. The Berlin Conference of 1884–85, also known as the Congo Conference, regulated European colonization and trade in Africa during the New Imperialism period, coinciding with Germany’s sudden emergence as an imperial power. Called for by Portugal and organized by Otto von Bismarck, first Chancellor of Germany, its outcome, the General Act of the Berlin Conference, was the formalization of the Scramble for Africa. The conference ushered in heightened colonial activity by European powers, which eliminated or overrode most existing forms of African autonomy and self-governance.
Having witnessed the political and economic rivalries among the European empires in the last quarter of the 19th century, the formal partitioning of Africa prevented European countries from battling one another over territory. The conference provided an opportunity to channel latent European hostilities outward, provide new areas for European expansion in the face of rising American, Russian, and Japanese interests, and form constructive dialogue for limiting future hostilities. The latter years of the 19th century saw the transition from “informal imperialism” by military influence and economic dominance to direct rule, bringing about colonial imperialism.
Colonies were seen as assets in “balance of power” negotiations, useful as items of exchange in international bargaining. Colonies with large native populations were also a source of military power; Britain and France used British Indian and North African soldiers respectively in many of their colonial wars. In the age of nationalism, an empire was a status symbol; the idea of “greatness” became linked with the sense of duty underlying many nations’ strategies.