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[Conférence Africaine. Documents de Travail]

[N.p. Berlin?] 1884-1885, folio, printed in both, letter-press and lithographic facsimiles of handwritten text, various paginations, text in French, in a combination of letterpress and lithographic facsimiles of manuscript documents, the margins of the letterpress pages are very wide, for manuscript notes. Ex-library, old handstamps, bound in contemporary ½ morocco and marbled boards, binding worn, front board detached but present, portion of back-strip lacking, text is very clean. There is a printed list of the documents contained in the volume at the front, the volume does not include the first and fifth documents on that list, however, contemporary manuscript notes in French indicate that they were never included in the volume, and that the text was utilized in other documents.

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This volume consists of working documents from the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 which would have fateful consequences for the continent of Africa. The Berlin Conference, also known as the Congo Conference (Kongokonferenz), or West Africa Conference (Westafrika-Konferenz), regulated European colonization and trade in Africa during the New Imperialism period, and coincided with Germany’s sudden emergence as an imperial power. Called for by Portugal and organized by Otto von Bismarck, first Chancellor of Germany, its outcome, the General Act of the Berlin Conference, can be seen as the formalization of the Scramble for Africa. The conference ushered in a period of heightened colonial activity by European powers, which eliminated or overrode most existing forms of African autonomy and self-governance.

The main dispute among Europeans was over navigation and commercial rights in the Congo River basin. The first Europeans to claim the area were the Portuguese who explored the mouth of the river in the 15th century. Although ocean-going ships could sail inland for about 120 miles along the Lower Congo River, a series of gorges and waterfalls blocked the way to the Upper Congo River, which was navigable for hundreds of miles. Before the conference, European diplomacy treated African indigenous people in the same manner as the New World natives, forming trading relationships with the indigenous chiefs. By the mid-19th century, Europeans considered Africa to be disputed territory ripe for exploration, trade, and settlement by their colonists. However, with the exception of trading posts along the coasts, the interior of the continent was essentially ignored.

During the last quarter of the 19th century this changed. Beginning with the efforts of King Leopold of Belgium, and Henry Morton Stanley, who worked with him, to explore, exploit and develop the Congo – the rush among the countries of Europe for colonies in Africa was on.

During the European race for colonies, Germany launched expeditions of its own, which alarmed both British and French statesmen. King Leopold II convinced France and Germany that common trade in Africa was in the best interests of all three countries. Under support from the British and the initiative of Portugal, Otto von Bismarck, the German Chancellor, called on representatives of 13 nations in Europe as well as the United States to take part in the Berlin Conference in 1884 to work out a joint policy on the African continent.

The Berlin Conference on November 15, 1884, and every European country sent a representative, except Switzerland. Even the United States sent a representative, and Leopold II of Belgium, in his role as the president of the “International Association of the Congo,” sent a representative (Gerson Bleichröder). However, no Africans attended, not even from Morocco, Liberia or Ethiopia, which were independent nations at the time. Over the next three months, the delegates went beyond their original goal – to regulate navigation on the Congo River – to create a blueprint for the subsequent European conquest of Africa. The present volume contains the working documents for that blueprint.

The Conference produced “The General Act of the Conference of Berlin,” which in essence constituted the framework for the conquest of Africa. (The present volume contains drafts of the Act and various resolutions concerning it). The General Act established the “conventional basin of the Congo” (larger than its geographical basin) and opened it to European free trade, made it neutral in times of war, and declared support for efforts to end the slave trade by African and Islamic powers. Because of this point Joseph Conrad sarcastically referred to the Berlin Conference as the “International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs” in his novella Heart of Darkness.

The most important consequence of the Berlin Act was the reduction of tensions that had resulted from the French explorations in the Congo basin (Savorgnan de Brazza, 1876-1877), the establishment of Belgian posts in the Congo (1879-1884), the French invasion of Tunisia (1881), and the British takeover of Egypt (1882). The representatives agreed, in essence, that rivalries over African territory were not serious enough to justify a war between European nations. Among the provisions of the Berlin Act were:

The principle of the freedom of navigation was established on the Niger and Congo Rivers. The limits of the Portuguese claims in Angola and Mozambique were defined, and French claims along the Congo River were recognized. King Leopold’s “International Association of the Congo” was recognized as the de facto government of the Congo basin, and the territory was renamed “The Congo Free State.”

In the long run the Berlin Conference stimulated the “Scramble for Africa” by establishing rules for the recognition of European claims. After signing the Berlin Act, a European nation could no longer simply raise its flag on the African coast and claim everything that lay behind it in the hinterland.  A European colonial power had to adopt the “Principle of Effective Occupation,” by physically occupying whatever it claimed with troops, missionaries, merchants, railroads, forts and buildings. Within a few years Africa, with the exception of a few areas, was essentially divided up amongst the European powers.

        OCLC locates one copy only of these working documents. (Boston University).