Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 was an international meeting of the European nations who met in the German city of Berlin to discuss the issue on how to get a sphere of influence over the whole of African continent.
Historically, it was obvious that since the beginning of the 19th century when the Atlantic slave trade was abolished and the emergence of industrial economy in Europe, the European nations have put effort on how to dominate Africa for the purpose of gaining direct access to the African natural resources as well as making Africa a market for their manufactured goods.
However, by 1870s, the European colonial interest in Africa began which brought about disagreement between the European nations over the issue of claiming different parts of Africa. But, the most important disagreement was that of the issue on whether River Niger and River Congo could be neutral and open to trade or not.
Therefore, between 1884 to 1885 the European nations of Great Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Sweden-Norway, Russia, Turkey, and the United States (an observer state), met in the German city of Berlin to discuss the issue of dividing Africa between them, in what we historically known as the Berlin Conference.
Until the year 1885, only 15% to 20% of the African continent was already captured and colonized by the European nations. And most of these European possessions in Africa was confined to the coastal areas. But, the European nations have sponsored a number of explorers and Christian missionaries in order to penetrate the interior of Africa and finds information regarding the geographical as well as the political system. Therefore, some of these explorers have even went further by claiming some parts of African country continent for their respective home governments.
By 1870, as the European powers have acquired a substantial information about Africa, they engaged themselves in a competition of building a colonial empires in Africa. For example, around 1880, King Leopold of Belgium have sponsored an expedition under the British born explorer H.M. Stanley to go to the Congo and establish the Congo Free State as colony of Belgium.
European struggling over the issue of possessing Africa necessitated the needs for a formal meeting in order to discuss their differences and interest on Africa through a peaceful means. Thus, on the request of Portugal, the German Chancellor Otto Von Bismark invited 14 European nations with interest in Africa to the conference in the city of Berlin.
Between 15 November 1884 to 30 January 1885, twelve European nations with United States as an observer have convened in the German city of Berlin and discussed the issue of dividing Africa between them. Among these nations, Great Britain, Portugal, France, and Germany were the organizers and leaders of the Conference.
In the Conference, an act called the ‘Berlin Act’ was signed between these European nations. Under the agreement, the signatories agreed on terms and conditions as follows :
- Any nation which find and wanted to claim a territory in Africa, should notify the other signatories in order to avoid double claim
- Any nation who claim a territory in Africa, should effectively occupied the claimed area before it became officially valid
- Also, the agreement maintained that the Congo and Niger Rivers should be free for navigation and trade for every nation among the signatories
After the Berlin Conference, the European nations began a rush of claiming different parts of Africa as their colonies. By 1914, about 90% of the African continent had been under the domination of the Europeans imperialists.
The Berlin Conference was very significant to the Europeans, because their differences regarding the issue of possessing Africa have almost been settled during the Conference.
Therefore, in a nutshell, the Berlin Conference was a gateway for Europeans in colonizing Africa.