THE SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA: "The Berlin Conference" of 1884-1885 to Divide Africa Meeting at the Berlin residence of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in 1884


The foreign ministers of fourteen European powers and the United States established ground rules for the future exploitation of the "dark continent." Africans were not invited or made privy to their decisions.
Africa into spheres of control
In the second half of the nineteenth century, after more than four centuries of contact, the European powers finally laid claim to virtually all of Africa. Parts of the continent had been "explored," but now representatives of European governments and rulers arrived to create or expand African spheres of influence for their patrons. Competition was intense. Spheres of influence began to crowd each other. It was time for negotiation, and in late 1884 a conference was convened in Berlin to sort things out. This conference laid the groundwork for the now familiar politico-geographical map of Africa.
In November 1884, the imperial chancellor and architect of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck, convened a conference of 14 states (including the United States) to settle the political partitioning of Africa. Bismarck wanted not only to expand German spheres of influence in Africa but also to play off Germany's colonial rivals against one another to the Germans' advantage. Of these fourteen 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 was Africa's undoing in more ways than one. The colonial powers superimposed their domains on the African Continent. By the time Africa regained its independence after the late 1950s, the realm had acquired a legacy of political fragmentation that could neither be eliminated nor made to operate satisfactorily. The African politico-geographical map is thus a permanent liability that resulted from the three months of ignorant, greedy acquisitiveness during a period when Europe's search for minerals and markets had become insatiable.
The French dominated most of West Africa, and the British East and Southern Africa. The Belgians acquired the vast territory that became The Congo. The Germans held four colonies, one in each of the realm's regions. The Portuguese held a small colony in West Africa and two large ones in Southern Africa.
After colonial rule was firmly established in Africa, the only change in possessions came after World War I. Germany's four colonies were placed under the League of Nations, which established a mandate system for other colonizers to administer the territories.
The Congo Free State, conceived as a "neutral" zone to be run by an international association in the interest of bringing science, civilization, and Christianity to the indigenes, received the Berlin Conference's blessings. Belgium's King Leopold II soon took control, reaping fabulous personal profits through the sale of land and development rights. Scandalously little was reinvested in schools.
BBC news site:
Belgium's King Leopard II who exploited Congo's resources and contributed to up to 10 million deaths. One man told the BBC: "He left us in poverty. He exploited our raw materials and left us with nothing."
Result of Colonization:
The European colonial powers shared one objective in their African colonies; exploitation. But in the way they governed their dependencies, they reflected their differences. Some colonial powers were themselves democracies (the United Kingdom and France); others were dictatorships (Portugal, Spain). The British established a system of indirect rule over much of their domain, leaving indigenous power structure in place and making local rulers representatives of the British Crown. This was unthinkable in the Portuguese colonies, where harsh, direct control was the rule. The French sought to create culturally assimilated elites what would represent French ideals in the colonies. In the Belgian Congo, however, King Leopold II, who had financed the expeditions that staked Belgium's claim in Berlin, embarked on a campaign of ruthless exploitation. His enforcers mobilized almost the entire Congolese populations to gather rubber, kill elephants for their ivory, and build public works to improve export routes. For failing to meet production quotes, entire communities were massacred. Killing and maiming became routine in a colony in which horror was the only common denominator. After the impact of the slave trade, King Leopold's reign of terror was Africa's most severe demographic disaster. By the time it ended, after a growing outcry around the world, as many as 10 million Congolese had been murdered. In 1908 the Belgium government administrators, and the Roman Catholic Church each pursued their sometimes competing interest. But no one thought to change the name of the colonial capital: it was Leopoldville until the Belgian Congo achieved independence in 1960.
George Washington Williams - American soldier, minister, politician and historian. Shortly before his death he travelled to King Leopold II's Congo Free State and his open letter to Leopold about the suffering of the region's inhabitants at the hands of Leopold's agents, helped to sway European and American public opinion against the regime running the Congo, under which some 10 million people lost their lives.
George Washington Williams's Open Letter to King Leopold on the Congo, 1890.
In this letter, he condemned the brutal and inhuman treatment the Congolese were suffering at the hands of the colonizers. He mentioned the role played by Henry M. Stanley, sent to the Congo by the King, in tricking and mistreating the Africans. Williams reminded the King that the crimes committed were all committed in his name, making him as guilty as the actual culprits. He appealed to the international community of the day to “call and create an International Commission to investigate the charges herein preferred in the name of Humanity ...” His charges and the reaction to them were discussed in the book, King Leopold's Ghost.
King Makoko and Queen
French explorer named Savorgnan de Brazza. Nominally employed by the French government, he undertook an expedition up the Ogoue River in the 1870’s. Along his journey, de Brazza concluded a series of treaties with an African chief known as Makoko. These treaties ceded large tracts of land to de Brazza, as a representative of France; yet they were vague and highly irregular, and the government decided to ignore them. However, in 1882, as a result of the Egypt crisis, the government of France reversed itself and publicly recognized the Makoko treaties as valid, thereby claiming a considerable amount of territory in Central Africa. It wasn’t so much that the French government wanted to get back at Britain, but rather the French public, resenting the losses their country suffered to Germany and angered by the weak role France had played in Egypt, was particularly susceptible to the press campaign that de Brazza, members of the government and other interested parties waged in support of the treaties.

(c)ye of the past

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