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When: Every day 10am & 12pm every day
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The Scramble for Africa: Unraveling the Intricacies of the Berlin Conference

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Original Berlin

When the topic of colonialism arises, one event that often comes to mind is the Berlin Conference. Held from November 1884 to February 1885, this pivotal event in history impacted the African continent in profound ways. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of the Berlin Conference, exploring its historical context, key participants, motives, and consequences. Join us on this journey to uncover the events that shaped Africa’s destiny.

The Historical Context

To understand the significance of the Berlin Conference, we must first acknowledge the historical context of the time. By the 19th century, European powers had developed a hunger for overseas territories and resources. Africa, with its abundant wealth of raw materials, became a key target for colonization.

Prior to the conference, European powers had already embarked on a race to claim African territories. The British, French, Portuguese, and others had established footholds on the continent, vying for control and influence. This unregulated scramble threatened to ignite conflicts between European powers, leading to the need for a diplomatic resolution.

The Berlin Conference: Key Participants

The Berlin Conference was convened by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who sought to establish guidelines for European powers regarding African colonization. It was attended by representatives from 14 countries, including major players such as Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, and Belgium.

The absence of African representation at the Berlin Conference is significant. The fate of the African continent was decided by European powers without consideration for the desires and interests of the African people. This colonialist mindset contributed to the exploitation and subjugation of African nations for years to come.

Motives of the European Powers

The motivations behind the European powers’ interest in Africa were multifaceted. Economic interests played a significant role. Africa’s vast resources, including rubber, diamonds, gold, and ivory, presented lucrative opportunities for European industries and individuals. The desire for trade routes, new markets, and raw materials fueled the imperialistic ambitions of these powers.

Additionally, the European powers believed in the concept of “civilizing” Africa, viewing themselves as superior and obligated to bring progress and Christianity to the “dark continent.” This ethnocentric mindset led to the justification of colonization as a mission of enlightenment and a duty to uplift the supposedly inferior African societies.

Decisions and Consequences

During the Berlin Conference, several key decisions were made that had far-reaching consequences for Africa. The principle of effective occupation was established, stating that control of territory required active administrative presence. This criterion allowed European powers to claim vast territories in Africa merely by stationing a few officials or soldiers in the region.

The arbitrary drawing of borders was another outcome of the conference. Existing African tribal boundaries, cultural affiliations, and economic systems were disregarded, resulting in strange geometric divisions that ignored the complexities of African societies. This division laid the groundwork for conflicts and tension in the post-colonial era.

Furthermore, the Berlin Conference failed to consider the cultural, linguistic, and historical context of Africa, leading to the erosion of indigenous customs, languages, and institutions. African societies were subjected to forced labor, exploitation, and cultural suppression as European powers exerted their control.


The Berlin Conference marked a turning point in the history of Africa. By dissecting its historical context, key participants, motives, and consequences, we gain a deeper understanding of the event’s impact on the continent. The decisions made during the conference would shape Africa’s future, leading to decades of colonial oppression and struggles for independence.

As we reflect on the Berlin Conference, it is crucial to recognize the immense suffering and lasting legacies that colonialism has left in its wake. By acknowledging this dark past, we can strive for a world that values the self-determination and dignity of all nations, regardless of their historical experiences.

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.


  • 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