The Berlin Conference

1884

Germany

Borders Discrimination & Inequity

The year 1884 marks the official beginning of German colonial politics, nevertheless German states like Brandenburg-Prussia had been practicing the annexation of overseas territories a long time before. Until the independence of the colonies, there is a long time of oppression, expropriation, forced labor and murder.

Already in the 16th century, the European colonization of the African continent had started with Portugal, followed by the Netherlands, France and Great Britain. Although Brandenburg-Prussia had started colonies before the foundation of the empire, the German Empire as a “delayed nation“ became a colonial power at the end of the 19th century. On 15th November 1884 representatives of Ten European States, the USA and the Ottoman Empire assemble at the invitation of Germany and France at the Berlin Conference. The objective was the colonial distribution of the African continent among the represented powers. No representatives of African territories are present. The German Empire under Bismarck established thereafter, amongst other things, the so-called German protected areas German South-West Africa (nowadays Namibia), German East Africa (now Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and a part of Mozambique), German West Africa (now Togo, Cameroon) as well as German New Guinea.

Thereafter, especially young male Africans arrive from the colonies in the German Empire, where they settle in part also permanently. Most of them initially learnt a handcraft or in missionary schools in order to assume duties in the colonial administration and economy afterwards.

The systematic colonialism at the end of the 19th century initially constituted the peak of the European imperialistic politics of expansion. The involved states followed in particular their economic and power-political interests. Hence in certain cases entire new borders were established in the colonial territories, without considering the wishes of the population. The colonizers exploited systematically the countries, both their natural resources and population. The inhabitants were deprived of their rights, expropriated, oppressed, enslaved, driven away or forced to work. At the beginning of the 20th century, an uprising of the colonized in German South-West Africa took place, which lead to a genocide of the Herero and Nama (see also: Resistance in Namibia,1904-1908). Shortly afterwards, the first concentration camps in the region were established.

The European colonialism of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century is based on the Social Darwinist and “racial” ideological theories (See also: Social Darwinism and eugenics, 1890). The European colonial politics considered a supremacy of the white and propagated the myth of an “enlightened and progressive” Europe, on the one hand, and a “backward, primitive“ Africa, on the other hand, which has to be “civilized“. The so-called European development politics, whose base was founded at the Berlin conference, is still based on similar colonial-racial structures decades afterwards.

After the First World War, the German Empire lost all of its colonies in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles. Until their independence (mostly in the 1960s), the colonies are transferred to other European states (see also:Treaty of Versailles, 1919).