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Costs of the second European expansion (18th-20th centuries): Asia and Africa conquered by themselves

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We will consider the early phases of European colonization in Asia and Africa to try to assess the cost.

As we move forward in the chronology and we are no longer between the 16th and 19th centuries, but no longer in the 20th century, we have more documentation and figures that allow us to evaluate the financial cost of the formation of colonial empires.

The Pacific resembles North America, in Australia and New Zealand we have the same phenomenon concerning the human cost, and in Oceania we see a demographic dropout of 80% of the initial workforce.

Of course, these tens of millions of people, who at the beginning paid the price of European control or domination over these regions, these human numbers did not pass over the edge of the sword or disappear in the context of armed confrontations.

Europeans did not have the means to wipe out such numerically large populations. There is the importance of diseases, speaking for example of microbial shock to America.

We could have analysed the situation in Oceania by using such a shock and finding the same situation that was characteristic of North America.

We are going to find these diseases again in Asia and Africa, but this time, in complete opposition to what we have seen so far, these diseases are going to be an obstacle to European colonial penetration.

These diseases will work against the colonizer.

Europeans, especially in tropical Asia and Africa, will be confronted in these regions with diseases against which they have not developed immunity.

Mortality and numbers of Europeans in the tropics: Asia and tropical Africa[edit | edit source]

In Asia and tropical Africa, Europeans will immediately realize that they are suffering very high mortality rates because, unlike previous cases, they are facing epidemic diseases such as fevers, which are yellow fever, a variety of malaria and cholera.

The question that arises is that in these two large colonized regions, when they are colonized, the colonizing agent suffers very high mortality rates which do not prevent him from getting his hands on these territories. The question of cost arises; the human and financial cost must not exceed a certain threshold.

We are not until the beginning of the 20th century and a good part of the inter-war period in a situation where we can believe that Western medicine has found cures. Colonial doctors, who are in most cases military personnel, do not know how to fight these diseases. There is no medical parade. In other words, we have to go to alternatives that lower the cost to the colonizer.

The two ways we will discover and detail are:

  • we don't go there: if the European in these regions risks death, there is an absolute parry which is not to go there, in other words, in the European colonial domain in tropical Asia and Africa there are very few whites in number. Reducing the number of Europeans present limits the cost.
  • using local intermediaries and recruiting locally: this is quite astonishing, in the end, the armies that Europeans constitute in order to conquer these territories are made up of indigenous soldiers recruited locally in order to limit both human and financial costs.

Overseas Necropolises[edit | edit source]

The tropics and the diseases that are prevalent there, the epidemiological environment in Asia and Africa are an unknown environment for Europeans.

The first attempts to penetrate and establish Europeans in Asia and Africa were disastrous from a health point of view. Europeans suffered what we will call the transfer cost that can be calculated for European soldiers participating in colonial conquests; this is the ratio between the mortality of soldiers in metropolitan barracks and the mortality that soldiers suffer when they are moved to fight in a territory in Asia or Africa. The cost of transfer is very high.

In Asia, Batavia, which is now Jakarta, is probably the only truly European city founded. In the 17th century the mortality rate of the Dutch was so high that until the 19th century Batavia was considered to be their cemetery.

During the first half of the 19th century, this particular moment is that of the colonial conquest which takes place between the end of the 19th and the middle of the 20th century, we record because there are people in the British Indian army to count who are the teams led by the military doctors who accompany the troops.

During the phase of the conquest of India, the number of deaths in the British Army was recorded and records were filled in on the causes: 6% of the total number of deaths was due to combat, 94% of the deaths in the ranks of the British Army of India were due to illness.

In the Maghreb, at about the same time, a similar situation occurred, particularly in Algeria. In the 1840s, a French general noted that the only area in which Algeria was growing was cemeteries.

Historians keep the example of West Africa in reserve, this part of the world is dangerous and risky for Europeans and especially for European sailors who took part in the Atlantic trade. It is on the sites where the barter takes place that death strikes European crews the most.

West Africa bears a title from which no region has ever taken away, that of the white man's tomb; between the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th centuries, the mortality rate of seamen in the slave ports of the French coast was 80 to 90%.

Out of 10 men arriving in the region 6 die during the first year of residence, two others die in the following years, only one survives and the tenth is lost by statistics.

By the time the Atlantic trade took off in the late 17th and early 18th centuries until the 1750s, half of the sailors died during the first year of residence.

Figures on the expeditions are also available. Exploratory programmes preceded colonisation, in particular, we have figures on half a dozen exploratory expeditions organised by the British in West Africa between 1816 and 1881 which considers 281 people, the mortality rate is 49% due mainly to malaria and yellow fever.

When the British converted to the abolition of the slave trade and then to the abolition of slavery, they set up a fleet off the coast of West Africa to act as a policeman from the moment the trade became clandestine.

Historians have made studies on this British squadron cruising along the coast of Guinea in order to control the law on the abolition of the slave trade and later to counter the clandestine trade; the mortality rate was so high that the flotilla was known as the "coffin squadron".

The British were disappointed with these measures to contain the trade because the results were disappointing, but also because it was costly in terms of human lives.

