This scramble for the dark continent, as Africa was referred to because of its mysterious nature to the Europeans, began in the 1880s. Soon after, around 1885, the European powers met at the Berlin Conference in Berlin. This conference was driven primarily by Leopold II, King of Belgium (who will be focused on later), and it was held to prevent wars between European powers for land. This conference determined that any European nation could claim any African land they wish by simply telling and showing the other nations that they had control. Not surprisingly, the African people had no say in the matter. The Europeans believed that the Africans were primitive savages and that they themselves were far superior to the Africans. They often spoke of, and most likely believed themselves, that they were "civilizing" the savages.
At the Berlin Conference, Africa was divided between seven different European powers. This division displayed little regard for African tribes or natural boundaries. The European powers that claimed land in this division were: Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.
|The partition of Africa|
The Europeans initially took African land because of the valuable ivory that could be found there. Later on, however, the Europeans found out that there were many other valuable resources throughout Africa. Wild rubber soon became the main focus of the Europeans and then, as time progressed, even more resources were found. Plantations were started, items such as peanuts or cocoa were grown and many minerals were discovered along the way. Some examples of these minerals would be gold, diamonds, copper, tin, cobalt, iron, etc.
You may be asking yourself how the Europeans were able to seize African land with such a small degree of resistance. Well, Europeans made great use of their advanced technology. This includes their steam engines; that were used to transport people and equipement back and forth on their extensive railways, their telegraph; to relay information back home from Africa, the discovery of treatments for malaria, and their advanced machine guns.
Close Up - Leopold II & The Congo
In comparison to the other European controlled areas, the Congo Free State was far worse in terms of brutality. At that time there were reports of slavery, torture, mutilation, rape, and murder on a mass scale. Leopold II is often referred to as the "Butcher of the Congo" for these reasons. There are many stories of large piles of left hands because workers had their left hand cut off if they were believed to not be working as hard as they could of been.
In addition to being a ruthless slave driver, he also took most of the money made from the Congolese people and put it directly into his own pocket which summed up to more than 1 billion current U.S. dollars. Over the 23 years of his ruling, it is estimated that anywhere from 2 to 15 million people were killed in the Congo. In 1908, the Belgian Government officially took control of the Congo, changing its name to the Belgian Congo, and at this time, living / working conditions vastly improved. This video clearly describes the situation in the Congo Free State, as well as the more present situation in the Congo.
Although Leopold II was no longer in power over the Congo, the rocky trails had not yet ended for the people of the Congo. The first time they elected a leader was in 1960 with Patrice Lumumba who was then assassinated only one year later. He preached unity, a strong central government, independence from Belgium and a number of reforms including; economic independence and social justice. However, these views went against the economic interests of Belgium and the United States (as well as others) and so he was executed by these parties.
The Congo would then face a dictator, Joseph Mobutu. In 1965, Mobutu began his brutal rule of Zaire (New name of the Congo) that would last for 32 years. He eventually became a symbol of corruption as he had made billions of dollars off of this dictatorship while the people still suffer in horrid conditions. He remained dictator until the late 1990s when he was forced out of Zaire, which then became the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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Newman, G. (2002). Legacy the west and the world. (p. 330-337). Toronto: McGraw-Hill Reyerson
Scramble for Africa. (2011). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 20, 2011, from