The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 signaled the beginning of the partition of Africa. It was the reason why most of Africa’s borders are the way they are today.
The Conference was called by the German Chancellor Bismarck, to decide how European countries would lay claim to colonial lands in Africa and also to avoid a war among European nations over African territories. All the major European Countries got invitations to the conference.
States like Germany, France, Great Britain, Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, and Spain were all viewed to have a future role in the imperial partition of Africa. Because of its interest in Liberia, the United States was invited to the conference but the country did not attend because it had no desire to build a colonial empire in Africa.
Austria–Hungary, Sweden–Norway, Denmark, Italy, Turkey, and Russia were also invited. They were all considered minor players in the quest for colonizing Africa, although Italy would later claim some colonial possessions in Northeast Africa.
It is worthy of note that there were no Africans present at this conference, neither did any European make any provision for native Africans to have any say in the proceedings.
The aim of this conference was to ensure that each European country bring civilization, in the form of Christianity, and trade to each region that it would occupy. Also, a country’s claim of territory was only valid if it informed the other European powers and established some occupying force on the ground.
Few military outposts on the coast and interior waterways with little to no actual settlement were the occupying force. Certain lands were obtained by having the indigenous African rulers sign an “x” to a general agreement for protection by a European power. Since most of these rulers could read, write or understand European languages, they had no idea about what they were signing.
The conference only focused on territories yet to be acquired in Africa. This implied that the land in the interior of Africa, where little was known about, was the land area available. Various European countries had already claimed most of the coastal lands in Southern Africa and Africa north of the Sahara.
Prior to this conference, only a few Europeans had set foot into the interior of sub-Saharan Africa. In spite of the resolutions at the conference, there was still little exploration into the interior of Africa beyond gaining initial treaties after the Berlin conference. Only a few missionaries followed rivers inland to find Christian converts while most Europeans continued to stay in the coastal regions.
However, by 1900, more Europeans began moving into the African interior and started extracting raw materials such as rubber, palm oil, gold, copper, and diamonds. The European economy depended heavily on these natural resources making Africa a vital source of resources.
While European nations controlled most of these African colonies, the Berlin Conference allowed King Leopold II of Belgium to become the sole owner of the vast central Africa area that is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The other European powers gave this area to Leopold with the intent that the area will be a place of Free Trade for all Europeans in Africa. Leopold accepted this directive, as well as the condition of bringing Christian missionaries to the interior of this area.
However, in practice, he kept out most other European traders as he granted concessions to various corporations to exploit the region’s resources. It was revealed in 1908 that under King Leopold’s instructions the indigenous people of the Congo were forced to farm wild rubber as a form of tax payment to the colonial government.
The ones who were unable to reach their rubber quota often had their arms or feet chopped off, or they were killed by Leopold’s agents. King Leopold was stripped of his colony once news of these abuses was brought to the public light. The Belgian government continued to rule the vast Congo region until it became independent in 1960.
About 90% of Africa had been divided between seven European countries by 1914. It was only Liberia and Ethiopia that remained as independent nations. Europeans at the Berlin conference drew up boundaries that still remain today with little regard to historic ethnic or political boundaries established by the Africans themselves and natural landmarks.
Conflict continues to be generated in Africa because of the disregard of these boundaries, most of which were retained after independence.
Ghana was the first African country to emerge from colonial rule after gaining its independence in 1957. All of the former colonies had gained independence by the year 2000.
To this day, African nations have maintained the boundaries set by the occupying forces of Europe, and continue to be tied, annoyingly to the European nations, who used the word “colonization” to Waterdown their “barbaric terrorism” in Africa.
These demarcations, boundaries, nations, and states, have caused wars, genocides, and nepotism, in nations where there is more than one ethnic nationality. Prejudice and nepotism often take hold of the real national discourse, and one region often uses military, and political might to suppress the other.
Africans must now begin the gradual step of removing the European enforced boundaries and creating new and progressive states, on the basis of cultural, religious, social, and political identity. States like Biafra, which is demanding independence from the Fulani-run Nigeria, should be given a listening ear by their neighbors and be allowed to define their own destinies and create a progressive state.