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134 years after the Berlin Conference, Africa needs to save herself


Why do African leaders still maintain the colonial structures of the Berlin Conference? It’s 134 years since the conference that changed the whole continent. The solution to the problems Africa faces, which stem from the Berlin Conference, is in the hands of Africans.

Without the participation of a single African representative, European nations came together under the Berlin Conference in 1884 and divided Africa between themselves. Since that day, the language, culture, identity, religion and space that existed as Africa was totally changed. The continent was invaded by imperialists who came bearing arms and punitive armies, declaring lands in the name of the Her Majesty the Queen, and other Imperialist such as King Leopold, causing untold destruction in the name of the King of Belgium. The land the colonisers claimed to have discovered was connected, they introduced borders. The fight for a borderless Africa has now been the centre of attention to promote trade and movement within the continent.

Seven European nations had colonised Africa by 1900; France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Italy. All of them came to Africa for her resources. The cycle unfortunately continues today with China and America wielding their influence in the control of Africa’s resources. With many African countries gaining independence, many of the European countries continued to have an interest in the newly independent states, wielding their influence on their former colonies. It was a way of keeping power and controlling the resources in those countries. Most of these European countries also had major influences on who became president, supporting coups, and supplying weapons to countries that experienced civil wars. Africa, as an European apparatus, was built to have only one function, to be milked of its resources, and to continually serve the empires of Britain, Spain, Belgium and other European nations.

Read: What the West wants from Africa is what they wanted during the Berlin Conference

Where is the wisdom of our fathers now? Kwame Nkrumah (21 September 1909 – 27 April 1972) was the first President of Ghana, the first Prime Minister of Ghana, and an influential 20th-century advocate of Pan-Africanism

The struggle for independence and the effects of colonialism could be felt in the speeches many African heads of state gave. Ahmed Sekou Toure, the first president of Guinea said on the 26th of August, 1958: “we prefer poverty in freedom to opulence in slavery,” ween his country decided not to go the way of France. The Prime Minister of Congo, Patrice Lumumba was more vocal when on 30 June, 1960 he said: “Even though this independence for the Congo is being proclaimed today in agreement with Belgium, a country with which we deal as equals, no Congolese worthy of that name can ever forget that independence was conquered through struggle, a daily struggle, a fierce and idealist struggle, a struggle in which we spared neither our energy, nor our hardship, nor our suffering, nor our blood.”

Although Lumumba and many such leaders were hopeful of leading their new countries to new prosperous dreams, they forgot that their countries were first and foremost creations of these European nations. The purpose of their countries was nothing else other than to serve the economic purposes of these powers. Was true, political, cultural and economic independence ever gotten? With the retention of the borders, the project of Berlin Conference continues.

For Africa to move forward, it must go back to the Berlin Conference of 1884 and untangle itself from this creation it was forced to become by Europe. An Africa where there were no borders, where free and fair trade takes place between each community, where art and diverse cultures are highly regarded. Cameroonian scholar Achille Mbembe in an article on  the African Union’s (AU, formerly OAU) 50th anniversary said: “As long as the logic of extraction and predation that characterizes the political economy of primary commodities in Africa has not been broken, and with it the existing modes of exploitation of Africa’s sub-soil, we will not go far…. What needs to happen is a kind of continental “New Deal” collectively negotiated among the different Africa governments and international powers, a “New Deal” favouring democracy and economic progress that would complete and finally close for everyone that chapter of decolonization.”

Areas controlled by European colonial powers on the African continent in 1913, shown along with current national boundaries. Wiki commons/Eric Gaba/Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Read: Scramble for Africa: Berlin Conference of 1884-85 kicked off

The 2063 vision of the AU is highly commendable, but the AU has failed in many respects to live up to its role on the continent. Africa is dire need of change, it has to move at a fast pace in solving its pressing political, economic and social issues otherwise it risks falling into the same trap of continued exploitation. To quote Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal’s former president, “In comparing our country to some of those in Asia that were at the same level as we at independence in 1960, we notice that they have gone much faster than we have. We must reflect on this to understand why. The struggle for liberation is therefore not finished. It presents itself today in economic terms and will be won on the development front…. Together, we must clearly understand that prolonged economic dependence will ultimately erode our political independence.”

Rwandan President, Paul Kagame in his inauguration speech after re-election last year said, “The governance and prosperity of Africa cannot be outsourced.” While the African passport is yet to be released to the general public, it spells of potential in increasing movement around the continent. The African Continental Free Trade Area breaks off chains of separations, and encourages an increase in trade between African countries. While it the journey of building will take a while, it must be done and maintained. Africa should look more into itself, finding its own solutions and learning from the world.

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