Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Berlin Conference

For the Cold War conference see Berlin Conference of 1954.
The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 regulated European colonisation and trade in Africa. Its outcome, the General Act of the Berlin Conference, is often seen as the formalisation of the Scramble for Africa.

Increased interest among the European powers in colonising Africa from the late 1870s created a desire to define to "the rules of the game," and to define their respective interests so far as practicable. Competing European territorial ambitions around the lower Congo River brought matters to a head, and it was agreed to hold an international conference on African affairs.

The powers represented were Germany, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Norway, Turkey and the United States.

The conference assembled at Berlin on November 15, 1884, and after protracted deliberations the General Act was signed on February 26, 1885 by the representatives of all the powers attending the conference. Ratifications were subsequently deposited by all the signatory powers with the exception of the United States.

The General Act dealt with six specific subjects:

  1. freedom of trade in the basin of the Congo
  2. the slave trade
  3. neutrality of territories in the basin of the Congo
  4. navigation of the Congo
  5. navigation of the Niger
  6. rules for future occupation on the coasts of the African continent.

The signatory powers undertook that any fresh act of taking possession on any portion of the African coast must be notified by the power taking possession, or assuming a protectorate, to the other signatory powers. It was further provided that any such occupation to be valid must be effective. It is also noteworthy that the first reference in an international act to the obligations attaching to "spheres of influence" is contained in the Berlin Act.

For most of Africa, the conference foreshadowed the ending of independence, which was largely extinguished during the 1890s and 1900s.

Related articles