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by on November 15, 2021

On November 15, 1884 “an international conference was opened by the chancellor of the newly-created German Empire at his official residence on Wilhelmstrasse, in Berlin,” Patrick Gathara tells us. The purpose of the conference was to determine the future of Africa.

The West Africa Conference began on November 15, 1884. Gathered in Berlin, capitol of the newly-created German Empire, the conference lasted 104 days, Patrick Gathara tells us in “Berlin 1884: Remembering the conference that divided Africa.”

The Conference (also referred to as the Berlin Conference) “established the rules for the conquest and partition of Africa, in the process legitimising the ideas of Africa as a playground for outsiders, its mineral wealth as a resource for the outside world not for Africans and its fate as a matter not to be left to Africans.”

Monty Python | GIFGlobe
Image from Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life”

The Powers at the Conference – which included the United States but refused to include African nations – stated that they had three goals:

that of the commercial and industrial nations, which a common necessity compels to the research of new outlets. That of the States and of the Powers summoned to exercise over the regions of the Congo an authority which will have burdens corresponding to their rights. And, lastly, that which some generous voices have already commended to your solicitude – the interests of the native populations.

The Conference “resolutely refused to consider the question of sovereignty, and the legitimacy of laying claim to someone else’s land and resources,” Gathara informs us.

I would suggest that the Conference was continuation of, and an expansion of, “The Great Game” between European powers. European states had long only had “influence on the coast,” in Gathara’s words. Following the Conference, he says, “they started grabbing chunks of land inland, ultimately creating a hodgepodge of geometric boundaries that was superimposed over indigenous cultures and regions of Africa.

The Conference has been described as ‘Diplomatic in form, it was economic in fact.’ Although it was “dressed up as a humanitarian summit to look at the welfare of locals, its agenda was almost purely economic.” A newspaper in Africa a few years after the Conference said it was just replacing the theft of African people as slaves with the theft of African resources and land. As I wrote in Never-ending Profit-Making “the capitalist is always looking to expand his capital and he looks to do this through the labor of other people, who works under the capitalist and who has no claim to the product of their labor under this system.”

“Today,” Gathara wrote on 2019, “Africa is still seen primarily as a source for raw materials for the outside world and an arena for them to compete over. Conferences about the continent are rarely held on the continent itself and rarely care about the views of ordinary Africans.” Ethnicity and tribalism continue to be the bane of African politics, he tells us, despite the achievement of “independence” of most African nations by the 1960’s.

Africa was not the first or last area partitioned between European powers without their consent and against their will. The Americas – all 35 countries that are part of the OAS – are still trying to come to terms with a colonial past. In 1915, 1916, and 1917 Britain, France and Russia made conflicting promises that still reverberate to Arabs in what is now Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Syria, while at the same time the European states negotiated among themselves how to partition these lands. Thirty years later, the United Nations decided – against the interest of the indigenous people of what is now Israel – that the land should be partitioned.

The Berlin Conference that begin in 1884 was just part of a pattern by European powers – plus the United States – to make statements about humanitarian efforts while grabbing chunks of land in an endless search for raw materials.

One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on The Dole Blog and commented:

    The attitudes of policy-makers (often elected) still have the same attitudes toward resources and people that lead to mad-made disasters like these.
    Policy decisions have effects on people that often last a long time.

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