Here are some selections (Chapters 4 – 6) from the final act of the Berlin Conference signed on 26 February 1885. For the entire document, find it here in English and French. For both of these versions, we thank the work of the South African History Online.
ACT OF NAVIGATION FOR THE KONGO
The navigation of the Kongo, without excepting any of its branches or outlets, is, and shall remain, free for the merchant ships of all nations equally . . . the subjects and flags of all nations shall in all respects be treated on a footing of perfect equality . . . no exclusive privilege of navigation will be conceded to Companies, Corporations, or private persons whatsoever . . .
ACT OF NAVIGATION FOR THE NIGER
The navigation of the (River) Niger, without excepting any of its branches and outlets, is and shall remain entirely free for the merchant ships of all nations equally . . . [both Britain and France which had parts of the region of the Niger under protectorate status also undertook to apply the principle of free trade in their territories].
REGARDING NEW OCCUPATIONS ON THE COASTS OF AFRICA
Any power which henceforth takes possession of a tract of land on the coasts of the African Continent outside of its present possessions, or which, being hitherto without such possessions, shall acquire them and assume a protectorate. . . shall accompany either act with a notification thereof, addressed to the other Signatory Powers of the present Act, in order to enable them to protest against the same if there exists any grounds for their doing so.
The Signatory Powers of the present Act recognize the obligation to insure the establishment of authority in the regions occupied by them on the coasts of the African Continent sufficient to protect existing rights, and, as the case may be, freedom of trade and of transit under the conditions agreed upon.
The Powers signatory to the present general Act reserve to themselves the right of eventually, by mutual agreement, introducing therein modifications or improvements the utility of which has been shown by experience ………………………………..
Today I would like to talk about the atrocity which divided Africa in 10,000 pieces… you know, the one known as the Berlin Conference. How the livelihood of millions of lives could be decided by some foreigners at some tables thousands of kilometers away is beyond me! In reality, the Berlin Conference drafted from 1884 to 1885 is still in action today, over 132 years later, and that is why it is important to talk about it today. This conference regulated European colonization and trade in Africa during the New Imperialism period. Organized by Otto von Bismarck, first Chancellor of Germany, its outcome, the General Act of the Berlin Conference, is seen as the formalization of the Scramble for Africa. This conference officialized European colonization, and eliminated or overrode existing forms of African autonomy and self-governance. I print here a selection from the final 1885 Berlin Act from Chapter 1-3, and I will print the rest later.
Selections from the 1885 Berlin Act
Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India; His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia; His Majesty the Emperor of Austria, King of Bohemia, etc, and Apostolic King of Hungary; His Majesty the King of the Belgians; His Majesty the King of Denmark; His Majesty the King of Spain; the President of the United States of America; the President of the French Republic; His Majesty the King of Italy; His Majesty the King of the Netherlands, Grand Duke of Luxemburg, etc; His Majesty the King of Portugal and the Algarves, etc; His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias; His Majesty the King of Sweden and Norway, etc; and His Majesty the Emperor of the Ottomans,
WISHING, in a spirit of good and mutual accord, to regulate the conditions most favourable to the development of trade and civilization in certain regions of Africa, and to assure to all nations the advantages of free navigation on the two chief rivers of Africa flowing into the Atlantic Ocean;
BEING DESIROUS, on the other hand, to obviate the misunderstanding and disputes which might in future arise from new acts of occupation…on the coast of Africa; and concerned, at the same time, as to the means of furthering the moral and material well-being of the native populations;
HAVE RESOLVED, on the invitation addressed to them by the Imperial Government of Germany, in agreement with the Government of the French Republic, to meet for those purposes in Conference at Berlin, and have appointed as their Plenipotentiaries, to wit:
Who, being provided with full powers, which have been found in good and due form, have successively discussed and adopted:
A Declaration relative to freedom of trade in the basin of the Congo, its embouchures and circumjacent regions, with other provisions connected therewith.
