The Berlin Conference 1884 Simulation Historical Context



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The Berlin Conference 1884 Simulation

Historical Context: In the late 19th century, after more than 4 centuries of contact, the Western European powers finally laid claim to virtually all of Africa. Between the late 1400s and 1700s, Western Europeans had traveled along the African coastline in search of gold and slaves for their American colonies, but rarely traveled into Africa’s interior. By the mid-1800s, parts of the African continent had been "explored," but now representatives of European governments and rulers arrived to create or expand their control over African lands. Competition by Western European nations was intense. Spheres of influence [an area of land where a foreign nation has overwhelming political and economic power] began to crowd each other. It was time for negotiation in order to avoid war between these competing European nations in Africa. In late 1884, a conference was convened in Berlin to sort things out. The Berlin Conference laid the groundwork for the now familiar political map of Africa.

In November 1884, the imperial chancellor and founder of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck, organized a conference of 14 nations (including the U.S.) to settle the political partitioning of Africa. Bismarck wanted not only to expand German spheres of influence in Africa but also to play Germany's colonial rivals against one another to the Germans' advantage. Of these 14 nations, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Portugal were the major players in the conference, controlling most of colonial Africa at the time. No African ruler was invited to attend these meetings, yet the conference sealed Africa’s fate. The European nations carved Africa up into colonies with little thought about how African ethnic or linguistic groups were distributed.

The Berlin Conference was Africa's undoing in more ways than one. The Western European nations covered the African continent with their colonies. By 1914, the only independent nations in Africa were Ethiopia and Liberia. By the time Africa regained its independence after the late 1950s, Africa had acquired a legacy of political fragmentation that could neither be eliminated nor made to operate satisfactorily. The African political map is thus a permanent liability that resulted from the three months of ignorant greed during a period when Europe's search for raw materials and markets to sell goods had become limitless.

More immediately, however, the Berlin Conference resulted in the French dominating most of West Africa, and the British dominating East and Southern Africa. The Belgians acquired the vast territory that became The Congo. The Germans held 4 colonies. The Portuguese held a small colony in West Africa and two large ones in Southern Africa.



Your Task: Read the background information on the European nation you will represent at the Berlin Conference. On the day of the conference, you will

  1. Introduce yourself, and list at least 2 goals of your nation. (Where does your nation want colonies in Africa? How big?)

  2. Negotiate! Using the map of Africa in 1876, see if your nation already has any colonies. Are you willing to reduce or give them up in order to gain colonies elsewhere? When gaining land, make sure that you are not too close to rival European nations or possibly risk a war. Also, decide if you should take into consideration the existing tribal and linguistic boundaries (also visible on the map).

The Scramble for Africa Simulation 1884 You will represent PORTUGAL


Portugal is known for their emotional, melancholy songs called “Fado”, fresh seafood and delicious egg tarts in flaky pastry! Did you know those Chinese egg tarts are of Portuguese origin? Portugal is a proud Catholic nation and supporter of the Pope. Portugal is also the homeland of cork trees, used by all wine connoisseurs to stop up their bottles!

The goal of the conference is to negotiate and create a process for the partition of Africa into European colonies or spheres of influence. The European powers are interested in gaining access to raw materials and resources for their industrialization. Portugal has the oldest colonial outposts on the continent: on the west coast, southwest coast, and the southeast coast.

You were the first to explore the west coast of Africa. You originally had little interest in Africa itself because your major interest is trade with Asia.

You were the first to explore the mouth of the Congo River in the 15th century. Although ocean-going ships could sail inland for about 120 miles along the Lower Congo River, a series of gorges and waterfalls blocked the way to the Upper Congo River, which was navigable for hundreds of miles.

You have a good relationship with Britain. The colony of Angola south of the Congo mouth had been held by Portugal since the fifteenth century, and now Britain recognized Portugal's claim to control the whole mouth of the river.

Your Timeline of African Colonization So Far:

1415 - 1466 Prince Henry the Navigator created a naval school to explore the west coast of Africa and commissioned successive voyages. Colonized the Canary and Cape Verde Islands, began sugar plantations with African slave labor.

1483 Explored and colonized the mouth of the Congo River

1488 Bartolomeu Dias becomes the first European navigator to round the Cape of Good Hope

1493 - 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas divided the globe giving Portugal east of the line of demarcation.

