How was Africa divided before colonization

The division of the "black continent"

125 years ago the colonial powers signed the so-called Congo Act, the basis for the division of Africa into colonies

The arbitrarily drawn national borders still weigh heavily on the continent and its people

From November 15, 1884 to February 26, 1885, representatives of the 14 most important colonial powers of the time met in Berlin: Belgium, Denmark, the German Empire, Great Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, Portugal, Russia, Sweden-Norway ( until 1905 in personal union), Spain and USA. At the invitation of the German Chancellor Prince Otto von Bismarck, they met in the Reich Chancellor's Palace in Berlin's Wilhelmstrasse to regulate trade on the Congo and Niger rivers and to define their spheres of influence on the African continent. The conference, which ended the international crisis in the Congo Basin, sparked a veritable race for colonial possessions. In 1876, only around ten percent of the African continent was in European hands, but the situation changed dramatically in just 25 years. In 1902 the colonial powers had divided up 90 percent of the territory of Africa among themselves.

Since the discovery of the sea route to India by Vasco da Gama at the end of the 15th century, initially Portugal and Spain, later also France and England, temporarily even Brandenburg, had established bases on the coasts of Africa and took possession of offshore islands. Her main interest was the profitable trade in African "raw materials", initially with spices and slaves, but also with ivory, tropical wood and other materials. In doing so, one never strayed too far from the coast; The inhospitable nature and the inhospitable climate made people shy away from forays into the interior of Africa. Africa remained that way for a long time dark continent in the minds of Europeans.

The invention of the steam engine made Europeans less interested in the tropical regions of Africa. Slavery became increasingly unattractive and the slave trade was fought as a result. With increasing industrialization, however, vegetable products such as peanut kernels and palm oil for soap production aroused the interest of the colonial powers.

In 1795, Mungo Park was the first of a growing number of European Africa explorers who explored the interior of the continent in the course of the 19th century. The initially primarily scientific goals of the explorers became more and more dominated by the economic and political interests of their clients.

The first attempts at colonization began in the temperate climates, in the south and north of the continent. Dutch settlers had settled in the Cape since 1652 - after the country was occupied by Great Britain, they moved inland. A settlement colony of released American slaves was established in Liberia in 1822 and constituted as a state in 1847. In the north, France occupied Algeria in 1830, which it largely brought under its control by 1857. In South Africa, the Boers founded the states of Natal (1843), Transvaal (1852) and Orange Free State (1854). In the interior of Africa, on the other hand, numerous new empires were formed under European influence, which in West Africa were mostly ruled by Islamic dynasties.

"Civilizing" Africa

The Suez Canal, built from 1859 to 1869, brought East Africa closer to Europe and significantly increased European interest in Africa. With the exploration of the Congo Basin from 1874 to 1877, an expedition led by the British-American journalist Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904) succeeded in mapping the last large "white spot" on the map of Africa. This made the Belgian King Leopold II aware of the ambitious and rum-addicted adventurer.

As early as 1876, the ambitious ruler had founded an International African Society, which was to devote itself to the exploration and "civilization" of Africa. Their ostensibly philanthropic goals served the king above all to conceal his own economic imperialist interests, as they were the basis of the International Congo Society, which was launched two years later. As a result, the king, who knew how to skillfully link the activities of both societies, secretly bought up the foreign shares of the Congo society and thus secured the dominant influence.

"Race for Africa"

From 1879 to 1884 Stanley traveled again to the Congo, this time quite officially - as Leopold's envoy with the secret task of organizing the Congo state. At the same time, the French naval officer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza toured the western Congo basin and hoisted the tricolor in the newly founded Brazzaville in 1881.

Portugal, which also derived claims to the area from old treaties with the native Congo Empire, concluded a treaty with Great Britain on February 26, 1884, which provided that the Congo society should not have access to the Atlantic. At the same time several European states penetrated into Africa, and the proverbial "race for Africa" ​​began: France occupied Tunisia and what is now the Republic of Congo in 1881, Guinea in 1884, Great Britain occupied Egypt, which remained nominally Ottoman in 1882, which in turn over Sudan and Parts of Somalia ruled. Italy took possession of the first parts of Eritrea in 1870 and 1882, and in 1884 Germany placed Togo, Cameroon and South West Africa, later called German South West Africa, under its "protection".

