How Did The Berlin Conference Affect Africa

How did the Berlin Conference of 1884 shape the subsequent colonization of Africa?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Berlin Conference of 1884 to 1885 affected the subsequent colonization of Africa in three main ways.  It decided which European power would control which area of Africa; it ensured that the “scramble” would be accomplished without any major conflicts between European powers; and it created new countries that had no basis in African political and cultural boundaries.

Before the conference, Europeans had only colonized relatively small portions of coastal Africa.  By the time of the conference, though, they were wanting to take more of the continent as industrialization increased the need for raw materials and as national competition made them all desire the prestige that large empires would bring.  This ensured that there would be a “scramble” for Africa.  Without the Berlin Conference, it is possible that the scramble would have involved wars between European states as they jockeyed for territory.  Instead, the conference settled the issue of who would get what in a peaceful way.  This shaped the ensuing colonization by making it peaceful (from an intra-European standpoint) and by determining which European country would get which area of Africa.

More importantly for Africa, the conference split the continent up between the European powers with little regard for African political and cultural boundaries.  The Europeans simply drew lines on maps without considering the human geography of the continent.  This meant that coherent groups of people got split between new countries.  It also meant that groups that did not get along got lumped together in a single new country.  Both of these factors shaped the ensuing colonization.  They ensured that the new political boundaries of Africa would be rather unstable and that there would be little national feeling among the African inhabitants of those countries.

beardian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Berlin Conference 1884-1885 was one of the defining moments of African history for a number of reasons, the most important being that it changed (for the worse) political boundaries of Africa.

Before the Berlin Conference, European countries were already setting up colonies abroad.  The seven European countries with imperial colonies in Africa were the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.  The UK and France had the most territory, but (arguably) Belgium treated its colony the worst. 

Once these European colonies started to expand their territory, they ran into border issues...where does one colony begin, and another end? This problem led to the Berlin Conference in 1884, where European countries met to discuss political boundaries in the African continent.  Important things to understand: No Africans were invited and the Europeans divided up Africa based on the land they wanted, not based on pre-existing cultural or religious divisions.  This would later have big implications on warfare in modern Africa, from the ethnic conflicts in Rwanda, the Darfur region in Sudan, the creation of South Sudan in 2011, to the religious conflicts that still plague countries like Nigeria and the Central African Republic today.

So, directly, how did the Berlin Conference shape subsequent colonization of Africa?  It created political boundaries in Africa according to European colonial desires and neglected to take into account African ethnicity or religious groups.  These colonies were run by Europeans until African countries starting gaining their independence, but the political boundaries (for the most part) remained similar to the boundaries outlines by the Berlin Conference.  

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