Berlin Conference Background
In 1875 less than one tenth of Africa had been turned into European colonies; by 1895, only one tenth remained unappropriated. In the generation between 1871 and 1900 Britain added 4.25 million square miles and 66 million people to her empire; France added 3.5 million square miles and 26 million people; Russia in Asia added half a million square miles and 6.5 million people. In the same decades Germany, Belgium, and Italy each acquired a new colonial empire: Germany, of one million square miles and 13 million people; Belgium (or, until 1908, Leopold II, King of the Belgians), of 900,000 square miles and 8.5 million inhabitants; and Italy, a relatively meager acquisition of 185,000 square miles and 750,000 people. The old colonial empires of Portugal and the Netherlands survived intact and assumed increasing importance. It was a historical novelty that most of the world should now belong to a handful of great European powers.
These immense acquisitions had no close correlation with the ascendancy of one political party. In Belgium they were originally an almost personal achievement of the king; in Britain and Germany they were mainly the work of conservative governments which had turned empire-minded, though in Britain former radicals like Joseph Chamberlain and liberals like Lord Rosebery supported them; in France they were the work of radical republicans like Jules Ferry and Leon Gambetta, and in Italy, of liberals like Depretis; in Russia they were mainly the work of the official military class and bureaucracy. The beneficiaries of imperialism were not always the initiators of it; and although King Leopold, Cecil Rhodes, and many of the other empire builders amassed great personal fortunes and powers, so too did many who merely stepped in later to reap the rewards of high administrative offices and rich concessions for trading and investment.
On the other hand some of the initiators; such as Ferry in France and Crispi in Italy, earned only disrepute and violent hatreds for their achievements. Wherever there was any considerable section of public opinion generally in support of imperialism, it tended to be canalized into active propagandist associations and pressure groups, often distinct from any one political party. In Britain, Disraeli committed the Conservative party to a general policy of imperialism in 1872, backed by the purchase of shares in the Suez Canal in 1875 and by the conferring of the title "Empress of India" upon Queen victoria in 1877. In 1882 a Colonial Society was formed in Germany, and in 1883, a Society for German Colonization. In the same year the British conservative imperialists founded the Primrose League, and the liberals soon followed suit with the Imperial Federation League.
The British Navy League of 1894 was followed in 1898 by the corresponding German Flottenverein-incidents in the naval rivalry of the two powers. They championed the rapidly increasing naval expenditures of their respective governments. The more explicit arguments for colonialism, and for the sea power which it necessitated, were as much expressions as causes of the expansion.
III. The Scramble for Colonies
By no means all the acquisitions of colonies caused disputes among the powers. Some of the earliest, like the. French conquest of Algeria in the earlier years of the century or of Annam in 1874, and even some later acquisitions, like the British conquests of Nigeria and Ashanti in the 1890's, aroused little or no opposition from other European powers. Occasionally one power made pins with the encouragement or assent of others: Bismarck encouraged France to expand into Tunisia as a diversion from continental affairs that was likely to embroil her with Italy. Bismarck and Jules Ferry co-operated in 1884 to summon an international conference at Berlin to settle amicably the future of the Congo in central tropical Africa.
To the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 came representatives from fourteen states-roughly all the states of Europe except Switzerland. It was occasioned mainly by the activities of the International African Association, which had been formed in 1876 by King Leopold II of Belgium. This Association had sent J. M. Stanley on explorations into the Congo between 1879 and 1884, where he made treaties with the native chiefs and established Leopold's influence over vast areas of the interior. By the beginning of 1884 Britain and Portugal, apprehensive of this development, set up a joint commission to control navigation of the whole river. The colony of Angola south of the Congo mouth had been held by Portugal since the fifteenth century, and now Britain recognized Portugal's claim to control the whole mouth of the river. It looked like an alliance of the older colonial powers to strangle the expansion of the new; for France was increasingly interested in the tropical belt north of the Congo River, and Germany, in the Cameroon still further north. Leopold therefore looked to France and Germany for help, and the result was the Berlin Conference.
It was concerned with defining "spheres of influence," the significant new term first used in the ensuing Treaty of Berlin of 1885. It was agreed that in future any power that effectively occupied African territory and duly notified the other powers could thereby establish pos. session of it. This gave the signal for the rapid partition of Africa among all the colonial powers, and inaugurated the new era of colonialism. In the treaty it was agreed that Leopold's African Association would have full rights over most of the Congo basin, including its outlet to the Atlantic, under international warrantee of neutrality and free trade. Slavery was to be made illegal. Both the Niger and the Congo were to be opened on equal terms to the trade of all nations. The treaty was, in short, a compact among the powers to pursue the further partition of Africa as amicably as possible; and an attempt to separate colonial competition from European rivalries.
For a decade after the Berlin Conference, imperialistic conservative governments ruled in Britain and Germany and anticolonialist protests subsided in France and Italy. Their policies of mercantilism and protection, the popular mood of assertive nationalism in all four countries, favored colonialism. Expansion into Africa was unbridled. In 1885 the African Association converted itself into the Congo Free State, with Leopold as its absolute sovereign. The success prompted other powers to set up chartered companies to develop other African areas. Such companies, granted by their governments monopoly rights in the exploitation of various territories, became the general media of colonial commerce and appropriation in the subsequent decade. The German and British East African Companies were set up by 1888, the South Africa Chartered Company of Cecil Rhodes to develop the valley of the Zambezi in 1889, the Italian Benadir Company to develop Italian Somaliland in 1892, the Royal Niger Company in 1896.
By these and every other means each power established protectorates or outright possessions, and made their resources available for home markets. Germany enlarged and consolidated her four protectorates of Togoland and the Cameroons, German Southwest Africa and German East Africa. France took Dahomey, and by pressing inland from Algeria, Senegal, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast, she linked up her west African territories into one vast bloc of French West Africa. She drove inland along the north bank of the Congo to consolidate French Equatorial Africa. On the east coast she established her claim to part of Somaliland and by 1896 conquered the island of Madagascar.
Great Britain was already firmly based on the Cape, and began to push northward. She appropriated Bechuanaland in 1885, Rhodesia in 1889, Nyasaland in 1893, so driving a broad wedge between German Southwest Africa and German East Africa and approaching the southern borders of the Congo Free State. This expansion, largely the work of Cecil Rhodes, involved her in constant conflicts with the Dutch Boer farmers, who set up, in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, two republics of their own. The Boer War of 1899 was the direct result. From the Indian Ocean she also pressed westward inland, founding British East Africa by 1888 and taking Uganda by 1894.
In West Africa, Nigeria was acquired by the activities of the Royal Niger Company between 1886 and 1899. Italy, indignant at the French occupation of Tunisia, had laid the basis of an Italian East African Empire in Eritrea by 1885, and added Asmara in 1889. In the same year she appropriated the large southern coastal strip of Somaliland and claimed a protectorate Over the African kingdom of Abyssinia. But in 1896 her expeditionary forces were routed by Abyssinian forces at Adowa, and she was obliged to recognize Abyssinian independence.
By 1898 the map of the African continent resembled a patchwork quilt of European acquisitions, and south of the Sahara the only independent states were Liberia and Abyssinia, and the two small Dutch Boer republics. The North African coastline, especially the provinces of Morocco in the west and Libya and Egypt in the east, remained a troublesome source of great power rivalries.