This Picture Should Terrify You: The Lucrative Opium Trade of Southern Africa

Thembisa Waetjen

The reach of European empires and of Indian Ocean trade networks drew southern Africa into the global politics of opium around the turn of the twentieth century. Between the late 1880s and early 1920s and there was a shift from economies of supply to regimes of control.

The colonies of Mozambique and South Africa were caught up in these big changes.

In a recent paper I highlight how official and unofficial actors shaped and responded to the global politics of opium and, in different ways, worked to benefit from these developments.

With a focus on Mozambique and, especially, South Africa, I demonstrate how the changing global politics of drug supply and suppression influenced local colonial social and political processes.

I also show how these histories influenced events worldwide, including the first efforts to use the League of Nations to control the international cannabis trade.

Opium cultivation in Mozambique

In July 1877 an unpleasant surprise greeted British Imperial consul, Captain James Frederick Elton, as he led an expedition through the Zambezi valley in Mozambique. An agricultural experiment was underway, and it seemed to be thriving. The enterprise was Portuguese; the crop was opium.

This was a problem for him because there was open contestation between European countries hungry to colonise the continent. Elton recognised that active farming in this region was bad news for British interests and claim-making.

Read the original article.