The African Canada which could have been

Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon, isn't well known in Canadian circles these days. (No relation to conservative human rights activist Stefan Molyneux either).

He's the man who introduced the sixteen delegates of the Charlottetown Accords to Queen Victoria, and later drafted much of the text of the soon-to-be British North America Act. If those sixteen delegates were to be known as the "Fathers of Confederation" than the Earl is surely the "Mother of Confederation" inasmuch as it was Lord Carnarvon who introduced the Act in the House of Lords on February 12th 1867 (the House of Commons received it Feburary 28th and essentially rubber-stamped it: the bulk of their conversations on March 4th were about ensuring women didn't vote, what trains to build, and if Canadian Bills shouldn't automatically become law if it took over 2 years for London to sign off on them. Plus, y'know, giving Queerbec a distinct society since that's apparently mandatory even in England in 1867). Soon it was no longer Lord Carnarvon's baby: while the BNA Act was proceeding through Parliament in early March he resigned over a bill that would expand the British franchise to working men, ironically the voting rights discussed amiably regarding Canada.

Carnarvon's attention would briefly return to Canada in 1874 regarding the railway to British Columbia, but Canada was already in his spirit if not his day to day routine. Envisioning the Canada that would eventually stretch across the continent and kept the large aggressive power nearby at bay†, the Earl couldn't help but wonder if that same strategy could work equally well on another vast continent in similar circumstances.

† In fact, when the Charlottetown Conference was being planned, several Americans (particularly in New England) advocated for the annexation of Canada (or at least the parts touching their borders) and New Brunswick, prompting General Sherman's immortal quote that “We don’t want Canada, but if we should, a campaign of five days would bring it.”

Hudson's Bay Company had recently given up their charter on Rupert's Land, meaning that Canada was a continuous stream of British Pink from Twillingate to Tofino (an 83 hour drive, even now). While that may not have been wholly in combination with the recent creation of the Dominion of Canada (though Red River and British Columbia were), it certainly looked that way. Meanwhile Australia-New Zealand was likewise all theirs, and India was another solid block (remembering that it included modern-day Pakistan including Kashmir all the way to almost Kandahar, as well as Bangladesh and Burma on the Thai side). That left only one concentration of British power (ignoring Hong Kong, the Caribbean, and a few other remote island chains) out of the gang...

Lord Carnarvon had a solution, though. They had just finished creating a super-colony north of the 49th parallel, so why not another south of the equator in Africa? There's just that bit in yellow separating Kenya from Cape Colony (Niger shows pink on my map, but that's because I couldn't find one from 1874: Niger wasn't British until 1884 and even then only until 1900). Just fill in those yellows, call it an afternoon, enjoy a spot of tea, and pass a new British South Africa Act modelled after the BNA Act. Why not? Well there were a few problems...

First off, this was the dawn of the infamous "Scramble for Africa" which means that unlike in Saskatchewan and Alberta this wasn't land that nobody other than the British had access to: between the recent discovery of diamonds and the development of new land-and-sea transport, Britain was having to deal with the Portuguese, Germans, Dutch, Ottomans, French and to a lesser extent Italians who also dreamed of replacing some other colours with their own (Spain, Austria, Russia, and Japan probably dreamed of it as well, but for a variety of reasons none of them could really do it).

Secondly, unlike a few Red Indian tribes you could placate with firewater and a promise you'd build those Residential Schools they have been pining for, the yellow bits of the map were a little harsher in Africa. Remember when I mentioned the large aggressive power nearby? Yeah that was called the Zulus, a collection of fierce warriors who didn't want to be anything other than yellow. Adding to the struggles was the Xhosa, the Gaza (no, not that Gaza, the other one), the Ngwane, and the Matebele.

Lord Carnarvon was insistent though. Over the objections of Sir John Molteno (Prime Minister of the Cape Colony) and Sir Henry Barkly (Governor of the Cape Colony) he worked at building his African Canada using a variety of tactics. He annexed Transvaal and engaged the Xhosa in combat, hoping that decisive British military prowess would reduce the opposition on both sides of the border.

It didn't work: ultimately the African colonies just weren't that interested in working together. Ironically they disagreed for contradictory reasons: Sir Barkly thought that the resulting political reality of this confederation wouldn't do well with the colony's black populace, while the Lagos (Nigeria) colony worried that the black majorities would negatively impact the white populace in a confederation-style government. (Lagos and Gold Coast colonies refused to even send delegates to meet Lord Carnarvon). In the end, the tensions caused by the military actions Lord Carnarvon took caused the First Anglo-Boer War, which of course England lost. This ultimately weakened the British position in central and southern Africa.

The crazy thing is though, this was only temporary: the British eventually decided to expand their territory in the region: only instead of the Lord Carnarvon model (a political union with only moderate military action required) they ended up in 1888 going with the Cecil Rhodes model (just invade everybody). After all, I referred to the first Anglo-Boer War, most people if they've heard of such a conflict only know about the second one.
While many English-Canadians supported Britain's cause in South Africa, most French-Canadians and many recent immigrants from countries other than Britain wondered why Canada should fight in a war half way around the world. Concerned with maintaining national stability and political popularity, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier did not want to commit his government. Yet the bonds of Empire were strong and public pressure mounted. As a compromise, Laurier agreed to send a battalion of volunteers to South Africa.

Over the next three years, more than 7,000 Canadians, including 12 women nurses, served overseas. They would fight in key battles from Paardeberg to Leliefontein. The Boers inflicted heavy losses on the British, but were defeated in several key engagements. Refusing to surrender, the Boers turned to a guerrilla war of ambush and retreat. In this second phase of fighting, Canadians participated in numerous small actions. Gruelling mounted patrols sought to bring the enemy to battle, and harsh conditions ensured that all soldiers struggled against disease and snipers' bullets.
How sad, then, to realize that many less Canadians would have died in the Second Boer War had it been avoided entirely: in retrospect it's hard to think that the military actions and expansions the British would engage in over a decade after Lord Carnarvon's plans fell apart could have been generally avoided with more British home support for this African version of Canada. While I've already noted how the dividing up of Rupert's Land was much cleaner north of the equator than its southern equivalent would have been, it probably still could have been done. A Canada-equivalent operating in southern Africa would have also given some pause to the other empires that were aggressively pushing into the region: would Germany (which didn't exist until 1884) been able to gain such wealth and influence as their African expansions permitted when a true south strong and free African Canada stretched across a big chunk of the continent? Would there be some Newfoundlands thrown into the mix? Don't forget: even BC and Prince Edward Island weren't part of the original formation of the Dominion of Canada: their early resistance led to eventual desire to join Canada as it was the best defense against the United States expansion. You don't think similar concerns might exist in southern Africa by the late 1870s or early 1880s? Newfoundland admittedly was a weird case: they remained stubbornly independent except for all those times they kept going to larger countries with cap in hand in need of money. On the other hand, it wouldn't be impossible for African nations to be similarly persuaded into joining this confederation as a result of their financial mismanagement.

Lord Carnarvon never got to achieve his dream of an African version of Canada, stretching from sea to sea to cape. He ended up drummed out of service after being the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, moved to Hampshire where he became a fellow of the Royal Society, an Oxford steward, and a high freemason official. Meanwhile, as noted above, the world ended up scrambling for Africa anyways, and by the end many of the various locations that Carnarvon would unite under a Dominion were parts of the sea-to-sea British Empire anyways. It remains only a curious historical accident that while today we have a bunch of warring and self-warring African gangster-states in the remnants of the European colonies we could have had another Canada (though, one notes as this blog must, there are a few separatist elements in play north of the 49th parallel as well).