Mortality is high because it can be calculated for centuries, but all the examples show that it remains at a sustained level in the 19th century.

One might think that it is only one category of Europeans who suffer death in the tropics, we would not be so wrong, in fact if we give up the finesse of the picture, everyone is affected, all Europeans, whatever their status, it is not the simple soldier.

Burton in Arab dress.

The first example is given by a British explorer named Richard Burton who in 1893 described the British governor's residence in Lagos which is in present-day Nigeria as « a mortuary made of planks with a corrugated jail roof containing once a year the corpse of a high official of his gracious majesty ».

This is a testimony confirmed by other builders of the British Empire who assure us that in these tiny West African colonies - the British have strong points in Sierra Leone, Gambia and present-day Ghana - each of these colonies needs at least two governors, one always ready to get going to replace the one who is dying on the spot.

The question is why are they leaving since the risk is known? Five to six out of ten chances of dying in the first year, for the Europeans toying with their lives in a version of the cunning roulette wheel there are more full than empty rooms? How can we explain that despite such high death rates there are still Europeans who go to these countries.

  • for the men in the troops and the without grade, it is poverty and lack of work in Europe that are sufficient reasons to go anywhere else.
  • for officers and merchants, it is the hope of being promoted or of making a quick fortune, it is the short cycle that attracts, the speed of success that is an attraction.

Most of these early Europeans exposed to disease died before returning to their homeland, but the risk involved suggests that it was still worth the risk.

It should be remembered that if this cost is bearable in the eyes of the metropolis, can the number of Europeans participating in the formation of empires in Asia and Europe be changed so that the death rate suffered is bearable?

In the end, very few people leave, whatever their status, so the human cost is bearable, or at least seems bearable.

Emigration medicine or how to save European lives[edit | edit source]

Is there any way to parry? There is not, but we can go into the matter and consider it thoroughly; is there a way to reduce these losses, not by applying remedies developed by scientific medicine? Are there time-tested practices? Can we set up a medicine that would take an empirical approach in order to help reduce these European losses by disease?

For a long time, Europeans have been making great efforts to establish a "colonial medicine" or more precisely an "emigration medicine", which is a medical approach that advocates time-tested techniques for Europeans venturing into tropical regions.

For example, we will recommend that Europeans reside in regions at a certain altitude where this is possible, because we realize that above a certain altitude malaria is less prevalent.

This is typical of the approach adopted in the recommended parades, in the end, emigration medicine saves lives, but does not significantly reduce the cost of transfer.

The mere fact that a European leaves his or her home environment to go to another place means that life expectancy is reduced.

This medicine helps to improve the fate of expatriates, but not enough to significantly reduce the mortality rate, hence the importance of the other tools that will be used.

Emigration medicine is presented in contrast. Western medicine made efforts and engaged in a kind of crusade against tropical diseases that extended over the 19th century and continued until the inter-war period.

The European medical approach aims to protect the health and consequently the lives of European expatriates.

In a second phase, emigration medicine broadened its perspective to include all Asian and African populations. It is in the context of emigration medicine, for example, that medical coverage will be extended to dominated populations because, after the conquest, we are entering a phase of economic exploitation of territories which requires a sufficiently large workforce.

In order to consider whether this emigration medicine achieves its objective of saving European lives, we can trace the mortality of white people in the tropics during the 19th century by using the indicator which is a transfer cost, or relocation costs.

It is the fact of increasing the risk of a European by moving him or her from the old continent to an unhealthy area, i.e. this transfer cost is a ratio between the mortality rate of Europeans, implying European soldiers in metropolitan France, and those in the colonies.

The available data reveal that in the 19th century the movement of European troops in Asia and Africa represented a significant human cost and that in all cases - Asia and Africa are broken down into zones - the simple fact of moving a soldier there amounts to reducing his life expectancy.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the most voracious colonies were located in West Africa, but also in the Indian subcontinent.

For example, in the 1830's the mortality rates of French soldiers are 8 times higher in West Africa than in the hexagon; for British troops the mortality rates are multiplied by almost 5 in Bengal and 30 on the West African coasts.

On the threshold of the First World War, the mortality rate of soldiers decreased, but did not disappear; the mortality rate of European soldiers in colonial Asia and Africa was still double or triple that recorded in metropolitan France.

There is a decrease which is due to this immigration medicine whose origins date back to the 15th century; efforts are constant, but do not give such results that they would make this gap disappear, i.e. the cost of relocation.

  • 'How did the doctors of the 19th century and up to the inter-war period go about fighting these diseases and death?

This is done by trial and error and by the accumulation of information gathered in the field. European military doctors thus become familiar with and gather knowledge on the pathology of the tropics, a whole series of observations and statistics give rise to the publication of health guides, specialist reports and reports drawn up according to an empirical approach.

In these guides and manuals, as they are still distributed today when one goes to a risk zone, there is a whole set of rules and hygienic precautions for expatriates in the colonies, which have been tried and tested over time.

One of the hygienic precautions is to brush one's teeth with mineral water, the recommendations in the health guides concern diet, clothing and protection against sudden changes in temperature, one finds the altitude which is the oldest measure of protection for Europeans in the tropics; studies undertaken in this sense were called medical geography studies which established a correlation between altitude and salubrity.

