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Berlin Conference facts for kids

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The conference of Berlin

The Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, also known as the Congo Conference or West Africa Conference, 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. The conference contributed to ushering in a period of heightened colonial activity by European powers, which eliminated or overrode most existing forms of African autonomy and self-governance.

General Act

Cartoon depicting Leopold 2 and other emperial powers at Berlin conference 1884
Cartoon depicting Leopold II and other imperial powers at the Berlin Conference

The General Act fixed the following points:

  • To gain public acceptance the ending of slavery by Black and Islamic powers.
  • The Congo Free State was a private property of the Congo Society. The territory of today's Democratic Republic of the Congo was made the property of Leopold II of Belgium.
  • The 14 countries who signed had free trade through the Congo Basin and Lake Nyasa and east of this in an area south of 5° N.
  • The Niger River and Congo River were made free for ship traffic.
  • Countries could not set up colonies in name only.
  • If a country took over any new part of the African coast, they would have to tell the other countries.
  • Each country was told which parts of Africa they could take over.


  • Portugal - Britain The colonies of Angola and Mozambique were brought together by the land in between (land that later became Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.) The United Kingdom did not support this plan. In 1890, the British government told the Portuguese to leave the area.
  • France - Britain A line running from Say in Niger to Baroua, on the north-east coast of Lake Chad marked what part belonged to whom. France would own territory to the north of this line, and the United Kingdom would own territory to the south of it. The Nile Basin would be British, with the French taking the basin of Lake Chad.
  • France - Germany The area to the north of a line formed by the intersection of the 14th meridian and Miltou was French, that to the south was German.
  • Britain - Germany The separation came in the form of a line passing through Yola, on the Benoué, Dikoa, going up to the extremity of Lake Chad.
  • France - Italy Italy was to own what was north of a line from the intersection of the Tropic of Cancer and the 17th meridian to the intersection of the 15th parallel and 21st meridian.

By 1902, 90% of all the land that makes up Africa was under European control.


Colonial Africa 1913 map
European claims in Africa, 1913. Today's boundaries, which are largely a legacy of the colonial era, are shown.
  Belgium   Germany   Spain   France
  Britain   Italy   Portugal   Independent

The conference provided an opportunity to channel latent European hostilities towards one another outward; provide new areas for helping the European powers expand in the face of rising American, Russian and Japanese interests; and form constructive dialogue to limit future hostilities. In Africa, colonialism was introduced across nearly all the continent. When African independence was regained after World War II, it was in the form of fragmented states.

The Scramble for Africa sped up after the Conference since even within areas designated as their sphere of influence, the European powers had to take effective possession by the principle of effectivity. In central Africa in particular, expeditions were dispatched to coerce traditional rulers into signing treaties, using force if necessary, such as was the case for Msiri, King of Katanga, in 1891. Bedouin- and Berber-ruled states in the Sahara and the Sub-Sahara were overrun by the French in several wars by the beginning of World War I. The British moved up from South Africa and down from Egypt and conquered states such as the Mahdist State and the Sultanate of Zanzibar and, having already defeated the Zulu Kingdom in South Africa in 1879, moved on to subdue and dismantle the independent Boer republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

Within a few years, Africa was at least nominally divided up south of the Sahara. By 1895, the only independent states were:

  •  Morocco, involved in colonial conflicts with Spain and France, which conquered the nation in the 20th century.
  •  Liberia, founded with the support of the United States for freed slaves to return to Africa.
  •  Ethiopian Empire, the only free native state, which fended off Italian invasion from Eritrea in the First Italo-Ethiopian War of 1889–1896 but was defeated in 1936 during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War
  • Majeerteen sultanate flag.jpg Majeerteen Sultanate, founded in the early 18th century, it was annexed by Italy in the 20th century.
  • Majeerteen sultanate flag.jpg Sultanate of Hobyo, carved out of the former Majeerteen Sultanate, which ruled northern Somalia until the 20th century, when it was conquered by Italy.

The following states lost their independence to the British Empire roughly a decade after (see below for more information):

By 1902, 90% of all the land that makes up Africa was under European control. Most of the Sahara was French, but after the quelling of the Mahdi rebellion and the ending of the Fashoda crisis, the Sudan remained firmly under joint British–Egyptian rulership, with Egypt being under British occupation before becoming a British protectorate in 1914.

The Boer republics were conquered by British in the Second Boer War from 1899 to 1902. Morocco was divided between the French and Spanish in 1911, and Libya was conquered by Italy in 1912.

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Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Conferencia de Berlín para niños

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