Private state Leopold II.

With plenty of cunning and camouflage, Leopold II succeeded in convincing France and Germany that acting together in Africa was in their interests. Through his middleman "General" Henry Shelton Sanford he had already achieved the recognition of his claim to the Congo by the USA.

In return for corresponding free trade guarantees for the Congo, the initially hesitant German Chancellor finally recognized the new Congo state. Bismarck "was convinced that it was better if the Congo fell to the weak, little Belgium and was open to German trade than if France or Portugal with their protectionism or even powerful England took possession of the area," he wrote American journalist Adam Hochschild in his study Shadows over the Congo1. Bismarck then offered to host the conference in Berlin, Stanley officially took part as technical advisor to the US delegation, but was in close agreement with his client, the Belgian king.

The conference ended on February 26, 1885 with the signing of the Congo Act. In it, the signatory states stipulated the neutrality of the Congo Basin as well as the freedom of trade and navigation. "Apart from the fact that people routinely spoke out in favor of free shipping, the peaceful settlement of disputes, the sending of Christian missionaries and the like, the main agreement in Berlin was that a large part of Central Africa, including the Leopold area in the Congo Basin, would form a free trade zone should. "2

The slave trade was banned, the independent Congo state was recognized under the sovereignty of the Belgian King Leopold II and the Congo (Brazzaville) was confirmed as French property. Furthermore, general guidelines and rules of the game for the acquisition of colonies were agreed and every colonial power obliged to inform the other colonial powers after taking possession of an area and also to grant them free trade. While the conference had revealed the incompatibility of the colonial interests of England and France, Bismarck, who once more seemed to have proven himself to be an "honest broker", achieved the longed-for admission into the circle of colonial powers for the German Reich.

The German public celebrated the conference and its outcome, in particular Germany's entry "into the ranks of the colonial powers", because also as a "process [...] that must be regarded as the embodiment of a great historical turn, a turn that not only applies to Germany , but is of incalculable consequences for the whole world, because the conference, in which the United States of North America takes part in addition to European powers, has global significance; the fate of a whole part of the world will depend on its decisions in the future, and it is called to create a new law in a field in which until now mostly arbitrariness and armed force have prevailed. Such an event involuntarily calls for historical considerations, if one then knows the past and thus looks clearly into the future [...]. " 3

"That Africa was distributed at the Berlin conference is a fairy tale," writes Hochschild, "the loot was too big and many more contracts were needed to divide them all up." 4 And yet: the division of the African booty had began. No one, of course, benefited more from the conference than the man who did not take part, King Leopold II. The huge Congo state, the most resource-rich area in Africa, had not become the property of a great power, but de facto to Belgium, which for them European continental policy hardly mattered. First, however, the Congo area (today's Democratic Republic of the Congo - formerly Zaire) became the private property of the king and thus his main object of exploitation.

Leopold got the Matadi seaport on the lower reaches of the river and the land he needed to build a railway that led from there around the rapids to the Stanley Pool. Even more important for the King of the Belgians was the network of bilateral agreements that he concluded with other countries during and after the conference, through which his emerging colony was recognized and its borders were established.

For Europeans, Africa's wealth was still largely a coastal phenomenon, which is why Leopolod's request to give him such vast areas in the interior of the continent met with remarkably little resistance. In addition, the other states participating in the conference believed they were giving their consent to some kind of international colony - which, although under the auspices of the King of Belgians, was freely accessible to merchants from all over Europe. In fact, Leopold II did not have to share in any way - not even with the Belgian government. Their ministers were no less surprised than anyone else when they opened their newspapers and learned that the Congo had passed a new law or signed a new international treaty.

The absolute ruler of the Congo

Under the reign of Leopold II (1865–1909), the Belgians established a brutal colonial regime in the Congo and ruthlessly exploited the land and people in the interests of the king, down to the last bit. The natives were forced to work, tortured, tortured and murdered. Thousands of those who did not deliver enough in the interests of their royal exploiters during the rubber harvest were chopped off alive because the administrative officials paid a premium for every "rebel" killed - the limbs were required as evidence. The term "Congo Abomination" was coined at that time.5 The king reacted to criticism of the brutal actions of the Belgian occupiers with indignation and self-pity. According to a military advisor, when he saw a cartoon in a German newspaper that showed how he chopped off hands with his sword, he once exclaimed: "Chop off hands, that's idiotic! I'd rather do everything else cut off, but not your hands. That's exactly what I need in the Congo! "6