Above a certain altitude, malaria and yellow fever have been shown to be less severe.

During the first half of the 19th century, military doctors collected statistical data in order to extend the length of stay in the tropics, which limited mortality the most, this was called acclimatization or the search for the ideal exposure time.

There was a whole series of theories that suggested either a short turnaround time - about three years - or a long turnaround time - ten years or more.

This is characteristic of emigration medicine, all advice is surrounded by a large margin of uncertainty.

Quinine fights malaria, originally it is an active agent that is extracted from the bark of a tree which is the quinine tree, which is crushed and after a preparation it is used to fight malaria, this use dates in the colonial world from the years 1830 - 1840; it is used sporadically and not universally which makes its use very doubtful.

Malaria is malaria is decimating Europeans.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, when the colonial conquests were nearing completion, the medical authorities were unable to distinguish malaria from other fevers, which is a first uncertainty.

Moreover, they did not know the right dosage and frequency of the remedy to be administered; European medical authorities recommended quinine as a cure once malaria had been caught.

In malaria-prone areas, quinine should be taken beforehand as a preventive measure; in fact, quinine only helps to avoid considerable loss of life and saves lives once empires have been established.

Against yellow fever, the only countermeasure is to temporarily move away from the affected areas; this is the practice of dodging, which is not very effective.

Until the end of the 19th century, there were purely empirical strategies of this kind that saved European lives, but overall, during the conquest phases, mortality rates remained high.

During the first half of the 19th century, Europeans invested rich territories, diseases did not prevent Europeans from taking over or settling on the African coasts.

What diseases prevent is the creation of European settlements in Asia and Africa; what high mortality rates prevent is the use of white labour, but these mortality rates are not an inescapable obstacle to colonial domination.

Source : D’après B. Etemad, La possession du monde. Poids et mesures de la colonisation (XVIIIe-XXe siècles), Complexe, Bruxelles, 2000, p. 175, 303 et 308.

We can see that the population under colonial rule increased from 25 million in 1760 to over 200 million in 1830.

In the non-temperate zones, this is possible for the reasons announced earlier, i.e. that Europeans do not need to wait for the advent of scientific medicine in order to succeed in reducing and bringing under the colonial yoke numerically large populations in Asia and Africa.

Europeans do not wait for the mortality rate to be reduced by improving sanitary conditions or health prescriptions, they do not wait until the inter-war period to dominate distant lands, the hold is possible because they will resort to non-European populations systematically in tropical Asia and Africa, the European colonizer has recourse to local intermediaries relying on non-European populations.

Instead of bringing in administrators and civil servants and moving troops in large numbers, the colonizer resorts to indigenous intermediaries and auxiliaries in order to reduce the number of European soldiers and civil servants faced with unhealthy hostile environments.

It is this ability to dominate the Asian and African worlds with the help of a numerically small European presence that limits the human and financial cost of the empire. If the Europeans call for native auxiliaries, this should be verified by considering their numbers during the colonial period in these areas.

The White Man's Loneliness in the Tropics[edit | edit source]

The figures relate to European emigration induced by the expansion of Europe in the overseas countries, i.e. from the beginning of the 16th century until 1940, how many Europeans left?

Between 1500 and 1940, some 68 million Europeans left the continent to go to the overseas countries where Europe's expansion took place.

The figures confirm that of these 68 million emigrants 92% went to America and the Pacific, i.e. the colonies of European settlement and more particularly to the United States, 7% to Asia, to Africa mainly to the Maghreb and to Southern Africa in those territories where there is a European and numerically not negligible presence such as Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria or Libya.

So much so that if we consider the areas where the European undergoes a transfer cost, out of the 68 million Europeans on the move, less than 5% go to these areas between 1500 and 1940.

There are migratory flows, but also the fraction of the European population in the total population, but in Asia and Africa, and it must be stressed from beginning to end, from the beginning of colonisation until after the Second World War, Europeans remain a very small minority. On the eve of the Second World War, Europeans represented 0.1% of the total population colonised in Asia and 0.4% in sub-Saharan Africa.

This is part of the answer to a question that may seem paradoxical, since the means available to Europeans on the one hand and the results of the European conquest on the other show a disproportion.

In Asia and tropical Africa, the means appear limited because they want to, otherwise the cost would be unbearable in the eyes of our contemporaries.

In certain situations today we are witnessing something similar to this, certain military powers that intervene want to limit the cost at all costs and use certain means.

The European must be recognised as having an extraordinary capacity to colonise the economy; this capacity is that from a necessity it is made a virtue, Europeans have been able to claim it by saying "look at how well we do things", but in reality it is a necessity. It was necessary to limit the human and financial cost of domination, the surest way to escape from what does the most damage, which causes the most human losses, namely escaping tropical diseases, and not going to those risky regions, hence the insignificant number that explains the formation of empires in Africa and Asia from the outset.

Systematically and on a large scale, indigenous people, and more precisely indigenous soldiers, are used in the colonial conquest phase; it is on them that the human and financial cost is borne and it is thanks to them that the financial cost to the colonizer is reduced.