A Declaration relative to the slave trade, and the operations by sea or land which furnish slaves to that trade.
A Declaration relative to the neutrality of the territories comprised in the Conventional basin of the Congo.
An Act of Navigation for the Congo, which, while having regard to local circumstances, extends to this river, its affluents, and the waters in its system…, the general principles enunciated in Articles CVIII and CXVI of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna, and intended to regulate, as between the Signatory Powers of that Act, the free navigation of the waterways separating or traversing several States—these said principles having since then been applied by agreement to certain rivers of Europe and America, but especially to the Danube, with the modifications stipulated by the Treaties of Paris (1856), of Berlin (1878), and of London (1871 and 1883).
An Act of Navigation for the Niger, which, while likewise having regard to local circumstances, extends to this river and its affluents the same principles as set forth in Articles CVIII and CXVI of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna.
A Declaration introducing into international relations certain uniform rules with reference to future occupations on the coast of the African Continent.
And deeming it expedient that all these several documents should be combined in one single instrument, they (the Signatory Powers) have collected them into one General Act, composed of the following Articles:
DECLARATION RELATIVE TO FREEDOM OF TRADE IN THE BASIN OF THE CONGO, ITS MOUTHS AND CIRCUMJACENT REGIONS, WITH OTHER PROVISIONS CONNECTED THEREWITH
The trade of all nations shall enjoy complete freedom….
All flags, without distinction of nationality, shall have free access to the whole of the coastline of the territories above enumerated, to the rivers there running into the sea, to all the waters of the Congo and its effluents, including the lakes, and to all the ports situated on the banks of these waters, as well as to all canals which may in future be constructed with intent to unite the watercourses or lakes within the entire area of the territories described in Article I. Those trading under such flags may engage in all sorts of transport, and carry on the coasting trade by sea and river, as well as boat traffic, on the same footing as if they were subjects.
Wares, of whatever origin, imported into these regions, under whatsoever flag, by sea or river, or overland, shall be subject to no other taxes than such as may be levied as fair compensation for expenditure in the interests of trade, and which for this reason must be equally borne by the subjects themselves and by foreigners of all nationalities.
All differential dues on vessels, as well as on merchandise, are forbidden.
Merchandise imported into these regions shall remain free from import and transit dues….
No Power which exercises or shall exercise sovereign rights in the abovementioned regions shall be allowed to grant therein a monopoly or favour of any kind in matters of trade.
PROVISIONS RELATIVE TO PROTECTION OF THE NATIVES, OF MISSIONARIES AND TRAVELLERS, AS WELL AS RELATIVE TO RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
All the Powers exercising sovereign rights or influence in the aforesaid territories bind themselves to watch over the preservation of the native tribes, and to care for the improvement of the conditions of their moral and material well-being, and to help in suppressing slavery, and especially the slave trade. They shall, without distinction of creed or nation, protect and favour all religious, scientific or charitable institutions and undertakings created and organized for the above ends, or which aim at instructing the natives and bringing home to them the blessings of civilization.
Christian missionaries, scientists and explorers, with their followers, property and collections, shall likewise be the objects of especial protection.
Freedom of conscience and religious toleration are expressly guaranteed to the natives, no less than to subjects and to foreigners. The free and public exercise of all forms of divine worship, and the right to build edifices for religious purposes, and to organize religious missions belonging to all creeds, shall not be limited or fettered in any way whatsoever….
DECLARATION RELATIVE TO THE SLAVE TRADE
Seeing that trading in slaves is forbidden in conformity with the principles of international law as recognized by the Signatory Powers, and seeing also that the operations, which, by sea or land, furnish slaves to trade, ought likewise to be regarded as forbidden, the Powers which do or shall exercise sovereign rights or influence in the territories forming the Conventional basin of the Congo declare that these territories may not serve as a market or means of transit for the trade in slaves, of whatever race they may be. Each of the Powers binds itself to employ all the means at its disposal for putting an end to this trade and for punishing those who engage in it.
