History

Berlin 1884: Remembering the conference that divided Africa

135 years ago today, European leaders sat around a horseshoe-shaped table to set the rules for Africa’s colonisation.

By Patrick Gathara

The African continent was irrevocably shaped by the Berlin Conference of 1884. Photo Credit: BBC

On the afternoon of Saturday, November 15, 1884, an international conference was opened by the chancellor of the newly-created German Empire at his official residence on Wilhelmstrasse, in Berlin. Sat around a horseshoe-shaped table in a room overlooking the garden with representatives from every European country, apart from Switzerland, as well as those from the United States and the Ottoman Empire. The only clue as to the purpose of the November gathering of white men was hung on the wall – a large map of Africa “drooping down like a question mark” as Nigerian historian, Professor Godfrey Uzoigwe, would comment.

Including a short break for Christmas and the New Year, the West African Conference of Berlin would last 104 days, ending on February 26, 1885. In the 135 years since, the conference has come to represent the late 19th-century European Scramble and Partition of the continent. In the popular imagination, the delegates are hunched over a map, armed with rulers and pencils, sketching out national borders on the continent with no idea of what existed on the ground they were parcelling out. Yet this is mistaken. The Berlin Conference did not begin the scramble. That was well under way. Neither did it partition the continent. Only one state, the short-lived horror that was the Congo Free State, came out of it – though strictly speaking it was not actually a creation of the conference.

It did something much worse, though, with consequences that would reverberate across the years and be felt until today. It established the rules for the conquest and partition of Africa, in the process legitimising the ideas of Africa as a playground for outsiders, its mineral wealth as a resource for the outside world not for Africans and its fate as a matter not to be left to Africans.

From the very start, the conference laid out the order of priorities. “The Powers are in the presence of three interests: That of the commercial and industrial nations, which a common necessity compels to the research of new outlets. That of the States and of the Powers summoned to exercise over the regions of the Congo an authority which will have burdens corresponding to their rights. And, lastly, that which some generous voices have already commended to your solicitude – the interests of the native populations.” It also resolutely refused to consider the question of sovereignty, and the legitimacy of laying claim to someone else’s land and resources.

Uzoigwe notes that: “Bismarck … stated in his opening remarks that delegates had not been assembled to discuss matters of sovereignty either of African states or of the European powers in Africa.” It was no accident that there were no Africans at the table – their opinions were not considered necessary. The efforts of the Sultan of Zanzibar to get himself invited to the party were summarily laughed off by the British.

American journalist Daniel De Leon described the conference as “an event unique in the history of political science … Diplomatic in form, it was economic in fact.” And it is true that while it was dressed up as a humanitarian summit to look at the welfare of locals, its agenda was almost purely economic. Few on the continent or in the African diaspora were fooled. A week before it closed, the Lagos Observer declared that “the world had, perhaps, never witnessed a robbery on so large a scale.” Six years later, another editor of a Lagos newspaper comparing the legacy conference to the slave trade said: “A forcible possession of our land has taken the place of a forcible possession of our person.” Theodore Holly, the first black Protestant Episcopal Bishop in the US, condemned the delegates as having “come together to enact into law, national rapine, robbery and murder”.

The outcome of the conference was the General Act signed and ratified by all but one of the 14 nations at the table, the US being the sole exception. Some of its main features were the establishment of a regime of free trade stretching across the middle of Africa, the development of which became the rationale for the recognition of the Congo Free State and its subsequent 13-year horror, the abolition of the overland slave trade as well as the principle of “effective occupation”.

Though the attempt to create a free trade area in Africa and therefore keep the continent from becoming both a spark for, and a theatre of conflict between the European powers, was ultimately doomed. The principle of “effective occupation” was to become the catalyst for military conquest of the African continent with far-reaching consequences for its inhabitants.

At the time of the conference, 80 percent of Africa remained under traditional and local control. The Europeans only had influence on the coast. Following it, they started grabbing chunks of land inland, ultimately creating a hodgepodge of geometric boundaries that was superimposed over indigenous cultures and regions of Africa. However, to get their claims over African land accepted, European states had to demonstrate that they could actually administer the area.

Often, military victory proved to be the easy part. To govern, they found they had to contend with a confusing milieu of fluid identities and cultures and languages. The Europeans thus set about reorganising Africans into units they could understand and control. As Professor Terence Ranger noted, the colonial period was marked “by systematic inventions of African traditions – ethnicity, customary law, ‘traditional’ religion. Before colonialism Africa was characterised by pluralism, flexibility, multiple identity; after it, African identities of ‘tribe’, gender and generation were all bounded by the rigidities of invented tradition.”

That first-ever international conference on Africa established a template for how the world deals with the continent. Today, Africa is still seen primarily as a source for raw materials for the outside world and an arena for them to compete over. Conferences about the continent are rarely held on the continent itself and rarely care about the views of ordinary Africans.

The sight of African heads of state assembling in foreign capitals to beg for favours is a re-enactment of the Sultan of Zanzibar’s pleading to attend a conference where he would be the main course.