1500 The Portuguese establish trading posts in east Africa, on the coast of Mozambique

1503 The Portuguese set up a trading post on the east African island of Zanzibar

1550 Portuguese begin Atlantic slave trade.



1875 Slavery is finally made illegal in the Portuguese empire

The Scramble for Africa Simulation 1884 You will represent the DUTCH


The Netherlands is known for its beautiful city of Amsterdam, with its man-made canals and bridges. Netherlands is also home to clogs, windmills, tulips, fresh baked donuts and French fries in paper cones! The Netherlands broke away from the Spanish Empire in the 16th century with the help of the British, and today is largely Protestant.

The goal of the conference is to negotiate and create a process for the partition of Africa into European colonies or spheres of influence. The European powers are interested in gaining access to raw materials and resources for their industrialization. The Dutch have a long history in the Cape region of Africa dating back to the 1600s. The Dutch are presently struggling for control of the area against the British.

The Dutch settlement of the southern tip of Africa has important historical ramifications but is largely irrelevant to this simulation so it has been ignored. Britain and France You have little interest in Africa itself because your primary concern is for your American colonies and your trade with India. You see Africa as a trade route to India and as a source for slaves to work on sugar, cotton and tobacco plantations in the Americas.

Timeline of Dutch Colonialism in Africa:

1652: Dutch establish colony at Cape of Good Hope, South Africa; and colonizing Boers ("farmers"), or Afrikaners, begin settling large farms at the expense of San and Khoikhoi, non-Bantu speakers of the region.

1836-37: "Great Trek" of Dutch-descent Boers north to lands across Orange River into Natal, South Africa, occupied by southern Nguni peoples in midst of the mfecane. The white Boer republics of Orange Free State and Transvaal are established in 1850s.

1880: In response to the British annexation of the Transvaal, the Boers raised the flag of the republic in Paardekraal in 1880 and asserted their independence.



1881: The Boers invaded Natal and forced the British into recognizing Transvaal's independence. The events of 1880-81 are known as the First Boer War.

The Scramble for Africa Simulation 1884 You will represent BRITAIN


Since the time of Henry VIII, Britain is the proud home of the Anglican Church. Britain is also famous for its meat pasties (pies), eel pies, steak and kidney pie, and fancy high tea! (You smuggled some tea leaves out of China not too long ago and now grow it in India and Ceylon). Queen Victoria is your current monarch.

The goal of the conference is to negotiate and create a process for the partition of Africa into European colonies or spheres of influence. The European powers are interested in gaining access to raw materials and resources for their industrialization. You want to link up our scattered colonies for defenses and to enable us to build railroads which would facilitate the transportation of the natural resources. Great Britain is most concerned about maintaining control of the Suez Canal (it has been under their control since 1875). The canal connects the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean, Red, and Arabian Seas providing important shipping routes- especially to you main colonial interest in India! You also want a buffer zone against French expansion. Ideally you want holdings from the Cape (southern tip of Africa) to Cairo- your main rival for control of the Cape is the Dutch. British colonial outposts exist in west Africa in the cities of Lagos, Freetown, and Banjul. You have a good relationship with Portugal.



Timeline of British Colonialism in Africa:

1814: By 1814, the British had taken the Cape Colony from the Dutch East India Company.

1815: British declare formal control of Cape Colony.

1816-28: Shaka, Zulu chief, unifies Nguni peoples and forges an impressive fighting force, launching the mfecane (wars of crushing and wandering) against neighboring black Africans and white Europeans throughout southern Africa. Shaka was assassinated in 1828, but Zulu power continued to rise.

1834: A major threat to British power in Southern Africa came from the Zulu kingdom after they annexed many of the surrounding nations in the Mfecane wars. The year 1834 also saw the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire.

1850: Livingstone trekked across the African interior to discover lakes and waterfalls in the name of Queen Victoria. 1853-56: Dr David Livingstone crossed Africa and reached Victoria Falls.

1867: The discovery of diamonds in the British Cape Colony.

1874: The Gold Coast was declared a British colony. The British also defeated the Ashanti, their former partner in the slave trade.

1877: Britain annexed the Transvaal and enraged its Boer population.

