Tag Archives: Berlin Conference

Occupation: Claim Your African Cake

Berlin Conference

Berlin Conference

In their scramble for Africa, the dominant European powers of the late 1800’s took claim to the continent for a number of reasons, foremost, out of necessity to compete with their neighbors who were doing the same. This was for resources and trade to existing and new markets borne “from the demand for raw materials unavailable in Europe, especially copper, cotton, rubber, tea, and tin, to which European consumers had grown accustomed and upon which European industry had grown dependent.”[1] Sub-Saharan Africa, in turn, was a new market for surplus European goods, and not participating in the Berlin Conference would have put them at a loss to their competitors. As well, instability in the Suez and the Barbary region necessitated an alternative thru-route into Africa and points east. Part of their effort to solve the Suez and Barbary pirate matters encouraged the plan for powers to protect their trade ability by occupation and control of Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia (for example).

Although slavery had been essentially outlawed by all the European powers, much of the proposal was billed “The diplomats put on a humanitarian façade by condemning the slave trade, prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages and firearms in certain regions, and by expressing concern for missionary activities.” In the worst case, the King Leopold’s land acquisitions—‘trinket’ treaties negotiated by Henry Morton Stanley wherein the signee would have no concept of what they were participating in—were organized into a front-agency “International Congo Society” and proclaimed the “Congo Free State” at the conference under the personal control of Leopold. Very soon, the exploitation and harsh treatment of labor for rubber would soon have the ‘Free’ ‘State’ ignoring its advertised precepts, and original ‘scientific’ beginnings “as an entirely disinterested humanitarian body” which sought to “administer the Congo for the good of all, handing over power to the locals as soon as they were ready for that grave responsibility.”[1]

The terms for keeping the European claims under the conference mandated “effective occupation”—European powers could acquire rights over colonial lands only if they actually possessed them: “if they had treaties with local leaders, if they flew their flag there, and if they established an administration in the territory to govern it with a police force to keep order.” As well, the dispossessed white Voortrekkers (slaveholding), were moving into the interior of southern Africa, establishing independent Boer states, contrary to the aims of the United Kingdom, and were not included as parties to the partitioning. In fact, the Boers were to become detainees in modern history’s first concentration camps for in their attempt to assert their independence.

[1] http://www.martinfrost.ws/htmlfiles/april2007/africa_scramble.html

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