Despite achieving independence for the most part in the 1950s and 1960s, many African countries have continued along the destructive path laid out in Berlin. Former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere declared: “We have artificial ‘nations’ carved out at the Berlin Conference in 1884, and today we are struggling to build these nations into stable units of human society… we are in danger of becoming the most Balkanised continent of the world.” Ethnicity and tribalism continue to be the bane of African politics. “The Berlin Conference was Africa’s undoing in more ways than one,” wrote Jan Nijman, Peter Muller and Harm de Blij in their book, Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts. “The colonial powers superimposed their domains on the African continent. By the time independence returned to Africa… the realm had acquired a legacy of political fragmentation that could neither be eliminated nor made to operate satisfactorily.”

Now, 135 years after Berlin, it is perhaps time for introspection. While it is impossible to turn back the clock, Africans would do well to reflect on what has happened since. Teaching the real history of the subjugation of the continent would help counter the myths of “ancient hatreds” that are said to fuel the conflicts on the continent. And Africans could decide to get together on the continent to debate and decide on the relationship they want with the rest of the world rather than always having that dictated to them from abroad.

Patrick Gathara is a communications consultant, writer, and award-winning political cartoonist based in Nairobi.

READ MORE AT:https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/berlin-1884-remembering-conference-divided-africa-191115110808625.html

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Oil industry woos SC African-Americans to support offshore drilling

John A. Carlos II (copy)

 

 

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Daniel Island, speaks to the crowd at a rally against off-shore drilling held in Columbia in February. File/John A. Carlos II /Special to The Post and Courier

 

 

It’s an affront or an opportunity, depending who you ask.

The oil interest lobbying organization American Petroleum Institute has launched a campaign targeting minority communities, including African-Americans, to promote offshore exploration and drilling for natural gas and oil. The pitch is it’s a job creator.

The effort is gauged to counter massive opposition to the offshore alternative that numbers in the millions of individuals and groups.

That opposition is largely people who are white — one of its acknowledged weak points.

But the institute’s Explore Offshore campaign has sparked some outrage.

“I’m not surprised in this political climate,” said Marquetta Goodwine, a Beaufort County resident who goes by Queen Quet. She has been dubbed chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation.

She is among the more prominent drilling opponents who are African-American. “Those things make me highly irate,” she said.

But the campaign has won some support.

“Quite frankly, what I was concerned about was there were a whole lot of white people (at a public meeting on the issue) and not a whole lot of black people,” said Stephen Gilchrist, chairman of the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce and the Explore Offshore effort in South Carolina.

“African-Americans are economically disenfranchised on the coast,” he said.

The campaign has been taken up by the African-American chamber as well as at least 68 other businesses, pro-business groups and anti-tax groups in the Southeast, from Virginia to Florida. In South Carolina, they include the Palmetto Promise Institute and S.C. Association of Taxpayers.

Industry analyst Offshore Technology reported the campaign specifically focuses on minority communities and that its support reflects the focus.

“These groups include a large representation from black, Hispanic and minority communities, which historically have shown less support for offshore oil and gas exploration than others — something the API is keen to change,” the report said.

How many jobs at stake?

The Explore effort has drawn controversy as drilling opponents brace for a long-expected Trump administration announcement of where federal leases will be offered. These leases will permit seismic blasting exploration for natural gas and oil offshore.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, an early supporter of Trump, has joined leaders of other Southeast Coast states lobbying the administration to be excluded from those leases.

Oil industry and conservation opponents have fought for more than six years over opening the Southeast coast to exploration. The Obama administration closed the waters in 2016. President Donald Trump restarted the process for the years 2019 to 2023.

The issue pits a concern for the environment and a billion-dollar tourism industry against potential revenue and jobs.

The millions opposed to the work on the East Coast include more than 120 municipalities, 1,200 elected officials and 41,000 businesses. Nearly every coastal government in South Carolina, hundreds of businesses and thousands of residents have publicly opposed the move.

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Trump Offshore Drilling (copy) (copy)
Pelicans float on the water with an offshore oil platform in the background in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif., on May 13, 2010. File/Mark J. Terrill/AP

With federal momentum now shifting toward the leasing, they have been trying to rally against an intensified public push by drilling proponents who advocate “offshore energy exploration and production that can increase jobs, investments, and reliable, safe, and affordable energy,” Explore Offshore says in part on its website.

The jobs issue has been a sticking point from the beginning of the controversy. Drilling proponents say the work could bring $3.8 billion to the state’s budget and $2 billion in industry and support industry development, creating as many as 34,000 jobs, including jobs that could pay more than $100,000 per year.

Opponents say that’s wildly inflated.

“Seismic testing won’t bring the first job to South Carolina,” said Frank Knapp, president of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce. The oil industry brings in its own crews from out-of-state, he said.

“The only way you can justify thousands of jobs is to industrialize a portion of the South Carolina coast” at the cost of tourism revenue, existing coastal industries such as fishing and the environment, he said.

Gilchrist acknowledges the numbers might be best-case and the threats could well be real. But he doesn’t think that should “stop the conversation” about what economic benefits the work might bring.

