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How did the Berlin Conference of 1884 affect Africa?

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The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 formally regulated European colonial efforts in the Scramble for Africa and basically overrode the autonomy and self-governance of African peoples. It divided up European ownership of territories on the continent and set up regulations for claiming territories that led to increased aggression in colonization. The policies established at the Berlin Conference continue to have a negative impact on Africa today.

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The Berlin Conference carved up Africa into spheres of influence. Without asking the indigenous people, Europeans gathered together to see who would control which piece of the continent. While this was done in order to ensure that no country would fight another one over a territorial dispute in Africa, it did not take into consideration the culture or the will of the people who lived there.

One of the lasting legacies of this conference is the languages spoken by each country in Africa. Countries such as Cameroon speak French largely due to being in the French sphere of influence while South Africa speaks English because Britain controlled that area.

Aside from language and customs, the Berlin Conference was largely negative for Africa. Europeans used their claims as an excuse to exploit the continent, taking raw materials and using natives for underpaid menial labor. Some countries sent Europeans to rule the native majorities while other countries backed natives who were friendly to European interests at the expense of natives. Infrastructure improvements were made in order to exploit raw materials and not to help the indigenous people of Africa. During WWI countries such as France and Britain used natives in order to fill their ranks even though the natives did not have any attachment to Europe.

The legacies of the Berlin Conference continue today as Africa remains largely poor and underdeveloped. The conference created territories that were drawn without respect to native cultures. This has led to disputed national boundaries in modern-day Africa and needless wars.

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The Berlin Conference essentially was the organized "Scramble for Africa." Areas of Africa were divided up among the European powers for settlement for political and economic purposes. The obvious impact that the Berlin Conference had was on the borders of the developed countries. Boundary lines were drawn up by the power countries, many still in effect today.

Another impact was the principle of "indirect rule." Countries such as Great Britain, Belgium, and France practiced indirect rule, which essentially stated that they had political power over the certain African territory. What happened was that these territories took on the economic, political, and cultural structure of the power country. Examples of this would be Great Britain with South Africa, Belgium with the Congo, and France with Algeria.

The negative impact of the Berlin Conference was the forced assimilation of ethnic groups that didn't necessarily get along. These arbitrary boundaries did not take into consideration the tribal elements of Africa. Many of these ethnic groups simply did not have the familiarity with one another. Moreover, it also split up groups that have lived together for centuries.

The overall idea of colonialism describes the Berlin Conference perfectly: countries thousands of miles away governing Africa. This resulted in the unrestricted seizure of African goods and, sadly, its people.

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During the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, the major European powers met in Berlin to decide the fate of European claims to Africa. The European powers had been involved in the so-called Scramble for Africa, and they wanted to best each other in claiming territories in the region and extracting Africa's natural resources. King Leopold II of Belgium had sent the explorer Henry Morton Stanley to the Congo to claim what was called the Congo Free State. This prompted other Europeans to desire land in the area.

At the conference, Germany, Portugal, King Leopold II of Belgium, and Great Britain negotiated until they had decided on their African territories. Portugal claimed the Congo estuary; however, the other European powers viewed rival claims to the area with great wariness, and they decided Portugal could not lay claim to this area. In addition, they declared the Congo River basin neutral and allowed all nations to carry out trade along the Congo and Niger Rivers. They also made slavery illegal in the area. The Congo Free State was essentially declared the personal property of Leopold II.  

African nations were left completely out of the process of carving up Africa. The conference sparked increased European interest in Africa, and, by 1900, 90% of Africa was claimed by Europeans. The principle of "effective occupation" established at the conference meant that European powers had to physically establish control over areas to claim them, so the Europeans began to use force, if necessary, in their quest to gain new territories. The Congo Free State became the site of hideous crimes as Leopold II deputized forces to seize rubber, ivory, and other materials by terrorizing and brutalizing the local people. 

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The main way in which the Berlin Conference of 1884-5 affected Africa was by chopping it up into areas that would be colonized by various European countries.  This had long-lasting effects on the continent.

Before the Berlin Conference, most of Africa was still in the hands of Africans.  Europeans had only colonized coastal areas.  However, this was changing.  At the conference, the European countries divided up essentially all of Africa.  They decided which European countries would get to own which parts of Africa.  This doomed the African continent to decades of colonization by European powers.

Colonization harmed Africa in two major ways.  First, colonial governments and economies were set up to help the Europeans, not the Africans.  The Europeans ran the colonial economies in ways that made money for the Europeans but did not enrich Africans and did not even train them to someday know how to do good jobs.  The colonial governments did not allow Africans to participate.  They did not really educate Africans.  This meant that when independence came, there were very few Africans with the education or the experience needed to set up their own modern governments.  These things helped make many African countries poor and chaotic after independence.

Secondly, the European governments simply divided Africa up however they wanted.  They did not take into account the human geography of Africa.  They divided up people of one ethnic group into different countries.  They made countries that had multiple ethnic groups, many of whom did not get along.  When these countries became independent, they ended up having ethnic conflicts, further weakening them.

The main effect of the Berlin Conference, then, was to colonize Africa, leading to many of the problems that the continent endures today.

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