Leopold's new colony was larger than Western Europe. It covered one-thirteenth of the African continent and was over seventy-six times larger than little Belgium itself. In order to clearly distinguish between his two roles, the King of the Belgians had initially considered calling himself "Emperor of the Congo"; He is also said to have toyed with the idea of ​​equipping loyal chiefs with uniforms modeled on those of the famous red-robed beefeaters on the Tower of London. In the end, he decided to simply be the "absolute ruler" of the Congo. In later years Leopold II sometimes - and more accurately - referred to himself as the "owner" of the Congo.

The greed for profit from Leopold's occupation regime cost the lives of 5 to 8 million Congolese. In response to international pressure, the king was finally forced to sell the "Congo Free State" to the Belgian state in 1908.

Even more than the other colonial regimes on the black continent, Belgian colonialism had deliberately left the African population ignorant and uneducated. The Congolese were depressed to the status of pack animals for the extractive industries that plundered the country's vast mineral wealth and other natural treasures. When Belgium formally released the Congo into independence in 1959, a chaotic struggle for the distribution of the fruits began. The vast territory was notoriously underdeveloped. There were no African officers, only three Africans in leading positions in the entire civil service and only 30 Congolese with academic training. At the same time, Western investments in the mineral resources of the Congo (uranium, copper, gold, tin, cobalt, diamonds, manganese, zinc) were colossal, which is why it made sense to keep the country under control beyond its formal independence.

The Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) led by Patrice Lumumba emerged as the strongest force in the elections scheduled for May 1960, in which 120 parties - mostly newly formed on a regional or ethnic basis - took part. It was also the only party that advocated central government and the unification of the Congo across ethnic and regional borders. But only seven months after the Congo declared its independence, Lumumba, the first prime minister of the now "independent" state, was assassinated by political opponents. It has now been established that both the Brussels government and the US government fell victim to Lumumba's assassination President Eisenhower had their hands in the game. The contract killing was carried out by the US foreign intelligence service, the CIA, and local henchmen who were financed and "advised" by Brussels and Washington. The Belgian government had previously secretly delivered funds and weapons to regional secessionist groups in the Congo that were violently fighting Lumumba and his supporters.

The murder of Lumumba was symptomatic of the political process across sub-Saharan Africa, in the course of which the hopes of workers, peasants and poor for fundamental social change were shamefully betrayed. The petty-bourgeois nationalist elites who came to power in the course of decolonization willingly accepted the legacy offered to them by the colonial rulers and took over the state institutions and borders that the European powers had created in the course of their conquest of Africa.

Today the Congo is an example of the anti-democratic character of the national elite

The formal granting of state independence did not mean a fundamental democratic change anywhere in Africa. Even in the regions where armed struggle ended colonialism, state independence was only a cover for the continued dominance of imperialism over the former colonies. At the same time, corrupt cliques of the national bourgeoisie used the state to enrich themselves - at the expense of any social progress.

As a result of his brutal murder, Lumumba became a martyr in the fight against imperialist aggression in Africa. But those who pretended to emulate him - from Nyere to Nkrumah to Kenyatta - led corrupt regimes that paved the way for military dictatorships and police states serving international capital interests.

Today the Congo is an example of the anti-democratic character of the national elite. The dictator Joseph De? Iré Mobutu was overthrown in 1997 after his heavily indebted regime had lost its usefulness for the United States with the end of the Cold War. His successor Laurent Kabila was murdered and replaced by his son Joseph, who adapts even more readily to western capital interests. In the course of the civil war lasting several years, in which the armies of neighboring regimes - Rwanda and Uganda on the one hand, Zimbabwe on the other - intervened, around 4 million Congolese, mostly women and children, died, mostly as a result of starvation and epidemics. Contrary to their claims that their intervention would guarantee regional security, the three countries had taken on the historical role of the former colonial powers and illegally enriched themselves with the country's resources.

Democratic freedoms, social justice and economic progress - ideals that five decades ago inspired masses of Congolese and other Africans in the struggle against colonialism - have largely fallen by the wayside as a result. Even supposedly "free elections" under the military "protection" of the United Nations cannot hide this fact. (Alexander Bahar)

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