The Berlin Conference – How Africa’s Lands And Minerals Were Stolen

Berlin conference
Berlin conference

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


  1. It is cowardly and disingenuine to use the word ‘lost’ in the title as if there was a legal dispute. This was International terrorism, Crimes against humanity, Genocidal. Nothing was lost everything was stolen while the blood from the people flowed. No real integrity for this editor.

  2. Thank you for your point of view William. Truth is that we are trying to tell the African story. If you read the article, you will find that we are on the side of the people. Using the word lost might not fully express your anger, but we are certain that the content of this article teaches many of our brethren how we came to be dispossessed of our properties.

    Once again, thank you for your comment.

  3. They suck the copper from the land but don’t you dare talk about adding copper piping to any African home.

  4. Thanks for your article, telling the African story through your eyes .
    But we we didn’t lost our right, it was! and has been stolen from us ( you dont lose your rights like a jewelry), And the african people are again
    manipulated time after and time. This time it is psychic slavery we are fighting with….

  5. What is happening currenrly in South Africa is to reinvent the same wheel in as far as land expropriation is concerned

  6. You can see the slant on the issue by the author….I ask where it Africa be without any intervention, any better off? I doubt it!

  7. It still hurts me if this conference was the reason why africa have being seperated into various regions and states just for someones exploitation. From that moment up till now, we totally lost focus as people. Today our puppet leaders are now the servants for the west, greed and fear of being killed or overthrown has really made us mentally retarded and enslave to these colonial masters. For france, i dont know whether they even have sympathy or conscience for humanity.. but i still believe it shall surely be well just because of how the speed at which young individuals are waking up to the truth and knowing their identity of origin and history will surely liberate this continent.. i still believe in KWAME NKRUMAH’S IDEOLOGIES

  8. Pal I don’t understand your question but I’m hopin it does not insinuate Africa would be worse off had colonisation not occurred. If so I’m quite disgusted and I’d say should this be the case I hope you are not African because if you were then I’d have to ask if you worship the God of our slave masters. Or White Jesus as one would put it. If so you need to bleach your skin. In short I’m disgusted with any African who thinks the Whiteman benefitted us whatsoever and these type of Africans who are in a state of brainwash are not helping Africa or Africans at all.

  9. This why Chinua Achebe put it in simple terms dat dey put a sword amongst us and we have fallen apart. There are those brethren who are so happy and satisfied to have a slave master rule over dem. Dey claim Africa wd be no better without whites. Dis is disgusting, same as an abused woman who thinks if she make noise abt it da abuser wl cut ties n she wl suffer together with her kids. Surely with ideologists lyk Kwame Nkrumah, Mwalimu Nyerere, Thomas Sankara, Lumumba and many more, what cud stop Africa from being self sustaining? Africa deemed da richest land in form of resources, it only takes sound management to make it a paradise. All da guns killing Africans all over da continent have da “Fabrique tag” on dem, not African. Why do da whites not experiment a simple call, let dem leave us alone n let’s see hw things wl penout.. Africa is for Africans those at home and those abroad. No offense we can always trade with dem lyk any atha countries

  10. One thing is clear- slave trade never stopped: it only took a different format!
    Too much money was being made to just let it all end. The attitudes were never dropped; we still see this even in 2019 where some believe they are better than the African because of the colour of their skin or because they speak with a different accent (as if that even counts!)
    Africa would have been better of without welcoming some of these infiltrators.

  11. Zheds some important lighy on the history of the African.. How we come come to be in this miserable state… Tha k you for taking time to share.

  12. It’s so so sad that those laws that were created to rule and control Africans they still exist. Our people are still being charged under apartheid laws look at the case of CiC Sello Julius Malema his being charged by same colonial laws for telling the people to occupy the South African land. Thank you for telling our painful story

  13. […] You don’t see any revolution, and that is because the African youths don’t know any better. They don’t have a strong awareness of our political history. They don’t have a strong awareness of our social history. They don’t know that they are a gifted race. Many of the youth don’t even know why Africa was demarcated. Millions have never heard of the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. […]

  14. Thank you author for this interesting read. It reinforces what Professor Lumumba, the Kenyan intellectual has been narrating.
    In my view, African problems are Spiritual problems. Remember there are invisible forces which controls nations, whether good or evil.
    They may look simple but are complicated.
    Now, the jury is still out…..When will Africa do something about all this before it’s too late.

    Aka Knowledge is power!

  15. […] You don’t see any revolution, and that is because the African youths don’t know any better. They don’t have a strong awareness of our political history. They don’t have a strong awareness of our social history. They don’t know that they are a gifted race. Many of the youth don’t even know why Africa was demarcated. Millions have never heard of the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. […]


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