polite custom to collect souvenirs of this kind; if, when they found they had been tricked, they resisted the invaders, they were suppressed with the use of the latest lethal machinery:
diplomats in Europe drew frontiers across tracts of land of which they were totally ignorant, negligently overruling historic divisions of race and culture and the natural features of physical geography, consigning to the care of one or other white race millions of men who had never seen a white face. A task which was to determine the future history of an entire continent, requiring the highest possible degrees of scholarship and statesmanship, was rushed through in less than ten years.
But the avarice, treachery, hypocrisy and brutality of the partition are now a commonplace which needs no particularisation. Indeed the popular view is to exaggerate the criminality; to accept the fact as something inexcusable but irreparable; a great wrong, never to be repeated, committed in another, more barbarous age. It is worth remembering, at the present crisis, how lately these things were done and also how many of the high qualities of European civilisation appeared in the process.
Evelyn Waugh, Waugh in Abyssinia (1936)