What Was True of the Berlin Conference?

The Berlin Conference, held between Nov. 15, 1884 and Feb. 26, 1885, resulted in the division of Africa among European colonial powers with complete disregard of established indigenous African boundaries. The 14 countries that attended included all the major European powers, as well as Russia, Turkey and the United States.

The conference began with a dispute about the Congo River basin. The attendees agreed that the basins of the Congo and Niger rivers would be neutral, the rivers open to all ships and the Congo Basin open to free trade for all conference participants. Slavery was forbidden throughout Africa. The attendees agreed upon a principle of effective occupation by which rights over African colonies would be assessed. To claim territory, colonial powers had to establish treaties with indigenous rulers, set up a governing administration and police force, and fly their national flag. Colonial powers claiming territories were required to notify the other conference attendees of their claims.

The conference prompted a European scramble for control of unclaimed territory. Before the conference, about 80 percent of African territory was still in local hands. By 1902, European powers controlled 90 percent of Africa. By 1914, the boundaries of 50 fragmented countries had been determined by European political and economic guidelines rather than indigenous linguistic and cultural considerations.