DECLARATION RELATIVE TO THE NEUTRALITY OF THE TERRITORIES COMPRISED IN THE CONVENTIONAL BASIN OF THE CONGO
In case a serious disagreement originating on the subject of, or in the limits of, the territories mentioned in Article I, and placed under the free trade system, shall arise between any Signatory Powers of the present Act, or the Powers which may become parties to it, these Powers bind themselves, before appealing to arms, to have recourse to the mediation of one or more of the friendly Powers.
In a similar case the same Powers reserve to themselves the option of having recourse to arbitration….
IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF the several plenipotentiaries have signed the present General Act and have affixed thereto their seals.
Here is the text of the 15 July 1884 treaty signed between the Chiefs of Jibarret (Djebale) and Sorrokow (Sodiko) and the German merchants of the Adolph Woermann and Jantzen & Thormählen firms in Cameroons. It basically does not show the entire text, but rather cites the treaty signed on 12 July 1884 between Kings Bell and Akwa and the Germans. It is pictured here:
“We the undersigned chiefs of Jibarret and Sorrokow, under King Bell’s juridiction declare herewith that we are perfectly agreeing with the treaty made by Mr. Edouard Schmidt acting for the company C. Woermann and Mr. John VoK acting for Misters Jantzen & Thormählen both of Hamburg, with the said King Bell.
The treaty has been properly explained to us and we have signed this paper as follows.
Cameroons the fifteenth day of July one thousand eight hundred and eighty four.”
Source:Abretungs-Urkunde Jibarret und Sorrokow, 15-7-1884 DZA-potsdam 4204 f.192.
Je viens de me rendre compte que le site djime.com qui était entièrement dedié au roi Béhanzin, n’est plus actif. J’ai donc decidé de poster ici, la version francaise, l’originale du discours d’adieu du roi Behanzin. J’avais deja traduit dans son intégralité ce discours du roi Behanzin en anglais. The English versionhere.
« Compagnons d’infortune, derniers amis fidèles, vous savez dans quelles circonstances, lorsque les Français voulurent accaparer la terre de nos aïeux, nous avons décidé de lutter.
Nous avions alors la certitude de conduire notre armée à la victoire. Quand mes guerriers se levèrent par millier pour défendre leDanhomèet son roi, j’ai reconnu avec fierté la même bravoure que manifestaient ceux d’Agadja, deTegbessou, deGhézoet deGlélé. Dans toutes les batailles j’étais à leurs côtés.
Malgré la justesse de notre cause, et notre vaillance, nos troupes compactes furent décimées en un instant. Elles n’ont pu défaire les ennemis blancs dont nous louons aussi le courage et la discipline. Et déjà ma voix éplorée n’éveille plus d’écho.
Où sont maintenantles ardentes amazones qu’enflammait une sainte colère? Où, leurschefs indomptables : Goudémè, Yéwê, Kétungan? Où, leursrobustes capitaines : Godogbé, Chachabloukou, Godjila? Qui chantera leurssplendides sacrifices? Qui dira leurgénérosité ?
Puisqu’ils ont scellé de leur sang lepacte de la suprême fidélité, comment accepterais-je sans euxune quelconque abdication?Comment oserais-je me présenter devant vous, braves guerriers, si je signais le papier du Général ?
Non !A mon destin je ne tournerai plus le dos. Je ferai face et je marcherai. Car la plus belle victoire ne se remporte pas sur une armée ennemie ou des adversaires condamnés au silence du cachot.Est vraiment victorieux, l’homme resté seul et qui continue de lutter dans son cœur. Je ne veux pas qu’aux portes du pays des morts le douanier trouve des souillures à mes pieds. Quand je vous reverrai, je veux que mon ventre s’ouvre à la joie. Maintenant advienne de moi ce qui plaira à Dieu ! Qui suis-je pour que ma disparition soit une lacune sur la terre ?
