The Scramble for Africa: 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.
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.
1884-1885 - Berlin West African Conference carves 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 (far left) soon took control, reaping fabulous personal profits through the sale of land and development rights. Scandalously little was reinvested in schools like the one shown here.
BBC news site:
A man 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."
Hochschild's superb, engrossing chronicle focuses on one of the great, horrifying and nearly forgotten crimes of the century: greedy Belgian King Leopold II's rape of the Congo, the vast colony he seized as his private fiefdom in 1885. Until 1909, he used his mercenary army to force slaves into mines and rubber plantations, burn villages, mete out sadistic punishments, including dismemberment, and commit mass murder. The hero of Hochschild's highly personal, even gossipy narrative is Liverpool shipping agent Edmund Morel, who, having stumbled on evidence of Leopold's atrocities, became an investigative journalist and launched an international Congo reform movement with support from Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington and Arthur Conan Doyle. Other pivotal figures include Joseph Conrad, whose disgust with Leopold's "civilizing mission" led to Heart of Darkness; and black American journalist George Washington Williams, who wrote the first systematic indictment of Leopold's colonial regime in 1890. Hochschild (The Unquiet Ghost) documents the machinations of Leopold, who won over President Chester A. Arthur and bribed a U.S. senator to derail Congo protest resolutions. He also draws provocative parallels between Leopold's predatory one-man rule and the strongarm tactics of Mobuto Sese Seko, who ruled the successor state of Zaire. But most of all it is a story of the bestiality of one challenged by the heroism of many in an increasingly democratic world. 30 illustrations.
About the Author:
Adam Horchschild teaches writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California Berkeley and in 1997-98 was a Fulbright Lecturer in India. He lives in San Francisco.
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 (Chamberlain 53).
King Makoko of the Teke says he and his ancestors have not benefited enough from a contract they signed in 1880 with the French explorer, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, and which ceded the Teke kingdom to France. (Full article at BBC News)
The Scramble for Africa: White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876-1912
In scarcely half a generation during the late 1800s, six European powers sliced up Africa like a cake. The pieces went to Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Belgium; among them, they acquired 30 new colonies and 110 million subjects. Although African rulers resisted, many battles were one-sided massacres. In 1904 the Hereros, a tribe of southwest southwest, if not a country name Africa, revolted against German rule. Their punishment was genocide--24,000 driven into the desert to starve; those who surrendered were sent to forced labor camps to be worked to death. In a dramatic, gripping chronicle, Pakenham ( The Boer War ) floodlights the "dark continent" and its systematic rape by Europe. At center stage are a motley band of explorers, politicians, evangelists, mercenaries, journalists and tycoons blinded by romantic nationalism or caught up in the scramble for loot, markets and slaves. In an epilogue Pakenham tells how the former colonial powers still dominate the economies of the African nations, most of which are under one-party or dictatorial rule.
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.
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.