In 1884, Otto Edward Leopold, Prince of Bismark, Duke of Lavenburg, popularly referred to as Otto von Bismarck convened the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference to discuss the African problem. Participants discussed issues relating to condemnation of slave trade, prohibition on the sale of alcoholic beverages and firearms in certain regions of the world and concern for missionary activities.
More importantly, the diplomats in Berlin signed a treaty, which laid down the rules of competition by which the European powers were to be guided in seeking colonies. Terms of the Berlin Treaty included that: the area along the Congo River was to be administered by Leopold II of Belgium as a neutral area, known as the Congo Free State, in which trade and navigation were to be free; no European nation was to make claims in Africa without notifying other powers of its intention; no territory could be formally claimed before effective occupation.
However, subsequent activities of the participating countries established that signatories to the treaty did ignore its terms when convenient and on many occasions war was only narrowly avoided.
In other words, although the Berlin Conference had set the rules for the Scramble for Africa, it had not weakened the rival imperialists’ greed to acquire and colonize African territory.
CONSEQUENCES OF THE BERLIN TREATY
The Berlin Treaty of 1884-1885 had many consequences on African countries. As a result of the Treaty, following the conference, Europe added almost 23,000,000 kilometres or one-fifth of the land area of the world to its overseas colonial possessions. Europe’s formal holdings now included the entire African continent except Ethiopia, Liberia and Saguia el-Hamra, the latter of which would be integrated into Spanish Sahara. Between 1885 and 1914, Britain took nearly 30% of Africa’s population under its control; 15% for France, 11% for Portugal, 9% for Germany, 7% for Belgium and 1% for Italy.
Nigeria alone contributed 15 million subjects, more than those in the whole of French West Africa or the entire German colonial empire. It was ironical that Britain, the strongest advocate of free trade, emerged in 1914 with not only the largest overseas empire, but also the greatest gains in the “Scramble for Africa”, reflecting its advantageous position.
In terms of surface area occupied, the French were the marginal victors but much of their territory consisted of the sparsely populated Sahara.
The consequences of the Berlin Treaty on African countries included the following:
- Loss of sovereignty.
- Loss of legitimacy by the local rulers.
- Loss of economic independence.
- Loss of identity.
- Integration into world economic system.
- Arbitrary curving of boarders.
- Entrenchment of colonialism.
- Change in value system.
- The emergence of a new class of African elites.