Explain the purpose and results of the Berlin Conference.

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mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 was held to ease tensions in Europe over colonial claims in Africa. The conference was chaired by the first chancellor of Germany, Otto Von Bismark. The conference opened the door for the full-scale colonization of Africa by European countries. A major issue between European countries, the navigation of the Niger and Congo Rivers, was resolved by the meeting. The meeting also established rules for claiming lands in Africa, namely the presence of military and bureaucratic personnel in the areas that were claimed. A startling development of the conference was that King Leopold of Belgium had his personal claim over the Congo Free State recognized. His territory would evolve into a very large plantation in which he utilized the natives of the area as his personal slaves to enrich himself through the extraction of rubber.

Leopold's example in Congo is probably the most blatant example of abuse that resulted from the Berlin Conference. It was not an experience that was unique to Congo, however. Throughout the continent, Africans lost their ability to develop their own resources and forge their own destinies. National boundaries were arbitrarily drawn that did not respect tribal and ethnic differences. This would lead to political instability that still endures today. In fact, the exploitation of Africa's resources and labor that resulted from the Berlin Conference are legacies that have hampered the development of Africa in the 21st Century.

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