The Berlin Conference: A Legacy of Narcissism, Arrogance, and Atrocities


The Berlin Conference, also known as the Berlin West Africa Conference, was a pivotal event in the history of Africa that took place between November 1884 and February 1885 in Berlin, Germany. It was convened by the leading European powers of the time to negotiate and formalize their territorial claims and rules for the colonization of Africa. The primary objective of the conference was to regulate the competition among European nations seeking to establish colonies and control various territories in Africa.

During the 19th century, European powers had been increasingly exploring and colonizing different parts of Africa, motivated by economic interests, the desire for raw materials, and the pursuit of geopolitical influence. However, this scramble for Africa was leading to tensions and potential conflicts among the European powers. To prevent direct conflicts and establish clear guidelines for colonial expansion, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck organized the conference.

Fourteen European countries participated in the conference, including Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified at that time), Turkey, and the United Kingdom. The United States, although not present at the conference, subsequently recognized its outcomes.

The main outcomes of the Berlin Conference were as follows:

  1. Recognition of territorial claims: European powers used the conference to formalize their territorial claims in Africa. They negotiated the boundaries and spheres of influence of their respective colonies, primarily focusing on the partitioning of West Africa and the Congo Basin.
  2. Effective occupation: The principle of “effective occupation” was established, meaning that in order to claim a territory, a European power had to demonstrate that they had established a sufficient presence in that region.
  3. Respect for African cultures and treaties: The European powers agreed to recognize existing African traditional rulers and honor pre-existing treaties that were made with African leaders.
  4. Free trade: The principle of free trade and navigation along the Congo and Niger Rivers was established to promote commercial interests in the region.
  5. Suppression of the slave trade: The conference aimed to halt the slave trade in Africa, although this objective was not fully realized at the time.

The consequences of the Berlin Conference were significant for Africa. The arbitrary borders drawn during the conference disregarded the cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of the African continent. This led to numerous conflicts and tensions in the following decades, as African societies were often divided, and rival groups were forced to coexist within the same colonial boundaries. The legacy of European colonialism continues to shape the political and social landscape of Africa to this day.

The Berlin Conference is widely regarded as a pivotal event in the history of African colonization and a symbol of European imperialism in the continent. It stands as a reminder of the destructive impact of colonialism on African nations and their people.


Few events have left a more indelible mark on Africa and its people than the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. This gathering of European powers, orchestrated by the cunning German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, was ostensibly aimed at regulating the partitioning of Africa to prevent conflicts among the colonial powers. However, behind the veneer of diplomacy, a dark undercurrent of narcissism and arrogance fueled a devastating onslaught on the African continent and its inhabitants.

As a historian, it is my solemn duty to delve into the depths of the past and expose the unvarnished truth. The Berlin Conference was a vivid display of colonial powers’ egocentricity and conceit, casting aside the centuries-old traditions, cultures, and livelihoods of the indigenous African people to satisfy their thirst for territorial expansion and resource exploitation.

The arrogance of the European powers was palpable during the conference, as they casually carved up Africa with little regard for the people who called it home. No African representative was present at the table, relegating the fate of millions to the whims of distant, self-interested bureaucrats. This act alone exposed the deeply ingrained narcissism among the colonial powers, who considered themselves superior and deemed Africans unworthy of having a say in the fate of their own lands.

The principles of “effective occupation” and “terra nullius” (land belonging to no one) became the tools of conquest, allowing the Europeans to justify their ruthless annexations. Arbitrary borders were drawn, disregarding tribal and cultural affiliations, leading to artificial nations that would later prove to be a powder keg of conflict and strife.

The arrogance of the colonizers was exemplified in the exploitation of African resources, particularly in the Congo Basin. King Leopold II of Belgium, a notable attendee of the Berlin Conference, established a personal fiefdom in the Congo, driven by his insatiable greed and delusional narcissism. Under the guise of humanitarian intentions, he ran the infamous Congo Free State, where atrocities against Africans reached unimaginable levels. The rubber trade, coerced labor, and outright violence led to the deaths of millions, a dark stain on the conscience of humanity.

The aftermath of the Berlin Conference was an era of colonial oppression and exploitation that decimated African societies. The narcissism and arrogance of the colonizers were further manifested in their attempts to erase indigenous cultures, languages, and traditions, forcefully imposing European norms upon African communities. The suppression of African identities perpetuated a legacy of self-hatred and division that has echoed through generations, affecting not only Africans but also African Americans, whose ancestors were torn from their homeland and enslaved in the Americas.

Slavery, an abhorrent crime against humanity, further attests to the depths of arrogance and narcissism that underpinned the colonial enterprise. Africans were regarded as subhuman commodities, bought and sold like chattel, their identities erased, and their worth solely determined by their labor. The arrogance of the European colonizers allowed them to justify the inhuman treatment of fellow human beings, perpetuating the dehumanization of Africans and African Americans for centuries.

The consequences of the Berlin Conference and the ensuing colonial period continue to reverberate through African and African American history. The scars of oppression and exploitation are etched into the collective memory, and the struggle for equality and justice persists.

Recognizing this painful history is a crucial step towards healing and reconciliation. The acknowledgement of past atrocities and the dismantling of structures built on narcissism and arrogance are essential in paving the way for a more equitable world. Reparations and restorative justice must be considered to address the enduring impact of colonialism on the African continent and its diaspora.

The Berlin Conference stands as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of narcissism and arrogance when wielded by those in power. The scars of this dark period in history are still visible today, a testament to the resilience of African and African American communities. It is incumbent upon us to confront this painful legacy honestly, learning from the past to build a more just and empathetic future for all.