Recruiting indigenous soldiers[edit | edit source]

What we are going to try to see is the extent of this practice, it will also be necessary to explain why Asians and Africans consent so easily to be recruited and "used" by the European colonizers during the conquest phase so that we will be able to determine how this practice of early, systematic and massive recruitment on the spot contributes to reducing the cost of forming empires, the human cost as well as the financial cost.

If we look at the colonization of Asia and Africa and ask ourselves, the question of who conquered? The answer may be surprising, how were the colonial armies that participated in the colonial conquests composed?

The colonial armies were composed mainly of Asian and African soldiers recruited by the Europeans on the spot; they were regular soldiers.

The exceptions are Algeria and Namibia. Apart from these two cases, the conquest of Africa and Asia was the work of non-European soldiers.

Asia and Africa Conquered by Themselves[edit | edit source]

  • Why do they agree to murder their neighbors?

It should be noted that this practice of using indigenous recruits is a very old practice, in fact it is a bit like the Atlantic trade, Europeans arrive and are faced with a situation where things have already been put in place.

Before the Atlantic slave trade, there was the Muslim slave trade, many African societies were also slave traders. This is not to offload the burden on the white man, but it is to say that they were not very inventive.

In the Mughal empire, for example, the Mughals were not natives, but invaders of the sub-Muslim continent. They recruited an army of the Mughal emperor from the Mughal emperor's homeland, which consisted of soldiers recruited from northern India.

The Europeans are taking something back, however, what is changing is the scale, on a very large scale.

The first Europeans are the Portuguese who adopt the formula in the first settlements they have in Asia and Africa in the first decades of the sixteenth century, the other Europeans will follow in the footsteps of the Portuguese, the practice will spread to India and Indonesia in the eighteenth century, it affects the Maghreb in the nineteenth century and then Africa south of the Sahara.

It should be remembered that we are going to have to deal with soldiers recruited locally, but who are part of the regular army troops; the Europeans had recourse to another practice which was to call on auxiliaries such as, for example, fighters who are used on a temporary basis who take part in some battles and campaigns and who then return to their territories and their activities.

In the conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires, auxiliaries were called upon. Cortes sought the help of populations that had previously been subjugated by Mexico City, he would use his human resources and fighters as auxiliaries who, once the conquest was completed, returned to their homelands, they did not form part of the Spanish army and were not part of the conquistadors.

The regular troops are enlisted, equipped, armed, they have the uniform, in the best case they have a pension.

In the case of the example of North America and the Pacific, it should be noted that for these two regions, the troops are mainly European.

There is a difference in terms of the type of settlement, since Europeans have the means to make a country the land of the white man, that is to say, to get their hands on land, drive out a population, settle in and open the floodgates to emigration, then they use exclusively European troops.

On the other hand, in the exploited colonies, they are going to use the human resources they find there, they are going to draw on those resources, they do not want to make these territories into a new Europe.

This difference can be seen in the practice of enlistment at the time of the colonial conquests.

  • India'

Before the British landed, it was a Portuguese who landed, we have first of all points of support, that is to say Portuguese counters.

In the 16th century the Portuguese were the first to compensate for their numerical weakness on the Indian troops by the engagement of indigenous soldiers.

There is a rivalry in this part of Asia between the French and the British. The French give the practice a more accomplished character compared to the Portuguese, in the middle of the XVIIIth century, they enlist Indian troops that they equip and train in the European way using weapons made in Europe, but it is Great Britain that will push and apply this formula on a large scale, much larger obviously than the first pretenders to take over India, Great Britain can take this path because with the nibbling of the sub-continent.

As the British move forward and get their hands on the Indian subcontinent, they are going to give themselves the right to levy taxes. The British have the financial power, they have the financial means to recruit on a large scale and over a long period of time.

There are indications which run between the beginning of the XVIIIth century and the middle of the XIXth century on the evolution of the workforce of the Indian army.

For some time there was in this part of Asia an army of the East Indian Company and a royal army.

In 1740, in the middle of the XVIIIth century, that is to say at the time when Great Britain was present, but the British had not yet conquered a part of the sub-continent, at the dawn of the first conquests there were 2000 men, in 1850 there were 350000 men and at the beginning of the period under consideration there were only 2000 European soldiers.

The composition will change enormously in a century, in the middle of the 19th century, more than 310000 soldiers are recruited locally, which makes almost 90% of the total number of troops at the time when the Indian subcontinent fell on the whole into British hands, more than 90% of the troops are soldiers recruited locally.

They're the ones who conquered the subcontinent, they're the ones who pay the price and they bear the cost because there are losses.

Here is an example of how a large-scale policy of recruiting locally helps to reduce the cost to the metropolis.

Carte pole de puissance dans le monde au XVIeme.png

The British not only mobilized the military resources of the subcontinent to conquer India and maintain order, they also used locally recruited soldiers to support British troops engaged in other theatres of operations: the Indian subcontinent and in other British possessions in Malaysia, Burma, East Africa, and areas of influence in the Middle East.

