139 Years Ago Today: The Commencement of the Berlin Scramble for Africa


Remembering, Reconciling, Bearing United Responsibility for Our Future

Partition of Africa by the Berlin Act. Image from PUBLIC DOMAIN

Today marks a very important date for reflecting on the degradation, deprivation of rights, and dispossession experienced by the African people, along with the cultural destruction on the African continent. 15 November – 26 February 1884 ushered in a new era, ushered in by a pivotal event – the Berlin Africa Conference, also known as the West Africa Conference or the “Congo Conference.”

During this gathering in Berlin, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck convened representatives from European and overseas powers with a presence in Africa at that time, including England, France, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Spain, the Ottoman Empire, and the USA. Regrettably, Africa and its people were conspicuously absent from active participation, reduced to mere opposition to European policies.

The absence of African voices at the conference underscored a significant imbalance, as decisions about the future of the continent were made without considering the perspectives of its inhabitants. Notably, King Leopold II of Belgium asserted private interests in the Congo, sparking potential conflicts among colonial powers. Bismarck’s primary aim was to prevent such conflicts and seek resolutions through multilateral agreements, focusing on reconciling the interests of European superpowers rather than the well-being and agency of African nations.

While the conference did succeed in averting immediate conflicts among the colonial powers, it set the stage for the efficient colonization of Africa. The interests of the conference members, predominantly coastal powers, took precedence, marking a turning point from the gradual expansion of various colonies to the complete division of Africa (excluding Ethiopia and Liberia). This division persisted until the early 20th century, symbolizing a historical moment that demands reflection, reconciliation, and a shared acknowledgment of responsibility for the impact on Africa’s past and its consequences for the present and future. Perhaps, reparations

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