Thursday, 10 December 2015

the international society for the suppression of savage customs

Whereas previously European powers had been content to take out rat-nibbles of Africa on its coastal edges, towards the end of the nineteenth century, a constellation of circumstance coalesced and set off the so-called scramble for the Dark Continent. A collusion of the Ottoman Empire gradually ossifying, the Industrial Revolution and the voracious appetite to exploit new resources, and the Civil War in the United States that disrupted the cotton market for English importers (and the later effort to establish alternate supply-lines in the colonies that caused the oversaturated exchange to collapse) and empire-envy by the latecomers—Germany and Belgium, poor-relations—caused Portugal, fearing more intrusion on their age old bailiwick on all territory since the expeditions of Columbus to the east of Cape Verde Islands (that is—the entire “unclaimed” hemisphere outside of Europe to India and the Far East, while Castilian Spain could claim the Americas), to convene a summit.
Hosted by an ambitious Berlin and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, this meeting would codify how Africa would be governed and the spoils partitioned. In his Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad referred to the Berlin Conference (oder die Kongokonferenz) facetiously by the above title and it really became a brutal seizure very quickly. With all of the vast continent already claimed—with the only the outpost of Liberia and the unconquerable Ethiopia (Abyssinia) remaining independent, Belgium and Germany had to settle unknown central Africa and relatively undesirable and out of the way lands. The formal suppression of Africa proved not only an alternate vent for Europeans to carry out latent hostilities, fighting by-proxy, but became a foil as well to counter-balance the advancing clout of the US and the Soviet Union after the Great War, and the process of decolonisation did not begin for most lands for at least six decades and more after the Berlin Conference—if ever.  Moreover, dividing up lands without respect to other affiliation and along arbitrary boundaries has led to no end of ongoing strife and suffering.