It is much easier to bring in troops recruited from India to operate in these areas than it is to bring in British troops. This geographical position of India is much better than the British geographical position which means that we are going to draw from the subcontinent.


Indian troops participate in the nineteenth century in a whole series of operations to the British expansion, in Burma they intervene, several times in China especially during the Boxer rebellion in 1900, in Egypt, Afghanistan, East and Central Africa, West Africa.

Nowhere is this not so much a tour de force, Great Britain has with India a gigantic human reservoir and the mobilization is just as gigantic.

India in the mid-18th century when the British began recruiting in this part of the colonized world, India had a population 2.5 times larger than the entire population of Africa south of the Sahara.

  • Indonesia.

In Indonesia, it begins with Java, but the conquest of the Indonesian archipelago begins in the 1830s and ends on the eve of the First World War, it is a never-ending conquest.

Is it possible to destroy a myth, especially in the history of European colonization? We have to get out of our heads that the conquests were quick.

Colonial conquests lasted a long time and were costly, the colonizers knew this, which is why this practice is to limit the cost.

In Indonesia, the large-scale recruitment of indigenous soldiers into the Royal Dutch Indian Army was late, but from the moment the Dutch set out to conquer the remnants of the Indonesian archipelago, i.e. to get their hands on land beyond the island of Java, they had to resort massively to locally recruited soldiers.

The conquest of Indonesia was carried out by an army that was composed, in relative terms, of more European soldiers than the conquest of India.

There is no great colonial conquest that fails to hold up the comparison that would recall this British performance in the subcontinent where the conquest was made with less than 15% European militia and for Indonesia it is 40%.

The army of conquest for Indonesia consisted from 1830 to 1913 of 40% Batavian soldiers. The Dutch only managed to extend their territorial hold beyond Java when they decided to increase the number of soldiers enlisted there.

With the same practice, a scale is reached that is not that of British India, but recruitment here is late.

Source: B. Etemad, La possession du monde. Poids et mesures de la colonisation, Bruxelles, Éditions Complexe, 2000, p. 72.
a) East Africa, South West Africa, Cameroon.
b) Belgian Congo.
c) Dutch Indies. Colonial troops in the West Indies (Suriname and Curaçao) numbered 497 men in 1913.
d) Philippines.
e) European colonial active troops plus regular indigenous troops not including the number of colonial troops stationed in metropolitan France (28,600 in February 1914).
f) not including the dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) or Northern China.


This painting is a photograph for the eve of the First World War of the European colonial armies and their compositions. For Indonesia, the Royal Dutch Indian Army, at that time, on the eve of the First World War when the Indonesian archipelago was almost conquered, the native troops represented 70% of the total number of troops.

  • Algeria

Appears Algeria as a singularity and that can surprise. Why was the colonial conquest in Algeria carried out by troops made up almost exclusively of French soldiers?

In Namibia, which was a German colony where the conquest took place rather late, there too the conquest was made by military troops made up almost exclusively of German soldiers.

There is a common feature between these territories, it is what the colonizer initially dreamed or imagined as a type of settlement. Both in Namibia and Algeria, France and Germany thought they could establish a settlement.

Both the French in Algeria and the Germans in present-day Namibia wanted to make these territories white man's territories, but this practice was ruled out from the outset. In the case of South Africa, Africans were not used.


These are colonies that are halfway between a settlement and an exploitative colony where Europeans remain a very small minority throughout.

The Europeans constitute a more substantial community, but they do not manage to prevail demographically over the natives; these are what are called mixed colonies, there is no use of locally recruited soldiers during the colonial conquests, given the projected model of colonization, so the conquests are carried out by metropolitan soldiers.

  • Why are French military losses so heavy in Algeria?

The human cost is paid by the metropolis because here it does not use and does not resort to this practice that the British in India have used so effectively and on such a large scale.

Algeria will never become a settlement, even though in 1954 the Blackfoot people numbered 1 million, but that is only 10% of the population.

Algeria is within easy reach of the hexagon and once colonized it will be integrated into France as an extension of the metropolis.

Proximity means that enemies who are very close are very badly hurt.

One of the elements that is inscribed in history and that we are trying to explain and that makes us understand why today the relations between France and Algeria are so complicated is that the metropolis had to and wanted because it had a project during the conquest to use exclusively white military troops and agreed to pay the price.

The conquest began in 1830, but it was only on a small scale and in the late 1840s that the French began to recruit on the spot, the famous Algerian riflemen.

The situation of France at the time when it starts the conquest of Algeria is that it has lost a First Empire, in 1812 a few years before the end of the Napoleonic war France has no more a single colony, it has lost all these colonies and particularly Santo Domingo, Algeria is an opportunity to form a new colonial empire no longer centred on America, France is going to start from scratch and there is not for the French as there was for the British in India and the Dutch in Indonesia a territory with a human reservoir from which they can draw.

Algeria is the construction of a new imperial empire centred on the Maghreb, Indochina and the southern Sahara.

In Algeria, if you recruit locally, you have to call on Muslims, they could turn their weapons against the invaders.

