The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 essentially formalized what became known as "The Scramble for Africa." This was the name given to the long-standing project of European colonial expansion in Africa. As the name suggests, the "Scramble for Africa" was a somewhat haphazard affair, often leading to petty territorial disputes which had the potential to develop into more serious incidents. So the Conference was convened by Bismarck to end the current confusion and divide the colonial spoils among the European powers on a formal legal basis backed by international treaties.
The Conference ended in the issuing of a General Act, which codified the principle of closer co-operation between the colonial powers. The most important provisions of the Act were the abolition of the slave trade throughout each power's respective sphere of influence and the maintaining of the Congo Free State as a place open to European investment. All of the various clauses of the Act were influenced by the principle of "Effective Occupation." Essentially this meant that European powers were only entitled to those territories which they already occupied politically and militarily. This was supposed to be a way of preventing future disputes; but as the provisions of the General Act referred only to those lands fronting the African coast, the precise division of colonial spoils continued to be a bone of contention up until the First World War.