6. Central Africa

Interest in the African lands north of Cape Colony and the Boer states was stirred by hopes of discovering further deposits of gold and precious stones at the end of the nineteenth century. The businessman and politician Cecil Rhodes led moves to bring the region into the ambit of the British empire and there were also calls by missionaries and planters to protect some areas from Boer incursions and Arab slave traders. British colonists in Southern Rhodesia established a strong agricultural economy in the twentieth century and resisted attempts to transfer government to African majority rule.

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1888 Exclusive mining rights in Matabeland and Mashonaland are granted by King Lobengula to the agents of Cecil Rhodes, politician and business tycoon. They hope to find an extension of the Witwatersrand gold reef.

1889 Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (BSAC) obtains a royal charter to administer the area between the Limpopo River and Lake Tanganyika as a protectorate.

1893-5 The first Matabele War. A serious rebellion begins in Matabeland against the BSAC. Maxim machine guns used for first time kill thousands and Lobengula dies of smallpox before his impis are subdued.

1895 The area policed by the BSAC is named Rhodesia in tribute to Cecil Rhodes.

1895/6 The Jameson Raid. Armed police employed by the BSAC invade Transvaal but fail in an attempt to raise a rebellion among the uitlanders (non-Boer) inhabitants of Johannesburg.

1896/7 the Second Matabele War. Matabele and Shona warriors kill hundreds of BSAC settlers before their religious headman is killed and the rebellion subsides.

1902 Rhodes dies and is buried outside Bulawayo in the Matopos Hills.

Northern Rhodesia

Land north of the River Zambesi is less favourable to agriculture and has few white settlers. BSAC administration beyond the Zambesi became known as Northern Rhodesia in 1911.

1923 BSAC administration is revoked and the British Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia, ruled by a legislative assembly with no black representation, is formed.

1928 Prospectors find rich deposits of copper.

1953 Attempt to form the Central African Federation from a combination of Northern and Southern Rhodesia with the neighbouring Nyasaland.

1963 The Central African Federation experiment fails.

1964 Northern Rhodesia becomes independent as the Republic of Zambia.

Southern Rhodesia

1923 All BSAC land south of the Zambesi becomes the Crown colony of Southern Rhodesia, with a large measure of self-rule by the white settlers. Much of the land is favourable for agriculture and many white farmers move into the area.

1953 Attempt to form the Central African Federation from a combination of Northern and Southern Rhodesia with the neighbouring Nyasaland.

1963 The Central African Federation experiment fails.

1965 The white government declares unilateral independence for their state of Rhodesia.

1978 An internal civil war between the white dominated government and two black liberation movements is ended.

1979 The Lancaster House Agreement. Britain resumes control until independence is granted in 1980 to the republic of Zimbabwe headed by Robert Mgabe.


Part of Central Africa explored by Dr David Livingstone in the 1850s, where he exposed the thriving slave trade being conducted in the area. British missionaries followed him and established pioneering missions around Lake Nyasa in lands claimed by Portugal. Cecil Rhodes supported their demands for the country to be assimilated into the British Empire.

1889 Britain declares Nyasaland a British protectorate. Arabs led by Portuguese try to impose their rule.

1891 Portugal relinquishes claims on the area.

1893 Rhodes’ BSAC takes control of the protectorate and over time managed to subdue the slave trade. White settlers establish coffee plantations.

1907 Nyasaland is removed from BSAC rule and resumes British jurisdiction.

1914/18 Nyasaland is involved in a struggle with a German military campaign against British Central and East African possessions centred on the German East Africa colony.

1953-63 Nyasaland is included with the Rhodesias in the Central African Federation.

1964 The Central African Federation fails and Nyasaland becomes the independent republic of Malawi.


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