Partez vous aussi, derniers compagnons vivants.Rejoignez Abomey où les nouveaux maîtres promettent une douce alliance, la vie sauve et, paraît-il, la liberté. Là-bas, on dit que déjà renaît la joie. Là-bas, il paraît que les Blancs vous seront aussi favorables que la pluie qui drape les flamboyants de velours rouge ou le soleil qui dore la barbe soyeuse des épis. Compagnons disparus, héros inconnus d’une tragique épopée, voici l’offrande du souvenir : un peu d’huile, un peu de farine et du sang de taureau. Voici le pacte renouvelé avant le grand départ. Adieu, soldats, adieu !…
Guédébé…reste debout, comme moi, comme un homme libre. Puisque le sang des soldats tués garantit la résurrection duDanhomè, il ne faut plus que coule le sang. Les ancêtres n’ont plus que faire de nos sacrifices.Ils goûteront mieux le pur hommage de ces cœurs fidèles unis pour la grandeur de la patrie. C’est pour quoi j’accepte de m’engager dans la longue nuit de la patience où germent des clartés d’aurore. Guédébé, comme le messager de la paix, va àGhohooù campe le général Dodds.Va dire au conquérant qu’il n’a pas harponner le requin. Va lui dire que demain, dès la venue du jour, de mon plein gré, je me rends au village de Yégo. Va lui dire que j’accepte, pour la survie de mon peuple, de rencontrer dans son pays, selon sa promesse, le président des Français. »
extrait de – Kondo le requin – Jean PLYA – Ed. CLE
Béhanzin (Gbêhanzin) Hossu Bowelle or the ‘King Shark‘ was one the most powerful kings in West Africa at the turn of the 19th century. He was the eleventh king of Dahomey, and the last independent ruler of Abomey before French colonization. Who was really Béhanzin?
Born in 1844 in Abomey, Béhanzin was the eleventh king of Dahomey from 1889 to 1894. His name, Kondo, was changed to Béhanzin after he succeeded to his father Glèlè. His personal symbols were the shark, the egg, and two coconut palm trees, while those of his father were the lion and the ritual knife of Gu. His name actually meant ‘the egg of the world or the son of the shark‘. His great love for the freedom of his country, culture, and people led him to courageously and fiercely defend the land of his ancestors. He led the resistance and fight for the Dahomey’s freedom.
Dahomey was one of most powerful kingdoms of West Africa, deriving its power from trade and its superior army. Dahomey’s army was one of the strongest and best-organized armies in West Africa and was comprised of both men and women, including the Amazons, a superior and dreaded fighting force of female warriors. At the time, Béhanzin masterfully led an army of 15000 men and 5000 amazon women. One of the Amazon leaders was Seh-Dong Hong-Beh (which means “God speaks true“) who led an army of 6000 amazons against the Egba fortress in Abeokuta in 1851.
In 1882, France declared a protectorate over Porto Novo, a vassal state of Abomey, without consulting with the indigenous people, as was (and still is) the practice with Europeans colons. By 1885, the French occupied the entire coastal strip West of Porto Novo. In 1889, King Glèlè and his son Béhanzin, who considered these coastal areas to be part of the kingdom of Dahomey, declared that the Fon people could no longer tolerate France’s actions.
In February 1890, the French occupied Cotonou; Béhanzin, now king after Glèlè’s sudden death, prepared for war. Béhanzin’s army, with rifles supplied by the Germans, were getting too strong for neighboring French colonies. Béhanzin’s forces attacked the French simultaneously on two fronts—militarilyat Cotonou and economically by destroying the palm plantations at Porto Novo. The latter precipitated an early end to the hostilities. A treaty was signed, with the French continuing to occupy Cotonou, for which Béhanzin exacted an annuity; he made France pay for the use of Cotonou port. The peace lasted for two years. However, France was determined to annex Dahomey before the British or Germans did. Béhanzin, knowing that he would have to defend his sovereignty, continued upgrading his army in preparation for renewed war.
