Chapter I Scramble for Africa
On 15 November 1884, the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck invites representatives of the European great powers, the USA and the Ottoman Empire to a conference in Berlin. In his opening speech, Bismarck emphasises that “all the governments invited, share the wish to bring civilisation to the natives of Africa”. Above all, the Berlin West Africa Conference is to bring clarity on the division of the colonial territories, resolve border conflicts that have arisen and thus maintain peace among the Europeans. Prior to this, many explorers and commercial traders had set off for Africa to acquire huge swathes of land on behalf of European rulers or for their own account.
Facing a five-metre high map, the Great Powers wrangle about the division of the continent for several months. The Congo Basin, in particular, is hotly contested: both France and Great Britain want to secure cohesive territories on the African continent. But thanks to some successful lobbying, the largest portion of the Congo Basin goes to Leopold II of Belgium. He names his new private colony the Congo Free State. The western portion goes to France and becomes the French Congo. The area known as Cameroon today initially goes to the German Empire. No one is at all concerned that the arbitrary borders take no account of geographic or cultural borders.