How does Africa begin to recover from the unfavorable decisions made at the Berlin conference? After 134years, the effects still linger. The Berlin conference of 1884-1885 still holds much blame for how Africa lost her rights to lands, natural/human resources, and power to choose the direction of their individual states.
This is one question that I often ask myself when I ponder on Africa’s problems and its origin. This question is also one which bothers any African who is conscious of our past and present.
In the beginning of the 17th century, Africa was still intact and still had a few trading posts with the European merchants. The quest for ivory led some of the Europeans inland. And this interaction with the interiors of Africa exposed the numerous natural/mineral resources scattered over the continent.
The Berlin conference was triggered by a clash of interests between some of the European powers at that time. King Leopold II of Belgium, between 1878 and 1885 secretly sort to organize a nation in Africa. It was to be called the ‘Congo Free State.’ His plot was discovered by France, and in 1881, France raised its flag over newly founded Brazzaville, which is currently the Republic of Congo. Portugal also laid claim to the Congo area, citing that the ‘Kongo’ was its old colony.
France, Italy, Germany, Britain and Portugal, from 1881, found themselves in a battle for control of various parts of Africa. Germany became aggressive and launched its own expeditions. The French and British became scared of the development. So, to ease the tensions, King Leopold II of Belgium convinced France and Germany that common trade in Africa would be good for their countries.
13 nations in Europe (including the United States) were invited by German Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck, to take part in the Berlin conference. The conference was of Portuguese initiative and supported by Britain. The European nations were invited to work out a joint policy on the African continent. All who mattered was informed of this conference, but Africa was not. We whose lands were to be divided, did not get an invite to state our opinion on the matter.
The conference opened on November 15, 1884 and closed on 26 February 1885. The following nations were in attendance: Australia-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Ottoman Empire (Now Turkey), Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway, United Kingdom and United States. It is important to note that the United States reserved the rights to accept or decline the conclusions of the conference.
The conference, although it lacked moral grounds, was upheld by these European powers. They made certain resolutions without much concern to the effects on Africans. The resolutions, to date, are seen as unfair to Africa. The general act of the conference saw the abolishment of the slave trade. This move was to gain public acceptance for the resolutions of the conference. And of course, who would want to continue slavery when they had discovered resources such as gold, timber, rubber, land, and markets, to mention but a few.
After millions of African slaves had been taken to build Europe and America, it was then time for Europe to shift its interests to the mineral resources beneath the African soil.
To reinforce their claim to African lands and property, the Berlin conference empowered Europe with the “Principle of Effective Occupation.” The principle stated that the nations involved could acquire rights over indigenous lands only if they possessed them or had “effective occupation.” This implied that they had to have treaties with local leaders, flew their flag there, and also establish an administration in the territory to govern it with a police force to keep order. They could also make use of the colony for economic purposes.
Since after the Berlin conference and the sharing of Africa, not one African state is progressive. Not one has been allowed by the colonizers to reach its full potential. The former colonies of France still pay colonial tax to France, without their indigenous central banks. While the former colonies of Britain, such as Nigeria has been manipulated politically, because of its crude oil among other resources.
Till date, there are mines all over Africa overseen by European companies and governments. The proceeds from these mines do not return to the ordinary people in Africa. Instead, it is shared between the corrupt leaders and their foreign counterparts. Africa’s abundant minerals are still an attraction for the powers that conferred the Berlin conference, decades after independence.
One would be bold to argue that “if African kings and leaders were invited to take part in the Berlin conference, maybe things would have turned out better or different for the continent.”
It is, however, most unfortunate, that the richest region in mineral resources, still remains the most underdeveloped of all in the world. Many would blame the problem on bad leadership, but some others would tell you that the resolutions of the Berlin conference are still in effect. And colonization only took a different route.
Article Written By Chuka Nduneseokwu