Algeria is a dreamed land of occupation, a possible extension of the metropolis, but also, like British India, a bridgehead of the colonial conquest, which explains the importance of the French military manpower stationed on this territory from 70,000 to 80,000 men between 1880 and 1903, that is more than the totality of the metropolitan troops distributed in the French empire. At the end of the 19th century, there were more metropolitan troops stationed in Algeria than in the rest of the empire.

At the end of the years 1840 - 1848, the first regiments of Algerian riflemen were recruited on the spot and this more precisely from 1842.

It is the opposite situation of India, the conquest of Algeria is a conquest carried out by troops more than 90% metropolitan.

The microbial shock also intervenes, data can trace the evolution of the causes of death among the troops participating in the conquest, we find among the French troops, 80% to 90% of deaths are due to disease.

It is the taking into account of non-objective elements, the objective elements being the density of population, the epidemiological environment, the structures in place at the beginning; France's mistake was to have wanted to make Algeria during the first decades of the occupation a colony of population which was to eventually resemble the United States but this is not possible given the initial arrangements.

The French army in Algeria is called the Army of Africa, and is smaller than the British Army of India, but it plays the same role in the extension of the French Second Empire.

After the years 1850 - 1860, it is the Algerian skirmishers who will intervene on other fields of operations in particular in Senegal, in Cochinchina which is the current Vietnam, in Tunisia, in the conquest of Gabon, French Sudan, the Saharan oases and finally Morocco.

All in all, the conquest of the Maghreb is being carried out with the help of indigenous contingents that are more limited than in Africa and the southern Sahara.

In Africa, European armies make up three quarters of the conquering armies, many of them metropolitan troops in relative terms compared to the Asian cases.

  • Africa south of the Sahara

As in Asia, it was the Portuguese who first settled in the Gulf of Guinea and from the beginning of the 16th century the Portuguese recruited a "black army" in Angola. The French followed the example in West Africa where Africans were first used as auxiliaries. From 1857 onwards, an imperial decree created the Senegalese riflemen's corps, turning African soldiers into regular soldiers.

Charles Mangin is a military man who theorized this practice in writings. At the beginning of the 20th century, he praised the virtues of the "black troops": « the conquest of West Africa is their work, we must salute the contribution of these black troops » to the conquest of French Black Africa « these troops gave France a territory larger than Europe (...) in all the French African possessions there exists as a troop coming from the metropolis only a battalion of 450 men garrisoned in Dakar ».

450 European soldiers for 12500 native soldiers recruited locally, France has black troops in Madagascar, Algeria, Indochina and Morocco. France deployed them in metropolitan France in 1839, riflemen intervened in Marseille against strikers, indigenous soldiers of the empire took part in the Second World War, after the war Algerian riflemen were sent against demonstrators, particularly in Toulouse against communists. A socialist accused Mangin of wanting to create « a Praetorian army at the service of the bourgeoisie and capital ».[7]

The British also went to Black Africa to have their regular colonial army composed of more than 90% of natives, they appeared in West Africa in 1897 and in East and Central Africa in 1902, the British used soldiers drawn from other regions of their empire, notably recruited from the Indian subcontinent and the West Indies.

In West Africa, they were mainly West Indian soldiers, in East and Central Africa they were Indians from the subcontinent.

In Table 6, we see that the Germans and the Belgians rely just as much on their local recruits: the Belgians form the most cosmopolitan colonial army both on the European side, with Swiss officers, and on the African side, the Belgians will look for soldiers in what will become the Belgian Congo, but also outside this territory.

The Italians and the Portuguese did not depart from the rule, the Portuguese subjugated Mozambique and Angola by their very long experience of incorporating the natives, "Mozambique conquered itself, it is the Africans themselves, allies, mercenaries, forced collaborators of the Portuguese who are bruising and shaping the colony".

  • Why do they accept?

It should be remembered that the Europeans are applying a method that was already in use in India, where the British colonizer took from the large reservoir of soldiers from the northern states, a reservoir from which the Mughal army cadres were already drawing.

In Asia there are regions specialising in supply, Switzerland was known for many centuries as a supplier of mercenaries, so there were also and still are regions in Asia and more particularly in the sub-continent that had such comparative advantages.

In Africa, soldiers were either slaves bought back from their masters, prisoners of war or volunteers.

When Europeans recruit locally, they show preferences; they prefer to recruit from the "warrior races". There are a whole series of communities such as the Yoruba in East Africa, the Maasai in East Africa, the colonizer will recruit from these groups. He also has a preference for natives who have converted to Christianity.

Recruitment is carried out with the help of local chiefs, whether they are rallied or submissive, this recruitment is carried out according to what was called the "politics of races".

In Africa south of the Sahara fetishists are recruited to contain the Muslims, the British use nomadic pastoralists whom they oppose to sedentary farmers, in Madagascar the coastal populations are used to counterbalance the populations of the highlands.

  • Why is this possible?

There is no nationalism in Asia or Africa, what we call nationalism first emerged at the very end of the 19th century. In India, Indian nationalism appeared in the 1880s - 1890s. As for nationalism in Asia and Africa, this occurred after the First World War.

There are no objections to recruiting men from one group to fight against men from another group.

There are countries that are returning to this situation, sometimes referred to in the press as "somalization", there is no longer a national state, all the structures disappear, they did not exist at a certain time.

