Activity: Research the partitioning of the African continent
Research the partitions of the African continent as a result of the Berlin Conference using this map from Brown University.
How did the Berlin Conference shape Africa?
What lasting effects did this have?
Which European nations dominated most of Africa between 1884 through the1950s?
Activity: Critical reading of “The White Man’s Burden” and “To the Person Sitting in the Darkness”
“The White Man’s Burden”: Poem written in 1899 by Rudyard Kipling, which offers insights into imperialism. As reading, have students annotate the poem. According to Kipling, and in your own words, what was believed to be the “White Man’s Burden?” What are the differing attitudes between the colonizer and the colonized?
Next have the students read Mark Twain’s response to Kipling’s poem, “To the Person Sitting in the Darkness.” What arguments does Twain provide? Have your students create their own arguments and response to Kipling’s poem.
In 1884 the leaders of fourteen European Countries and the United States came together to discuss control of Africa’s resources. Known as The Berlin Conference, they sought to discuss the partitioning of Africa, establishing rules to amicably divide resources among the Western countries at the expense of the African people. Of these fourteen nations at the Berlin Conference, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Portugal were the major players. Notably missing were any representatives from Africa.
One of the tasks of this conference was for each European country that claimed possession over a part of Africa to bring “civilization,” in the form of Christianity, as well as trade. King Leopold II of Belgium promised just that and the Congo was formally recognized as Leopold’s personal possession. Extraordinarily rich in natural resources - including ivory, palm oil, timber and rubber - Leopold would seek to increase his personal wealth at the expense of the environment and the people of the Congo.
While the mindless plundering of land for natural resources caused vast environmental damage, there is a larger story of corruption and inhumanity. Leopold sought personal gain at the expense of the Congolese people, using them as slave labor to extract natural resources. If production waned or targets were not met, they risked severe punishments ranging from severing of a hand to death.
Eventually, light was shed on these atrocities with photographic evidence gathered by English Missionary Alice Seeley Harris. Harris distributed the photos widely through anti-slavery publications, eventually shaming the Belgian Government and forcing Leopold to relinquish personal control of the colony. But by the time this happened in 1908, it was estimated that 10 million people - half of Congo’s population - perished during Leopold’s inhumane rule.