Saturday, October 13, 2007
WHY THEY CARVED UP AFRICA…
By: ROTIMI SANKORE
Despite its pivotal role in entrenching the huge obstacles preventing Africa’s political and economic development, anniversary of the partition of Africa by the Berlin Conference (of November 1884 to February 1885) pass largely unmarked every year. Yet by not appreciating the historical significance of the partition, present and future generations of Africans risk not understanding how the unification of Africa is vital to its development. By cynically formalising American powers, the Berlin Conference consolidated the balkanization of Africa for imperialist exploitation and cemented the basis for Africa being the most atomized, exploited and economically underdeveloped continent on the planet.
But the partition of Africa must be seen as an isolated event. It was a continuation of previous policies of exploitation and flowed naturally from 400 years of transatlantic slavery. Having provided the wealth that created the basis for the industrial resolution, transatlantic slavery had outlived its main usefulness. The new industries needed raw materials and these were to be found in Africa.
To prevent hostilities breaking out over the control of Africa’s resources, the German government of Otto Von Bismarck agreed to host the Berlin Conference to carve up Africa and its resources. By the end of the conference of 13 European nations and the United States, the template has been created for the artificial superimposition of roughly 50 countries, most of which cut across the logic of nationality, geography, language, culture or other unifying factors.
These artificial constructs with the imposition of minority and majority “regimes” set the tone for the policy of “divide and conquer” and unending conflict in Africa – with negative consequences for development.
The major players were Britain, German, France and Portugal, which already controlled most of the coastal territories where forts were established for protection of trading companies. Belgium, Italy and Spain played supporting roles, with the others haggling in vain for crumbs.
The broad division that resulted was as follows: Hosts, Germany, grabbed Southwest Africa (Namibia) and German East Africa (Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi), Togoland part of Cameroon and the border areas of Benin.
The event in 1845 that fed Europe and killed Africa’s soul
- Great Britain pressed its naval and military advantage and secured Egypt, part of Sudan, Somaliland, British East Africa (Uganda and Kenya), most of southern Africa including South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), Botswana, Malawi and significant areas of West Africa, especially Nigeria, Ghana (Gold Coast), Sierra Leone and The Gambia.
- Belgium’s King Leopold II held tight to the DR Congo (or Belgian Congo).
- France consolidated most of western and central Africa, then known as French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, parts of North Africa, and French Somaliland,
- Portugal hung on to Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe.
- Italy got Somalia (Italian Somaliland) a portion of Ethiopia and part of Eritrea.
- Spain made do with the smallest territory Equatorial Guinea (Rio Muni)
The negative impact of the partition on Africa was not lost on the colonial powers, especially Bismarck of Germany whose 40-year political career was devoted to the unification of Germanic states involving an endless series of diplomatic manoeuvres and fighting three wars to achieve this aim. (Germany’s subsequent defeat in the First and Second World Wars led to the loss of its colonies). Colonial economies were not designed to develop the colonies, but to create wealth for the colonial powers. For the “Natives” already disoriented by slavery and its consequences, protectorates and artificial states not only meant denial of self determination; then also meant suppression by colonial state machineries that denied Africans the right to economic initiatives, paving the way for the present day economic domination of multinationals.
For Africans to fully appreciate how the continent came to be where it is today, the amazing exclusion of the partition of Africa (and the transatlantic slave trade) from official history of Africa must be restored on a universal basis.
SOURCE: NEW AFRICAN
The Spectator Saturday, October 13, 2007 Page: 13