Slavery and the 'Scramble for Africa'

The author Dr. Saul David explores European interests in Africa during the the 19th and 20th century, against the background of international slave trade. Ironically European colonizers justified their “commitment” in Africa by calling for an end of slavery, thereby blaming Arabs, who by then controlled the slave trade in East Africa. David Livingstone as the celebrated missionary-explorer called for the “three C’s” commerce, christianity and civilisation as the only means of liberating Africans from slavery.

Saul David goes on to analyse the motivs of the Berlin Conference in 1884/85 which German chancellor Otto von Bismarck had convened in order to put German claims for colonies on the agenda. The final Berlin Act of 1885, signed by 13 European powers, included a “duty to civilize” as well as “help in surpressing slavery”. Besides these general objectives the Berlin Conference pushed on the process of dividing up the African continent.

The author critizes the hollow “Spirit of Berlin”, which was seemingly dedicated to the abolishment of slavery, but rather acted as a disguise for the pursuit of economic interests. When it became widely known that slavery was certainly not on the retreat, especially in King Leopold of Belgium’s colony of Congo, several European powers called up an international anti-slavery conference which was held in Brussels in 1889-1890. Essentially this conference did not alter the situation for forced laborers in Congo, for their treatment only changed during the 1920s, after the colonial authorities had realized the population was dropping so rapidly that it threatend their labor force.

Saul David’s article for the BBC gives a comprehensive overview of European colonial politics in Africa from an anti-slavery perspective, thereby exposing the hypocrisy of colonial claims.

Read the full article on BBC History in-depth.


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