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125 years after the General Act of the Berlin Conference

The Berlin Conference

In 1885, the creation of a new state in Africa was discussed for the first time at the highest international level during the Berlin Conference. The entourage of Leopold II concluded bilateral contracts with European Great Powers in order to have his Congo Free State recognised by the international community. Deception, and diplomatic wangling was used, but Leopold II eventually obtained what he had hoped: the heart of the African continent. The conference mainly solved two tricky issues: establishing a free-trade area in the Congo basin and its estuary, and making the Niger and Congo Rivers free for ship traffic.

Yet in Belgium there was but little enthusiasm about the colonial plans of Leopold II. The aim was to ensure at all costs that Belgium’s neutrality and treasury remained intact. After much political tug-of-war, Leopold II was officially recognised by Parliament as Sovereign of Congo Free State and formed a personal union with Belgium as from 1st August 1885.