“I’m just as concerned as anyone else. I don’t see this as an either-or. It’s a both-win. Let’s see if we can do this and protect the coast,” Gilchrist said. “We can be proactive rather than reactive here, figure it out on the front end.”

‘Have to get educated’

The shortfall of vocal participation among people of color in the controversy remains a problem for both sides.

“We are always looking for ways to increase diversity within the coalition,” said Samantha Siegel, a Charleston-based senior organizer for the environmental group Oceana, which is among the leaders of the opposition coalition. “We think it is important that decision makers hear from a diverse group of citizens.”

The coalition includes a diverse array of community, political and business groups, she said.

“But I do think there is more work to be done in terms of educating more folks in the state and particularly the folks that live in vulnerable communities where an oil refinery could be built one day if we don’t stop it,” Siegel added.

Gilchrist doesn’t see the Explore effort as exploitative. Asked about that, he said the work could be a shot at economic opportunity and training for a community that needs it.

“The people I know are barely making it,” he said. “We’re talking about the plight of 40 percent of our state.”

Many in the the “target” audience might just be waiting to see.

“They have to bring me something to back up (job creation),” said Awendaw Mayor Miriam Green, a town in the rural, relatively lower-income stretch of northern Charleston County. She has not been contacted by Gilchrist or the Explore Offshore effort.

One reason why her phone has been quiet? She is anti-drilling.

“People really have to get educated to what’s going on in the world today,” she said. ”(Groups) will single you out for their purposes.”

READ MORE AT: https://www.postandcourier.com/news/oil-industry-woos-sc-african-americans-to-support-offshore-drilling/article_1797390c-d3b7-11e8-84e9-4fe71b9765a0.html

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The idea of an independent Africa was born at the first Pan African Conference in 1900

The idea of the Pan African movement had begun in the late 19th century when many African diasporans started to connect with each other. Through their interactions, they realised a dying need to bridge the gap between African Diasporan civil right activists and educated Africans fighting for the freedom of colonised states and countries.

Activists like W.E Du Bois had developed a keen interest in the ideology of African -Americans and diasporans moving back to Africa. While some activists shunned the idea, other activists in Europe and the Caribbean found the act possible and thus sparked a conversation.

In 1897,  London based Trinidadian lawyer and writer, Henry Sylvester Williams formed the Association of Africa in response to colonisation and partitioning of Africa by Europe. The association also served as a grounds for educating African Diasporan activists about the issues affecting Africa and the need to free the continent.

The successful operation of the association led to the development of the Pan African movement and the beginning of the Pan African conferences.

By 1900, the African Association was successful in bringing together a large community of Pan Africanist in the Diaspora. It also connected with Africans in Britain seeking higher education and interested in the idea of setting Africa free from its colonisers.

Noticing that the Pan-African ideology had established itself well, Williams found it necessary to organise a conference relating to Pan Africanism. In 1900, he set out to organised the conference and sought help from other willing activists.

Invitation to the 1st Pan African Conference of 1900

History was made on Monday, July 23, 1900, when the first Pan African Conference was held in London’s Westminster Hall. The three-day event brought together thirty leaders and activist across Africa, England, America and the West Indies, serving as a common ground for the start of a conversation on Africa and its future. From this conference began the widespread use of the word Pan-African, its course and objectives especially in Africa.

Documents such as “The Preservation of Racial Equality” presented by Anna H. Jones,“The Progress of our People” presented by John E. Quinlan and “The Necessary Concord to be Established between Native Races and European Colonists” presented Benito Sylvain were all discussed during the conference.

In the opening address by  Bishop Alexander Walters titled “The Trials and Tribulations of the Coloured Race in America”, he stated that “for the first time in history black people had gathered from all parts of the globe to discuss and improve the condition of their race, to assert their rights and organize so that they might take an equal place among nations.”

During the conference, the Pan African Association was officially set up. The new and well-structured association elected Bishop A. Walters, Rev. Henry B. Brown, Prof. W. E. B. DuBois, Mr H. Sylvester Williams, T. J. Calloway and Dr R. J. Colenzo as its top executives

The conference also birthed the call for the drafting of the code law for the international protection of the natives of Africa and the supervision of colonies by the League of Nations to prevent economic exploitation by foreign nations. It enjoyed international attention and stirred up great tension among Western Colonisers: the birth of a generation interested in the freedom and development of Africa had been born.

The Pan-African Conferences continued until October 1945, surviving through the second world war. By 1944, the Pan African Federation was established, and various African activists fighting for independence were well connected with activists in the diaspora. By then the conference and association created an avenue for more outspoken and action seeking African freedom fighters.

5th Pan African Conference in October 1945

The Fifth conference meeting of October 1945  saw the presence of Kwame Nkrumah, a staunch pan Africanist and the future first president of Ghana after a successful gain of its independence from the British in 1957, 12 years later.

READ MORE AT: https://face2faceafrica.com/article/the-idea-of-an-independent-africa-was-born-at-the-first-pan-african-conference-in-1900

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