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Very few of the geographic events of the past year have been of such an essential nature as to require a reference in this report, and yet some of them are of surpassing interest. Fraught, as many of them are, with policies that must have a marked influence in the future in developing the still uncivilized regions and increasing the prosperity of the established communities, they present a field for research that has already attracted the political economist, enlisted the labor of the philanthropist, and excited the cupidity of commerce.
The division of Africa, as commonly referred to, has naturally aroused the most profound attention of all civilized peoples. But few have attempted to penetrate the darkness of the future with predictions of the ultimate results of the partition of this great continent. That civilization will eventually follow, we may feel reasonably assured; and if we could but see the end in the establishment of powerful nations without the repetition of history in the quarrels, strife, and war that have preceded the settled order of political progression on other continents, we might well hope the human had improved his humanity and believe we had entered the border land of the millennium that enthusiasts have so long held up to us as the final stage in the progress of man.
5-NAT. GEOG. Mag., vol. III, 1891.
The professions of the African powers are peaceful, but in the division of these unknown millions of square miles it requires but little penetration to discern the elements for protracted strife in future generations. The agreement between Germany and England, by far the most important of the compacts to extend the protection of European nations to particular zones not embraced in the Kongo Free State, exemplifies in a marked degree the disputes that may arise, and with what avidity the civilized nations have sought mutual recognition of their right to dominate in specified spheres. As might have been expected, however, in an attempt to divide great areas that have not even been mapped, and with an economic value still to be determined, the boundaries of the spheres are oftentimes indefinite, and instead of settling disputed questions, but defer them to the generations yet to come. There are colonies, protectorates, and spheres of influence, with boundaries sometimes so ill defined that we may conceive they have been purposely left indeterminate, that at the proper time the most powerful may push their frontiers to include regions that the adventurous may proclaim desirable acquisitions.
The area of Africa is computed at nearly 12,000,000 square miles; and about 9,500,000 square miles are claimed by the powers as under their control, protectorate, or influence within the tentative boundaries that seem to have been very generally agreed upon. Fully 83 per cent. of this area has been acquired during the past fifteen years. We have seen during this period the possessions of Spain increase from 3,500 to 200,000 square miles ; England, from 280,000 to 2,000,000; France, from 280,000 to 2,300,000, while Italy and Germany, that were without a square rod a few years ago, now claim extensive areas—Italy about 360,000 and Germany over 1,000,000 square miles. Portugal, though not less grasping, seems to have been less successful, as she has acquired less than 100,000 square miles. Perhaps having encountered a more powerful nation in her path may account for this, but the total area within her “sphere” is nevertheless not insignificant, reaching as it does over three-quarters of a million of square miles. In the Kongo Free State we find another million square miles, which many believe will ultimately become a Belgian colony; but in any event, occupying as it does the larger part of the basin of the Kongo, it is destined to be the scene of an activity in the development of the continent fruitful of the most important results.
We must remember, too, that England now occupies Egypt, and that with her protectorate over Zanzibar and her sphere of influence to the northward of that state, that has not yet been limited, it is not improbable that she will eventually reach the Mediterranean, establishing a more extended influence in northern Africa than even that which she has exerted over the southern end of the continent. Should England's influence in the north result in the occupation of all the territory that is apparently within her "sphere," we may conceive some of the complications likely to arise, and see the realization of the proviso in the recent Anglo-German agreement granting her the right of way to build a railroad through the German sphere east of Lake Tanganyika. Englishmen have expressed grave doubts as to the wisdom of conceding to Germany this large territory east of Lake Tanganyika, claiming it was rightfully theirs through discovery, and as they are estopped from intercommunication to the westward of the lake by the boundaries of the Kongo Free State, view with alarm the possible intricacies of the situation when they may attempt to exercise their rights in the German sphere. But doubtless there are compensating advantages derived from the agreement, as many earnest and able men commend the concessions made by their government in view of the greater influence that has been acquired in other regions where it has not heretofore been generally conceded.
