135 years ago, European leaders sat around a horseshoe-shaped table and concluded their plans to divide Africa.
Berlin Conference also called the Berlin West Africa Conference of 1884–1885 was a Meeting at which the major European powers negotiated and formalized claims to territory in Africa; The conference lasted 104 days, and ended on this day (26th) in February, 1885.
The three-month period saw colonial powers haggling over geometric boundaries in the interior of the African continent, disregarding the cultural and linguistic boundaries already established by the indigenous African population.
Fourteen countries were represented when the conference kicked-off in Berlin on November 15, 1884.
The countries represented at the time included Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814 to 1905), Turkey, and the United States of America. Of these 14 nations, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Portugal were the major players in the conference, controlling most of colonial Africa at the time.
The Berlin Conference can be best understood as the formalisation of the Scramble for Africa. A term used to describe the twenty-plus years when the various European powers explored, divided, conquered and began to exploit virtually the entire African continent.
The Berlin Conference was described by Harm de Blij in “Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts:”
“The Berlin Conference was Africa’s undoing in more ways than one. The colonial powers superimposed their domains on the African continent. By the time independence returned to Africa in 1950, the realm had acquired a legacy of political fragmentation that could neither be eliminated nor made to operate satisfactorily.”
Purpose of the Berlin Conference
In 1884, at the request of Portugal, German chancellor Otto von Bismark called together the major western powers of the world to negotiate and end confusion over the control of Africa.
At the time of the conference, 80 percent of Africa remained under traditional and local control. What resulted at the end of the conference was a combination of geometric boundaries that divided coherent groups of people and merged together contrasting groups who really did not get along into 50 artificial nations.
The conference lasted until February 26, 1885.
Aftermath of the Conference
The conference provided an opportunity to channel latent European hostilities towards one another outward; provide new areas for helping the European powers expand in the face of rising American, Russian and Japanese interests; and form constructive dialogue to limit future hostilities. In Africa, colonialism was introduced across nearly all the continent.
Major colonial holdings included:
Great Britain desired a Cape-to-Cairo collection of colonies and almost succeeded through their control of Egypt, Sudan (Anglo-Egyptian Sudan), Uganda, Kenya (British East Africa), South Africa, and Zambia, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), and Botswana. The British also controlled Nigeria and Ghana (Gold Coast).
- France took much of western Africa, from Mauritania to Chad (French West Africa), as well as Gabon and the Republic of Congo (French Equatorial Africa).
- Belgium and King Leopold II controlled the Democratic Republic of Congo (Belgian Congo).
- Portugal took Mozambique in the east and Angola in the west.
- Italy’s holdings were Somalia (Italian Somaliland) and a portion of Ethiopia.
- Germany took Namibia (German Southwest Africa) and Tanzania (German East Africa).
- Spain claimed the smallest territory, which was Equatorial Guinea (Rio Muni).
The Berlin international conference on Africa established the rules for how the world deals with the continent. Today, Africa is still seen primarily as a source for raw materials for Europe and now Asia
and an arena for them to compete over.
The Berlin Conference may have happened 135 years ago, but the destructive path laid out in the conference still reverberates across Africa to this day.
Sources: Wikipedia, Britannica, oxfordreference, aljazeera