History of Africa

Berlin Conference

The Berlin Conference , proposed by the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), was a meeting between countries to divide the African continent.

The imperialist nations of the 19th century were present:United States, Russia, Great Britain, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, German Empire, Sweden, Norway, Austro-Hungarian Empire and Turkish-Ottoman Empire.

Note that some participating countries did not have colonies in Africa, such as the German Empire, the Ottoman Turkish Empire and the United States. However, each of them had an interest in obtaining a piece of African territory or securing trade treaties.

Causes of the Berlin Conference

The Berlin Conference was held between November 1884 and February 1885 in Germany. Chaired by Chancellor of the German Empire Otto von Bismarck, the event lasted three months and all negotiations were secret, as was customary in those times.

Officially, the meeting would serve to guarantee free movement and trade in the Congo basin and the Niger River; and the commitment to fight for the end of slavery on the continent.

However, the idea was to resolve conflicts that were emerging between some countries over African possessions and amicably divide the conquered territories between the world powers.

All were interested in acquiring most of the territories, as Africa is a continent rich in raw materials.

Although the objectives were achieved, the Berlin Conference generated several frictions between the participating countries. Let's take a look at some of them:


King Leopold II chose for himself an isolated and difficult-to-reach territory in the center of the continent. His intention was to own a colony like his European counterparts, to inscribe Belgium as an imperialist nation, like England and France.

In this way, the Belgian Congo bordered several colonies of other nations and this would generate conflicts in the future.

France vs England

France competed with England for colonial supremacy in both Africa and Asia. As a result, both nations strove to drive their stakes into as much territory as possible on the African continent.

England relied on its powerful naval fleet, the largest at the time, to pressure and influence the results of the negotiations.

For its part, France negotiated treaties with tribal chiefs throughout the 19th century and used this argument to secure territories on the African continent.

This technique was used by all the nations that occupied Africa. Europeans allied with certain tribes and helped them fight their enemies by promoting wars.

See also:Imperialism in Africa

Consequences of the Berlin Conference

As a result, the African territory was divided among the countries participating in the Berlin Conference:

  • Great Britain :its colonies crossed the entire continent and occupied lands from the north with Egypt to the south with South Africa;
  • France :basically occupied North Africa, the west coast and islands in the Indian Ocean,
  • Portugal :kept its colonies like Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea, and the regions of Angola and Mozambique;
  • Spain :continued with its colonies in North Africa and on the West African coast;
  • Germany :gained territory on the Atlantic coast, present-day Cameroon and Namibia and on the Indian coast, Tanzania;
  • Italy :invaded Somalia and Erythea. Tried to settle in Ethiopia but was defeated;
  • Belgium :occupied the center of the continent, in the area corresponding to Congo and Rwanda.
See also:Imperialism and Colonialism

In turn, commercial freedom in the Congo basin and the Niger River was guaranteed; as well as the prohibition of slavery and human trafficking

The Berlin Conference was a diplomatic victory for Chancellor Bismarck. With the meeting, he demonstrated that the German Empire could no longer be ignored and was as important as the United Kingdom and France.

Likewise, it did not resolve the border disputes disputed by the imperialist powers in Africa and would lead to the First World War (1914-1918).

The conflict was fought between two major blocs:Germany, Austria and Italy (forming the Triple Alliance), and France, England and Russia (forming the Triple Entente).

As Africa was considered an extension of these European countries, the continent also found itself involved in the Great World War, with the natives integrating the national armies.

This new configuration of the African continent made by the world powers remained until the end of the Second World War (1939-1945). After this date, several independence movements broke out in several African countries.

Read more:

  • General Aspects of Africa
  • Countries of Africa
  • Pre-Colonial Africa
  • Decolonization of Africa

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