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

The Berlin Conference of 1884 shaped the subsequent colonization of Africa by establishing borders of European colonies on the continent, without war between the colonizers and without regard to Africa's existent political and cultural boundaries.

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The Berlin Conference of 1884, also known as the Congo Conference, represented the division of the continent of Africa by Great Powers of Europe. The newly ascendant Germany hosted what would turn out to be a protracted (the conference ran for over 100 days) affair of enormous long-term consequences. The...

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The Berlin Conference of 1884, also known as the Congo Conference, represented the division of the continent of Africa by Great Powers of Europe. The newly ascendant Germany hosted what would turn out to be a protracted (the conference ran for over 100 days) affair of enormous long-term consequences. The conference could also be seen as establishing an important precedent for the later post-World War I division of the Middle East between Great Britain and France.

The Berlin Conference was arranged so that the leaders of Europe’s powers could peaceably carve up Africa in furtherance of their respective global ambitions. These ambitions included the exploitation of Africa’s vast natural resources and the enhancement of each empire’s individual prestige.

At the conference, diplomats drew up borders for their colonies, most of which continue to exist today. The conference did not precipitate the colonization of Africa; that was already underway. It did, however, formalize and institutionalize the division of the continent so that conflicts between European powers over riches could be avoided. The need for such an effort at amicably (if that is the right word) dividing Africa amongst each other was precipitated by the intervention of King Leopold II of Belgium. His colonization of and rule of the Congo came to symbolize the rapacious scramble (the age at which the Berlin Conference took place was known informally as “the Scramble for Africa”) for African resources at the expense of all humanitarian considerations. King Leopold II's treatment of the colonial subjects also came to symbolize the long-term consequences for the welfare of millions of the continent’s residents.

The long-term consequences mention which was included above would involve untold suffering. The borders drawn up at the Berlin Conference were determined with no consideration of cultural or ethnic distinctions among Africa’s many tribes. As such, inclinations toward establishing communities or states along ethnic or tribal lines were ignored. Civil wars within the constructed borders were and are common and enormously destructive. Conflicts such as those in Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, and Nigeria have cost countless lives. British and Dutch conflicts in South Africa would not be resolved for many years, with the Boer Wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries creating even more destruction. They ultimately resulted in the establishment of apartheid rule in South Africa.

In short, the long-term consequences of the Berlin Conference of 1884 were mass exploitation of peoples and resources, the possibly permanent destruction of entire communities, and persistent geopolitical strife.

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The Berlin Conference affected Africa by declaring which nations would be allowed to colonize which regions of Africa. This was especially important as Europeans started to look for new sources of raw materials to feed their growing industrial economies. The Berlin Conference would lead to a "scramble" for Africa in which major European powers would colonize the continent without the threat of potentially going to war with each other over a territorial dispute.

For Africa, the Berlin Conference increased the level of European exploitation. France, Germany, Britain, and Belgium all sought to develop their respective claims and extract as much natural resources as possible. Europeans suppressed native religions and languages and forced native Africans to take on European ways. The Europeans did not allow for any African self-rule that served Africans.

While Europeans developed railroads on the continent, they did it in order to link European-controlled cities and major sources of raw materials. The Berlin Conference was important in that it demonstrated that Europe was willing to avoid going to war over disputes in Africa, but it was horrible for Africans in the sense that the continent would never again be untouched by the negative influences of imperialism and foreign exploitation.

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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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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.

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