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Ever since the era of the Pharaohs, Africa has been coveted for its riches. The pyramids of the Nile Valley dazzled the rest of the world as symbols of the wealth of Egypt's rulers. Legends about Africa's riches endured for millennia, drawing in explorers and conquerors from afar.
Land was another prize. The Romans relied on their colonies in North Africa for grain to feed Rome. Another commodity in high demand from Africa was slaves.
Cotton, cocoa, coffee, rubber, ivory, gold, diamonds, copper and oil; in the space of twenty years, mainly for economic benefit and for national prestige, European powers claimed possession of virtually the entire continent.
By the end of the scramble, European powers had merged some 10,000 African polities into some forty colonies.
Now the lure of Africa's riches remains as strong as ever.
New players have entered the field. The rising economic might of China has stimulated a boom in demand for Africa's oil and mineral resources. To secure food supplies, land too has become a prized commodity once more.
Martin Meredith is a journalist, biographer and historian who has written extensively on Africa and its recent history. He is the author of many books, including Diamonds, Gold and War, The State of Africa, Mugabe, and Mandela: A Biography.
Publication date: 2015-07-01