On this day 136 years ago, the West Africa Conference, or Berlin Conference, began at the invitation of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
The aim of the conference was to regulate freedom of trade in the area of the Congo and Niger, which had become particularly relevant due to developments in the years prior. European interest in the African continent had increased massively shortly before. The major European powers had already occupied large areas of Africa and tensions between the states were threatening to escalate. The conference was intended to prevent this and to divide up the territory of the Congo Basin, which had only recently become known to the Europeans.
The result of the conference was the creation of a Congo Free State under the private control of the Belgian king with free trade conditions for all participating states and the establishment of “rules” for the colonial period under international law.
This accelerated the already ongoing “race for Africa” which, via colonization, led to predatory economies and the oppression and exploitation of the population, amongst others in the Congo region itself. In the Congo alone, an estimated 10 million people died under the colonial regime.