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Explain the purpose and results of the Berlin Conference.

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Oralia Asher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 was held at the official residence of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who also chaired the event. Fourteen European nations participated in the conference, which is also remembered as the West Africa Conference.

The objective of the conference was to avoid strife among European nations that were beginning to lay claims over parts of Africa. It sought to regulate trade in Africa and divide the land among the European powers of the day. Hitherto, European interests had been confined to coastal Africa, with the inland areas escaping their attention. However, the growth of America and Japan along with the need for raw materials to feed their factories led France, England, Germany, Portugal, Italy and other nations to turn their attention to the rest of the continent.

The conference resulted in what is known as the “Scramble for Africa” or the “Rape of Africa”. By 1902, almost 90% of Africa had been colonized by Europe. Indigenous cultures were subsumed or entirely overrun by Christianity spread by missionaries. The European powers divided the land with little regard to the tribal and cultural affiliations of the people of Africa. Scholars contend that much of the strife in Africa from after World War One to date can be traced to the artificially created nations following the Berlin Conference.

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Deborah Sheldon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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