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...
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.