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The Scramble for Africa: Examining the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Original Berlin

Introduction

In the late 19th century, European powers were competing for colonial territories around the world, particularly in Africa. One pivotal event that shaped the course of African history was the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. This conference was a gathering of European powers to discuss and regulate the colonization of Africa. In this article, we will delve into the background, purpose, and consequences of this historic event.

Background

At the time, Africa was a continent diverse in cultures, languages, and resources. European nations had already established some coastal trading posts and forts, but the interior remained largely untouched by external influence. As European interest in Africa grew, tensions arose between the major powers.

The Berlin Conference was initiated by Otto von Bismarck, the Chancellor of Germany, in an attempt to peacefully resolve disputes and prevent potential conflicts over African territories. Bismarck hoped that this conference would provide a platform for negotiation and consensus among European powers.

Purpose

The primary objective of the Berlin Conference was to establish guidelines for the partition of Africa. The European powers sought to outline the rules of engagement to prevent conflicts between themselves while disregarding the interests and wishes of the African people. The conference aimed to address the following key aspects:

1. Territorial Claims

One of the main goals was to define the territorial boundaries between European nations in Africa. The conference allowed European powers to assert their claims based on various factors, such as trade agreements, occupancy, and exploratory missions.

These boundaries, however, disregarded existing political, cultural, and linguistic divisions within Africa, leading to division and conflict among African communities.

2. Free Trade

During the conference, European participants also discussed the principles of free trade within Africa. They aimed to ensure open access to African markets and resources by prohibiting tariff barriers and other trade obstacles between their colonies.

While the notion of free trade appeared beneficial on the surface, it ultimately enabled European powers to exploit Africa’s resources for their own economic gain, often to the detriment of local communities.

3. Ending Slave Trade

Despite its exploitative nature, the Berlin Conference did make efforts to address the issue of slave trade in Africa. Several European powers agreed to work together to eradicate slavery and enforce anti-slavery measures across the continent.

However, this commitment was half-hearted, as colonial powers continued to exploit African labor through coerced labor systems and forced recruitment.

Consequences

The Berlin Conference had far-reaching consequences for both Africa and the European powers involved:

1. Colonial Partitioning

The conference effectively divided Africa into distinct colonial spheres of influence. European powers, primarily Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, and Italy, gained control over vast territories without the consent or consideration of African communities.

Colonial rule imposed new political structures, introduced foreign languages, and disrupted traditional African social systems. This led to long-lasting cultural, economic, and political consequences that still impact Africa today.

2. Exploitation of Resources

European colonial powers exploited Africa’s abundant natural resources, such as rubber, gold, diamonds, and ivory, to fuel their industrial revolutions. This exploitation caused immense environmental damage and led to economic disparities between Europe and Africa.

3. Rise of Nationalism

The Berlin Conference indirectly contributed to the rise of nationalism in Africa. As Africans became increasingly subjected to foreign rule and exploitation, resistance movements against colonial powers emerged, culminating in the struggle for independence in the 20th century.

Conclusion

The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 marked a turning point in European colonization of Africa. It formalized the process of partitioning the continent, setting the stage for decades of colonial rule and exploitation. The consequences of the conference still reverberate in Africa today, shaping its socio-political landscape. It is essential to understand this historical event to comprehend the complexities and struggles faced by African nations in the modern era.

Thank you for reading. If you're inspired by the stories of Berlin and want to delve deeper, why not join us on our Free Berlin Walking Tour? It's a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the city's rich history and vibrant culture. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

WHAT TO EXPECT

  • 3.5 hours walking tour
  • Berlin’s major highlights
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Reichstag and Berlin Wall
  • Historical sites

Free Walking Tour Berlin

When: Every day 10am & 12pm every day
Where: The meeting point is in front of the ehemaliges Kaiserliches Postfuhramt Berlin, Oranienburger Straße, 10117 Berlin, Germany, next to the entrance.
Price: Free