South of the Zambesi there are still other elements that promise fruit for strife ere the region is recognized as settled to the satisfaction of the contending powers. Boundaries now but illy defined must be adjusted before the venturous pioneers shall know to which nation their lands belong, and we may well foresee in the sections where exploration develops riches and abundance that the peaceful measures of arbitration will fail to satisfy the claims to dominance. We have, too, an element in the south African republic that must ere long find vent in a more pronounced movement to secure a seaport than that made a few years ago. The fact that Delagoa bay, the finest harbor on this section of the African coast, is the natural outlet for these people and for the extensive regions adjacent that may eventually come under their control, points to this bay becoming a bone of contention if the powers interested do not conclude the present arbitration on a just and satisfactory basis. On the lower Niger there are also points of friction, and even the sands of the great Sahara are becoming the subject of dispute in the anxiety to establish power that may wield an influence in distributing the wealth that may be found.
From what regions of the continent the future wealth is to be derived we cannot predict. The uncertainty is, perhaps, the consideration in the problem of development that leaves vast areas with undefined boundaries, though nominally within the sphere of influence of a specified power. There are fully 2,000,000 square miles yet to be explored before we may know the general geographic features of the continent, and a much larger area that must be examined and studied by experts before any reasonable estimate of its value and adaptability to the schemes of civilized man can be approached. The great strides that have been made in recent years in seizing upon the unclaimed territories doubtless received the larger impetus from the revelations in Mr. Stanley's explorations. The Kongo is recognized to be a natural highway leading to a region believed to be susceptible of remunerative development. Preparations have been made to construct a railroad around the falls in the lower river to overcome the greatest practical obstacle to its fullest utilization. We may reasonably expect commercial enterprises on extensive scales to speedily follow the completion of this road and hasten the acquisition of a more perfect knowledge of the Kongo basin, not within the boundaries of the Kongo Free State alone, but also the region drained by the great tributaries from the north and the sections naturally dependent upon this great river system.
The Kongo is but one line on which the general advance is being made upon the interior of the continent. The French seem determined upon extending their influence on the northern and western coasts, and the Portuguese, English, Germans, and Italians are pronounced in their efforts on the eastern coast, while the English are careful, too, of their interests from the south, and seem to have almost unlimited scope north of Victoria Nyanza. The progress of the advancing colonization will necessarily be accelerated or retarded by the geographic conditions encountered in the different regions. In some, it may be the difficulty of maintaining communication with older settlements; in others, that the land is unproductive or the probable gains not sufficiently attractive; and lastly, the great density of the native population in certain districts is likely to prove a hindrance that it may require many years to overcome. On the lower Niger, in
the British west African colony, in Egypt, in Natal, on the shores of Lake Victoria Nyanza, and in parts of the Kongo basin, it is estimated that the native population is nearly as dense as in India ; but the climatic conditions are so unfavorable that it is not probable that any attempt will be made to advance in these regions for a more serious purpose than to maintain a foothold for the future. The more attractive districts for the white man are thought to be much less populous, and are not scourged with such an unhealthy climate.
Even now the nations of Europe are planning to enter these great unknown fields. There is an expedition on the western coast, under the explorer Cameron, investigating the conditions for trade; and the rumors of the organization of wealthy companies to work in the several “spheres of influence" but impress upon us the fact that the Old World is moving to lay bare the resources of the great continent, and we may hope with an energy that will overcome all obstacles, open new fields to mankind, and relieve the nations of the horrors of human traffic in which they have been too long encouraged. But it would be vain to hope there will be no bloodshed, for where man has great rival interests history teaches us they are settled by the sword; and we can hardly believe the peaceful methods of arbitration will have gained such sway as to rob history in her predictions as to the regeneration of "darkest Africa."
On the western hemisphere also there have been events of most interesting import, in that they foreshadow a closer union of the people of the two continents. Unlike Africa, in that this hemisphere has been under the control of the more intelligent races of men for several generations, so that discovery and the cruelties attending the establishment of supremacy are virtually questions of the past, the interests involved are on a different plane, though not on a higher moral sphere, as we can conceive no greater Christian duty than the regeneration of the uncivilized, but a sphere affecting the relations of established communities that for generations have been wielding an influence in the world's history on principles recognized to be the product of civilization. The metez and bounds of the states are well defined, with few exceptions, and the ambition for territorial accretion has been so greatly subdued by the misfortunes of their earlier histories, that the time seems to be propitious for advanc