National Geographic : 1896 May
AFRICA SINCE 1888 Nearly half a century ago two or three large mercantile firms of Hamburg and Bremen established trading stations on the west coast of Africa. Their profits were very large, as, in ex change for rum, trinkets, beads, and worthless arms, cocoanut oil, ivory, india-rubber, and other tropical products were obtained. This trade finally resulted in the starting of a regular line of steamers from Hamburg to the west coast, and also of one through the Suez canal to the east coast. Prince Bismarck real ized that he had a most urgent problem to solve, either to re strain German emigration, or, failing in that, to keep it under the control of the empire. America was closed; Asia was all taken; his only opportunity was colonization in Africa. He ordered German ships of war to visit the African coast, and estab lished consulates at different ports. Treaties were made with the natives for the purpose of acquiring colorable titles to large tracts of land, the German flag was raised, and the country de clared to be under German protection. These settlements are merely stations, where two or three families of foreign merchants reside, and outstations of natives-middlemen, who carry on the trade between the natives of the interior and the foreigners on the coast. Germany also claims the hinterland or interior country behind the stations, although most of it had been re garded by the English as under their flag. At the time of the uprising in Egypt against the rule of England and France, in 1882, France declined to act with England, but soon bitterly regretted her mistake, and to offset her loss in Egypt she extended her dominion in northwest Africa and on the Gold Coast and the upper Niger, although most of these regions had been claimed by English traders. About the same time the Kongo Free State was founded and claimed the whole of the Kongo valley. This was opposed by both France and Portugal, the one claiming the country north of the Kongo, the other that to the south. Thus in 1883 and 1884 it seemed that all the great nations of Europe might come into conflict regarding their different claims in Africa. For the purpose of settling these questions and defining the rights of each country, Germany, France, Belgium, Portugal, and England held a conference at Berlin in 1884, to which the United States was invited, the only conference between the great powers, relating to foreign affairs, in which it has participated. At this convention and by subse quent agreements made between 1885 and 1895 the European powers fixed the boundaries of their several African possessions.