He declared a treaty made with France by his father, Glèlè, in 1868 null and void, from this war began. In 1894, Béhanzin was defeated by Colonel Alfred-Amédée Dodds, a Senegalese mulatto, who was sent to fight against him with powerful French armed forces. Béhanzin, not wanting his people to be massacred, surrendered his person to Dodds, without signing any instrument of national surrender or treaty. Béhanzin thought that he will get a chance to talk to the French president and find a way or sign a conciliation agreement for his country, unfortunately, the French tricked him and instead of going to France, Behanzin was exiled to Martinique. With Béhanzin and his immediate family adamantly refusing to sign a treaty making Dahomey a French protectorate, the French installed their choice, Agoli-Agbo, as king; Agoli Agbo, the puppet, did not last more than 6 years (when he asked for more freedom to rule, he was deported to Gabon). Dahomey was then placed under France’s protection and it eventually became a French colony. Béhanzin died in 1906 in Algeria. In 1928, his son, Ouanilo (who was also France’s first African attorney in 1920) had his body moved to Dahomey. Ouanilo’s remains will be restituted to Benin almost 80 years after his death.
Béhanzin once said: «Vous pouvez arracher l’homme de son pays, mais vous ne pouvez arracher son pays du cœur de l’homme, ni arracher un grand homme de l’histoire.» [You can remove a man from his country, but you can never remove his country from a man’s heart, or erase a great man from history]. Béhanzin truly loved his people, and when he saw that his army was being massacred by the French, he cried for his beautiful and strong amazons, and pronounced the most beautiful ode to them [Où sont maintenant les ardentes amazones qu’enflammait une sainte colère? … Qui chantera leurs splendides sacrifices? Qui dira leur générosité? … comment accepterais-je sans eux une quelconque abdication? Comment oserais-je me présenter devant vous, braves guerriers, si je signais le papier du Général?…pour la survie de mon peuple, [j’accepte] de rencontrer dans son pays, selon sa promesse, le président des Français. —
Where are now the ardent amazons who were inflamed by a mighty anger? … Who will praise their splendid sacrifices? … Who will tell about their generosity? … How could I accept any sort of abdication without them? How could I dare presenting myself to you, brave warriors, if I signed the general’s paper?… for the survival of my people, [I agree] to meet in his country, according to his promise, the president of the French]. Please watch this great documentary about the life of Béhanzin, the last king of the Dahomey (part 1 – 4), and one of the last resistant to French colonization. Why was he defeated? He said himself: «malgré la justesse de notre cause, notre vaillance et notre détermination, ils n’ont pu l’emporter et s’accaparer de la terre de nos aïeux que par la force de leur science» [despite the legitimacy of our cause, our courage, and determination, they could only win and take the land of our forefathers because of the force of their science]. Check out the website djime.com entirely dedicated to Béhanzin and his heritage. To learn more about Dahomey’s Amazons, check out the Smithsonian blog. This facebook page provides details about the organization of the amazons in the army. Don’t forget to offer your support to the Agongointo Musée du passé vivant dedicated to the kingdom of Dahomey.
As we talk about neo-colonialism, and the new conquest of Africa, I thought about sharing this poem ‘They Came‘ by the Cameroonian writer François Sengat-Kuo published in Fleurs de Latérite, Heures Rouges Éditions Clé, 1971. In the poem, he talks about colonization and how Africans were fooled by European missionaries who were always preceding European explorers and armies. I particularly like the sentence: “they came, … bible on hand, guns behind.” How true! In the days of colonization, Europeans claimed to be bringing civilization and christianity to pagans across the globe. Today, they bring development, globalization, and democracy… same ol’ thing → submission and slavery of the people. Enjoy!