Africa’s colonization by other major powers of the world at the tail end of the 19th century spelled doom and division for the mighty continent. It wasn’t until 1950 that Africa would begin the tough process of gaining much of its independence from Western Europeans. On this day in 1884, the Berlin Conference began the process of dividing Africa and its rich resources.
In 1884, Portugal called for the conference, also known as the Congo or West African Conference, and tasked Germany’s first chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck, to organize the event. Bismarck called on representatives from the following countries to lay out the new policy for colonization: Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (which was united until 1905), the Ottoman Empire, and the United States. American officials did not participate in the conference because they could not do so.
The so-called “Scramble For Africa” took root during this time, as countries eager to place their foothold in the continent began to collect their spoils.
During the time of the conference, as much 80 percent of Africa was under traditional and local control.
This fact inspired the Great Act of the Berlin Conference, and Africa was split into 50 countries across boundaries that split natural allies and joined warring enemies.
Using military and economic savvy, the main countries that benefited from this coup were France, Germany, Great Britain, and Portugal. A key point of the conference was ending the international slave trade by way of Black and Islamic slave owners working in tandem with the countries. The powers that attended also benefited from the lucrative practice of free trade throughout the Congo Basin and east of Lake Nisassa. The Niger and Congo rivers were also opened for shipping to the nations.
By 1895, the only independent states were: Liberia, founded with the support of the United States for returned slaves; Abyssinia (Ethiopia), the only free native state; Majeerteen Sultanate, the Sultanate was founded in the early 18th century; and the Sultanate of Hobyo, the Sultanate was carved out of the former Majeerteen Sultanate and ruled northern Somalia well into the 1900s.
By 1902, 90 percent of the continent was under European control.
Ethiopia defeated an Italian invasion in 1944, thus maintaining its independence. Libya would be the next country to do so in 1951, breaking away from Italian, French, and British colonizers. From there, many countries began the long process of gaining independence with the last country, the Sahrawi Republic, breaking away from Spain in 1976.