Good human resources management[edit | edit source]

It is a world where nationalism has not yet emerged and the European colonizer accentuates this particular context by adopting a "politics of races" that divides, but the division is already present and moreover accentuated by the colonizer.

However, there are other factors: there is the attraction of the pay, i.e. what the soldier receives as money to be enlisted, this pay is relatively high in the Indian subcontinent and regularly paid, it is a sufficient incentive to incite the indigenous "warrior races" to serve the East India Company, in the Sahara the pay is more modest, but in the absence of financial incentives, the African soldiers are left with the proceeds of looting and the distribution of "free wives".

The colonial army may seem less unjust than the colonial society, if the recourse to indigenous soldiers and their engagement may appear as a possibility of integration, this engagement may also go in the other direction and turn against the colonizer, i.e. the engagement in the colonial army is an experience of struggle which is a real challenge, at the time of the wars of independence, can be turned against the colonizer for example during the Algerian war from 1954 to 1962, the Muslims, the nationalist soldiers who fought the French had first been mostly engaged in the French army in Indochina.

Much more than Africans or Moroccans, Algerians were sensitive to the propaganda of the Vietminh, the war in Indochina preceded, it took place from 1945 to 1954.

Table 6 shows that the practice of using indigenous soldiers on the spot is a practice shared by all the colonizers, it is an early and systematic practice.

Around 1913, on the eve of the First World War, 70% of the military strength of the European colonial armies was made up of soldiers recruited locally. In 1913 there were about 500,000 men stationed in Asia and Africa, 2/3 of these 500,000 were concentrated in the Indian subcontinent.

Great Britain and France impose themselves as the two great colonizing powers, Italy appears at this date as a great colonizing power that it is not really. In 1913, Italy, a late colonizing power, is engaged in the conquest of Libya.

Very few European soldiers and officers controlled a mass of people populating the colonies of Asia and Africa, on the eve of the First World War it was less than 160,000 European officers and soldiers who held some 500,000 people populating the colonies of Asia and Africa.

Around 1913 280000 soldiers controlled India with 315 million inhabitants, in the Dutch Indies there were 10000 European soldiers containing 50 million Indonesians, in the Belgian Congo there were less than 450 European officers for a territory populated by 11 million people. The Europeans are going to recruit massively on the spot because they are going to realize that the mortality rate of the natives is lower than the soldiers coming from the metropolis.

As early as the 19th century, it was noted that a native survives better than an unimmunized European, not that natives are not subject to diseases, but over time, a fraction of these populations develop immunity.

Malaria is endemic in areas where malaria is endemic, the most vulnerable people are young children, only they benefit from the antibodies provided by breast milk so that malaria strikes after weaning.

It is often forgotten that there is mortality from malaria among natives, only those who survive build up their immune forces, Europeans enlist what has survived, resulting in large differences in mortality between natives and Europeans.

In the 1920s and 1930s, mortality rates among British troops stationed in West Africa were very high: soldiers had a higher death rate than officers, with a 48.3% mortality rate for British troops in West Africa for soldiers and 20.9% for officers compared to 2.5% for locally recruited Africans. The number of deaths is 9 times higher for European soldiers than for African soldiers.

These differences will diminish without disappearing, they remain pronounced.

In the second half of the 19th century, the mortality rate of European soldiers stationed in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia was 2.6 times higher than that of their indigenous counterparts enlisted in colonial armies.

These gaps remain and remain significant throughout the 19th century because European powers do not all adopt the same approach, some call for indigenous troops late while others remain behind. The British and the Dutch were the ones who made the most use of indigenous soldiers, while the French remained in retreat, colonial conquests gave rise to large gatherings of troops or indigenous troops represented 20% to 25% of the troops.

There are practices among the Europeans that are similar, but to a degree that is not very different, the French generally recruit less than the British and the Dutch, which contributes to maintaining the gaps during the 19th century.

Empires acquired at bargain basement prices[edit | edit source]

The more a colonizing power and the more in a colonial conquest it uses indigenous soldiers and indigenous workers, the less the metropolis will have to pay.

The most "cheap" conquests are those where the colonizing power makes massive use of local forces and human resources.

European soldiers are expensive because they die; in the mid-19th century the recruitment and maintenance of European troops in India cost three times more than in metropolitan France, in the 1870s an Indochinese or Senegalese skirmisher cost 25% less than its metropolitan counterpart, at the end of the 19th century an Indochinese and Senegalese skirmisher cost about 50% less than a French soldier. On the eve of the First World War, a Senegalese skirmisher costs 500 francs, in France a soldier costs 1137 French and the difference would be even higher if the price were the cost price of a French soldier; the difference remains 1 to 2 at the will of the Second World War, a French soldier costs 111 francs against 37 for an indigenous soldier.

This has an impact on the financial cost of conquests depending on whether such a practice is used or whether priority is given to European soldiers or whether the British and Dutch approach is not followed.

The differences are even greater in activities where forced labourers are required, porterage is a very strenuous activity, material transport and road construction. In such activities, the cost price of a European in the tropics is a disincentive.

