In light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the fact that this semester at school focused a large part of the term on learning about European Empire building, and slavery which resulted as a consequence of it, I thought that I would talk about the history of slavery and how it has been responsible for the systemic racism that still exists in America today. Therefore, for the next several posts, I would like to talk about the various aspects of Europe’s colonization of Africa as well as the slave trade which flourished.
For today, I thought it would be a good starting point, to begin with the Berlin Conference of 1884. This was a turning point for African history for this is when European powers took it upon themselves to divide Africa in hopes of keeping things civil amongst themselves and preventing war over Africa in the future. I think it is key to remind everyone that no representatives from the continent of Africa were invited to take part in the conference. Let me repeat that (because it bears repeating!), that not one delegate from the entire continent of Africa was allowed to join, even though the conference was about the future of Africa. In fact, the Sultan of Zanzibar requested to attend the meeting but was categorically denied. If this wasn’t a blatant display of Europe’s intentions, I don’t know what was.
Prior to the conference, by the 1880s, Africa was drawing increasing interest because Europe finally realized that the continent was a minefield of natural resources that Europe needed to support its growing industry. However, most of Europe’s colonization was concentrated on the coast of Africa where the trading posts were set up. The interior, for the most part, remained largely ignored. This all changed when King Leopold of Belgium, decided that he could make a lot more money from Africa. He began to fund expeditions and aggressively sought partnerships and trade deals with tribes and chiefs in central Africa in order to expand Belgium’s presence, and later her claim. This of course upset other European nations who feared they would be left out. As European interests in Africa intensified, so did rivalries and fear of losing out. Thus, at the urging of Portugal, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck called a meeting with 12 other European nations and America, who each had a stake in Africa, to negotiate and formalize the division of Africa. By 1902, 90% of Africa was under European rule. Though on the surface, the conference’s intent was to maintain a certain amount of civility among the 14 participating nations, and ensure that everyone would leave the bargaining table satisfied with the outcome, the rivalry and jealousies between the European powers eventually made World War 1 inevitable.