1879: The Anglo-Zulu War broke out. The Zulu defeatd the British at Isandhlwana, but were defeated in by the British at RourkeÕs Drift, South Africa.

1883: An uprising in the Sudan threatened British interests in Egypt. Muhammad Ahmed, annihilated General Hicks's force of 10,000 Egyptian soldiers at the Battle of El Obeid in 1883 and laid siege to Khartoum.


Beligium gained its independence recently in 1830 from the Netherlands. In 1831 Leopold I became your first monarch, and his son Leopold II is your current King and 1st cousin of Britain’s Queen Victoria! Your nation includes Dutch-speaking Flemish and the French-speakers Walloons. More people need to know that Belgium is the real home of the French fry!
The Scramble for Africa Simulation 1884 You will represent BELGIUM

The goal of the conference is to negotiate and create a process for the partition of Africa into European colonies or spheres of influence. The European powers are interested in gaining access to raw materials and resources for their industrialization. Led by King Leopold II, the Belgians want access to the mineral and rubber resources of the interior tropical rainforest in the Congo River basin. The Belgians are also interested in the ivory trade.

Presenting himself as a philanthropist eager to bring the benefits of Christianity, Western civilization, and commerce to African natives, your King Leopold II hosted an international conference of explorers and geographers at the royal palace in Brussels in 1876. Several years later he hired the explorer Henry Morton Stanley to be his man in Africa. For five years Stanley traveled up and down the immense waterways of the Congo River basin, setting up trading posts, building roads, and persuading local chiefs—almost all of them illiterate—to sign treaties with Leopold. The treaties, some of which appear to have been subsequently doctored to Leopold’s liking, were then put to use by the Belgian monarch.

Although Belgium’s government felt that colonies would be an extravagance for a small country with no navy or merchant marine, that situation suited Leopold perfectly. He persuaded first the United States and then all the major nations of Western Europe to recognize a huge swath of Central Africa—roughly the same territory as the modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo—as his personal property. He called it État Indépendant du Congo, the Congo Free State.



Timeline of Belgian Colonization in Africa:

1870s—Belgian King Leopold II sets up a private venture to colonize Congo.

1874-77—British explorer Henry Stanley navigates Congo River to the Atlantic Ocean.

1879-87—Leopold commissions Stanley to establish the king's authority in the Congo basin.



The Scramble for Africa Simulation 1884 You will represent FRANCE


France is currently under the Third Republic (a parliamentary republic headed by a president), adopted in 1870 after the collapse of the Second Republic and Napoleon III. (It will last until the 1940 French defeat by the Nazis). The early days of the Third Republic were dominated by political disruptions caused by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. Harsh reparations exacted by the Prussians after the war resulted in the loss of the French regions of Alsace and Lorraine. Be proud: France is known for escargot (snails), perfume, fashion, Versailles, and croissants!

The goal of the conference is to negotiate and create a process for the partition of Africa into European colonies or spheres of influence. The European powers are interested in gaining access to raw materials and resources for their industrialization. France has colonial outposts established along the west coast of Africa and extending inland approximately 500 miles east of Lake Chad. French colonial outposts include the cities of Libreville, Conakry, Dakar, and Abidjan.

You are experiencing the Industrial Revolution so you are now more interested in Africa for its natural resources and as a place to establish settlements. You also have worldwide trade networks and you want to protect your trade routes to Asia. Since you want to avoid diplomatic tension or war in Europe, you will not take territory too close to that of another European country. You want to link up our scattered colonies for defensive purposes and to enable us to build railroads which would facilitate the transportation of the natural resources.

France was hostile to Germany after its 1871 defeat and loss of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War. You are hostile to Britain who has secured the Suez Canal in 1882.



Timeline of French Colonization in Africa

1798: Napoleon's campaign in Egypt.

1830-47: French invasion of Algiers. The French campaign to conquer northern Algeria ended in 1847 with the defeat of Algerian leader Abd al-Qadir.

1860s: In 1863, they declared a protectorate over Porto Novo on the coast of Dahomey and by 1868 France had acquired territory on the Guinea and Ivory Coasts.

1869: Ferdinand de Lesseps's Suez Canal opened in 1869 with the backing of majority French investment.

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