Regardless of the colonizing power for such activities, native workers are used. If this type of work were entrusted to a Frenchman rather than a native, it would cost a lot.

Not only does the European carrier die faster and is very expensive, obviously such personnel cannot be used.

With such discrepancies, the financial cost of colonial campaigns will vary according to the degree of use of the natives, whether these natives are soldiers or workers, porters, diggers, etc.

Figures are available to assess the financial cost of colonial conquests, but these did not take place until the second half of the 19th century, before which time the necessary statistical material was not available.

In the second half of the 19th century, each colonial war fought by Britain in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia cost an average of $20 million at the time. If one were to calculate the "average cost" of the colonial campaigns conducted by France during this half-century, it would appear to be higher, in the order of 30 million current US dollars.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, there were other military campaigns conducted not only by Great Britain and France, but also by the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Italy. In total there were 150 military campaigns in Africa and Asia.

It is not the number that matters, the figures available make it possible to evaluate for all the wars of colonial conquest undertaken in the second half of the 19th century the total amount spent by colonizing Europe for these 150 expeditions, that is between 3 and 4 billion current dollars, that is to say between 0.1 and 0.3% of the gross national product of the European colonizing powers.

Are there in the colonial experiences conquests financed not by the subjugated populations, but by the metropolitan taxpayer? In the colonial experiences are there conquests whose cost was borne by the metropolitan taxpayers?

The answer is yes, but in only one type of colony, which is British colonies called dominions, namely Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, which is a colony with European hegemony, but whose majority of the population remains African.

The dominions become the "white man's countries"; what is it that makes the cost of expansion in these territories borne by the metropolises?

The European populations in these territories acquired institutional rights and powers at an early stage, as early as the mid-19th century, which enabled them to refuse to bear the burden of the military expenditure borne by the metropolis.

The war in South Africa between 1899 and 1902 was called the Anglo-Boer War, the financial cost of which was exorbitant, but was borne by British taxpayers.

If the exploiting colonies like India did not have this possibility, they were forced by the colonizer to bear the costs of conquest as well as the military expenses of conquest, administration and equipment that today would be called development investments.

The conquest and defence of India did not cost the metropolis a penny; its conquest and defence were entirely financed by revenues taken from the successively conquered territories. Not only is the cost of maintaining native and Indian troops, but also the cost of the British troops stationed in the subcontinent, in other words, India is engaged in external operations and bears the burden of the Indian troops that were part of the British colonial adventure in Asia and Africa.

The three largest colonizing powers control more than 85% of the colonized peoples, so the overall picture is valid for these three great powers.

In the context of the conquest of Indonesia, military expenditure was financed by levies taken from Java by the Dutch coloniser.

One study looks at the proportion of the cost of French colonial expansion in the total budgetary expenditure. From 1830 to 1913, France built a second colonial empire in Indochina, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, which did not exceed 6% of the budget expenditure of the metropolis.

The conquests cost practically nothing; French West Africa is a federation that includes Senegal, present-day Mali, Guinea Conakry, Ivory Coast, Benin, Niger and Upper Volta, an important federation by its size, population and wealth, the cost borne by France is derisory, the conquest of French West Africa represents 0.23% of France's total public expenditure.

Colonization was carried out at bargain prices because this study sets out to determine the total public expenditure of France on administration and spending to equip the colonies with infrastructure.

The contribution of the metropolis to conquer this ensemble, administer it and ensure investment in infrastructure is on average from 1844 to 1957, 0.29% of the total public expenditure of France.

Administration and development are negligible. Using these figures, it could be said that conquests are expensive.

Are there European states that are far less successful in their attempt to form a colonial empire, but that have not managed to make the colonized bear the cost?

This is the case of Italy, the Italian colonial wars are ruinous for the transalpine state, the Ethiopian campaign of 1935 - 1936 by the human means engaged, by the recourse to logistics will cause the road bank of the fascist state.

Italy remains an atypical and marginal case, so that it can be concluded that in Asia and Africa the colonial budgets fed by the taxes levied on the subject populations ensure the general administration costs and the repayment of equipment loans.

Conquests do not cost much, but once in the exploitation phase, which requires expenditure on infrastructure, does it cost a lot again?

This is no, it is the taxpayers who pay: « if the colonial burden finally appears relatively light for the French taxpayer it is because others pay and perhaps more namely the indigenous taxpayers ».[8]

The colonized peoples enslaved themselves and are still paying for their own enslavement, so the colonial empires of Asia and Africa were acquired at bargain prices.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Etemad Bouda - SSP UNIL
  2. Bouda Etemad (auteur de Empires illusoires) - Babelio
  3. Publications de Bouda Etemad | Cairn.info
  4. Bouda Etemad | Armand Colin
  5. Bouda Etemad - Data BNF
  6. Bouda Etemad - BiblioMonde
  7. Jean Jaures, Chambre des députés, C.R. des débats, 18 et 21 février 1910
  8. François Bobrie, Finances publiques et conquête coloniale : le coût budgétaire de l’expansion française entre 1850 et 1913, Annales. Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations, 1976, Volume 31, 6, pp. 1225-1244. (p. 1241)