Berlin Conference

international conference that regulated the distribution of European colonization and trade in Africa

The Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 regulated European colonization and trade in Africa during the New Imperialism period and coincided with Germany's sudden emergence as an imperial power. The conference was organized by Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of Germany. Its outcome, the General Act of the Berlin Conference, can be seen as the formalisation of the Scramble for Africa, but some scholars of history warn against an overemphasis of its role in the colonial partitioning of Africa and draw attention to bilateral agreements concluded before and after the conference.

The conference of Berlin, as illustrated in "Die Gartenlaube"
The conference of Berlin, as illustrated in "Illustrierte Zeitung"


  • The rate of the taxes of compensation is not fixed in any definite manner. The support of foreign capital ought to be placed, with commercial freedom, amongst the most useful aids to the spirit of enterprise, whether it has reference to the exe- cution of works of public interest or whether it has in view the development of the cultivation of the natural products of the African soil. But capital only goes, in general, to places where the risks are sufficiently covered by the chances of profit. The Commission has therefore thought that there would result more disadvantages than advantages from binding too strictly, by restrictions arranged in advance, the liberty of action of public powers or of concessions. If abuses should arise, if the taxes threatened to attain an excessive rate, the cure would be found in the interest of the authorities or of the contractors, seeing that commerce, as experience has more than once proved, would turn away from establishments the access to, or use of, which had been rendered too burdensome.
  • The doctrine of state ownership of land established since 1890 is the exact opposite of free trade, the new doctrine is reprehensible, going against both the natural rights of the indigenous people who will be deprived, and the rights of the Imperial powers as determined in the act of Berlin.

Quotes from the American Delegation

  • The present condition of Central Africa reminds one much of that of America when that continent was first opened up to the European world. How are we to avoid a repetition of the unfortunate events, to which I have just alluded, amongst the numerous African tribes? How are we to guard against exposing our merchants, our colonies and their goods to these dangers? How shall we defend the lives of our missionaries and religion itself against the outburst of savage customs and barbarous passions? Finding ourselves in the presence of those whom we are urging to undertake the work of civilization in Africa, it is our duty to save them from such regrettable experiences as marked the corresponding phase in America.

Quotes from the Belgian Delegation

Cartoon depicting Leopold 2 and other emperial powers at Berlin conference 1884

Quotes from the British Delegation

  • As to the question whether this modification is opportune, the fact must not be lost sight of that the Berlin Conference never intended to fix unalterably the economic system of the Free State, which, as was already then foreseen, would undergo radical modifications under the influence of progress, nor of establishing for an indefinite period regulations which may hinder, check, and even arrest its development. Provision was wisely made for the probability of future changes, which would require a certain latitude in economic matters in order to secure their easy realization... The moment has now come when the marvellous progress made by the infant State is creating fresh needs, when it would be only in accordance with wisdom and foresight to revise an economic system primarily adapted to a creative and transitional period. Can we blame the infant State for a progress which, in its rapidity, has surpassed the most optimistic forecasts? Can we hinder and arrest this progress in refusing her the means necessary for her development? Can we condemn the Sovereign who has already made such great sacrifices to support for an indefinite period a burden which daily becomes heavier, and at the same time impose upon him new and heavy expenses necessitated by the suppression of the slave-trade? We are convinced that there will be but one answer to these questions.

Quotes from the French Delegation


Quotes from The Act of Berlin

  • The trade of all nations shall enjoy complete freedom in the Conventional basin of the Congo.

See Also

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