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Sat, 11.15.1884

The Berlin Conference Convenes

*On this date in 1884, The Berlin Conference convened.  It marked the high point of white European competition for African territory, a process commonly known as the Scramble for Africa.

After America's Emancipation from African slavery and its Reconstruction era came a period of white-European dissonance.  During the 1870s and early 1880s, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Germany began looking to Africa for natural resources for their growing industrial sectors and a potential market for the goods these factories produced.

As a result, these governments sought to protect their commercial interests in Africa and sent emissaries to the continent to secure treaties from indigenous peoples or their supposed representatives. Similarly, Belgium’s King Leopold II, who aspired to increase his wealth by acquiring African territory, hired agents to lay claim to vast tracts of land in central Africa.

To protect Germany’s commercial interests, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who thou uninterested in Africa, felt compelled to stake claims to African land.  Inevitably, the scramble for territory led to conflict among European powers, particularly between the British and French in West Africa; Egypt, the Portuguese, and British in East Africa; and the French and King Leopold II in central Africa.

Competition between Great Britain and France led Bismarck to intervene, and in late 1884 he called a meeting of European powers in Berlin. In the following meetings, Great Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, and King Leopold II negotiated their claims to African territory, which were then formalized and mapped. During the conference, the leaders agreed to allow free trade among the colonies and established a framework for negotiating future European claims in Africa. Neither the Berlin Conference nor the framework for future negotiations provided any say for the peoples of Africa over the partitioning of their homelands.

The Berlin Conference legitimately formalize the white European colonization process. In addition, it sparked a new interest in Africa. Following the close of the conference, European powers expanded their claims in Africa such that by 1900, Europe claimed nearly 90 percent of African land.


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